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April 29, 2005

Danielpour's Margaret Garner Comes To Stage "Inspired by a true story, composer Richard Danielpour and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison tell the tale of a fugitive slave who kills her children in order to save them from a return to bondage. The A-list creative team and cast, including mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, has the opera world buzzing. But the opera is also galvanizing newcomers and financial supporters within Detroit's black community." Detroit Free Press 04/28/05

April 28, 2005

UK Music Ed Stabilises Music education in English schools is not well supported. But at least a long decline has been slowed, writes Julian Lloyd Webber. The Telegraph (UK) 04/29/05

Maazel Takes On 1984 Composer/conductor Loren Maazel's first opera is about to debut. It's an adaptation of George Orwell's 1984. "Whether 1984 works or not depends, however, on Maazel's music. Few of his works have been performed in the UK, and as a composer he remains an unknown quantity." The score is described as "a mixture of atonal and lyrical, with dramatic crises." The Guardian (UK) 04/29/05

Boulez The Mellow? Think Again. It's almost impossible to write a profile of the suddenly-new-again Pierre Boulez without mentioning how the onetime enfant terrible of music has mellowed over the years. But while Boulez may no longer blast his contemporaries and openly dismiss composers whom the rest of the world loves, his opinions haven't really changed all that much. For instance, Boulez still insists that Stravinsky's neoclassic period is "totally artificial," and that the composer didn't really do anything interesting from the beginning of his neoclassicism to the day he "discovered" twelve-tone music. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 04/28/05

Philly's Very Own Italian Opera Conductor (No, Not That One) Opera Company of Philadelphia may not exactly be La Scala, but that hasn't stopped the company's new young music director from thinking big. When Italian conductor Corrado Rovaris agreed to take the reins at OCP, he shook things up immediately, and has won praise for his willingness to push for what he believes are the highest artistic standards, and the free rein to achieve them. The effect has been immediate. "Many substantial opera companies rely only on visiting conductors and go for years without a music director to consistently build orchestral standards. It's opera: Singers are the attraction... Besides raising musical standards, [Rovaris] is attracting singers whom the company couldn't normally afford." Philadelphia Inquirer 04/28/05

April 27, 2005

Britain Forgets Its Centennial Composers 1905 proved to be a bumper year for birthing British composers. But you'll not be hearing much about them this year. "So who’s to blame for centennial neglect? The finger points at craven British orchestras which seldom venture these days from a narrow corridor of safe works. London bands which once begged Lambert to conduct them cannot spare a birthday bouquet. Birmingham, which commissioned a Rawsthorne symphony, will not revive it. The Halle shows no interest in a local hero. Their timidity diminishes the art they exist to serve." La Scena Musicale 04/27/05

Rethinking The Message Of Rap From The Inside "Violence and vulgarity are hardly unique to rap. The mainstream is full of gore and borderline porn. But these tendencies are undiluted in rap, which is why many young African-Americans and Latinos who grew up embracing hip hop as a grassroots, multimedia art form now deplore rap as a cynical "neominstrelsy" being mass-marketed not just nationally but globally. This global twist is new." OpinionJournal.com 04/28/05

After A False Start, Cleveland Back At The Proms One year after an embarrassing cancellation, the Cleveland Orchestra is returning to the BBC Proms festival this summer for the first time in eleven years. The orchestra's musicians forced last summer's cancellation when they refused to allow the BBC to stream online audio from their scheduled concert without additional payment. But since then, the musicians have negotiated a new contract which allows their management to grant such streaming rights to presenters. Music director Franz Welser-Möst will conduct the performance, which will take place in late August. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 04/27/05

Music & Art, Scratching Each Other's Backs Four years ago, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Arts Festival decided that it needed more than just art to draw in the public, and launched a carefully tailored music component designed to dovetail with its existing visual art base. So far, it's been a winning scenario for everyone involved: since the performances, which take place in the midst of the art fair, are free, crowds are far bigger than they would be at a stand-alone show with an admission charge; and the guest performers bring in people who otherwise might not think to attend an art fest. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04/27/05

Philly Orch To Record Again The Philadelphia Orchestra has signed with the Finnish recording label Ondine, giving it a commercial recording agreement for the first time in nearly a decade, and making it the only ensemble in the so-called "Big Five" of American orchestras to have such a contract. In signing on to the deal, the orchestra's musicians agreed to buck the national, union-negotiated recording agreements previously adhered to by all U.S. orchestras, and forego upfront payments in favor of a revenue sharing agreement, a provision of the deal which is already very controversial among other professional orchestras. Philadelphia Inquirer 04/27/05

April 26, 2005

Record Price For A Musical Instrument A bidder paid a record $2 million for musical instrument Friday, buying the "Lady Tennant" Stradivarious. "Made when Antonio Stradivari was 55 years old, the violin earned its name from one of its former owners – the wife of Scottish industrialist Sir Charles Tennant, who was given the instrument by her husband in 1900. The earliest known owner of the violin was the French player Charles Philippe Lafont, a contemporary of Nicolo Paganini." Gramophone 04/26/05

Scottish Opera Loses Another Official Christopher Barron, chief executive of Scottish Opera, has become the third major executive to leave Scottish Opera. "Barron has been joint chief executive of both Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet since 2000. However, the two boards were split last year after the opera’s escalating debts forced a restructuring deal on the company, making Barron’s dual position untenable. His departure, which had been widely speculated for some time, follows that of chairman Duncan McGhie, who stepped down in July 2004, and music director Richard Armstrong, who announced in December that he would leave in the summer." The Stage (UK) 04/26/05

Are Recording Companies Dumping CDs As Part Of Antitrust Settlement? Major US recording companies lost an antitrust case and were told to give millions of CD's to libraries as part of the $143 million settlement. But it appears that the CD's being offered are overstocked recordings the companies couldn't sell anyway. "The impression one gets from the list is that the record companies are just unloading overstock. It appears many libraries will receive too many copies of some titles and others they don't want at all." San Francisco Chronicle 04/26/05

Disease Afflicting Great Pipe Organs Of Europe "A mysterious epidemic of organ "leprosy" is sweeping Europe, corroding pipes and threatening to silence some of the continent's most renowned instruments. The European Union has mounted a major effort to save them, even though it is not yet known whether modern central heating, air pollution or something else is causing the problem. Organs were the personal computers of their era, the most complicated devices made by humans." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04/26/05

Promoters Sue Universal For Overcharging Artists Two US music promoters are suing recording giant Universal for $100 million, claiming the company forced them to submit falsely inflated invoices. "Universal used these to make top names such as Nelly unwittingly pay for other artists' promotion, the promoters say." BBC 04/26/05

April 25, 2005

A Rising Frustration With Music Downloading UK legal music downloaders are "being turned off net music stores because of pricing and disappointing sound quality compared to CDs. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said legal music downloads rose by 900% in 2004." BBC 04/25/05

