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June 30, 2005

Should Musicians get Early Retirement? If the retirement goes up in Britain, there will be an awful lot of unhappy musicians. "Just imagine a 70-year-old footballer! Nobody expects sportsmen to go on and on. But that's what we have to do night after night, to international standards, having our work picked over in the press, while we struggle against tendonitis. We're athletes, too, but there's no way our careers can be cut short unless we get injured."
The Guardian (UK) 07/01/05

Aussie Chamber Music Competition Draws The Crowds Chamber music is hot in Australia. "Melbourne is at the heart of an explosion of interest in the art form, based on the city's international chamber music competition, which attracted 3.75 million radio listeners when last staged two years ago. This year, eight Australian groups and four from the region will compete for prizes worth $50,000 and concert engagements. There are two streams: string quartets and piano trios." The Age (Melbourne) 06/30/05

Old Music, New Issues As the battle over intellectual property shapes up as one of the most important of the 21st century, classical music aficionados are increasingly finding it difficult to access classic recordings. "Now that the boom years of the compact disc are over, classical music discs often don't make back their costs. No matter that the discs contain work by some of the century's great artists - often in live performances never recorded in the studio. Their appeal is often so specialized that purchasers are more likely to find them on specialized international Web sites than in Tower Records." But those recordings still belong to someone, and that someone has to be paid if someone else wants to listen, and that puts everyone in a difficult position. Philadelphia Inquirer 06/30/05

Glimmerglass Taps New Haven Exec Upstate New York's famed Glimmerglass Opera has a new general director: Michael MacLeod, who has been the executive director of the New Haven (CT) Symphony since late 2001, will take over the Cooperstown-based company this fall. MacLeod is credited with bringing New Haven's finances into balance in the tough years following the 9/11 attacks. PlaybillArts 06/29/05

Ozawa Reups In Vienna Seiji Ozawa's contract as music director of the Vienna State Opera has been extended through 2010, when the conductor will be 74... Opera News 06/29/05

Baby Steps Working Fine In San Jose The fledgling Symphony Silicon Valley declared its just-completed third season a success this week, with a balanced budget and a newly created endowment to show for its efforts. "Symphony Silicon Valley formed after the collapse of the 123-year-old San Jose Symphony in 2001. The new symphony has started slowly -- 17 performances last year compared with 50 a year for the old symphony -- and has survived mostly without city or corporate funding, depending on private donors and ticket sales." The new endowment will pump $50,000 a year into the budget, and adinistrators hope it will encourage private support for the ensemble. San Jose Mercury News 06/30/05

But No Hurling Barrels At The Viola Section, Okay? Several orchestras have had success this year programming music from the popular video game, Final Fantasy, and now, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is taking the concept a step further. The Phil is putting on a full concert of music featuring the music from such classic games as Donkey Kong and Frogger as well as from contemporary hits like Halo, and "for a portion of the two-hour video game music concert, the actions of two gamers playing live on stage will actually direct the 105-piece orchestra... It's a carefully choreographed tribute highlighting the best games and their best features, whether it's the full choir accompanying Halo or the light show complementing Tron or the montage of archival and future video clips for Zelda." Los Angeles Times 06/30/05

June 29, 2005

Frick Charges For Concerts The Frick Museum starts charging $20 for its concerts which have been freefor decades. "The Frick, which has an endowment in excess of $200 million, said it can no longer afford to subsidize the concerts completely. In the past, the series of about a dozen concerts a year has featured major names like Wanda Landowska and Kiri Te Kanawa. In recent years, new stars like Ian Bostridge and Matthias Goerne have made their New York recital debuts there." The New York Times 06/30/05

David Dubal Goes Comparison Shopping David Dubal is back on radio, spinning his musical comparisons. "While much of classical radio these days seems to consist of little more than DJs dispensing tuneful wallpaper, on any given Wednesday evening, "Reflections From the Keyboard" invites the listener to deepen his or her musical experience. "Where else, within a six-minute span, can you hear a movement of Schumann's 'Carnival' played by Rachmaninoff, Cortot, Hess, Arrau, Godowsky and Michelangeli?" OpinionJournal 06/28/05

Why You Should Listen To Music You Hate "How can you possibly have your mind open to a brand new piece of music if the only music you'll allow into your life is music that you already like?" That's why Frank Oteri goes out of his way to collect music he despises... NewMusicBox 06/29/05

Tickets So Expensive, You'll Need A Mortgage Tickets to see the world's great orchestras on tour in South Korea are becoming ridiculously expensive. A ticket to the Berlin Philharmonic's concert in Seoul, for instance, will run you between $87 and $450, which the promoter insists is necessary to recoup the fees paid to engage the orchestra. But the public complaints are getting louder... Chosun Ilbo (South Korea) 06/29/05

June 28, 2005

Proms On Trafalgar Big Screen For the first time, the First Night at the Proms will be telecast live in Trafalgar Square. "A big screen will be erected, beaming live footage from the concert at the Royal Albert Hall." BBC 06/28/05

Met Plans Mozart On A Diet The Metropolitan Opera is planning a reduced 90-minute version of Mozart's "Magic Flute". "The short version (the full version runs more than three hours with intermission) is a test of what could become a new way of attracting audiences, said Joseph Volpe, the opera house's general manager. The performances, to take place in the winter holidays of the 2006-7 season, will be aimed at both children and adults." The New York Times 06/28/05

  • Met Opera Signs Deals With Musicians, Singers... The Metropolitan Opera has new contracts with the unions that represent musicians, singers and dancers. "Both are five-year contracts that freeze wages for two years, then provide for a 4 percent increase in the third year and 2 percent increases in the fourth and fifth years." Backstage (AP) 06/28/05

June 27, 2005

A Rough Month At New Orleans Opera "The New Orleans Opera Association's artistic director was fired this month -- for reasons that remain unclear -- by the president of the board of directors, only to be reinstated a few days later by a board that refused to accept its president's action. Before Robert Lyall's reinstatement this past week by an overwhelming vote, one angry board member sent a letter to her colleagues denouncing those responsible for Lyall's dismissal as "nincompoops" and canceling a $135,000 pledge for the opera's coming season." The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) 06/19/05

