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July 31, 2006

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss Seeking stability after several seasons of fiscal uncertainty and internal dissension, the Louisville Orchestra has turned to a familiar face for leadership, naming Jorge Mester as music director. Mester, who also holds conducting positions in Florida and California, previously served as Louisville's music director from 1967 to 1979, and his re-appointment comes as a big surprise, since the orchestra reportedly had a number of up-and-coming young conductors on its shortlist. Louisville Courier-Journal 08/01/06

Legendary Chicago Jazz Club Back In Business The Velvet Lounge, a Chicago jazz club that closed last year to make way for a condo building, has reopened in a new location around the corner, and jazz fans in the Second City couldn’t be happier. “the new Velvet conveys a mood and sensibility of its own and, as such, instantly emerges as one of the most appealing jazz rooms in the city.” Chicago Tribune 07/31/06

Wagner's House Great performances of Wagner's music can be found all over the world these days. Furthermore, the famed Wagner Festival at Bayreuth, Germany, has been frequently marred by familial strife and controversy in recent years. And yet, still, Bayreuth is arguably the toughest ticket in classical music, with a waiting list of seven years to buy a seat. So what is it about Bayreuth? The performance space certainly has something to do with it: "Wagner’s opera house, the Theater on the Green Hill, as it has long been called, is truly one of the glories of the opera world." The New York Times 07/31/06

July 30, 2006

The Divas, The Disrespect, The Inequality: Ah, Bliss! For Phyllida Lloyd, directing theatre is in many ways vastly preferable to directing opera. "So why would I direct opera? Because when the conditions are right, to be a part of that massive collaboration with 80 musicians in the pit and 100 on the stage is to be part of something much greater than oneself, to help to give the audience a raw emotional experience like no other. Opera operates on a subterranean level and can reach parts of you that other art forms really do struggle to reach. Opera is an event." Telegraph (UK) 7/29/06

Smithsonian To Pay Hip-Hop Its Due Hip-Hop, an American art form that went global long ago, might seem an odd fit with the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, but planning for a major exhibition on hip-hop culture is under way there. Baltimore Sun 7/30/06

Does Louisville Need A New Concert Hall? The Louisville Symphony seems to be in a near-permanent state of fiscal crisis these days, and clashes between musicians desperate to hold onto what they have and managers intent on cutting costs pop up nearly every year. But Andrew Adler wonders if the success that other orchestras have enjoyed could be replicated in Louisville if the ensemble could somehow scrape together the money to build a shiny new concert hall where it is the primary tenant. Louisville Courier-Journal 07/30/06

Is Edinburgh's Fest Still Relevant? The Edinburgh Festival is a beloved institution in Scotland, and visitors from throughout the world descend on the city every summer to experience it. But Robert Dawson Scott wonders whether the festival is really necessary anymore: "Obviously it is nice for central Scotland to have a glimpse of the international art world once a year. But does anyone else, apart from the attention-seeking adolescents who underpin the Edinburgh Fringe, really need to go there any more?" The Independent (UK) 07/30/06

Who Says Mozart Is Old School? New York's Mostly Mozart Festival is departing from tradition to introduce a massive piece of digital installation art outside its Lincoln Center home. The artwork "uses artificial intelligence in a visual and aural play of the composer's last symphony — the 'Jupiter'... In the interplay between sound and image, Mozart's music is taken apart, with computers searching for the right sequence of notes that was recorded by real musicians — before reconstructing the final, perfect end to the masterwork." Los Angeles Times (AP) 07/29/06

Bayreuth Under Glass Germany's Bayreuth Festival may be the world's most insular musical gathering, and the global move towards casual dress and informal style is still a hard sell amongst the Bavarian Wagner faithful. But it's the adherence to tradition that makes Bayreuth such a unique experience, says Anthony Tommasini. The New York Times 07/30/06

Looking For A Role Model Ever since Toronto's new opera house was completed earlier this summer, critic William Littler has been scanning the globe for cities that make the best use of their performing arts facilities, and could serve as a model for Toronto. In Munich, he may have found the ideal comparative. "Munich itself is considerably smaller than Toronto, and yet its principal opera house (there are three others) routinely maintains an average attendance of upwards of 90 per cent... Will the Four Seasons Centre have as powerful a catalytic effect in Toronto? If it does, there is room to hope that the Canadian Opera Company can expand beyond its usual seven productions." Toronto Star 07/29/06

Bargain Pricing In The Berkshires Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony's summer home in the Berkshires, is jumping on the trend of lowering ticket prices to generate better sales. For twelve days in August, concertgoers will get into the famed Koussevitsky Music Shed for as little as $20. And if that doesn't seem like all that impressive a bargain, keep in mind that Tanglewood tickets ordinarily go for as much as $83. Berkshire Eagle (MA) 07/29/06

The Acting Does Tend To Be A Bit Wooden, Though Sure, Mozart opera is fine, but you know what would really improve it? Puppets. Seriously. "Most opera singers pick up their skills in physical acting on the fly, but a marionette in the hands of a skilled puppeteer is a dramatic creature par excellence. They have nothing to do but move, and... puppets move with a sense of character and drama that you would be hard pressed to find among any human cast." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/29/06

July 28, 2006

You Ain't Got A Thing If You Ain't Done The Ring "Not so long ago, complete performances of the Ring presented within six days, as Wagner intended, were infrequent outside of Bayreuth. (The premiere took place in the span of five days.) But in the last 25 years, producing the Ring has almost become a calling card for any company claiming top-rank status in the opera world." The New York Times 07/28/06