Ex-La Scala Chief Speaks Out: Unions Out To Get Me Mauro Melli speaks out about his difficult tenure and departure as general manager of La Scala. "From the day I became general manager, the Scala unions quit speaking to me. They pushed against everything: against me, against Maestro Muti, against the world. I am very sad in this moment, because I came to La Scala with great passion and enthusiasm." The New York Times 04/25/05

A Jazz Concert Recording That Adds History A long-forgotten concert recording of a jazz concert provides some interesting historical insight. "The tapes come from a concert at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 29, 1957, a benefit for a community center. The concert was recorded by the Voice of America, the international broadcasting service, and the tapes also include sets by the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Ray Charles with a backing sextet, the Zoot Sims Quartet with Chet Baker, and the Sonny Rollins Trio. But it is Monk with Coltrane that constitutes the real find. That band existed for only six months in 1957." The New York Times 04/25/05

April 24, 2005

Do Visiting Orchestras Scuttle The Home Team? The San Diego area is getting some visits from some high-profile orchestras next season. "With their out-of-town cachet, they have more glamour than the San Diego Symphony, the city's hometown musical team, which is working hard to cultivate audiences and appreciation. Do visiting ensembles provide unfair competition to the San Diego Symphony? Or are they beneficial to everyone?" San Diego Union-Tribune 04/24/05

Education Fails Classical Music Peter Maxwell Davies says what ails classical music is the lack of good education. "Successive governments have cut back on music education in state schools to the extent that music specialists have become a rarity. Not only can few teachers read or write musical notation, but the music teachers themselves are unfamiliar with the world of classical music. Can we imagine the teaching of English in circumstances where the teacher not only does not know any poems, novels or plays, but cannot read?" The Guardian (UK) 04/25/05

Music Director Vs. Flutist Flutist Dawn Weiss has played flute for 25 years in the Oregon Symphony. But new music director Carlos Kalmer sent her a letter last fall complaining of her "technical errors, poor pitch control, lack of leadership, choppy phrasing, failure to connect rehearsal corrections to performances, and an 'airy and unpleasant' sound quality." Weiss worked on the issues, but Kalmer wasn't satisfied. "And so a tense drama began, pitting a prominent musician in the orchestra against her conductor. After receiving the letter, Weiss pressed ahead with an improvement program. And when her efforts failed, she decided to break with symphony protocol and brought the warning letter she received and her story to The Oregonian last week." The Oregonian 04/24/05

Power To The People - Opera In An Ice Rink "Graham Vick, the respected opera director, is attempting his own radical solution to declining audiences and the trappings of elitism by staging a Monteverdi opera with a mix of professionals and amateurs in a burnt-out ice rink in Birmingham's Chinatown." The Guardian (UK) 04/23/05

Remmereit - A Star-In-Waiting? James Oestreich reports that 43-year-old Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit has come out of nowhere to be a star-in-waiting. He's recently substituted at La Scala and at the Pittsburgh Symphony, and seems destined to be a major conductor. The New York Times 04/24/05

Are Opera DVD's Too Much Of A Good Thing? Anthony Tomnasini views the flood of new opera DVD's with alarm. "With the DVD boom, will the labels start issuing operas based primarily on the production's visual elements? The market is already flooded with routine musical performances of well-known works that just happened to have been taped for DVD. Also, as dramatic as opera may be, it's refreshing to hear just the music on a fine recording without the powerful distraction, in a sense, of a production. There are recordings that I never tire of because the visceral impact of the music-making allows my dramatic imagination such fancy. But I do tire of seeing the same sets and costumes, the same camera angles, the same close-ups." The New York Times 04/24/05

Will The Internet Save Indy Music? "Radio is in decline; satellite services XM and Sirius are ascending. Warner Music is scrambling to meet shareholder's demands, but independent labels Merge, Sub Pop, and Kill Rock Stars are watching records sell in unprecedented numbers. These days a band doesn't have to be seen on MTV, or heard on WBCN, or written about in Rolling Stone for fans to find out about it. The Internet is challenging the corporate clutch on both radio and retail." Boston Globe 04/24/05

Atlanta Opera Founder Leaves After 20 Years Atlanta Opera director and founder William Fred Scott leaves the company. "Scott stepped in near the beginning of the Atlanta group's life, and helped build it into a $5.4 million organization. His departure comes at the end of a revolution that promises major changes in Atlanta's cultural landscape." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 04/17/05

La Scala's New Artistic Director La Scala has chosen a new artistic director. "Frenchman Stephane Lissner, of Paris's Theatre de la Madeleine, has been given a four-and-a-half year contract. Musical director Riccardo Muti quit on April 2, citing the "hostility" of fellow employees after a series of rows. His post has yet to be filled. The president of the orchestra quit last week, giving no explanation. Mr Lissner's appointment was welcomed both by the musical establishment and unions representing the opera's 800-strong workforce." BBC 04/24/05

April 21, 2005

Just Where Does Sex Belong In Classical Music? "You could say that classical music has sex on the brain, which, as D H Lawrence said, is a very bad place to have it. Bad or not, it makes for something jarringly out of tune with current notions of sexiness. How on earth can you combine the sublimated, secret yearnings of Brahms's chamber music with the up-front sexiness of, say, Bond? The short answer is, you can't. They belong to different worlds. It would be like adding lip gloss to the Mona Lisa." The Telegraph (UK) 04/21/05

ENO's Mixed Bag Paul Daniel is leaving as music director of the English National Opera. "It has been eight years of musical and theatrical striving, and the results have ranged from epoch-making highs to disappointing lows. He bows out of ENO conducting the final opera of Wagner's Ring, a gesture that should be climactically valedictory, but instead seems oddly flat, having been, on the whole, a critical flop." The Guardian (UK) 04/21/05

Turning Around The Met The Metropolitan Opera has been struggling. "As the 2004-5 season enters the homestretch, the Met’s box office has been running at roughly 10 per cent lower than it did before 9/11, when more than 90 percent of the hall’s 3,800 seats were regularly filled. Although nothing short of Armageddon would keep local opera fans away, many out-of-towners for whom a visit to New York used to be unthinkable without a pilgrimage to Broadway and 65th Street have apparently found that they can lead a perfectly happy life by spending the same amount of money on, say, a beach in the Caribbean. Even at a time when the dollar is down, going to the Met remains an expensive habit; once broken, it’s easily kicked." But there's reason for hope... New York Observer 04/20/05

Nice Building. What's It For, Again? The San Francisco Conservatory is moving into a beautiful new building and hopes to raise its national profile and become recognized as one of the world's top training ground for classical musicians. But it's difficult to escape the elephant in the room: with classical music widely viewed to be on the decline, what sort of professional world will exist for today's conservatory students after graduation? San Francisco Weekly 04/20/05