A Lot Of Hope Riding On One Opera Tan Dun is writing a new opera for the Met. "One thing is certain: it will be unlike anything that has ever been seen or heard on the Metropolitan Opera stage - and will contain sounds that many have never before realized could be music. If this ambitious and experimental project succeeds, it could widen the possibilities of opera as a whole, expanding its entire future. It may also allow the Met, an august institution with an aging fan base, to expand its own future by reaching out to a significant new audience. And the process of the opera's creation will shed light on the ideas and methods of one of the most uncommon composers at work today." The New york Times 06/26/05

The Dallas Symphony's New Ticket Club The Dallas Symphony Orchestra's "Impromptu ticket program aims to fill empty seats while also giving time-starved music lovers the flexibility to catch a show on short notice. But rather than buying deeply discounted tickets online or through Web-based auctions, patrons would pay a monthly fee in exchange for getting the "best seat available" at the 2,056-seat Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center – seats that went unsold or were turned back to DSO at the last minute by subscribers." Dallas Morning News 06/26/05

June 26, 2005

LA Phil Ticket Sales Stay Strong Orchestras are declining? Don't tell it to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is continuing to ride a wave of popularity that got a major boost with the opening of the spectacular new Disney Hall. For the second year in a row, the Phil sold more than 97% of its available seats for the season, up from 60% capacity in its huge old home across the street. Los Angeles Times 06/26/05

Rebirth In Silicon Valley When the San Jose Symphony folded back in 2002, a new orchestra, Symphony Silicon Valley, quickly rose in its place. But the new ensemble was nothing like the full-scale professional operation that the old one was, even though many of the musicians were the same. These days, though, the new orchestra seems to be coming of age, and a recent grant from the San Jose Symphony Foundation should go a long way towards solidifying Symphony Silicon Valley's position in the community. San Jose Mercury News 06/26/05

Twisting History To Suit A Good Storyline Musicologist Joseph Horowitz has made plenty of waves with his new book which traces what he sees as the decline and fall of classical music in the U.S., and why that decline was inevitable. But Greg Sandow isn't wholly convinced by Horowitz's story, well-told though it may be: "Is this really history, the way a real historian would write it? Or has Mr. Horowitz instead staged a passionate morality play, in which he uses history as his casting office, providing him with heroes and villains?... This book is best understood not as analysis or history but as a cri du coeur." The New York Times 06/25/05

Keeping Classical Music "Special" It seems absurd to think, in this age of endless entertainment choice, that classical music is truly falling off the map, as so many self-styled experts claim. The real problem may actually be the opposite: "the challenge for classical music ahead is not that people constantly fired upon by the mass-marketing budgets of commercial music won't know how to relate to Brahms and Ravel. The danger, rather, is unexpected: that there is so much classical music around in this golden age of choice that it is ceasing to be special." So what's the solution? Try a little personal connection, and give your customers a sense that they're truly important to you. Philadelphia Inquirer 06/26/05

  • Is The Orchestral Sky Actually Falling? "All over the Western world, the alarm is sounding that classical music is in trouble. Orchestra subscription sales are dropping widely, in some cases by as much as two percentage points a year. Ensembles are not balancing their budgets. Audiences are getting older; young people are turned off by classical music... So, at least, goes the refrain. Is it true that people don't want classical music anymore? Or is it just a question of how to give it to them? And is it even possible - heresy of heresies - that they are being given too much of it?" The New York Times 06/25/05

June 23, 2005

Classical Neglect... Why is classical music shrinking, asks Julian Lloyd Webber? It's our own faults. "Yes, we know that there are lots of other kinds of music apart from classical - and don't we classical musicians fall over backwards to say how wonderful they all are - but while our children are continually being bombarded with pop music, they are also being denied a knowledge of some of mankind's greatest creations and their adult lives will be much the poorer for it." The Telegraph (UK) 06/24/05

We Got Music... Your Way! "Forget the album and corporate radio. Fan-built playlists and mixes are taking over the way people get their music. The popular iPod shuffle is designed around the idea that people like pairing reggae and pop with country and jazz. But music fans are ahead of corporate-endorsed playlists, putting their own clever twists on mixes by holding mixing contests, auto-generating playlists from blog posts and collaborating with others to build theme mixes. People are choosing what they want to hear rather than having it pushed on them." Wired 06/23/05

Live 8 Tickets Gone In a Whoosh Fans gobble up all 35,000 free tickets for Canada's Live 8 concert in just 21 minutes on the internet... CBC 06/23/05

Industry Report: One Of Three CDs Is Pirated The International Federation of Phonographic Industries reports that "one of every three compact discs sold in the world last year was pirated, with sales totaling $4.6 billion. "In a record 31 countries, fake recordings now outsell legal ones, the said in its annual report." Seattle Post-Intelligencer (AP) 06/23/05

Visual Shorthand - How We Talk About Music "Unless you use the specialist's language of musicology and talk in terms that only musicians would understand, to put music into words you must borrow ideas from other art forms and the senses to which they appeal. Making sense of music requires that we speak as if we have seen it, or smelled it, or felt it with our hands. So flutes make bright tones, trombones dark ones. Composers, we say, work like architects, structuring sound, building arches of melody. At one moment, musicians may play dense or textured sounds, at another, thin and airy ones. Even the most basic musical terms -- high notes, low notes -- are described with spatial metaphors. What's the "high" point on a piano string?" Washington Post 06/23/05

Montreal Symphony Cancels Summer Season Because Of Strike "On paper, 13 concerts are affected by the move, which an OSM statement blamed on the musicians' strike that began on May 9. In fact, several of the OSM's concert partners had already withdrawn their invitations to perform, for fear of a long strike. The OSM is usually the most active of Canadian orchestras in the hot months, with habitual engagements at the Lanaudière Festival, and at concerts in parks and other civic spaces." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/23/05

