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MAY 2001

Thursday May 31

COMING TO TERMS: " 'Classical music' is a term, its composers and promoters and performers are beginning to fear, that may drive away as many potential listeners as it draws. The term presumes two unfortunately popular misconceptions: that music called 'classical' must depend entirely on its connection to the great (and thus, to some, hopelessly ancient) works of the Western tradition, and that listeners who want to enjoy new music should have extensive background knowledge of the canon." The New Republic 05/30/01

JUST KEEP IT AWAY FROM THE MUSIC: The Cliburn piano competition is judged by humans - 12 of them. But in selecting the finalists, their votes were sorted, weighted, balanced, and otherwise tallied by a computer program. It's the first time it was used at the Cliburn, and the jurors all seemed satisfied with the results. Dallas Morning News 05/31/01

THE POT AND THE KETTLE WERE ARGUING... Recording artists claim that their industry "uses unconscionable contracts and corrupt accounting tactics to rob artists of their share of earnings." In reply, big companies claim that "Only one of 10 acts ever turns a profit... It costs about $2 to manufacture and distribute a CD, but marketing costs can run from $3 per hit CD to more than $10 for failed projects... Successful acts [refuse] to deliver follow-up albums until they extract additional advances." Los Angeles Times 05/31/01

NO WAGNER IN ISRAEL: Conductor Daniel Barenboim had planned a performance of a Wagner opera next month at a festival in Israel. But protests have convinced him to cancel. BBC 05/31/01

A WEEK WITHOUT MUSIC: A critic proposes tuning out music for a week in July, refusing to listen to a single bar. "Our aim is to dismantle the apparatus for the music industry, to afford ourselves some peace and quiet, thus enabling us to rethink popular culture. This can only be done in total ascetic silence." The Guardian (UK) 05/31/01

Wednesday May 30

MAAZEL CONFRONTS LEBRECHT: Lorin Maazel was going to retire, going to write an opera on Orwell's 1984, "play the violin and appear as a guest conductor when he pleased." Then the New York Philharmonic "drafted" him. He sits down with critic Norman Lebrecht and gets down to business: "Put yourself in my position and ask why I should be sitting down talking to you in view of the rather unpleasant things you have written about me and my earnings over the years." The Telegraph (UK) 05/30/01

PREACHING THE IRISH: Irish pianist Barry Douglas has spent much of the 15 years since he won the Tchaikovsky Competition performing internationally. Now he's returned to Ireland and founded an orchestra - Camerata Ireland. "They know Riverdance and The Chieftains but they simply don't associate the more serious side of music with Ireland." Irish Times 05/28/01

CUTTING OFF AN ARM TO SAVE THE PATIENT: The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic - Britain's second oldest, has been addled by debt. Now its musicians have voted to accept a pay cut to keep the orchestra afloat. Other English regional orchestras may face the same prospect as orchestras try to become financially stable. The Guardian (UK) 05/30/01

Tuesday May 29

SIGNIFICANT NEW HANDEL? A choral work by Handel, discovered earlier this year, has been recorded for release in June. "The choral work, which some scholars believe may come to be regarded as significant as Handel's Messiah, was discovered in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in March." The Age (AP) 05/29/01

UNDUE INFLUENCE: The only way to keep music fresh is to cross fertilize from other genres. "If both pop music and 'serious' music are to progress, rather than endlessly recycling themselves, such cross-fertilisation must be the way forward. On both sides of the fence, people must open their minds and their ears." The Times (UK) 05/29/01

ROBO-DJ: DJ I, Robot is a computer DJ - the "first random-access, analog robotic DJ system. It's made up of a computer and three turntables that can mix, scratch, cut, and beat-juggle like a human disc jockey. The machine is hardly musical or expressive. It doesn't have a collection of old records it likes to scratch up. But it can spin platters up to 800 revolutions per minute, compared to 45 RPMs by a human hand." Wired 05/28/01

PERLMAN FALLS: Violinist Itzhak Perlman falls onstage on his way to performing the Barber Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra. "He landed hard. Face-down on the stage between his podium and the conductor's, his arms still in the crutches, the upturned soles of his shoes facing the audience. The applause stopped as if it'd been guillotined. And the sound—that's what I'll remember years from now—1,500 people in a choral gasp, then pin-drop silence." Minnesota Public Radio 05/23/01