A Frightening Diagnosis The Utah Symphony & Opera is in trouble; on this point, everyone agrees. But what's wrong with the organization? Bad leadership? Subpar marketing? Poor programming choices? Eric Snider thinks it might be something far more simple: no one really cares. "When you’re trying to convince someone that a particular city is nice, it’s always the artsy things you mention. 'My heavens, Salt Lake City is a fine city!' you’d say. 'It has some great museums, and a world-class symphony!' And it’s true, we have those things, but do you ever go to them? No. (Neither do I, but we’re talking about you here, not me.) Instead, those things languish on the outskirts of profitability, kept alive by generous donations and by the few people who actually patronize them." Salt Lake City Weekly 04/21/05

Do Opera Companies Need Quality Control? Opera companies have been taking great pains in recent years to play up their commitment to new works, with world premieres given the type of publicity usually reserved for pop stars. But increasingly, it seems to Norman Lebrecht that the new operas to be performed at many top houses are chosen not based on quality, but on the drawing power of the composer, or even the performers who want to sing a certain part. "This is no way to run an artistic institution which depends on public goodwill and corporate support. But such is the chaos enveloping new operas that the commissioning process has fallen prey to external pressures." La Scena Musicale 04/21/05

April 20, 2005

British Recording Industry Tallies Illegal Downlod Losses The British recording industry has lost hundreds of millions to illegal downloading in the past two years. "The British Phonographic Industry said record labels lost £376m last year - up nearly £100m on the £278m they lost the year before - in the music business's first attempt to quantify the financial cost of illegal downloads. A two-year study by research group TNS showed that music fans would have spent £1.5bn on recorded music between 2002-2004, but because of downloads spent only £858m." The Guardian (UK) 04/21/05

Covent Garden To Offer Cut-Rate Tickets The Royal Opera House is putting low-cost tickets on sale for students to "tackle the common complaint of high ticket prices. The Covent Garden venue has signed a deal with currency firm Travelex to offer tickets online to students, at least 24 hours prior to each show. " BBC 04/20/05

Orchestras Can Switch Cities? It's a heck of a way to leave town: the departing principal conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra made waves this week wen he suggested that the RSNO should move from Glasgow to Edinburgh, so as to take advantage of what he called "the best venue in Scotland." As a national orchestra, the RSNO performs regularly in both cities, but has always been officially based in Glasgow. Orchestra management says it has no plans to move. The Herald (Glasgow) 04/20/05

A Too-Polished Orchestra? A documentary showing the notoriously fractured Philadelphia Orchestra from the inside ought to be one of the most exciting and controversial entries in the city's film festival. But the documentary you want to get made isn't always the one that gets made, and Music From The Inside Out, which purports to be such an insider's look at one of the country's great orchestras, is in fact nothing more than a big wet sloppy public relations kiss. "This is the Philadelphia Orchestra's polished but not slick valentine to itself. Not that what's on screen is false - it's just a very narrow view of the personalities concerned. And for close observers of the orchestra, that specificity is painful to watch, because you want reality to be entirely this way." Philadelphia Inquirer 04/20/05

Conlon On Detroit's Radar Screen American conductor James Conlon, who made his reputation in Europe and has recently become a big name in the U.S. as well, may be near the top of the Detroit Symphony's music director wish list to succeed the outgoing Neeme Jarvi. Unfortunately, Conlon is so busy that he won't have time to conduct in Detroit until June 2006, and he is also about to start two new jobs in America (as director of the Los Angeles Opera and of the Chicago Symphony's summer festival at Ravinia.) Still, the DSO has invited Conlon to conduct its 2005-06 season finale. Detroit Free Press 04/20/05

Muti Not On Chicago's Shortlist The Chicago Symphony says that it has not offered Riccardo Muti the position of music director, despite cryptic statements from the conductor published in the Italian press this week. Muti said he was "considering an offer" from the CSO, but would not elaborate. The orchestra says that it has invited Muti to guest conduct for the first time in a quarter-century, but that is all. Chicago Tribune 04/20/05

  • Or Is He? "Deborah Card, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, confirmed that she and others from the CSO met with Muti last weekend in New York while he was conducting the New York Philharmonic... Card declined to say whether she had extended a firm offer to Muti to become CSO music director when Barenboim steps down at the end of the 2005-06 season." Chicago Sun-Times 04/20/05

April 19, 2005

Bryn Terfel Leads Nominations For Classical Brits Terfel's album Silent Noon - with Malcolm Martineau - has received nods in the album of the year and Ensemble/ Orchestral album of the year groups. He is also nominated for Male Artist of the Year, where he faces competition from Sir Colin Davis and Aled Jones." BBC 04/18/05

Muti "Considering Offer" From Chicago Sym Deposed La Scala music director Riccardo Muti has said in an interview that he is "considering an offer" from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which is currently searching for a new music director to replace Daniel Barenboim. Whether the offer is for Muti to be the next podium star in Chicago is not known, and since CSO management has made it clear that it wants Barenboim's successor to spend significant time in the city engaging the community and raising money, tasks which Muti did not relish during his time as MD in Philadelphia, the Italian maestro might not seem to be a natural choice for Chicago. Muti refused to elaborate on exactly what the CSO offer might entail. St. Paul Pioneer Press (AP) 04/19/05

Pittsburgh's Slimmed-Down Ring Hot on the heels of the Chicago Lyric Opera's Ring cycle, the Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh has announced plans to present a "streamlined" version of the massive Wagner cycle over the next two summers. The cut-down Ring, which was conceived by Jonathan Dove for the UK's City of Birmingham Opera, features a chamber orchestra in the pit and minimal costumes and sets. Traditional Ring cycles cost millions to stage, and are considered out of the realm of possibility for all but the largest companies, but the Dove version is expected to cost no more than $250,000. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 04/19/05

And For Another $10, Emeril Will Conduct "Bolero" Serving as music director of an American orchestra, even a small one, is a multifaceted job, and these days, there seem to be almost as many fundraising responsibilities for U.S. conductors as musical ones. Still, the Binghamton (NY) Philharmonic may have a first on its hands with its latest moneymaking scheme: a $10 raffle, with the winner getting the services of music director Jose Luis Novo for an evening. No, Novo won't be making any music in the winner's home. He'll just be cooking dinner. Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin 04/19/05

April 18, 2005

Does Your iPod Define You? The old adage used to be "you are what you eat.'' But with the advent of digital music and the popularity of gadgets like the iPod, now it's "you are what's on your playlist.'' San Francisco Chronicle 04/18/05