June 22, 2005

Midori In Asia: Of East And West Midori begins a tour of Asia, and blogs about it on ArtsJournal: "To be reminded that Japan was completely closed (at least officially) to the West and its influences for over 250 years until 1854, and at what lightning speed some elements of the Western culture have become part of Japanese society is absolutely breathtaking. More to the point, in my case, I grew up thinking (and feeling) that music was Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, even Stravinsky, Bartok, and Prokofiev. There was classical music, which was “music,” and then everything else bulked together in one. All other genres of music were exotic and mysterious including jazz and Traditional Japanese music. For me, a Schubert lieder was much more "normal" and "understandable" than the infamous Japanese song "Sakura, Sakura." Midori in Asia (AJBlogs) 06/22/05

In Venezuela - Music Out Of Poverty Some 400,000 kids have passed through a Venezuelan classical music program. "The program is the brainchild of Venezuelan conductor José Antonio Abreu, 66, who in 1975 envisioned classical music training as a social service that could change the lives of lower-income, at-risk, and special needs children. From 11 young musicians at the first rehearsal in a Caracas garage, his vision has grown into a national treasure, with 240,000 children as young as 2 -- some deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled -- now studying and performing in orchestras and choruses nationwide. Hundreds of them tour to international acclaim. The program, which has been funded by every government since it started, has spurred the creation of similar programs in 22 other Latin American countries." Boston Globe 06/22/05

Orchestras - Corrupt As They Wanna Be? Norman Lebrecht takes a read of Blair Tindall's tell-all book about life in an orchestra. "It is an unstated axiom of orchestral life that naughty boys are protected by a code of omerta and that civil law is suspended in the rehearsal room. This detachment, dangerous to mental health, aggravates the growing distance between orchestras and worldly reality. It is almost as if we are speaking different languages. Orchestras like to pretend they are part of the living arts, but the composers they play are all dead." La Scena Musicale 06/22/05

Royal Opera Takes Vilar's Name Down London's Royal Opera has stripped Alberto Vilar's name from its young artists program. "The Vilar Young Artists Programme has been renamed the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in honour of the chair of the Oak Foundation, a philanthropic organisation set up by Alan M Parker, one of Britain’s richest self-made millionaires. The Covent Garden opera house decided to remove Mr Vilar’s name after he stopped paying for the programme in March 2002." The Times (UK) 06/22/05

DC: A Tale Of Two Concert Halls Washington DC now has two concert halls - the Kennedy Center and the new Strathmore in the suburb of Bethesda. Mark Swed takes a side-by-side listen. "The Music Center at Strathmore is probably about as good a hall of its size as you can get for $100 million these days. But, despite the hype, it breaks no new ground acoustically or in any other department. Put on something worth hearing in it, and people will surely come. Situated in the heart of Washington, the Kennedy Center, for all its faults, remains a destination." Los Angeles Times 06/22/05

June 21, 2005

Minnesota Opera Looks Ahead Minnesota Opera had a great year. "Not only did it boost revenues by 11 percent over the previous year, sell 92 percent of its seats and report an overall contributions increase of more than 15 percent, but it has raised $10.6 million of a $20 million endowment initiative called Opera at the Ordway." But what about the small overcrowded theatre in which the company performs? The Star-Tribune (Mpls) 06/21/05

More Good News From Alberta For the third year in a row, the Edmonton Symphony has balanced its budget and increased ticket sales. The announcement comes as the orchestra is ending its season under the leadership of new music director Bill Eddins, an appointment which has led to some serious national exposure for the previously troubled ensemble. The 2001-02 season was marred by a bitter strike and the removal of a popular music director, but since then, the ESO has never run a deficit, and sales have been increasing steadily. PlaybillArts 06/21/05

No Need To Fear, Underdog Is Here! As a general rule, principal positions in major symphony orchestras are not filled by complete unknowns. A musician hoping to become principal viola of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, for instance, would generally need to have a) some experience as a principal in a lesser orchestra, or b) a position as a sub-principal in a comparable orchestra in order to have a realistic shot at winning. All of which makes the story of Shannon Farrell not only rare, but downright inspiring to other musicians on the audition circuit. Farrell, the 7th chair section violist of the Louisville Symphony, marched into St. Louis this month hoping to sharpen her skills with a tough audition, and walked away with one of the preeminent orchestral jobs in the U.S. Louisville Courier-Journal 06/21/05

June 20, 2005

Legal Music Downloading Surges Legal music downloads will soon surpass illegal downloads. "Around 35% of music consumers now download tracks legally via the Internet and the percentage will soon pass the 40% who have pirated music, according to a new survey released Monday by Entertainment Media Research." Yahoo! (Reuters) 06/20/05

Houston Opera Ponders Cuts Short on money, Houston Grand Opera is considering cutting back on many of its activities next year, including some free performances and broadcasts... Houston Chronicle 06/17/05

Opera 1, Moths 0 London's Covent Garden has come up with a solution to a costly moth problem. "In a plot that could have come from an opera, males attempt to mate with the false females, but do not succeed. Until the new pheromone traps were pioneered by Exosect, a company with close links to Southampton University, moths were costing the Royal Opera House tens of thousands of pounds a year. The worst affected are ballet dancers' costumes, which get engrained with sweat, clothes moths' favourite taste." The Telegraph (UK) 06/20/05

Glasgow - Capital Of Music? The UK's capital of pop music? Not London, but Glasgow, a city that is extraordinarily supportive of its bands. "Pick any Glasgow band and you're likely to find that at least one member has an art-school past. The recent rise of Glasgow-based bands has moved Time magazine to declare the city one of the 'hottest' in Europe for its thriving, supportive music scene and proliferation of decent venues..." The Telegraph (UK) 06/19/05