Monday May 28

EXCLUSIVE IVORY: "Steinway has always been a dominating presence at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. This year, for the 11th edition of the competition, it more than dominates – it is the only piano manufacturer represented." Dallas Morning News 05/28/01

FINALLY, ACCEPTANCE: The music world has spent much of the last century bemoaning the state of contemporary music, and blaming the decline of the industry on scapegoats like Schönberg and Boulez, whose music pushed the envelope farther than most audiences were willing to go. But the tide may finally be turning in favor of the innovators. Andante 05/28/01

UNDERGROUND MUSIC SCENE: "Deep beneath the streets of the city, from one end of Manhattan to the other, a daily symphony is playing itself out on subway platforms... The MTA holds annual auditions for musicians interested in performing as part of its Music Underground program. Passing the audition allows them a shot at the best locations and the approved use of amplifiers." New York Post 05/28/01

HARRY'S WORLD: Harry Partch has always been one of those composers whom philosophers adore and musicians fear. First of all, he insists that there are 43 distinct pitches in a single octave (rather than the standard 12.) Furthemore, he finds traditional instruments sadly lacking in the sound quality his works demand, and so he invents new ones. Constantly. Los Angeles Times 05/28/01

Sunday May 27

CLIBURN COMMOTION: The Van Cliburn competition, currently ongoing in Fort Worth, is arguably the world's most prestigious piano competition, and inarguably the most exhaustively covered by the press. Everything from the contestants to the caterers gets a write-up, and the press keeps a close eye on past winners. One local favorite is fighting his way back from a stroke, as this year's hopefuls dive headlong into the fray. Dallas Morning News & Fort Worth Star-Telegram 05/27/01

HEALING OLD WOUNDS: This week, cellist Yo-Yo Ma will team with several Asian-American composers to present a chamber music performance designed to commemorate the victims and survivors of the various conflicts that have ravaged Asia in the last hundred years. "Hun Qia," or "River of Souls," is equal parts remembrance and reconciliation, according to organizers. Minneapolis Star Tribune 05/27/01

VENICE REOPENS A CLASSIC: "Venice has reopened its 322-year-old Malibran Theater, which closed 15 years ago. The restoration work uncovered decorative stucco on the theater boxes hidden for 80 years by layers of paint. The seats have been recovered with red velvet and a new velvet curtain has been installed." CTNow.com (AP) 05/25/01

THE MAESTRO SPEAKS: Osmo Vänskä probably doesn't fit most Americans' vision of a "maestro." Soft-spoken, thoughtful, and droll, Minnesota's new Finnish music director-designate talks about his vision for the orchestra and his home country's underrated influence on the musical world. Minneapolis Star Tribune 05/26/01

WAGNERIANS NEED NOT APPLY: "That this is not a golden or even a silver age of Verdi singing is almost a truism in the opera world, and there is plenty of evidence that if casting, rather than box-office appeal, determined the production of the standard works, they would be mounted much less frequently in the mammoth American opera houses." San Francisco Chronicle 05/27/01

CELLO-PALOOZA: There is nothing that cellists like better than other cellists. Lean on one, and he or she will confess that, honestly, the orchestra would be better off if it were made up of 95 cellists wailing their hearts out. So when composer Christopher Rouse wrote a new work scored for 147 cellos, you just knew it wouldn't take long for it to be performed. The New York Times 05/27/01 (one-time registration required for access)

TAKING AIM: The recording industry is going after Aimster, the online music service that sprang up in Napster's wake. The major record labels contend that the "piggyback" song swapper is basically Napster with extra features, and is quite definitely illegal. Nando Times (Agence France-Presse) 05/25/01

MOVING FORWARD IN PHILLY: Philadelphia's ambitious Regional Performing Arts Center is the most-anticipated new concert hall of the last two decades, but the project has been plagued by management turnover, financial questions, and conflict between RPAC's planners and its primary tenant, the Philadelphia Orchestra. Now, with everyone concerned facing the deadline of this fall's planned opening, things are finally starting to run smoother, but many issues remain unresolved. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/27/01

BEETHOVEN, ABRIDGED: Classical music broadcasters worldwide continue to trim the scope and length of the works they present, as aficionados scream and purists sigh in resignation. Even Canada's revered CBC Radio Two has resigned itself to playing single movements during drive time, to the disgust of even its own announcers. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 05/26/01