Why Boulez Rules The World Is it odd that Pierre Boulez has gone from being a subversive on the outside to a revered elder statesman? "His 80th birthday this year is being celebrated by Deutsche Grammophon with new recordings and reissues of his own works. He's the only modernist, living or dead, whose music is widely available on a major label. Critics love that. Here he is, at the tippy-tippy top, and he hasn't compromised. We will never see "The Pierre Boulez Tango Album." We're talking about a guy whose idea of slumming is hearing Richard Strauss' symbolism-laden opera Die Frau ohne Schatten." Philadelphia Inquirer 04/17/05

NY Phil - Stars Of Colorado Three years ago, the director of the Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado had to pitch hard with an idea to bring the New York Philharmonic for an annual summer residency. But the orchestra has been a huge hit, with sold-out concerts and overall festival attendance up 23 percent. So deciding to renew the relationship with the New York band was easy despite the $1 million annual cost. Denver Post 04/17/05

Who Wins In Today's Recording Climate? The recording business is hurting. "This crucial arm of the serious music industry is not so much in a state of flux as complete turmoil. Technological advances, corporate monoliths and charming (and sometimes wily) cottage industries are all part of a simmering broth of conflicting issues, the outcome of which is, frankly, anybody's guess. At the moment, the only clear winner is the consumer, offered the widest possible range of attractive offerings at often irresistible prices, but whether there is any prospect of that continuing indefinitely is just one more of those unanswerable questions." Glasgow Herald 04/18/05

April 17, 2005

Wanted: Miracle Worker For Scottish Opera Scottish Opera is looking for a new leader. But who would want to take on such a precarious company, whose recent history is pocked with controversy. "What’s needed is someone with the rare combination of vision and experience to juggle the financial and practical necessities with the artistic skills to successfully fire this esoteric artform. Scottish Opera is there for the taking - and for the making. Inexperience or mediocrity would be disastrous..." Scotland On Sunday 04/17/05

Miking The Opera (Okay, Calm Down...) "For at least 50 years, amplification has regularly been used in opera houses for oracles and offstage voices. It has also been used to transmit the sound of the orchestra to the singers, and vice versa, and to circulate the sound of the ongoing performance throughout the backstage area." But talk about amplification in the opera house and suddenly everyone gets skittish... Boston Globe 04/17/05

Does The Met Need A Star System? The Metropolitan Opera is doing okay, but not as well as it used to. So what would set the buzz just a little bit higher? "Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Met were to set up shop as a star factory along the lines of MGM in the 1930's, leveraging the reputations of its best talents in its own institutional interest." The New York Times 04/17/05

Davies: Where's The Promised Support For Classical Music? Composer Peter Maxwell Davies is using his position as Master of the Queen's Music to argue loudly for support of classical music. "In his lecture Sir Peter will condemn the fact that the government, despite launching a music manifesto last year which promised greater access to instrumental tuition for schoolchildren, has put no money towards its fulfilment. The Guardian (UK) 04/16/05

Opera North Embarks On Rebuilding The UK's Opera North is about to be ousted from its house for a year while the building is upgraded. "The £31.5m, two-phase renovation and building project involves, in the first instance, construction of rehearsal rooms and an overhaul of the auditorium. The second phase will see the 19th-century Assembly Rooms, next to the theatre, converted into a public space that will serve as a recital hall and room for education work." The Guardian (UK) 04/15/05

Cubs Fans, Meet "Ring" Fans (Hey, It's Chicago) "Perhaps it's a stretch to insist that a passion for baseball and a passion for opera are related, though the link is documented. But as Placido Domingo intimated, the link seems most intense in Chicago, where the ache for a baseball victory is palpable (the White Sox are virtually as hapless as the Cubs), where theater, the symphony and the opera are virulent inspirers of local pride, and where a recent newspaper poll asking whether sports or the arts were more thrilling ended in a dead heat." The New York Times 04/16/05

April 15, 2005

Beleaguered Muti In New York Riccardo Muti goes to New York to conduct the New York Philharmonic. At the end of rehearsal he spoke to musicians: "He made no specific mention of Milan, but the fabulous, brilliant and sometimes imperious Muti dropped whatever guard he had, and told the musicians how good they had been to work with, and how much he looked forward to their working together in the future." Philadelphia Inquirer 04/15/05

April 14, 2005

The World In A Click Major music labels may not think world music is worth the bother, but thanks to small labels there's never been so much music easily available. "The broad rubric holds a wealth of music that is now more accessible than ever before. And while major labels have largely lost interest in world music, independents have been busy, while listeners are no longer dependent on the shelf space or classification skills of local record stores." The New York Times 04/15/05

Will The Minnesota Orchestra Be America's Best? "When Osmo Vanska says that within a few years, the Minnesota Symphony will be one of the best orchestras in the United States, right up there alongside the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, you're inclined to believe him. He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it never for a moment sounds like boasting and, more importantly, he does have the track record to back up his claim, having taken a run-of-the-mill municipal orchestra in Finland, the Lahti Symphony, and, in less than two decades, transformed it into one of the most distinctive bands in Europe." The Guardian (UK) 04/15/05

Indies Protest UK Chart Downloads Plan Independent music labels are complaining that a plan to include downloads in UK Top 40 singles charts is unfair to indies. "A large chunk of the independent community are concerned about the way the chart has been thrust on us and the fact that most indie labels are unable to get their music into i-Tunes, which is unfairness from the off." Some indie reps say they'll game the new downloads system in protest. The Guardian (UK) 04/15/05

Ex-Concertmaster And Seattle Symphony Dispute Gets Very Public A dispute between the Seattle Symphony and violinist Ilka Talvi, who was the orchestra's concertmaster for 20 years until he was fired by the SSO last summer, has gotten ugly and very public since Talvi started a blog (http://schmaltzuberalles.blogspot.com/) airing criticisms of the orchestra. Talvi's accusations have "led to Internet accusations, police involvement and the threat of legal action." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 04/14/05

Nagano Wows Montreal, Orchestra Contract Mars Great Start "All four of Kent Nagano's first concerts with the Montreal Symphony since he accepted his new job were sold out, and the overwhelming consensus was that the 53-year-old American has what it takes to revive the OSM's artistic fortunes. He launched a new composition prize, charmed the public with interviews and comments from the stage, and helped the orchestra sound at least as good as it did during its glory years with Charles Dutoit." But a bitter contract negotiation with musicians is a black cloud... The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/14/05

Chicago Lyric Opera To Cut Staff Eleven full-time Lyric Opera of Chicago staff members will be out of a job when the company's new fiscal year begins May 1. On Wednesday, Lyric announced administrative staff reductions of 8.4 percent, and William Mason, general director, estimates that the cuts will save $700,000 in 2005-06. Chicago Sun-Times 04/14/05