Does Cleveland Orchestra Deserve A Different Conductor? The Cleveland Orchestra is playing better than ever. "Being bowled over by these musicians is nothing new, and we should never take them collectively for granted. But an orchestra and music director should be regarded as a synergistic partnership. In the case of Franz Welser-MÖst, who recently ended his third season at Severance Hall as music director, the artistic chasm has widened to the point where even critics from out of town are noting the inequality. Why do so many Welser-MÖst performances with the Cleveland Orchestra leave more than a few listeners frustrated and ambivalent? How long can an orchestra go on with a music director who seems unwilling, or unable, to bring distinctive personality to the music he leads?" The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 06/19/05

Philly's Concert Bargains High ticket prices are a big problem in the classical music business. But one organization in Philadelphia offers top stars at bottom prices. "Other cities may have more concerts and higher-concept programs, but few have such a smart selection for so little money. No decent seat at a Krystian Zimerman or Mitsuko Uchida concert in most places is available for less than $50. Play your cards right with subscription offers, and it's $19 here. Other concerts, such as contralto Ewa Podles, are as low as $16 - if you subscribe to everything." Philadelphia Inquirer 06/19/05

June 19, 2005

A New Way Of Training Musicians In Minn. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the University of Minnesota have teamed up to take a different approach to training musicians. "We're trying to address the fact that orchestra jobs are changing dramatically in the 21st century. The demands that are being placed on members of orchestras, the breadth of musical skills, the scope of interpersonal skills they have to bring, the score of entrepreneurial skills they need, are vastly different from the expectations of 25 to 30 years ago." The Star-Tribune (Mpls) 06/19/05

Can Music Change The World? That's the hope of Bob Geldof and his amazing international music fest. But is this kind of concert activism of any use? "He is in danger of becoming one of the leaders of Compassion Lite, where people in the West, especially young people in the West, get to announce their compassion very cheaply, for the price of a wristband or a concert ticket or a plastic cup, without any meaningful demand on them to change their lives or look into their hearts." The Telegraph (UK) 06/19/05

Not Your Parents' Pops... "Seventy-five years after Arthur Fielder took over the Boston Pops and turned it into the most famous and influential series of its kind, pops concerts are very different. Increasingly, in Boston and elsewhere, pops means Rockapella, medleys of TV themes, Doc Severinsen, celebrity crooners doing music from last year's blockbuster movie. It means what Richard Dyer, the Boston Globe's classical music critic since 1975, calls 'the hits of 25 or 30 years ago — the favorites of the target audience, when young'." Los Angeles Times 06/19/05

Sex And The Music Career (Or: How To Get Ahead) Oboist Blair Tindall says she has figured out how getting jobs works out in the classical music world. "Tindall claims that sex played a decisive role in her musical career. She says she was simultaneously involved with three leading New York oboists — two married — who gave her work in their orchestras. One had a maxim: 'The section that lays together plays together'." The Times (UK) 06/18/05

Giving Up Music On Moral Grounds? A "successful" violinist in a small town in the western US decides to give up music. "There are too many music schools and departments, and too many string players being trained as it is. Could I live with myself by pandering to the dreams of young and blissfully unaware musicians? Even if I were to be offered a tenure-track position at a music department, I would face some moral dilemmas about doing the job. I know that I would be under pressure to recruit string students to fill my studio and the school symphony, thus ensuring my own position. But how could I do that knowing the abysmal state of the job market?" Chronicle of Higher Education 05/20/05

June 17, 2005

Is The Cassette Tape Going Bye-bye? In 1989, 83 million cassettes were sold in the UK. Last year only 900,000 were sold. But in some other countries cassettes are the preferred format. "In some markets, performers record directly onto cassette. Turkey still sells 88 million cassettes a year, India 80 million, and that cassettes account for 50% of sales in these countries. In Saudi Arabia, it is 70%. BBC 06/17/05

New Mexico Symphony's Stalled Contract Talks The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra has been negotiating with its musicians on a new contract for a year, but the 2004-05 season has now ended with little progress. Could there be a strike? "Since 1995, the salary for the NMSO executive director has gone up by more than 65 percent, and expenses for administration and production personnel have increased by more than 100 percent. Yet most of the orchestra's 35 core players earn an annual salary that's less than what they were paid in 1992." Albuquerque Tribune 06/16/05

June 16, 2005

Bringing Music To Kids How do you get children hooked on classical music? "Much has been written about music's ability to act as a means of expression and communication in both healthy children and those with difficulties; it frequently gets through where speech fails. Then there are the benefits of taking part in a creative endeavour, the interplay and team spirit of singing in a choir or playing in an orchestra or band." The Guardian (UK) 06/17/05

Exploring The Wagner/Hitler Connection "Brigitte Hamann's new biography of Winifred Wagner, the composer's English-born daughter-in-law, brings to light fresh evidence of the family’s involvement with Hitler and its complicity in his crimes. It took great ingenuity on the author’s part since the Wagners squirreled away their papers and refuse access to outsiders. But Hamann, a Viennese scholar, laid hands on Winnie's letters to her best Nazi girlfriend and, with other sources, has assembled a dossier strong enough to have landed several Wagners in the Nuremburg dock." La Scena Musicale 06/15/05

A Run On Free Beethoven BBC listeners downloaded almost 700,000 copies of the first five Beethoven symphonies as Radio3 played nonstop Beethoven last week. The most popular download was the First Symphony. "This trial was all about gauging listeners' appetite for downloads and the results are astonishing." BBC 06/16/05

Spoleto Packs 'Em In Again "Box-office receipts for the [Charleston-based Spoleto USA music festival] came in at a record, about $2,000 more than last year's figure of $2.53 million. This is the third year in a row the festival has set a sales record." Charleston Post & Courier (SC) 06/15/05

Reviving Music Nearly Killed By Hate The generation of Jews and others who perished in the Holocaust doubtless contained untold thousands of talented artists, composers, and performers whose skills were tragically lost to history. But conductor James Conlon is determined to bring attention to the music of unjustly ignored "Holocaust-era composers who were banned by the Nazis... Unearthing these lost musical treasures of the Holocaust has become a virtual obsession for Conlon, who begins his first season as music director of the Ravinia Festival on June 23 with a concert of music by Mahler and a virtually forgotten composer who perished at Auschwitz, Viktor Ullmann. Mahler and Ullmann will remain a season-long emphasis." New City Chicago 06/15/05