Friday May 25

NEW MINNESOTA MAESTRO: The Minnesota Orchestra has named Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, 48, as the orchestra's 10th music director. Hopes are high for Vänskä, reportedly well-liked by the orchestra's players, to revitalize the orchestra's artistic fortunes, which have waned in recent years. St. Paul Pioneer Press 05/24/01

  • SWEDISH SPECIALIST: "Many of his recordings — some 50 of them, most for the Swedish label Bis — are devoted to Nordic music, a specialty that should strike a chord with the traditions of the northern Midwest." The New York Times 05/25/01 (one-time registration required for access)
  • A FOUR-YEAR CONTRACT: "Vänskä, who is music director of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland and chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, will appear with the orchestra as guest conductor for a week this November and will do four subscription weeks during the orchestra's 2002-03 centennial season. " Minneapolis Star-Tribune 05/25/01

NO RECORD OF IT: The Scottish National Opera has lost its recording contract, including for a planned recording of Inés, by Scottish composer James MacMillan, commissioned by Scottish Opera in 1996. The opera has become one of the troubled company’s proudest achievements. The Scotsman 05/25/01

ATTACK ON THE NAPSTER CLONES: "Major record companies filed a lawsuit against file-sharing Web service Aimster on Thursday, asserting the company is helping customers infringe upon the copyrights of millions of sound recordings worldwide. It said the company was providing the same abilities to its customers as Napster." San Francisco Chronicle 05/24/01

MUSIC DOWNLOADS. LEGAL, BUT NOT FREE: "The House of Blues Digital began selling over 8,000 downloadable tracks on their website after striking a deal with Rioport, which recently finalized deals with all five major labels to provide digital music downloads to third-party retailers." Music at The House of Blues is, naturally, heavily tilted toward the blues. And "blues today suffers from an image problem. Although there are more blues CDs - new recordings and reissues - available to the public than ever before, blues isn't frequently heard on radio." Wired & Christian Science Monitor 05/24/01

Thursday May 24

NO THEFT HERE: Composer Tan Dun says he did not steal any of the music he used for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as alleged by Chinese composer Ning Yong. Tan "said that the professor is confusing the film's original soundtrack with additional music chosen by director Ang Lee for the movie." BBC 05/24/01

PIANO OLYMPICS: The Van Cliburn Piano Competition begins Friday, and the 30 contestants, looking a little dazed, were introduced to a barrage of press. This is "the most public of music competitions, a civic and media extravaganza." Dallas Morning News 05/24/01

LEARNING LIGETI: Long a favorite of contemporary music fans, "he is one of the few major composers notable for... the sly sort of wit in which the comedian treats himself as flippantly as he treats the rest of the world. Ligeti may be the one living composer for whom 'genius' is not too strong a word." The New Yorker 05/28/01

Wednesday May 23

MR OPERA: Buck for buck, Alberto Vilar is "the biggest benefactor in musical history. In four years, he has given $225 million to opera, ballet and orchestras - and there is more to come, much more, the planned gifts dropping into our conversation like paragliders into a disaster zone. His high visibility has raised concerns among guardians of operatic purity, who fear that this bumptious outsider may be exerting a malign influence on their art." The Telegraph (UK) 05/23/01

DON'T TRUST ANYONE OVER 30: "Since 1984 the adventurous New York Youth Symphony has presented a premiere performance of a new work by a composer under 30 on every one of its programs. This means that an orchestra of students ranging in age from 12 to 22 has arguably the best record for commissioning new music of any ensemble in the United States." The New York Times 05/23/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Tuesday May 22

CROUCHING TIGER, STOLEN MUSIC? "A Chinese mainland-based composer is planning legal action for breach of copyright after his works were allegedly used without authorization in the Oscar-winning film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, press reports said yesterday. Ning Yong... said he had already contacted a legal firm in Guangzhou to sue Tan Dun, who won the best original score Oscar for his music in the film." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) (AFP) 05/22/01

SO MUCH FOR THE NAPSTER EFFECT: Recorded music sales in the UK soared in the past year, despite file-trading programs like Napster. "The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has calculated that in the 12 months up to March, the value of sales went up by 10.4 per cent, while the quantity sold increased by 14 per cent to £1.014 billion, compared with £800m in 1998." The Independent (UK) 05/21/01