Could Full Body Trombone Tackling Be Far Behind? Plenty of orchestras have embraced the trend of performing concert versions of the musical scores to video games, so it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that the Houston Symphony is planning a concert of music from the National Football League. You didn't know the NFL produced original music? Silly you. The league has, in fact, had not one but three composers on call over the last 40 years, writing the full orchestral scores you hear under the voice of Harry Kalas on the film-quality highlight reels put out by NFL Films. Houston Chronicle 07/28/06

Downloadable Music, Without That Nasty Brimstone Aftertaste A new online music service making use of the motto "We Are Not Evil" is bucking industry trends and bypassing what it sees as an obstructionist recording industry. "Magnatune sets out to be fair and friendly to both artists and consumers. You can listen to any Magnatune album streamed complete for free from its website, download it for a suggested fee of $8, or order it on a finished CD (suggested price $8 a disc, plus $4.97 for duplication costs and postage). Fifty percent of all revenues go directly to the artist(s). All music on Magnatune has been cleared for licensing, so it can be broadcast or used in films or other audiovisual and Web-based productions." And yes, Magnatune has plenty of classical... Boston Globe 07/28/06

July 27, 2006

Proving Once Again That You Can't Cut Your Way To Solvency The West Virginia Symphony has been in debt since the moment it moved into its new home at Charleston's Clay Center three years ago, and the orchestra is hoping a major endowment drive will plug the seemingly permanent hole in its finances. The WVS's accumulated debt stands at nearly $800,000, with $640,000 more on various credit lines. Worse, the orchestra's subscriber base is less than half what it was a decade ago, and cuts to the musicians' roster and the season schedule have done nothing to alleviate the problem. Charleston Gazette (WV) 07/25/06

Even If You Return It, It's Still Stealing The former president of the Buffalo local of the American Federation of Musicians has pled guilty to embezzling $74,000 from the musicians he purported to represent. Mark Jones "charged items on the local union's credit card, then charged the same items to the parent union and pocketed the money... Jones repaid $21,000 of the amount he had taken before the investigation began, and has since repaid nearly all the rest, according to the United States Attorney's office." Buffalo News 07/27/06

Rochester Phil Rakes In The Cash Upstate New York's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has set an in-house fundraising record for the second year in a row, taking in nearly $2.2 million for the 2006 fiscal year. "At a time when many orchestras in the country are posting deficits, the RPO, flush from its fundraising success, made another kind of record this week, a recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F." Rochester Democrat & Chronicle 07/27/06

Ugly Estate Battle Settled in Edmonton The Edmonton Symphony has resolved a long-running dispute with the Winspear Centre for Music over the estate of a deceased philanthropist. "[Stuart] Davis, who died in July 2005, was a great supporter of both the Winspear Centre and the ESO, which plays at the venue. Symphony officials had been under the impression that Davis, a retired professor who found success on the stock market, had left a substantial bequest to the company in his will." When the truth turned out to be far more complicated, lawyers got involved and the dispute spilled into the press. Under the settlement, the ESO will get several hundred thousand dollars, and the Centre will get nearly CAN$2 million. CBC 07/26/06

July 26, 2006

Let's All Jump On Bayreuth (It's Time Again) Bayreuth has only just opened and German newspapers are pondering whether the festival circuit has become too much. "The festivals in Bayreuth and Salzburg are the most prominent examples of an increasingly close network of festivals that now stretch across Europe from the south Pole to Andalusia," The Guardian (UK) 06/26/06

July 25, 2006

Marketing Classical Music - A Crass And Cynnical Ploy? "Music itself is not a product. A thing of beauty, a universal language, an outpouring essential to life and expression, yes - but not a product. Yet, unfortunately, classical music seems to be slipping down the image-conscious slope that degrades so many other art forms. More and more it attempts to package itself as a consumer item, with all the fatuous and artfully deceptive gloss to match; it sacrifices ideas of integrity and transmitting the benefits of artistic endeavour for the ideologies of market competitiveness and maximised returns." The Guardian (UK) 07/25/06

Levine Is Top-Paid Conductor In U.S. With paychecks totaling $3.5 million, "James Levine is not just among the most acclaimed music directors of his time. His combined salaries from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York's Metropolitan Opera make him the highest-paid conductor in the country, according to the most recent Internal Revenue Service filings." This does not, however, mean he wins the world title for highest paid conductor. Boston Globe 07/25/06

An On-Time Finish Would Mean An Under-Rehearsed Orchestra "The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center is slated to open Sept. 15, but builders are racing to finish at least a month earlier — the leeway the hall needs to have a fighting chance of sounding right in its debut. Its resident orchestra, the Pacific Symphony, needs the time to become acclimated to the 2,000-seat venue in Costa Mesa, which is considerably more intimate and acoustically sensitive than its previous home of nearly 20 years." Los Angeles Times 07/25/06

July 24, 2006

Raving Mad - UK Raves Return The legal club scene in the UK is limited so illegal raves are returning. "First signs of the rebirth of the outdoor rave came last year, but partygoers now appear to be more emboldened to challenge laws brought in 12 years ago by the Conservative government to crush a scene that epitomised the dance and drug culture of the early 90s." The Guardian (UK) 07/24/06

Lebrecht: South Bank's Anti-Art Move London's South Bank has offered work to a pair of talented English composers that will keep them away from composing, writes Norman Lebrecht. "In the prime of life and apparent good health, the pair ought to be at the height of their fertility yet such is the English aptitude for seducing artists away from art - and the concomitant avidness of English artists to accept state honours and financial honoraria - that no-one, not even their loyal publisher, would aver that Oliver Knussen or George Benjamin has come within a nautical mile of fulfilling a truly remarkable potential." La Scena Musicale 07/24/06