Looking For The Women Conductors Is there a glass ceiling for women conductors? Marin Alsop: "I don't know if it's a glass ceiling, or a concrete or a fabric one, but it's definitely a ceiling. I'm very proud that I'm to become the first woman conductor in history to lead the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (of Amsterdam), but I'm also appalled. It's sort of surprising that one can still be the first woman in so many areas — in the 21st century." Seattle Times 04/14/05

Paris Opera: Tristan With A Viola Video The Paris Opera is doing a radical rethink of Wagner'sTristan und Isolde. The company has commissioned video artist Bill Viola to accompany its new production. "On a 30-foot-wide screen above and behind the somberly lighted space peopled by the singers, images that recall some of Mr. Viola's well-known video pieces variously offer literal, metaphorical and even spiritual complements to one of mythology's most famous and tragic love stories. With only the preludes played to a closed curtain, Mr. Viola's multi-toned video poem runs for some 3 hours 40 minutes, a full-length spectacle in its own right." The New York Times 04/14/05

April 13, 2005

MP3 Blogs - A Future In Court? "MP3 bloggers, as they are known, are people who hunt down and post musical gems — usually hard-to-find or niche MP3s — for others to discuss and, for a limited time, download." They're getting an audience, and it's growing. But legally are such blogs going to pass muster? The Guardian (UK) 04/14/05

La Scala Backer Threatens Funding The businessman who abruptly quit as president of the La Scala orchestra Monday has said he was disgusted with the opera house's unions. "Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of the Mediaset media conglomerate, also said the company might withdraw its financing of the orchestra. In an interview at Mediaset's Rome offices, Mr. Confalonieri said the company had paid at least $700,000 a year for Sunday-morning concert broadcasts on one of its channels." The New York Times 04/14/05

La Scala As An Opera (Conductors And Villains And Critics, Oh My!) The mess at La Scala with Riccardo Muti is worthy of an opera plot. To wit: "The town square at dusk: Muti, hair shorn, is to be executed. "There is only one way to work with Muti: his way," sings Norman Lebrecht as he knits beside the guillotine. "The relationship between Muti and the orchestra is sick," sings a musician. "Only death can cure this illness." Meli and Confalonieri rush to try to free their hero, but are cut down by scythe-wielding peasants; Mrs Muti throws herself off the battlements; Franco Zeffirelli and Norman Lebrecht sing of their triumph; the chorus of La Scala hum the opening bars of On the Town. Before he is executed, Muti utters the immortal words - "I should have taken that bloody job with the New York Philharmonic." He dies. Curtain." The Guardian (UK) 04/13/05

NJ Symphony Defers Instrument Loan "The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has deferred payment on part of a $9.18 million loan it took out in 2003 to purchase a collection of 30 rare Italian stringed instruments. The state Economic Development Authority yesterday granted the orchestra's request to pay only interest on the loan for nine months, beginning next month. In exchange, the orchestra agreed to a lien on $366,000 of its endowment fund." Newark Star-Ledger 04/13/05

How To Choose Piano Competition Contestants Thirty-five pianists have been chosen for the Cleveland International Piano Competition. "The pianists - 11 women and 24 men - hail from 17 countries: China (seven), the United States (five), Russia (four), Japan (three), Bulgaria (two), France (two), South Korea (two), Australia, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Serbia, Sweden, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia. The competition's new screening process began with 243 hopefuls from 43 countries. After viewing applications, competition officials invited 143 pianists to tape videos in Cleveland, Akron, New York, Tokyo, Munich or London." The Plain Dealer 04/13/05

Who Owns Our Musical Heritage? Recent cases concerning the release of older recordings and the editing of ancient music have thrown the ownership of our musical heritage in danger. "Hardly a month passes without someone in a black gown having to lay down the law on matters so fluid they might be more fittingly served in a saloon bar. At stake is our access to musical heritage and unless some judge draws a line in the sand pretty soon we could all go blundering back to ignorance and deprivation." La Scena Musicale 04/13/05

April 12, 2005

Royal Opera House Dominates RPS Award Nominations "London's Royal Opera House leads the race for this year's Royal Philharmonic Society Awards with seven nominations. Its performers John Graham-Hall, Ben Heppner and Janice Watson dominate the best singer category. And the prestigious London venue's music director Antonio Pappano is shortlisted for best conductor." BBC 04/13/05

Why You Want To Be A RingHead Why are people so fanatical about wanting to see Wagner's Ring cycle? "The enthusiasm of the hardcore "Ring" fans must have a major effect on people wanting to see The Ring" again and again. Compared to the average opera and symphony performance, the rampant exuberance and giddiness of the audience here was infectious and unmatched in all but a few other concert events. Just as important was the camaraderie. Not strangers, this was a group of acquaintances through the common love of "The Ring." Opera crowds are often icy by nature; this one was inviting. Every time I walked back to my hotel I got in a long conversation about "The Ring" with a different person, most people I had never seen before. Who wouldn't want to again be a part of a crowd like that if you are remotely into opera? The passion rivaled fans of a team in the playoffs, but with art, music and philosophy on everyone's lips." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04/12/05

How Download Will Change The Top 40 UK Singles charts will soon begin counting legal downloads alongside cd sales, and the songs that make the Top 40 are sure to change. "In the first three months of 2005, 4.5 million songs were downloaded legally in the UK - compared with 5.8 million bought over the counter. Many of the fans who stopped buying singles are now keen on downloading - and while single-buying is largely left to teenage girls, downloaders are overwhelmingly male and more mature.
So their return to the chart returns could have a big impact on the Top 40."
BBC 04/12/05

Another La Scala Resignation The president of the orchestra of La Scala has resigned, a week after Riccardo Muti quit the company. Fedele Confalonieri, "who is also president of Mediaset, a broadcaster controlled by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, gave no explanation for his departure in a brief statement released by his company." BBC 04/12/05

Music In Progress leaked To Internet More and more, musicians are finding recordings of music they're still working on leaked on the internet. "Because of internet leaks, artists don’t have control of their own music anymore. There is a lot of material to be honed and worked on — and some of it is very, very bad. There is a reason why artists don’t want people to hear it." CBC 04/12/05

April 11, 2005

Sony BMG Restructures Classical Recording Business Sony BMG says it is restructuring its classical music business under the name Sony BMG Masterworks. "It is intended not only to evoke past glories - Masterworks was CBS's flagship classical line long before Sony bought the company from CBS in 1989 - but also to signal a renewed commitment to the core classical repertory." The New York Times 04/12/05

Has Opera Lost Its Personality? Lisa Saffer on what's wrong with today's opera world: "I think the business has shifted recently: money speaks more than it should, and that means taking safe choices: people have become too afraid of making mistakes. Singers get talked at the whole time and coached within an inch of their lives - and the result is a passivity which depresses me. There's plenty of polish around, but the rough edges which give the music character are being ironed out. We need more singers with something of their own to say, singers who engage spontaneously with the music." The Telegraph (UK) 04/11/05