Listening To Art Sound art - is it art? Is it music? "Sound art is moving into the mainstream. In Britain, it can be heard in our most celebrated buildings and, as most sound artists started off as musicians, it is making a noise in the music arena, too." The Telegraph (UK) 06/16/05

June 15, 2005

Toronto Music School Hits Fundraising Target Early Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music has reached its CAN$60 million fundraising goal early, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held this week for the school's spectacular new Telus Centre for Performance & Learning. The early start was made possible when an elderly alumnus of the school chipped in an unexpected CAN$2 million gift to put the campaign over the top. The new building will provide the RCM with "two floors of academic space, more studios and classrooms, and state-of-the-art technology facilities." A second round of fundraising, with a goal of CAN$25 million, will begin in the fall. Toronto Star 06/15/05

Opera To Symphony: Thanks, But No Thanks Negotiations have broken off between the Houston Symphony Orchestra and the Houston Grand Opera, talks which would have returned the HSO to the HGO pit for the first time in four years. The symphony had sought to once again become the official pit orchestra of the opera as part of an effort to right its financial ship, which has been listing badly in recent years. But after hearing the HSO's proposal, the opera chose instead to sign a new 6-year contract with its in-house orchestra. Houston Chronicle 06/15/05

June 14, 2005

Opera In English - Bring On The Surtitles... So English National Opera is going to use English supertitles for its productions in English. This is a great thing, writes Anthony Holden. "The fundamentalist objection is that you can't do two things at once: read the words while listening to them properly. But the problem is that, half the time, you simply cannot make out the words - in English or any other language." The Observer (UK) 06/12/05

An Opera Talent Show That Works (At Least It's Fun) Opera-tunity is a TV show documenting the search for raw operatic talent, and its fabulously entertaining TV, writes Noel Holston. "The challenge that the English National Opera set for itself was to see if its scouts and coaches could find amateur singers - people with great instruments but against whom life otherwise had conspired - and bring at least one or two of them to a professional level in a matter of months. The ENO got 2,500 video applications, from people literally singing in the shower to roofers belting from the ramparts." Newsday 06/14/05

June 13, 2005

JVC Jazz-NY's Got The Blues (And We Don't Mean Music) JVC Jazz-New York is in a down cycle, clearly playing second place to its Newport cousin. "Concert promoters always know better than critics what will break even. But the concerts in the New York festival, for the most part, do not reflect the current excitements of jazz. Filling those theaters is taking the priority over smart programming. Something's got to change, at least to keep appearances up." The new York Times 06/14/05

Report: Take The Blame Away From Downloading Maybe music downloading isn't the reason music sales have fallen in recent years, suggests a new report. "The report said it is difficult to establish a causal connection between the rise of file sharing and a drop in music sales. While the music industry's revenues fell 20 percent from 1999 to 2003, other factors, such as illegal CD copying, might have played a role in the decline, the OECD said." Wired 06/13/05

European Labels Want Copyright Extension European recording companies are pushing to have EU copyright term extended to 100 years. "Currently in the EU, there are separate copyright terms for composers and performers. Composers are awarded copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years. Performers hold a copyright for 50 years from the first recording. It's the 50-year term the IFPI wants to extend." Wired 06/13/05

Rap Nostaligia Sets In "Nostalgia for the not-so-long-ago sounds of early rap is kicking in hard for longtime fans who find themselves left cold by the genre's latest hits. The booming, market er-friendly audience members in their 20s and 30s are starting to find more mature alternatives to the ever-young party and gangster rap that populates the pop charts." Orange County Register (AP) 06/12/05

June 12, 2005

The Rise Of Reggaeton "The sound of reggaeton is just about everywhere these days. Think of it as the Spanish version of mainstream hip-hop, but with the bouncy beat of Jamaican reggae. Born out of a spontaneous musical dialogue between Panama and Puerto Rico, this fusion of Spanish reggae, Latin hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall has been embraced wholeheartedly by a young Hispanic demographic in the U.S. Reggaeton albums routinely dominate the Latin Billboard charts, and a recent Reggaeton Invasion tour featuring several heavyweights of the genre enjoyed resounding success on the West Coast." Chicago Tribune 06/12/05

Cliburn, 2005 Another Van Cliburn piano competition is in the books, and John von Rhein gathers his impressions: "Among this year's medalists, there was general agreement about who deserved the gold. Bespectacled and skinny, Russia's Alexander Kobrin, 25, looks like a nerdy bookworm in need of a "Queer Eye" makeover. But he capped off his successes earlier in the finals with a Rachmaninoff "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" that was as thrilling as only a native son with superior pianistic chops can make it. Unlike some of his peers, he didn't have to emote at the keyboard, because the emotion was invested in the music." Chicago Tribune 06/12/05

  • Pianists For The Video Age In decades past you wouldn't have exactly touted top pianists for their glamorous fashion sense. That's changed, as exhibited at the just-concluded Van Cliburn Competition. "You couldn't help notice the snazzy, slinky gowns a lot of the women were wearing, and the big smiles and confident strides as they walked out onstage. In a noticeable change from the 2001 Cliburn, these were emphatically pianists groomed for the video age." Dallas Morning News 06/12/05

An Orchestra Goes For Performance-Based Pay "The Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, one of Japan's top-tier orchestras, has its own financial challenges, and in its recent negotiations it suggested a radical fix: performance-based contracts, under which musicians' raises and promotions - or, perhaps, their departures - would be based on "objective" evaluations by management. The criteria for judging the musicians are still being discussed, but in addition to straightforward musical performance, they're likely to include attendance, onstage manners, teamwork and helping to publicize the orchestra. Current members can elect to remain in the traditional lifetime-employment system, but about 70 percent have chosen the new contracts. That's no surprise: while poor evaluations could lead to a musician's contract's not being renewed, the top salary under the new system is about $72,000 a year versus $62,600 under the old." The New York Times 06/12/05