Stones Are Top-Drawing Band In First Half Of 2006 The Rolling Stones made the most money of any band touring in the first half of 2006. "The veteran group made $147.3m (£79.7m) from 45 concerts on their A Bigger Bang tour in the US and elsewhere. Irish band U2 made $73m (£39.4m) over the same period, while veteran rockers Bon Jovi made more than $65m (£35m)." BBC 07/24/06

July 23, 2006

When Gould And Bernstein Clashed A recording of a famous confrontation between Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein over a performance of a Brahms piamo concerto in 1962 is about to finally be released. It's the kind of performance that never would happen today, writes Norman Lebrecht... Bloomberg 07/23/06

A Music Center's Success Is Based On... Proximity? South Florida is about to get a big new performing arts center. What will that do for the nearby Broward performing arts center? "To be sure, there are hardcore music fans who will journey far afield to hear the finest visiting artists and local groups available. But for the majority of the region's classical audiences -- comprised of a heavily senior-skewing demographic -- convenience and proximity take precedence over considerations of artistic merit." South Florida Sun-Sentinel 07/23/06

The Field Guide To Classical Music (Yes, You Need One) Classical music, like any art form that demands effort and intellectual engagement from its fans, can be an intimidating experience for the uninitiated. But today, there are any number of ways for classical neophytes to take the plunge, and thanks to the internet, you can listen to almost any piece without ever leaving your desk. One new guide to exploring the classical world even combines the printed word with an astonishingly large online database of music, enough to keep any fan of the genre listening for years. Baltimore Sun 07/23/06

A Ring To Forget? Simon Rattle's new Ring Cycle at the Aix-en-Provence Festival hasn't been much of a hit with the critics. "Rattle's Wagner as yet lacks that veteran conductor's inexorable sense of drama. The momentum started and stopped and frequently dragged... The overall effect was soporific. Perhaps Rattle was as bored as the rest of us by what he saw on stage." The Australian 07/23/06

July 21, 2006

Dallas Opera's Good Year Ticket revenues were down, but total attendance was up slightly. New partnerships and outreach programs brought in nearly 3,000 first-time patrons. Dallas Morning News 07/20/06

July 20, 2006

Shostakovich Over Prokofiev? But Why? "It is striking to contrast the rise and rise of Shostakovich with the more ambiguous status of the Soviet Union's other major composer of the 20th century, Sergei Prokofiev. While Shostakovich has managed, in death, to break free of Stalinism's shackles, Prokofiev remains caught up by them." Th Guardian (UK) 07/21/06

Assessing Year One Of The Robertson Era David Robertson's first year as music director of the St. Louis Symphony has been, in musical terms, an unqualified success. Robertson's programming was innovative, his concerts well-received, and critics noted a sharp uptick in the orchestra's playing. But ticket sales slumped badly for the SLSO this year, a possible after-effect of a musicians' strike in 2005, and the organization is still struggling to find a way to make itself relevant and appealing to a broader audience. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 07/16/06

Mixing It Up The art of the mixtape - a homemade collection of songs from any number of artists - may have peaked in the early 1990s, but even in the age of the iPod, the phenomenon remains strong, particularly in the hip-hop industry. "These days they often seem less like shady contraband, circulated by samizdat, and more like vital extensions of slick marketing campaigns." The New York Times 07/20/06

Stroking Sound Composers draw inspiration for their work from all corners of their world, and even works with a universal appeal can have highly personal experiences at their core. This weekend, a new music ensemble in Pittsburgh will debut a new work by Brett William Dietz, entitled Headcase, that takes the idea of personal inspiration to the extreme. The piece is a musical journey through a major stroke that Dietz suffered when he was 29. "The composition incorporates recordings of electronic sound and Dietz talking... There are projected images of Dietz's MRI scans, showing the areas of the brain that were damaged, and pieces of paper given to him in the hospital to write on in an attempt to communicate." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 07/20/06

July 19, 2006

Bayreuth's Unique Allure "The centrepiece of this year's festival is a new Ring cycle - a great event at any opera house, at Bayreuth something akin to the second coming. The production is in the hands of conductor Christian Thielemann, Bayreuth's favoured son, and director Tankred Dorst, an 80-year-old playwright who, despite never having directed an opera before, was appointed two years ago when Lars von Trier pulled out. Who says Bayreuth is conventional?" The Guardian (UK) 07/20/06

Forget That $100 Million, I Play Classical In 1958, Saul Levine built his own classical music station in Los Angeles. Now 80, he still owns and runs the station and programs classical music even though he could probably sell for $100 million. "Whenever I get an offer I call my wife and she tells me to tell them to go away. She doesn't want me hanging around the house, and I would go nuts." Los Anegeles Times 07/19/06

Wanted: A Billionaire Who Loves Orchestras Peter Dobrin wants to know: "So where is the billionaire so in love with orchestral music that he or she wants to make all the difference in the life of an orchestra? Where is that hybrid philanthropist-music lover who wants to add $100 million or $200 million to the endowment of the Philadelphia Orchestra so it can stop fearing deficits; activate a range of education programs that can really inculcate children with classical music; and take a chance once in a while on edgy repertoire or the cultivation of a young unknown guest artist without fear of box-office repercussions?" Philadelphia Inquirer 07/19/06