  • SO MUCH FOR COOPERATION: "Last Friday, a consortium of more than 100 content and technology companies... failed to reach a consensus on a screening application that would enable media players to distinguish between secure and unsecure files. The lack of agreement means that for yet another year, portable and PC media players will continue to play both secure and unsecure music files and MP3 files." Wired 05/22/01

WOMEN'S PHIL ON THE BRINK: The San Francisco-based Women's Philharmonic has cancelled its entire 2001-02 concert season, citing a lack of funds. The 20-year-old organization is a powerful advocate for women in the too often male-dominated orchestral world, and that side of the Philharmonic will continue to operate. San Francisco Chronicle 05/22/01

ORIGINAL INTENT: The fad of "restoring" a long-dead composer's works to their original, unrevised form has often yielded less-than-satisfying results, with very little of substance revealed. But a new-old version of Ralph Vaughan Williams's London Symphony may be the exception, with the restoration of some 20 minutes of music that change the complexion of the entire work. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/22/01

RELIVING THE ICE STORM: Nearly every area has had a natural disaster that lingers in the back of residents' minds: in San Francisco, it's the 1987 earthquake; in northern Minnesota, the 1997 blowdown. In Quebec, it's an ice storm that left the province crippled in 1997. A French Canadian composer has written a unique piece commemorating the terrible event and the spirit of the Quebeckers who fought through it. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 05/22/01

Monday May 21

SUE 'EM, THEN BUY 'EM: Eight months after Vivendi Universal successfully sued MP3.com over copyright violation, the French multimedia giant has bought the digital music site for $372 million. BBC 05/21/01

HARRASSING THE SINGERS: Members of the Scottish National Opera chorus say they are being "verbally and mentally bullied" by the company. Scottish Opera has suffered from a series of controversies in the past year. "These are performers, these are not car mechanics. They are finely tuned instruments and if you overheat an instrument or freeze an instrument it goes out of tune. Performers are no different." The Scotsman 05/21/01

IF YOU KNEW HARRY: Canadian composer Harry Somers (who dies two years ago) was one of the country's best-known composers. But that doesn't mean that many know his music. "As a country, we don't know our own music. Normally, a piece is played in a hall for maybe 200, or even 1,000 people. Maybe it will have a single broadcast. But then its life is, for all intents and purposes, over." Now a project to try to change that. National Post (Canada) 05/21/01

BJORK THIS: London's Royal Opera House has been looking for ways to earn money. Now it is considering booking pop performers. "A whole range of pop stars could soon be appearing on Sunday nights, which is traditionally the night ballet and opera companies rest." BBC 05/21/01

Sunday May 20

SCALING MOUNT CLIBURN: The Van Cliburn Piano Competition, held every four years, is set to begin this week. The world's most important piano competition has looked in the mirror and revamped, hoping to find artists it can launch to major careers. But is that even possible anymore? Dallas Morning News 05/20/01

NEW WINNIPEG MAESTRO: The Winnipeg Symphony has chosen Russian-born conductor Andrey Boreyko, 44, as its new music director, succeeding Bramwell Tovey. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/19/01

  • CHOOSING A CONDUCTOR: The Hartford Symphony has been auditioning conductors for its music director job. Some 250 conductors applied, and 12 were featured in try-out performances. Though Hartford isn't a major orchestra, the level of candidates was high, and it was interesting to see the individual stamp a conductor can bring to the same group of musicians. Hartford Courant 05/20/01
  • MINNESOTA GETTING CLOSE: Finnish conductor Osmo Vänska appears to be the Minnesota Orchestra's choice as its next music director. Minneapolis Star-Tribune 05/20/01

Friday May 18

ALL ABOUT THE $, PART I: Plans to broadcast a major new Australian choral symphony are scuttled over a dispute over money. Sydney Morning Herald 05/18/01

ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, PART II: Having scuttled Napster, the music recording industry goes after its next targets - the musicians - testifying before Congress. "Thursday's hearing focused on a dispute between songwriters and publishers, who own music rights, and the record companies and online services that need their permission in order to distribute their music." Wired 05/18/01

  • SPEAKING OF MONEY... "Consumers are one step closer to losing alternatives when it comes to using digital media, as InterTrust unveils a new rights management service that allows developers to create secure players for the PC." Wired 05/18/01

ALL ABOUT THE AUTHENTICITY: A singer is taking an opera company to court after they refused to allow her to play a role in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. The part of the Major General's daughter, you see, is a virginal role, and singer Bethany Halliday is, um, well... pregnant. BBC 05/18/01