Berlin Symphonic Orchestra Disbands Members of the Berlin Symphonic Orchestra bid farewell to their fans with a last concert on Sunday after orchestra officials failed to secure 80,000 euros ($103,000) in emergency funding for the bankrupt organization. Deutsche Welle 04/11/05

Denver Hall Needs $40 Million Fix An acoustical fix for Denver's Boettcher Hall is going to cost more than $40 million. Last year the director of Denver's Division of Theatres and Arenas, estimated the project's price tag at $25 million to $40 million. But he now says he believes that "when the firm completes the second half of its study later this spring, it will recommend gutting Boettcher and essentially building a new, reconfigured concert hall within its existing walls." Denver Post 04/10/05

Chicago Jazz Gets A Slug Of Cash "In an unprecedented development, jazz -- specifically Chicago jazz -- is about to get a large infusion of funding and opportunity. Three Chicago-area corporations and one local foundation have joined forces to pour an estimated $1.5 million into the city's jazz scene in the next three years, with possibly more money to come during that time. Boeing Co., Bank One and Kraft Food have teamed with the non-profit Chicago Community Trust to create the Chicago Jazz Partnership, which will begin funneling approximately $500,000 into the city's jazz scene this year, with hopes of expanding that support in years to come." Chicago Tribune 04/10/05

Opera Looks To Film, Now Film Looks To Opera Opera once coveted the realism of film. Nowadays, film is looking to opera for its ability to create fantasy. "Opera once recruited film directors because it envied the truth vouchsafed by the frank eye of the camera. Nowadays, opera delights in illusion, which is why it can offer characters in film an escape from their grim, grounded lives: hence Cher's trip to the Met's Bohème in Moonstruck, or Tom Hanks's duets with Callas in Philadelphia." The Guardian (UK) 04/10/05

A Fight Over Which UK Orchestra Is Best Does England have only one "world-class" orchestra? So says the departing chief executive of the London Symphony, and guess what - he believes the LSO is the only orchestra that counts. And guess what - managers of two of London's other orchestras take issue with the claim. And critics are now pouncing on the LSO for some of its decisions in recent years. The New York Times 04/11/05

Met Broadcasts With Commercials? For all those years that Texaco sponsored weekly broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, the broadcasts were run free of interrupting commercials. But the Met can no longer afford to compensate commercial stations for the commercial time. "With the reduction of fees to commercial stations, the cost of the broadcasts will be $5.6 million instead of the usual $7 million. To help the stations make up the lost subsidies, the Met will create 7 to 10 places for advertisements during intermissions , depending on the length of the opera." The New York Times 04/11/05

April 10, 2005

Cincy Opera Posts Help-Wanted Sign Cincinnati Opera is looking for a new artistic director, and that person should reflect the progress the company has made in the past decade. "I think vision is imperative. Someone who comes here has to be able to look at what we've developed and say, 'This company can go to the next level.' I'm not sure that 10 years ago you could have said that. We want this to be their primary job." Cincinnati Enquirer 04/10/05

Post-Classical (And How We Got Here) Why has classical music been on the decline in America? Joseph Horowitz tells a history aimed at suggesting some reasons. "History with a moral is by definition suspect. But Horowitz, for all the enthusiasm with which he espouses his various musical causes, is for the most part an impressively fair-minded historian who takes care to avoid superimposing contemporary agendas on past events. One need not always agree with his interpretations of those events in order to profit from his account of how European classical music took hold in a new world with sharply different cultural priorities—as well as from his speculations regarding its prospects of survival in the 21st century." Commentary 04/05

Rare Jazz Great Recordings Never Heard In US Found In Library Of Congress "The U.S. Library of Congress says it has uncovered long-forgotten recordings by some of the superstars of American jazz -Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Ray Charles and the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra. Recorded in 1957, the tapes have never before been heard in the United States. The Voice of America recorded the music at a Carnegie Hall concert in New York City for broadcast to the rest of the world." Voice of America 04/10/05

The Rise Of Black British Jazz The era of globalization has done wonders for jazz, broadening its language and bringing new ideas to a genre that had become the province, mainly, of academic-minded American practitioners with very narrow musical values. "One of the new paradigms comes from a circle of mostly black London-based musicians... So what do these new players have? The first answer is a British Afro-Caribbean identity. The second is a movement. They have come together around several guiding ideas: swing, blues feeling, the historical relationship of reggae and jazz, and a commitment to improving stereotypes of Afro-Caribbeans and black Britain in general. The third answer is summed up in a term that's become fairly widespread among these musicians, as well as the English press: black British jazz." The New York Times 04/10/05

Lebrecht: Orchestras Need To Break With Stodgy Routine Norman Lebrecht has been predicting the death of classical music for years, but lately, he has begun to wonder what, if anything, can be done to reverse the decline of orchestral popularity. The short attention-span thesis is popular, but doesn't hold up when you consider the length of movies and rock concerts. Ticket prices, long thought to be a turnoff to potential concertgoers, are also not to blame, since price cuts at several major orchestras have failed to produce significant new audiences. Lebrecht's latest theory is that the traditional formula of an evening concert beginning at 7 or 8pm and lasting two hours simply does nothing to attract modern youth. "In Madrid and Barcelona, concerts begin at 10 pm and are thronged by youngsters." La Scena Musicale 04/05

Following Dutoit: Nagano In Montreal Kent Nagano won't officially become music director of l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal until fall 2006, but the unusually soft-spoken maestro is already making his presence felt. Compared with the imperious Charles Dutoit, whose 23-year tenure at the Montreal helm ended in bitter fashion two years ago, Nagano is a decidedly new kind of director for the OSM, promoting a studious and humble approach to music-making, even as he speaks of the importance of building trust with audiences and begins to reshape the sound of the orchestra itself. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/09/05

New Jersey Symphony Exec Bolts For Scotland "Just days after his one-year anniversary on the job, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra president and CEO Simon Woods announced he will leave, effective July 1, to become chief executive of the 113-year-old Royal Scottish National Orchestra, based in Glasgow, Scotland... The news is devastating for NJSO, which is groaning under a $19.5 million debt, in part due to subscription sales that have declined 41 percent in four years. NJSO also is struggling to regain public credibility following the 2003 purchase of 30 rare Italian string instruments from New Jersey philanthropist Herbert Axelrod, who was sentenced in March to 18 months in federal prison for an unrelated tax fraud scheme." Newark Star-Ledger 04/09/05