July 18, 2006

NJ Symphony Struggles To Pay For Instruments, Taps Endowment The New Jersey Symphony is dipping significantly into its endowment to pay off a deficit. "Paying off the debt for the instruments, which stands at about $12 million, has prevented the orchestra from dealing with an accumulated operating deficit of $4.2 million. The endowment draw and some intricate financial restructuring will reduce the debt payments to $1.1 million a year, from $1.8 million, the orchestra said." The New York Times 07/19/06

The Art Of Sound (Or Is It The Sound Of Art?) "Much of today’s sound art wasn’t possible until recently, for lack of appropriate technology. 'Sound art is one of the simplest and most complex things. By moving air, you can make people get very emotional'." The Times (UK) 07/18/06

Mozart Reconsidered (Again) "Present-day scholars are picking away at the myths and fantasies that have encrusted the world’s most famous composer. They describe him not as a naïve prodigy or a suffering outcast but as a hardworking, ambitious, successful musician — 'Mozart as a Working Stiff,' to borrow the title of a 1994 essay by Neal Zaslaw." The New Yorker 07/17/06

July 17, 2006

"Rings" Scores Hit With Orchestra Audiences The hot work on the orchestra circuit these days? Howard Shore's symphony made up of music from the "Lord of the Rings" movies. "Shore's two-hour distillation of his epic, 11-hour soundtrack to the film trilogy has been making the rounds, not always endearing critics, but delighting the people who matter most. It received its 100th performance over the weekend in San Francisco's Davies Hall." San Diego Union-Tribune 07/17/06

London Symphony Goes Young In search of building audiences for the future, the London Symphony Orchestra targets babies... The Guardian (UK) 07/16/06

July 16, 2006

Opera's Power List Who are the most powerful people in American opera? Opera News made a list. "You have the expected, of course: the chiefs of the four biggest opera companies (and eight of largest 10), high-powered agents from IMG and CAMI, the two maestros named James (Levine and Conlon), "The Diva" (Renée), and, naturally, The New York Times (collectively). But there are a few surprises, too." PlaybillArts.com 07/14/06

  • A State Of Opera Power Why make a list now? "There's new management in many other houses, including major companies in Houston and San Francisco as well as dynamic smaller companies such as Atlanta Opera and Madison Opera. And everyone's talking about the same thing and asking the same questions: What's the future of the art-form? Where are new audiences going to come from? How are we going to maintain the cultural relevance of opera in the United States? In response to this compelling scenario we made a list of 25 names that represent power in the industry now as the industry looks forward." PlaybillArts.com 07/14/06

The Small Town With The Big Music Little out-of-the-way Salida, Colorado doesn't have much music. But every summer, the toen hosts a major league chamber muic series. "The historic Arkansas River town of 5,000, best known for kayaking and art galleries, is hardly a classical-music mecca, yet folks there have managed to keep a summer chamber series going for 30 years." Denver Post 07/16/06

Atlanta Opera Quits City, Moves To Suburbs "Beginning in fall 2007, it will make the new arts center's 2,750-seat Williams Theatre its home. The move is historic: It marks the first time a major-city opera company will leave its established location within a city and move all its performances to a suburb, according to Opera America, a service organization based in New York. And though metro Atlanta's reputation may be that of one large, sprawling landmass, for the opera, being in Cobb County could present an uncertain bundle of financial, sociological and political ramifications." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 07/16/06

  • Atlanta Opera Cuts Back Programming, Sells Headquarters The company will "sell its Midtown headquarters for $4 million and make significant cutbacks in its programming. The moves will allow the 27-year-old opera company to pay off its $2.85 million debt and trim back its annual budget by $1 million. The actions come on the heels of its historic decision last month to move its performances from Midtown's Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center to the new Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in 2007." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 07/13/06

Why Opera Languishes In Boston "Twice in the past, Boston has arrived at the top level of international opera, with a combination of adventurous repertoire, major singers, and theatrically exciting productions. This occurred early in the 20th century at the old Boston Opera House on Huntington Avenue, and later on with the late Sarah Caldwell. But this can't even be a goal nowadays for two basic reasons: There isn't the money for it because of competition for funding with older and more prestigious arts organizations such as the BSO. And there isn't a suitable venue." Boston Globe 07/16/06

Man Hears/Records Songs Of The Dead A Canadian fiddler claims he hears music written by dead people. "Holed up in his trailer in Inverness, Cape Breton, the 81-year-old master fiddler pens 10 to 15 tunes a day, often hunched over his kitchen table. By his own count — and he keeps a daily tally on small sheets of paper — he has produced 33,300 compositions, but he still balks at publishing them, saying he hasn't yet reached his personal goal of 35,000. Yet MacDougall insists he's not creating art; he's simply recording history. 'It's from the people who lived here before ... they could make [songs], but they couldn't write them'." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/15/06

Building Homes For Musicians In New Orleans Volunteers are building a housing village in New Orleans for musicians. "The housing program is run by Habitat for Humanity. Saxophone player Branford Marsalis and singer Harry Connick Jr., honorary chairmen of the charity's Gulf Coast rebuilding program, dreamed up the idea to encourage musicians to move into one area. The group bought a vacant lot formerly owned by the city school board and is using its army of volunteers — about 3,000 of them so far — to build 75 homes. It plans another 225 houses elsewhere in the neighborhood." Yahoo! (AP) 07/15/06

The CD Audience Gets Grayer "The neighborhood record store was once a clubhouse for teenagers, a place to escape parents, burn allowances and absorb the latest trends in fashion as well as music. But these days it is fast becoming a temple of nostalgia for shoppers old enough to remember 'Frampton Comes Alive!' In the era of iTunes and MySpace, the customer base that still thinks of recorded music as a physical commodity (that is, a CD), as opposed to a digital file to be downloaded, is shrinking and aging, further imperiling record stores already under pressure from mass-market discounters like Best Buy and Wal-Mart." New York Times 07/16/06