Finnish, the Musical Stars Finland has become a hotbed of classical music. "The Finns' recent emergence as a power in classical music is another case in which they have mastered a lingua franca. Defying a trend in many Western countries, where audiences are dwindling and the tradition itself seems in retreat, Finland has in the last 15 years developed first-class classical musicians out of all proportion to its size. Steady investment in music education by the government has created generations of avid listeners and, according to official figures, more orchestras per capita than anywhere on the globe." The New York Times 06/12/05

St. Louis Symphony Still Struggles To Get Past Strike Last winter's strike by the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony left a lot of hard feelings. Months later, relations between the orchestra and its musicians are still a bit raw. But there's also perhaps "an even more significant split between the orchestra's negotiating committee and the officers of the local musicians union." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 06/12/05

Sanctions: Iraq Symphony Plays Under Tough Conditions The Baghdad Symphony is performing, even though life is tough. "The orchestra knows all about survival. The first in the Arab world, it struggled through two wars and economic sanctions under Saddam Hussein. The best talent fled Iraq. Musicians who stayed earned $1 a month and instruments fell into disrepair. Still, the group, somehow, played on. And after Saddam's fall, life — and salaries — improved. There were also gifts of new instruments and a trip to America — all funded by the former U.S. authority in Iraq — highlighted by a concert in Washington, D.C., attended by President Bush." MSNBC 06/10/05

NY Freeelance Orchestras Sign Contract The musicians union has signed a new contract agreement with New York City's freelance orchestras - New York Pops, American Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Long Island Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Riverside Symphony, and Bronx Arts Ensemble. Terms include "an increase in pay from $200 to $225 per concert over the course of the contract and a one-percent increase in pension payments in its final year. All of the orchestras also agreed to ban the use of the controversial Sinfonia system—termed a virtual orchestra machine." PlayblillArts 06/11/05

June 9, 2005

A New Classical Recording Model? Into the desolate landscape of classical music recording, a new boutique recording label finds a niche... and maybe some success? Norman Lebrecht sees an opening. La Scena Musicale 06/09/05

ENO Man Apologizes For Booing The Boss Why did the English national Opera's director of marketing boo his company's departing music director at the end of a performance this week? Ian McKay said he had been angered by a newspaper article in which Mr Daniel had spoken about the ENO's future."I believed [the interview] damaged the company's reputation," he said. BBC 06/09/05

Jazz Culture Meets L.A. Sprawl Los Angeles has a jazz scene. Really, it does. But you have to know how to look for it, and be ready to accept that it may not be a carbon copy of New Orleans or Chicago. "Contrary to popular grousing, there is jazz to be had in Los Angeles — and we're not just talking about high-profile clubs such as the Jazz Bakery or this weekend's Playboy Jazz Festival. The experience may come wrapped in a way we're not accustomed to, or it might take some seeking. The bad rap about L.A., from performers to listeners, is this: 'People don't come out.' Or, 'It's too over their heads.' But the jazz issue is deeper and more complex: It's an issue of sprawl, of competing distractions." Los Angeles Times 06/09/05

A Conductor And His Public It takes more than a good match between orchestra and conductor to make a truly successful long-term partnership - the audience has to buy into the pairing as well. And nowhere has that symbiotic relationship between musicians, maestro, and the public been more in evidence than Detroit, where music director Neeme Järvi is preparing to conduct the final concerts of his tenure. Detroit News 06/09/05

More Weird Drama At ENO When Paul Daniel, the outgoing music director of the English National Opera, conducted his last performance recently, he was sent out the door with a standing ovation, thunderous applause... and one incredibly persistent man booing him from a private box. The booing, as it turns out, was coming from the ENO's own director of marketing, who was offended by Daniel's recent criticism of some ENO management figures. In the wake of the incident, some members of the audience have called for the marketing director to be fired. The Guardian (UK) 06/09/05

June 8, 2005

Boy Choir Falls Short Of Recruits Europe's oldest boys choir school has fallen on hard times. "For centuries, parents brought their 9- to 14-year-old boys to the choir and its music school, known as the Escolania of Montserrat, then part company for most of the next 11 months. But in recent years, fewer parents in Catalonia, this northeastern region of Spain, have been willing to send their children away for so long. When only 8 students were admitted last year from a pool of 20, the fewest number of candidates in recent decades, it was clear the future of the school, which dates to at least the 13th century, was at stake." The New York Times 06/09/05

The Right-Wing Folk Machine? In North America, folk music has traditionally been the purview of the political left, the stripped-down performance of protest representing a quaint, if frequently ineffective, method of protest against the powerful. But in Israel, it is the far right which has embraced folk music, using it to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to pull Jewish "settlers" out of the Gaza Strip. As in most folk music, subtlety is cast aside, and the message is clear: this land is our land. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/08/05

June 7, 2005

Bach Work Found Three Centuries Later Hidden for 300 years in a shoebox, a long forgotten Bach aria has been rediscovered. 'The work, for a soprano and harpsichord, was written in October 1713 as a birthday present for Bach's patron, Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar." The Guardian (UK) 06/08/05

English National Opera Adds Supertitles The English National Opera says it will start using supertitles, even though its operas are performed in English. The company says that "research showed 61% of its audience was more likely to return to the Coliseum if surtitles were used. They will be introduced from March 2006, beginning with Vaughan Williams' Sir John In Love." BBC 06/07/05

Legal Threat Against "Springer" A Christian group says it will take legal action against a planned production of Springer, The Opera, if it plays in Birmingham. "If you wanted to be deliberately offensive and provocative to Christians, you couldn't do much better than put Jerry Springer: The Opera on at the Birmingham Hippodrome." BBC 06/03/05