Boston, Philly, New York, Cleveland, Chicago... & San Diego? Three years ago, the San Diego Symphony received a $120 million gift from a local couple, and instantly, the ensemble was vaulted from the lower ranks of full-time American orchestras to... well, where the vault ends is still unknown. The SDS is fiscally secure for the future, to be sure, and salaries have risen, as have budgets. But can money - even that unbelievable amount of money - really catapult an orchestra into the upper ranks? San Diego's CEO thinks so, and is even speculating about a future in which the SDS is mentioned alongside America's fabled Big Five orchestras. San Diego Union-Tribune 04/10/05

For That Price, Could We Get Some Decent Speakers? Most attendees at rock concerts in the U.S. probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about audio quality - after all, you just plug in the mics and guitars and crank the amps up to eleven, right? Actually, there's a lot more to it than that, and George Varga writes that some of his most recent experiences suffering through concerts that "sounded as if they were either being performed from inside trash compactors in overdrive or through a giant car stereo with busted woofers... are symptomatic of a troubling decline in audio quality at concerts across the nation – a trend made more annoying by the concurrent rise in ticket prices." San Diego Union-Tribune 04/09/05

April 7, 2005

Do Pulitzers Proclaim The Best In American Music? What to think about Steven Stucky winning this year's Pulitzer for music? Particularly after last year's decision to broaden the definition of music eligible for the award? Frank Oteri chews on it: "I do think in some ways, we music folk are a little too obsessed with other people determining for us what the best is—residue from Beethoven and the gang, which is the same "masterpiece syndrome" that keeps so many in the classical community from ever paying attention to any new music in the first place. I sincerely wonder if novelists and poets scratch their heads in dismay every year when their favorite writer fails to win a Pulitzer. So then, what to make of the results of the 2005 Pulitzer jury?" NewMusicBox 04/07/05

Possible New Mozart Work Found In Vienna Austrian state television is reporting that experts are examining newly discovered sheet music found in Vienna's famed Musikverein concert hall to determine if they could be part of a previously unknown composition by Mozart. New York Daily News (AP) 04/07/05

Putting It Together In San Antonio The San Antonio Symphony, one year removed from bankruptcy and hoping to stabilize its financial situation, has received a $250,000 challenge grant from the Kronkosky Foundation. The money "will help fund five free concerts, co-sponsored by Radio Disney, that will target youth and families and, symphony leaders hope, reinvigorate interest in the orchestra among old and new audiences." San Antonio Express-News 04/07/05

April 6, 2005

Levine: A Man Of Two Cities Leading the Boston Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera are (at least) two full time jobs. But "those who doubted that James Levine could juggle two of the most demanding and prestigious music directorships in the United States have been proved wrong. Moreover, in Boston, the question of his physical health and stamina has been a nonissue. But what about his creative health and stamina?" The New York Times 04/07/05

How Muti Was Edged Out Of La Scala Riccardo Muti's departure from La Scala was a long time coming. He maintained artistic standards in the opera house, but elsewhere in Italy opera is in decline. "Artistic standards have plummeted. With so many jobs to fill, orchestras and choruses are enfeebled. Most of the great voice teachers long ago emigrated to the richer pastures of American campuses, and the quality of native singing is now in terminal decline. Against such corruption and mediocrity, Muti has resolutely set his face. Like all dictators, he ultimately overestimated his own power and allowed his ego to get the better of his judgment. But La Scala will be hard pushed to find a successor - Riccardo Chailly? Daniele Gatti? - to match his charisma and idealism." The Telegrpah (UK) 04/06/05

Court: Naxos Not Allowed To Release Old Recordings A US court has ruled that a recording company was wrong to release old recordings. "New York's highest court said Naxos was wrong to release classical recordings by Yehudi Menuhin and others - even though they were out of copyright. The court said such recordings were still covered by common law. The victorious Capitol label, which owns the rights, said the decision had enormous importance." BBC 04/06/05

Music, War, And Memories of Britten Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," isn't often performed, largely because of its massive personnel requirements - a full orchestra, a separate chamber orchestra, plus several choirs and vocal soloists - but this week, the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will combine for the first time in decades to bring the anti-war opus to life. And the music won't be the only star: as luck would have it, a 93-year-old musician who played in the Requiem's emotional premiere in Coventry, England lives three hours from the Twin Cities, and is being brought in to attend the concert and speak to the audience about the impact Britten's work had on a shattered post-war British public. Minneapolis Star Tribune 04/06/05

Talvi, Seattle Dispute To Arbitration The Seattle Symphony has decided not to appeal a court ruling ordering it to settle a lawsuit brought by its recently dismissed concertmaster through arbitration. Violinist Ilkka Talvi, who recently turned up the heat on the orchestra by launching a blog and using it to air much of the ensemble's dirty laundry, claims that he was capriciously dismissed by Seattle music director Gerard Schwarz, and further argues that a clause in his contract does not allow him to be fired so long as Schwarz remains in charge. Seattle Times 04/06/05

April 5, 2005

Christie's Baroque "The Pied Piper of the ongoing revival of Baroque operas, William Christie is not a man to be disobeyed. If we are now familiar with countless rarities by Handel, as well as long-forgotten gems by Monteverdi, Purcell and the French masters Lully, Charpentier and Rameau, it’s largely because of Mr. Christie’s passion for music written between, roughly, 1600 and 1750, and his ability to sniff out buried musical gold as unerringly as a pig finds truffles." New York Observer 04/04/05

April 4, 2005

I Starbucks, Major Music Label? Starbucks has had big success selling music in its 4000+ US stores. Building on that success, the coffee retailer is introducing its first album by a little-known band, a next step in building a major music business. The New York Times 04/05/05

Why Does Opera Get A Pass For Bad Taste? How does the English National Opera get away with portraying Brünnhilde as a suicide bomber? "We confuse medium and message. In other words, more bluntly, if something - be it a person or an art form - is posh, it can play with as much fire as it likes, and if it isn't, it can't even play with matches. As Twilight of the Gods shows, this scheme obtains regardless of the gravitas the subject is actually accorded. If you'd seen a suicide bomber used this flippantly on Holby City, there'd have been resignations by now." The Guardian (UK) 04/05/05

Stucky Wins Pulitzer Composer Steven Stucky has won this year's Pulitzer Prize for music. "Born in 1949, Stucky has long been associated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he currently serves as Consulting Composer for New Music. He also sits on the faculty of Cornell University. He is published by Theodore Presser. As a conductor, Stucky appears frequently with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group and with Ensemble X, a contemporary music group he founded in 1997." NewMusicBox 04/04/05

Planners For Seoul Opera House Look To Copenhagen Seoul is going to build an opera house, and is looking to Copenhagen's new theatre for inspiration. The project will cost $247 million. "Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak, just back from a tour of Europe, said Monday the Opera House in Copenhagen, Denmark, seemed to make the best benchmark for Seoul in terms of location and characteristics. Seoul City will select an architect in an international contest, with construction slated to start early next year." Chosun Ilbo 04/04/05