July 14, 2006

Seattle Symphony Musicians Survey: We're Not Happy With Conductor Schwarz A survey of musicians in the Seattle Symphony shows widespread unhappiness with music director Gerard Schwarz and the orchestra's ineffectual board, which recently renewed the conductor's contract to a 26th season. "The comments - mostly centering on the artistic direction of the orchestra, which Schwarz has led since 1983 - are overwhelmingly negative about the music director and the current leadership of the board, widely regarded as his ally." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 07/14/06

Proms - Like A Rock London's Proms concerts are deeply embedded into the national culture. "If the Proms, now in their 112th season, are the world's most important music festival, they are also the most unchanging. And this is both their strength and, some say, their weakness." The Independent (UK) 07/13/06

July 13, 2006

Women Shut Out Of the Proms This year's London Proms include no women composers. "It's a gaffe, certainly, and one no Proms director will ever dare to make again. And it raises all kinds of ticklish questions, such as whether women composers and conductors should benefit from positive discrimination, until the ancient bias against them has finally faded away." The Telegraph (UK) 07/13/06

In Service Of The Conductor Music critic Tom Service packs off to conducting school. How hard can it be? "As a critic, I've spent years talking about what conductors do, blithely assessing their interpretations, gestures, and podium antics, as if I knew how to do it better. Of course, with the virtual orchestra of my imagination, I can kid myself that I do, but what the course made me realise is just how hard it is to communicate your intentions to a group of musicians." The Guardian (UK) 07/14/06

The Ubiquitous Muzak "Muzak began recasting itself in the mid-1980s and got a radical makeover when it relocated [to South Carolina]from Seattle in the late 1990s. Today its "audio architects" blend art and science to deliver original-artist music from Mozart to Gwen Stefani that fits the bill for some 400,000 clients from Dunkin' Donuts to Bank of America. Muzak owns publishing rights to some 1.5 million songs." Christian Science Monitor 07/14/06

European Court Nixes Mega-Music Deal A European court has reversed approval of a merger of two of the world's largest recording companies - Bertelsmann and Sony. "The Court said regulators had not adequately shown that the 2004 deal would not hurt competition. The merger created the world's second-biggest record label." BBC 07/13/06

OCPAC Gets A Much-Needed Pledge With only two months to go before the opening of its new concert hall, the Orange County (CA) Performing Arts Center is still frantically raising the money it needs to complete construction and manage the facility. The effort got a big boost this week with the announcement of a $5 million gift by a longtime OCPAC board member's family. The center has thus far raised $138 million for the concert hall since 1999, on a total goal of $200 million. Los Angeles Times 07/13/06

Talk About Suffering For Your Art... "The body of the world's most famous castrato singer, Farinelli, has been exhumed to try to find out how his virtuoso voice developed. Scholars in the northern Italian city of Bologna will measure his skull and bones and perform DNA tests... In 17th and 18th Century Italy, up to 4,000 boys a year, often from poor families, were castrated from the age of eight upwards. They became opera singers and soloists in church choirs and royal palaces. Very few actually went on to achieve success, but those who did became the pop stars of their day, and they behaved as such." BBC 07/12/06

July 12, 2006

Schiff: Dissing Mozart Not Right Andras Schiff is tired of some people saying they don't care for Mozart. "Why is it that certain people get such immense pleasure from this kind of iconoclasm? Does attacking the greatest artists in history make them feel better? It's good to enjoy the benefits of democracy, such as freedom of speech - let's remember the recent affair with the Danish cartoons and not ever take it for granted. But Mozart's greatest admirers included Haydn, Goethe, Kierkegaard, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Nietzsche, Debussy, and Britten. Putting this list against that of a few detractors, whose side would you like to be on?" The Guardian (UK) 07/13/06

Trudeau, The Opera Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was an operatic figure with a very big life. And now there's to be an opera about him. "Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path is being written by librettist George Elliott Clarke and jazz composer D.D. Jackson. Clarke, a poet acclaimed for his Whylah Falls and author of the novel George and Rue, has written two earlier operas: Beatrice Chancy, about slaves in Nova Scotia, and Québécité, which is the story of interracial lovers." CBC 07/12/06

De Waart To Perth? Will Edo De Waart be the next music director of the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra? "De Waart, a former music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra and Netherlands Opera, would be quite a catch for a band in such a far-flung town as Perth. (The city is roughly 2,000 miles from Sydney and 2,400 miles from Singapore.) But de Waart's career has been concentrated in that part of the world lately: in 2004 he finished up a very successful 10-year stint as chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony and went directly to the Hong Kong Philharmonic, where he is now artistic director." PlaybillArts 07/12/06

  • Previously: Conductor Suddenly Departs Australian Orchestra When Matthias Bamert became music director of the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra, he was touted as the group's savior. Now he has suddenly departed, and no one's talking. "The reason Bamert fell out of favour depends on who you ask, although no one can say on the record because players have received written and verbal warnings not to make any public comment. Before the China tour they signed a code of conduct that reminded them that section 70 of the Crimes Act made it an offence to publicly disclose company matters." The Australian 07/11/06