June 6, 2005

One View Of Beethoven You Don't Read Very Often... "Beethoven certainly changed the way that people thought about music, but this change was a change for the worse. From the speculations of Pythagoras about the "music of the spheres" in ancient Greece onwards, most western musicians had agreed that musical beauty was based on a mysterious connection between sound and mathematics, and that this provided music with an objective goal, something that transcended the individual composer's idiosyncrasies and aspired to the universal. Beethoven managed to put an end to this noble tradition by inaugurating a barbaric U-turn away from an other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul. This was a ghastly inversion that led slowly but inevitably to the awful atonal music of Schoenberg and Webern." The Guardian (UK) 06/05/05

Fogel: Orchestras Must Change American Symphony Orchestra League president Henry Fogel says orchestras will have to change to survive. "Complex program notes, musicians in white ties and tails and dowagers who hiss if one claps at the wrong time all keep newcomers out of the concert hall, he noted. After recently seeing a conductor wag his finger at concertgoers who applauded too soon, he wondered 'how many more times those people will actually pay money for tickets so they can be humiliated'?" Cincinnati Enquirer 06/06/05

Philly Opera Racks Deficit, Cuts Staff The Opera Company of Philadelphia has recorded its first major deficit since 1995. "The company ran a $400,000 deficit on an $8.6 million budget for the fiscal year that ended May 31. As a result, the company has let go Susan S. Ashbaker, a key member of the music staff for 16 years; plus the director of marketing, director of development, and two lower-level staff members." Philadelphia Inquirer 06/05/05

Top Two Cliburn Winners A Contrast Russian pianist Alexander Kobrin wins top honors at the Van Cliburn Competition; South Korean Joyce Yang wins second and Chines pianist Sa Chen wins third. "Kobrin and Yang, the two top prize winners, couldn't be more different. Kobrin polarized critics, bloggers and audience members. He often received screaming ovations, and fans threw carnations on the stage after his chamber orchestra performance Thursday night. Yet, some critics reacted strongly toward his steely style, dubbing him "The Undertaker." Yang, on the other hand, is effervescent. She so dominated the news conference after the awards, that it was easy to forget Kobrin was actually the gold medalist." Fort Worth Star-Telegram 06/06/05

  • Some Do's And Don'ts At The Cliburn After weeks of listening to competitors of this year's Van Cliburn Competition, Scot Cantrell has some advice for competitors... Dallas Mornign News 06/05/05

New Star Wars Soundtrack Hits Top 10 The new Star Wars movie sound track has cracked the Billboard Top 10 albums. And the music? It's epic, writes Richard Dyer. "What Lucas does not say is that the music often tells the story more clearly and in greater depth than the filmmaking does; the music's emotional resonances reach further than the dialogue and the acting do." Boston Globe 06/06/05

An Ode To The Bassoon What use is a bassoon? "We hold the whole thing together. Aside from holding up the bottom of the four main woodwind instruments, we modify our colors, and in the process, suddenly it's not a flute and a bassoon, it's a 'flassoon.' And the combination of clarinet and bassoon is a 'bassinet.' The same thing with the oboe. It's our job to make these instruments into something altogether different. A good bassoon player has to have an ear for color and has to be a good ensemble player." Los Angeles Times 06/05/05

June 5, 2005

What Is A Carnegie Hall Concert? "Many casual ticket buyers assume, logically enough, that all classical concerts at Carnegie Hall are in fact Carnegie Hall classical concerts. Not so simple. In fact, two completely different species of events take place inside the same building, even though, as in nature, one species sometimes mimics the other to gain advantage in a competitive cultural ecosystem." The New York Times 06/06/05

The Computer Recommends... Music retailers are turning to sophisticated computer analysis of music to try to recommend music to consumers. "The listeners classify hundreds of characteristics about each song, including beat, melody, lyrics, tonal palette and dynamics, then plug the data into a music recommendation engine — software designed to find songs that share similar traits." Yahoo! (AP) 06/05/05

Russian Wins Cliburn Russia's Alexander Kobrin, 25, has won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The silver medal went to Joyce Yang, 19, of South Korea. Sa Chen, 25, of China took third place. "Each medalist wins $20,000 in cash, three years of concert tours and career management and the opportunity to record an album. Kobrin also will perform internationally." Yahoo! (AP) 06/05/05

Bringing Back Horowitz, Digitally "Old recordings of great performers are often marred by scratches and surface noise, or by sound badly filtered through primitive microphones. [But a new technology] is offering the same music with the immediacy of live performance and the acoustical advantages of a contemporary piano." The innovator is Dr. John Q. Walker, and he breathed new life into the Disklavier, which has so far mainly been used to allow live performances to be simultaneously reproduced far away on an automated piano. Walker's latest project is the digitization of recordings by old masters of the instrument, which can then be newly "performed" by the specially equipped pianos. The New York Times 06/05/05

Choosing Music Over Tact Striking orchestras put conductors in a difficult position - the guy on the podium has a lot more in common with the musicians than the managers, but as the face of the organization, he can't really afford to take sides. Traditionally, conductors stay out of labor disputes altogether, lest they burn bridges on either side. So when the striking musicians in Montreal placed a call to conductor William Henry Curry and asked him to lead them in a free concert to build community support for their cause, Curry had to think long and hard. But he accepted, even though he knew full well that his participation would likely cost him any chance of an official guest conducting invitation in the future. Raleigh News & Observer 06/05/05

Vänskä In Minnesota For The Long Haul Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has signed a four-year contract extension with the Minnesota Orchestra, which will keep him in Minneapolis through the 2010-11 season. In his two years as music director, Vänskä has considerably expanded the orchestra's national and international reputation, leading it on a high-profile tour of Europe and embarking on a project to record the complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies. Vänskä's name has recently been popping up on the wish lists of other top orchestras in more glamorous cities, which spurred the Minnesota management to pursue the extension. Minneapolis Star Tribune 06/04/05