MUGGLE MUSIC: The "Harry Potter" movie due out this fall will, of course, be huge. So who better to provide the score than the man who made Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, and Superman inseperable from their respective music cues? Boston Globe 05/18/01

Thursday May 17

BARENBOIM STANDS FIRM: Most Israeli ensembles do not perform the music of Richard Wagner, due to the composer's well-known anti-Semitism and the potential for violent protest when performances do occur. So Daniel Barenboim has been drawing considerable fire since announcing that he would conduct a Wagner opera in Jerusalem this summer. So far, Barenboim has not been swayed. BBC 05/17/01

IMPACT OF JAZZ (THE SERIES, THAT IS): Ken Burns' Jazz documentary series has had a big impact on interest in jazz. "The traditional jazz market has seen at least $1 million more in sales since the series began. Jazz sales in the United States last autumn were roughly a little over two per cent of sales. Since the series, we've seen the sales go up to just over four per cent. While that might not seem like much of an increase, for the jazz world, it's huge." The Telegraph (UK) 05/17/01

LEAVING CINCINNATI: After 15 years, conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos steps down as music director of the Cincinnati Orchestra. "His tenure proved to be a rocky one. Mr. Lopez-Cobos struggled to find the right programming for his new audience, while the audience dwindled. He weathered a severe financial crisis, a threatened strike and questions about his musicianship. He never became an active member of the Cincinnati community." Cincinnati Enquirer 05/06/01

YOU'VE GOTTA HANG ON TO THOSE THINGS! What is it with Strad-playing cellists and New York City cabs? Two years after Yo-Yo Ma had to use a taxi receipt to track down his forgotten instrument, Lynn Harrell left his $4 million Stradivarius cello in the trunk of his cab this week. One sleepless night later, he got it back. Andante (UPI) 05/16/01

Wednesday May 16

THE MOZART EFFECT INDUSTRY: "That classical music somehow relaxes our brains, reorganising and clarifying thought processes and thereby promoting a firmer intellect, is a supposition that has acquired the veneer of accepted wisdom over the past decade." Is it true? Who really knows, but there's a whole industry grown up around promoting the idea. Sydney Morning Herald 05/16/01

LEARNING FROM THE KIROV: The Kirov's restoration to artistic excellence in the past decade has been remarkable. Its upcoming London residency "shimmers like a private yacht in a bog-standard British pond of funding grumbles and grudged enthusiasm." And companies in the West could learn a thing or two from the Kirov about running an artistic enterprise. The Telegraph (UK) 05/16/01

WHISTLE WHILE YOU... WELL, MAYBE NOT: There was a time when whistling was considered a sign of American individuality. Bing Crosby whistled; so did Gene Kelly and Albert Einstein. Today, "Whistling is too weird, like polka music; too idiosyncratic, like addressing envelopes on a manual typewriter." But there's a core group of whistlers determined to keep their music alive. Washington Post 05/16/01

MOZARTSTER? NAH. BRAHMSTER? UH-UH. BACHSTER? HMMM...With all the legal and technical maneuvering for digital distribution of pop music, what's happening with the classics? "The Electronic Media Forum began a feasibility study that would allow the 1,800 orchestras in the United States to distribute their music online." Wired 05/16/01

FOUND MUSIC : Emmanuel Dilhac describes himself as "a hunter of sounds." Inspired, he says, by John Cage and Olivier Messiaen, he makes music with whatever comes to hand in nature. "His art involves a sort of reverse twist of ego. The less he has to do to make music with his instruments, the prouder he is." International Herald Tribune 05/16/01

Tuesday May 15

PAUSING FOR SUCCESS: The Chamber Orchestra of Europe is an unusual ensemble. Founded 20 years ago, its players get together only for half of each year. "Today, the COE draws its players from 15 countries, is the resident chamber orchestra of the Philharmonie in Berlin, and plays regularly in Graz, Cologne, Paris and Vienna." The Times (UK) 05/15/01

PLAYING ON EMPTY: By most artistic counts the Welsh National Opera has been a solid success. But now the WNO has been "sucked inexorably into trouble, and, after a decade of real-term decline in Arts Council funding, the company has been forced to run up a deficit of £1.6 million. As a result, it is now subjecting itself to a purgatorial process, administered by the Arts Council, called 'a stabilisation programme'." The Telegraph (UK) 05/15/01