COC Bumps Two Ringers The Canadian Opera Company is shuffling the cast for its upcoming production of Wagner's Ring Cycle. "Bass-baritone Peteris Eglitis, who held the key role of Wotan/the Wanderer with the COC during recent Ring-opera performances, has been taken off the bill, and soprano Frances Ginzer has been moved into second-cast position as Brunnhilde, the god's favourite daughter... Eglitis was seen by many as a question mark in the COC's Ring plans. His appearances in Siegfried and Die Walkure, which the company produced in 2004, showed an artist of great persuasive presence, but also 'a voice in serious decline,' as The New York Times' Bernard Holland put it." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/12/06

Oh, And They Need To Know How The Music Goes, Too What makes a great conductor? Musicianship plays a role, certainly, as does effective stick technique. But most musicians will tell you that they form their first (and often their last) impressions of a new conductor inside of a minute, so there's clearly something else in the mix. "The greatest conductors have an energy that extends beyond the podium to engage the farthest chorister and the last viola player," and the very best manage to be firmly in charge without ever betraying a shred of personal ego. Sydney Morning Herald 07/12/06

Finally, A Social Activity For Music Geeks! "It is called a listening party. It is a loosely directed but passionately devised gathering held purely for the love and discovery of music. New music. Old music. Loud music. Music played at volumes you can't even enjoy in your car without blowing out the sunroof and messing up your hair and drowning out all the urban sirens. But it is not solely about volume. It is about quality. It is about range. It is, perhaps more than anything else, about surprise." San Francisco Chronicle 07/12/06

The Secret Competition Imagine winning a piano competition you had no idea you'd entered. Now imagine that your victory comes with $300,000. The Gilmore Artist Award, presented every four years and won this year by Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter, might be the most labor-intensive competition in existence, but more for its organizers than the contestants. "Six jury members travel the world, listening to pianists identified by an international panel as exceptionally gifted and deserving of a higher profile. To get an idea of the pianists' range, the jury members attend orchestra concerts, recitals and chamber music performances, without ever telling the pianists they are being considered for the award." Ottawa Citizen 07/12/06

July 11, 2006

What Your Ringtones Say About You "Ringtones used to suffer the reputation of music's annoying little cousin. The frustratingly raw, digitized song sketches often recalled the early days of synthesizers and video game soundtracks. But as the technology has come into its own, so has the range of uses, transforming ringtones into a bona fide cultural phenomenon." Denver Post 07/11/06

July 10, 2006

That Picture Of Mrs Mozart? (Nevermind) Experts are surfacing to dispute the authenticity of a photo from 1840 purported to be of Constanze Mozart. "There are no outdoor photographs of groups of people dating from 1840, because the lenses invented by Joseph Petzval, which were to make such portraits possible, were not available yet. It was simply not possible in 1840 to take sharp outdoor pictures of people as long as the necessary exposure time still amounted to about three minutes." Sounds & Fury 07/10/06

  • Previously: A Photograph Of Mozart's Wife Surfaces "The previously unknown print was discovered in archives in the southern German town of Altötting, local authorities said yesterday, and has been authenticated as including Mrs Mozart. The long-lost photograph was taken in October 1840, when Constanze Weber was 78, at Max Keller's home. The Altötting state archive said it was believed this was the only time in her life that she had been photographed." The Guardian (UK) 07/09/06

Conductor Suddenly Departs Australian Orchestra When Matthias Bamert became music director of the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra, he was touted as the group's savior. Now he has suddenly departed, and no one's talking. "The reason Bamert fell out of favour depends on who you ask, although no one can say on the record because players have received written and verbal warnings not to make any public comment. Before the China tour they signed a code of conduct that reminded them that section 70 of the Crimes Act made it an offence to publicly disclose company matters." The Australian 07/11/06

Rattle Takes On The Aix "Ring" Simon Rattle conducts a dreary first installment of Wagner's "Ring" at the Aix Festival. "Rattle has been taking some flak in the Berlin press — mostly for not being the late Herbert von Karajan, which you might think would be something of a blessing — but he sounded in danger of “Karajanising” his Wagner here, luxuriating in the wondrous sounds he coaxes from the Berliners and almost loving the music to death. There were exceptional moments — the rasp of the lower brass heralding the giants’ entrance suggested terrifying menace — but the overall effect was soporific." The Times (UK) 07/10/06

Chicago Jazz Station Takes The Jazz Out Chicago public radio station WBEZ is dropping its current jazz format and turning to news and information. It's a trend that has swept the public radio world. But jazz fans in Chicago are angry... Chicago Sun-Times 07/10/06

July 9, 2006

Piano Competition Winners - Did They Really Give The Best Performances? Edward Reichel has a problem with the results of the just-completed Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. "The six who were chosen to compete in the finals unquestionably should have been there. They deserved it. But those who took the top three prizes did not give the best performances." Deseret News (Utah) 07/09/06

Classical Music's Hottest Season? Summer Summer used to be the time classical musicians took some time off. In most cities, classical concerts were scarce. No more. "Exact figures are hard to come by, but in the last five years alone, summer festivals and workshops in America have doubled, from about 100 in 2001 to more than 200 this year, according to Chamber Music America." Los Angeles Times 07/09/06

Why Online Music Can't Beat Radio... Online music is stealing audience. But can it rival radio? "Despite numerous attempts, no one online has found a way to turn the hat trick that sustained radio through six decades of dominance of the music industry. The iTunes store is just a very alluring retailer; it has no defining personality and therefore hasn't developed into the kind of mass community that assembled around the most successful radio DJ shows. Various adventures in file-sharing have been a bonanza for music collectors, but have done little to advance the cause of sounds that weren't already popular." Washington Post 07/09/06