Ring-Heads: Roaming The World For Wagner What is it about Wagner's Ring cycle that provokes such passionate fans? "Not surprisingly, hard-core classical music addicts who travel the world in search of their next Ring fix have dubbed themselves Ringheads. Think Deadheads, the devotees of the Grateful Dead -- minus the preshow, herb-laden party in the parking lot." Chicago Tribune 04/03/05

Gender-Casting - Fighting The "Lady-Harpist" "Historically, until recently the harpist might well have been the only woman in a symphony orchestra. Orchestras had been an all-male preserve except for one, lone instrument - the harp. Played by the lady harpist. From the days when Marie Antoinette and her kind sat around in salons and plucked in a gracious, ladylike way, the harp has usually been seen as a feminine instrument. Which is limiting." The New York Times 04/03/05

April 3, 2005

Jessye Norman Pulls Out Of Opera Premiere Jessye Norman has pulled out of the $2 million premiere of a new opera written with her in mind. "Composed by Richard Danielpour with a libretto by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, "Margaret Garner" tells the story of a fugitive slave who kills her children rather than raise them in bondage. Norman was slated to sing all five performances as Cilla, the sympathetic mother-in-law to Margaret. Danielpour tailored the role for Norman's dynamic voice and dignified carriage, and he said in an earlier Free Press interview that the moment the opera became real to him was the moment she agreed to participate." Detroit Free Press 04/04/05

Domingo's Opera Harvest Placido Domingo has made his mark not only as a singer but as a developer of opera companies. In Washington and Los Angeles he has taken companies to new heights. "While other American opera companies, such as San Francisco and the Met, have struggled through financial or political turmoil recently, Domingo's houses have sailed along relatively unscathed. "I am very happy and proud of my companies," he said. "We are just behind the Met and Chicago in terms of artistic quality and importance. That's not to say that we don't have problems. One of the biggest challenges is raising money. It's not easy; especially since Sept. 11, things have become more difficult. But we have been working miracles in comparison [with other U.S. houses], and we are in good shape." Chicago Sun-Times 04/03/05

Terrorism, Meet Your Operatic Muse "The escalating artistic arms race between London's two rival opera houses, Covent Garden and the Coliseum, reached a new level of threat this weekend. Both venues are in the middle of staging block-busting versions of Richard Wagner's epic and expensive Ring cycle, but audiences at the Coliseum last night were left reeling from more than the music after the English National Opera mounted a violent coup de thétre. In what will come to be regarded by opera fans as a moment of bizarre heresy - or of creative triumph - Brunnhilde, the leading character in the ENO's new production of Wagner's Twilight of the Gods, was portrayed as a suicide bomber." The Observer (UK) 04/03/05

A Year of Change In Boston In his first year with the Boston Symphony, there is no question that James Levine has made a distinct mark on the city's musical life, garnering praise but also creating controversy with his devotion to complex and dissonant music. "Whether he can carry the audience along with him is still an open question, although one is tempted to say that if he can't, nobody can. If he is driving some people out of the hall, there is a gratifying new component of young faces and prominent members of Boston's musical community who didn't make a habit of attending [former BSO director Seiji Ozawa's] concerts." Boston Globe 04/03/05

Muti Quits La Scala Riccardo Muti has resigned as musical director of Milan's La Scala opera house, following months of bitter recriminations and behind-the-scenes power struggles. The announcement comes weeks after the musicians and staff of La Scala called publicly for the 63-year-old conductor to be ousted. Muti had been the face of Italy's most famous opera house since 1986. The New York Times 04/02/05

  • Who's Next? With Riccardo Muti officially out, the race to find a successor is on at La Scala. But there aren't many realistic candidates. "Muti’s successor will almost certainly have to be Italian and will be hard to find. The front-runners are probably Daniele Gatti, who is both music director of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, and Riccardo Chailly, who has recently left his post in Amsterdam to become music director in Leipzig. He has not yet arrived in Germany, however, which might make him more easily available... Another name being mentioned as a successor is Antonio Pappano, music director of Covent Garden." And then there is the contingent that actually wants to convince Muti's predecessor, Claudio Abbado, to retake the reins. The Sunday Times (UK) 04/03/05

  • Whither The Maestro? "The crisis in Milan, which has been front-page news around Italy and become the talk of the classical music world, is rooted not only in the politicized, sometimes anarchic atmosphere of Italian opera houses but also in the complex personality of Mr. Muti... The question of what happens next for this celebrated maestro has both immediate and long-range implications not just in Europe but in America, too." The New York Philharmonic, which publicly courted the maestro for its open music director position several years ago, may do so again when Loren Maazel steps down. And with the situation in Milan so volatile, what conductor of stature will be willing to step into Muti's shoes? The New York Times 04/03/05

No Foghorn Required, Presumably This weekend, on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, "artist Michael Pestel performed improvisational tunes while seated at a baby grand piano, floating on a section of a dock going down the back channel of the [river]. The performance art, which lasted about an hour, was videotaped... for showing during an exhibition that will open Friday at Chatham College, where Pestel is an assocate professor." The event was inspired by composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, who once wrote of dreaming such a scene. Was it particularly groundbreaking? A window to a new breed of performance and/or photographic art? No, not really. But you've gotta see this picture. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04/02/05

April 1, 2005

A Post-Classical Vision Classical music might be over. But now we've got post-classical. And it ain't a bad time to be a composer. Joseph Horowitz: "Suddenly we're at a moment when composers are personally prominent in our music life. A) We have important composers who reach a very large audience, and again I'll just talk for the moment about the most obvious three guys, Reich, Glass, and Adams. B) They're performers. That's enormously important. They're not Ivory Tower figures." NewMusicBox 04/01

Smithsonian Jumps In To Music Download Business The Smithsonian is opening a new music download store to offer music from its collection as MP3's. "Folkways will offer music that ranges from the earliest American folk songs to contemporary groups doing traditional music from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. The music includes the songs of Woody Guthrie; the music of Mwenda Jean Bosco, the late guitar pioneer from Congo; the sound of the Turkish saz, a stringed instrument similar to a lute; playground songs by Suni Paz of Argentina; and the rich North Indian music of Kamalesh Maitra. Global Sound will charge 99 cents a song, which are available in MP3 format. The Smithsonian will pay royalties to the artists, as its recording label has done with records and CDs." Washington Post 04/01/05

Did Loan Kill Jersey Opera House? Why did the Jersey Opera House close this year after only six years in operation? Some wonder if a loan negotiated when the house opened proved to be a crippling move. “There are questions over the terms on which the loan deal was granted - whether we launched the project with a total financial liability around its neck with the circumstances of the loan deal, whether it was a mistake to launch the scheme in the first place.”
The Stage 04/01/05

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