June 3, 2005

LACMA Gives New Music The Boot The LA County Museum of Art is dropping the residencies of two of LA's most important contemporary music groups. The California EAR Unit and Xtet — as well the annual Rosalinde Gilbert Concerts, which cover a broader repertory, are being cut loose. "We're going to concentrate on programs that enhance the core mission of an art museum, which is to present the visual arts to the public." Los Angeles Times 06/03/05

June 2, 2005

Missing Eos Why did the adventurous orchestra Eos fold after 10 years? Conductor Jonathan Sheffer ponders the question: "Ironically, Eos's decline during the past year happened against the backdrop of the rise of Red {an orchestra} in Cleveland, now entering its fourth season. The opposite trajectory of these two groups perfectly manifested all that was problematic with Eos, and all that is right with Red. With only my programming ideas in common, Red and Eos, each in its own way, embody all the challenges and rewards facing the smaller, more iconoclastic arts groups in America." NewMusicBox 06/02/05

The Mozart Effect (But Why?) What is it with our enduring fascination with Mozart? "As we near the 250th anniversary of his birth, Mozart still presides as the patron saint of modern child prodigies—and as a talismanic figure in the more mundane realm of bound-for-the-top organization kids, too." Slate 06/01/05

Melting The New Music Permafrost Contemporary music remains a tough sell in most concert halls, so when flutist Claire Chase decided to found her own ensemble specializing in the stuff, she knew she'd better be ready to take her performances outside traditional "classical" spaces. Three years later, Chase's Chicago-based International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is a bona fide cult hit, performing everywhere from chamber music venues to seedy dive bars, and thriving on a combination of youthful energy (nearly all the Icicles, as members of the group are known, are under 30) and serious artistry. Chicago Tribune 06/02/05

End Of A 'Championship' Era In Detroit Most music directors who last more than ten years with a single orchestra don't wind up leaving under the happiest of circumstances (Seiji Ozawa in Boston and Charles Dutoit in Montreal come to mind,) but as Neeme Järvi prepares to depart the Detroit Symphony after 15 years at the helm, there seems to be no question that the DSO and its home city have been witness to one of the great musical partnerships of the era. "The Estonian-born conductor and this mid-American orchestra have evolved into a championship team. They have changed together, flowered together, triumphed together. Especially over the last half-dozen seasons, they have turned what once were highlights into a lofty new standard of excellence at Orchestra Hall." Detroit News 06/02/05

Phoenix Gets A Deal Done, With Minimal Fuss The musicians of the Phoenix Symphony have a new contract which will go a long way towards restoring much of what they lost the last time around the negotiating cycle. Back in 2002, the Phoenix players took a 14% pay cut in order to help stabilize the organization's finances. The new 6-year deal calls for raises of 4%, 4%, and 5%, spread over the length of the contract. "In stark contrast to past negotiations characterized by walkout threats and busted deadlines, most details of the new contract were agreed upon before formal negotiations with the union began in April." Arizona Republic 06/02/05

Bringing In The Best The well-known firm Artec has been chosen by the Quebec government to manage the acoustical design of the proposed new concert hall for l'Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, and is already proposing that the hall be half again as big as originally planned. "The concert hall would be a public-private partnership, meaning a private consortium would build and operate the structure and Quebec would pay the tab over time." The OSM has been seeking a new home for years, and despte being mired in an ongoing musicians' strike, the organization has been enthusiastically partnering with the provincial government in drawing up the plans. Artec has won praise for its designs of concert halls in Dallas, Birmingham, England and Lucerne, Switzerland. Montreal Gazette 06/02/05

June 1, 2005

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Looks For New Home The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, tired of sharing a concert hall, are exploring the possibility of building their own hall. "The concert hall idea faces tremendous financial hurdles and long odds. The orchestra would be trying to raise money from arts benefactors whose philanthropy budgets already are stretched thin. Asking taxpayers for help would be sure to spur fervent debate." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 06/01/05

One View Of The Atonalists... Schönberg, Babbitt and Carter et al. were failures as compoers, write Miles Hoffman. "They have either grossly overestimated or willfully ignored the limits of the auditory perceptual abilities of most human beings, and somewhere along the way they have either forgotten or willfully ignored the reasons most people listen to music in the first place. They, or their boosters, may write detailed, not to say impenetrably turgid, analyses of the structural underpinnings of their works and the strict mathematical relationships inherent therein, but to the extent that those relationships remain completely unapparent to the human ear—as they so often do—they’re meaningless, and what we actually hear is . . . noise." Wilson Quarterly 06/05

Where Are the Women Conductors? Well into her career, Marin Alsop looks around and sees few female conductors as colleagues. "I assumed 20 years ago when I got into the profession and looked around that there would be an influx of women on to the podium. It never happened." The Guardian (UK) 06/02/05

Gadafi Opera Delayed A new opera about Libyan dictator Moammar Gadafi, a co-production between English National Opera and Asian Dub Foundation, has been delayed. It will now open ENO's 2006/07 season. "The most important thing is to absolutely get this right the first time it goes out. If we continued with the current timetable, we could make the deadlines, but we've given ourselves no space to step back and revisit sections." The Guardian (UK) 06/01/05

Sydney Symphony Finishes With Large Surplus The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has closed out its 2004 books with a $582,000 surplus. "Also last year, Gianluigi Gelmetti replaced Edo de Waart as the SSO's artistic director. The change had almost instant success - the concert that launched Gelmetti's tenure, a gala performance of Verdi's Requiem, won a Helpmann award for Best Classical Concert Presentation of 2004." Sydney Morning Herald 06/01/05

Fogel: Why Orchestras Need To Change Orchestras need to change their image, says Henry Fogel, head of the American Symphony Orchestra League: "It's for the fur coat crowd. It's stuffy. It's too formal. I don't know enough about music. It's intellectual, not emotional. I might applaud at the wrong time. I'm, sorry to say that - particularly in the first half to two-thirds of the 20th century - orchestras kind of cultivated that image. Now it's biting them in the behind." Cincinnati Post 05/31/05

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