What If One Company Controls All The Major Concerts? A deal that combines America's two largest concert promoters has Greg Kot worried about lack of competition. "The $350 million acquisition announced Wednesday will bring HOB Entertainment, the operator of the House of Blues clubs, under the umbrella of Live Nation, the Clear Channel Entertainment spinoff that is North America's biggest concert promoter. The deal brings the concert business even closer to a monopoly, and the effect on ticket prices and artistic diversity could be crippling." Chicago Tribune 07/09/06

Music Downloads Continue To Soar Music downloading hit new highs in the first half of 2006, with more than 14 million full albums downloaded (legally) by consumers, a 77% increase over the same period last year. Sales of traditional albums fell by 4.2%. "Although digital sales are growing, music fans are eschewing the more profitable full-album downloads in favour of cherry-picking a few songs." BBC 07/09/06

The Detroit Solution The Detroit Symphony may still be looking for a music director to replace the departed Neeme Järvi, but the ensemble is enjoying rising attendance and a stability that most other American orchestras would kill for. How did they accomplish such a thing in a city famed for its crippling poverty? Rather than simply making an appeal to the business community for help, the DSO has become a major investor in the urban revitalization of its hometown, and is endeavoring to show the community the same long-term commitment it requests from others. All Things Considered (audio file) 07/08/06

Hitting All The High Notes It was a good year for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, a small but important company that each summer draws opera aficionados from across the country to the Midwest for a month-long festival. A $400,000 challenge grant, "for which the company had to raise $7.5 million and attract 1,000 new donors by June 30, was not only met but surpassed in both dollars and donors... The company made a major push to bring in young people to its performances," and continued its efforts to assist talented young singers in making the transition to the professional world. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 07/08/06

Littler: Great Orchestras Don't Take The Summer Off The Toronto Symphony has come a long way since nearly succumbing to bankruptcy a few years back. But William Littler says that the TSO still lacks one of the crucial amenities of a major North American orchestra: "Unlike most orchestras of its class, Toronto's still lacks the summer season that would keep its profile before the public and its players more extensively employed." Toronto Star 07/08/06

Backing Away From The Abyss Cooler heads may be prevailing at the Seattle Symphony, where news recently leaked out of an internal survey conducted by the musicians to express their dissatisfaction with the leadership of longtime music director Gerard Schwarz. The musicians now insist (contrary to some earlier reports) that the survey results were never intended to become public, and that they intend to settle their differences with the symphony's board and management in-house. For his part, Schwarz is taking the high road, barely acknowledging the controversy and declaring that his relationship with the orchestra is "all about the music." Seattle Times 07/08/06

  • Previously: The Conductor Who Stayed Too Long? The Seattle Symphony is in turmoil after the orchestra renewed music director Gerard Schwarz's contract. "The larger question -- how long before a music director overstays his welcome? -- is pressingly relevant to any orchestra. And as the turbulence up north suggests, the answer is that the cutoff date comes sooner than some people are willing to believe." San Francisco Chronicle 07/03/06
July 7, 2006

Record Sales Of Musical Instruments US courts have refused to ban a knockoff of a Les Paul guitar, opening the way for other copycat instruments. Last year a record $7.8 billion in instruments were sold in the United States, up 6.9 percent from 2004. "Worldwide sales topped $17 billion, according to a soon-to-be-released NAMM report. 'What we're witnessing is a shift from passive listening to active playing. Siblings are inspired by music-themed TV shows to come out and play instruments'." Wired 07/07/06

A British (Amateur) Musical Renaissance? Some have suggested that music is on the decline in the UK. But "it only takes a trip to the local village hall or a knock on your neighbour's door to discover that millions of Britons are still getting together to make music. Folk groups, rock bands, religious choirs, samba troupes, a cappella singers, programmers, rappers and DJs are all performing somewhere near you. Far from forgetting how to play, it appears that Britain is experiencing a musical renaissance, albeit a very amateur one." Prospect 06/06

July 6, 2006

Portland Opera Finishes In The Red Portland Opera has finished its season with a $1 million deficit, after nine years of balanced budgets. The loss is blamed partly on the fact that the company didn't have a development officer for much of the season. The Oregonian 07/04/06

Next-Gen Pops? Los Angeles and Boston Pops programmers are giving alternative-rock acts with cult followings a chance to collaborate in arranging, adapting, and performing their material with orchestras. “Symphony orchestras want to attract younger fans, and many of their musicians are young enough to have been contemporary rock fans. So it’s not the alienating idea that it once might have been.” Los Angeles City Beat 07/06/06

July 5, 2006

Honolulu Symphony Rebuilds Last year several executives and board members of the Honolulu Symphony resigned after the musicians themselves audited management practices. The orchestra is still looking for a new music director, but a new manaqgement team is beginning the task of rebuilding the organization. The Star-Bulletin (Honolulu) 07/04/06

Signs Of Change For BBC Orchestras The biggest sign, writes Norman Lebrecht, is that "the BBC announced Jiri Belohlavek last year as chief conductor of its flagship ensemble, times of music downloads, media convergence and multi-skilling. Broadcast orchestras are breaking out of stereotype, as the BBC Philharmonic demonstrated from Manchester with its million-download Beethoven cycle. The whispering Czech was hired for London to raise standards and restore self-belief." La Scena Musicale 07/05/06

Escalating Tensions In Seattle Symphony Dispute A survey taken by musicians of the Seattle Symphony rating music director Gerard Schwarz is to be out this week. But the orchestra's executive board reportedly did an analysis of the survey's methodology. "Its report concluded that the June 1 survey was flawed in design, data collection and overall methodology, so that its 'results are highly suspect'. The board's executive committee believes the survey may also be a breach of the musicians' contract." Seattle Times 07/03/06

  • The Conductor Who Stayed Too Long? The Seattle Symphony is in turmoil after the orchestra renewed music director Gerard Schwarz's contract. "The larger question -- how long before a music director overstays his welcome? -- is pressingly relevant to any orchestra. And as the turbulence up north suggests, the answer is that the cutoff date comes sooner than some people are willing to believe." San Francisco Chronicle 07/03/06

Out To Record Music Of The World A simple idea, really, so why was no one doing it? Forty years ago David Lewiston set out to travel th world with his tape recorder, capturing music along the way. He became "a recorder and collector of traditional music from dozens of countries over a territory that extends from Bali to Kashmir to Peru." The New York Times 07/05/06

Ottawa Orchestra Extends Zukerman Contract Ottawa's National Arts Center Orchestra has renewed music director Pinchas Zukerman's contract through 2011. "The renewal comes despite Zukerman's abrupt five-month sabbatical from the NACO and reports of conflict between the conductor and his musicians." While on "sabbatical" Zukerman also made disparaging remarks about his orchestra. BBC 07/05/06

Universal Revamps CD Cases To Compete With Downloads To try to compete with music downloads, Universal, the world's largest CD producer, is revamping its CD cases, replacing some jewel boxes with cardboard sleeves. "Universal Music Group is introducing three tiers of packaging in Europe, also including deluxe and sturdier versions of the standard case. It expects the basic CDs to sell for about £7, the standard for about £10, and the deluxe - offering bonus CDs or DVDs - for around £14." BBC 07/05/06

July 3, 2006

NY City Opera's House-Hunting New York City Opera has had a rough few years. High among those problems is the company's stymied search for a new home. "Over just the last few years, the company has publicly debated renovating the State Theater (a plan abandoned after differences with the ballet); building a new home in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center (vetoed by the Metropolitan Opera and Beverly Sills, then Lincoln Center chairwoman); moving downtown near the World Trade Center site (where it lost out to other arts groups); and moving into a reconfigured City Center building (deemed too small for the necessary scenery fly space)." The New York Times 07/04/06

Government Ranks Israel's Orchestras The Israeli government ranks the country's orchestras based on examintaion by a committee of 13 auditors. "The vote rates only two groups - the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and the 21st Century Ensemble (which specializes in modern music) - as 'excellent.' Three other orchestras were classified as "good" - those of Rishon Letzion, Jerusalem and Haifa - as were the Israel Camerata, the Tel Aviv Soloists and the Israel Baroque Orchestra." The orchestras that ranked only "satisfactory" or below were told they have to improve. Ha'aretz 07/03/06

Orchestra Takes Itself Off eBay Auction The Belgian chamber orchestra that put itself up for sale on eBay has taken down the ofer after bidding topped 100,000 Euros. "eBay representatives had contacted orchestra management over the weekend and reminded them of two important facts. First, listing, bidding and sale on eBay constitute a binding contract: the seller must sell the object listed to the highest bidder, and the highest bidder must pay the price he or she bid. Second, buying and selling people is against the law." PlaybillArts 7/03/06

July 2, 2006

CD Sales Down Again In First Half Of 2006 CD sales are down in the first half of 2006 by 3.4 percent. Yes downloads are up, but they don't make up the gap. And "cassettes, are on their way to join vinyl and 8-tracks on Boot Hill. Cassette music sales fell a whopping 54 percent in the first half of 2006, peddling only 632,00 units, compared to the 1.3 million tapes sold in the first two quarters of '05." New York Post 07/02/06

Is Montreal Really Getting A New Concert Hall? "This is the seventh time in the past two decades that a Quebec government has promised a new home for the [Montreal Symphony]. One could put together a modest bus tour of all the sites around Montreal that have been touted as the orchestra's future address. This one will be different... because the plan is clear and the process foolproof. A private developer will design and build a hall to the orchestra's specifications (1,900 seats, shoebox shape), assume all the risks of construction and pocket $105-million during the course of a 40-year lease by the province. At the end of the lease, the province would own the building." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/02/06

Controversy Over Chicago Symphony Musicians' Barenboim Honor As Daniel Barenboim was finishing his tenure as music director, a group of Chicago Symphony musicians got together and voted to name him their honorary "Music Director for Life". But now other musicians who were not present at the meeting are objecting that the designation was not put to a vote of the entire orchestra. Chicago Tribune 07/02/06

High Gas Prices Squeeze Travelling Bands "Big-name, established acts with fleets of buses feel the gouge of those gas prices, but the initial pain is softened by the equally big bucks they bring in. It's the smaller bands living hand-to-mouth on the road that are feeling the money pinch the hardest. The price of gas has forced many to rethink how they travel. A new practicality -- a rare condition for free-wheeling rock bands -- is becoming the norm." Chicago Sun-Times 07/02/06

The Trouble With iPods "The iPod experience is a smooth ride, as sleek and impervious as the minicomputer itself-set it to shuffle and you're sealed up in a dream machine, a twinkling drift through your own forgotten highlights. But for the Gen X-ers among us there's a problem. The signal squeezed through an iPod's white earbuds is not the warm and spacious headphone mindblow of old; to me it sounds bruisingly compressed, stripped of nuance, all bunched up in the midrange. Increasing the volume only distorts the bass and produces a nasty precipitation of treble, as if the drummer is flogging his cymbals with bicycle chains." Boston Globe 07/02/06

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