Monday May 14

STRING SOUNDS: "There are at least a hundred full-time professional string quartets in North America, plus an untold number of amateurs. To make a living in this field, you have to be willing to play almost anywhere and at any time." The St. Lawrence String Quartet is on the move. The New Yorker 05/14/01

Sunday May 13

MN ORCH MAY NAME VÄNSKÄ: Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä appears to be the favorite to be the Minnesota Orchestra's next music director, succeeding Eiji Oue. " 'He's more than a leading candidate,' said a source close to the orchestra who asked not to be identified. Vänskä, known as a Sibelius expert, made a strong impression in his debut with the Minnesota Orchestra last October." [first item] Minneapolis Star Tribune 05/13/01

MANN ALIVE: Philadelphia's Mann Music Center, the city's major outdoor summer concert venue, has constantly seemed to be teetering on the edge of financial collapse. "Entering its 25th anniversary season, the Mann sports more of a history as soap opera than a history of opera. [Peter] Lane, who came on board in 1997, plans to change that, and he believes he's already firmed the foundation by diversifying programming, funding and audience." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/13/01

HOW TO SINK YOUR OWN CAREER: The orchestral world is full of conductors who work wonders with small, regional orchestras, yet never quite make the transition to the major leagues. The reasons can be many: orchestras that are loathe to take a chance on an unknown, musicians who take a dim view of a young hotshot come to "save" them, etc. But, says one of America's premiere critics, the conductor's biggest roadblock can often be his own ego. The New York Times 05/13/01 (one time registration required for access)

PHANTOM OF THE TUBE: Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber will be the first official "tube busker" in a program designed to bring music to London's famous Underground. The good news is, all profits Lloyd Webber collects in his cello case during his performance will go to charity. The bad news is, he'll be playing the music of his brother, Andrew. BBC 05/13/01

OPERA PACIFIC REBORN: Leading an opera company is a lot like steering an ocean liner: when you turn the wheel, you can wait a long time before the thing starts to turn. But Opera Pacific, for several years an organization on the brink, has begun to make the turn, and the credit is going mainly to its tireless artistic director. Los Angeles Times 05/13/01

SYMPHONY SPACE: For the longest time, it seemed that composers had simply decided not to write full-length symphonies any more. Orchestras commissioned short, program-opening works rather than major pieces that might put audiences off. But in the last few years, the traditional symphonic form seems to be making a comeback. Peter Maxwell Davies is the latest prominent composer to premiere a new symphony, and reaction seems to be positive. The Sunday Times of London 05/13/01

PERRY COMO DIES: "Perry Como, the crooning baritone barber famous for his relaxed vocals, cardigan sweaters and television Christmas specials, died yesterday after a lengthy illness. He was 87." Akron Beacon Journal (AP) 05/13/01

Friday May 11

DEATH OF AN INSTRUMENT? "The symphony orchestra is no longer available to composers as an instrument of change. As a result, much of today's most exciting music is not being created for it. It's not that composers have lost interest in the orchestra. It's just become prohibitively expensive." NewMusicBox 05/01

EARLY MUSIC MUFFLED: The biggest early music organization in New York is shutting down. The five-year-old Gotham Early Music Foundation had suffered huge financial losses even as it brought many of the world's top performers to New York venues. Andante 05/11/01

WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE? The final artistic authority in virtually every modern orchestra belongs to the music director, or principal conductor. Musicians, who are likely to spend many more years in service to their ensemble than any music director, are expected to defer in every way to the man with the baton. But why? A musician and union chief explores some alternative possibilities. Harmony 04/01 (PDF file - Adobe Reader required)

PUT DOWN YOUR COFFEE BEFORE READING THIS: "A specially-created trumpet fanfare will send Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to his death after a composer saw him as an 'amazing, albeit misguided talent'... The title of the piece, Ave Atque Vale, can be translated as Onward Valiant Soldier or Hail and Farewell." BBC 05/11/01

THE WAR ON PIRATES: The Recording Industry Association of America says 1.7 million pirate CDs were seized in 2000 - up 79% over the year before. This is not a victory however, but more a sign of the proliferation of illegal recordings. "Don't think you're going to stop it as long as there's demand and money to be made.'' BBC 05/11/01

  • THIS MAY TAKE A WHILE: Obviously, online music is here to stay, and various forces are vying to create the next industry standard in the post-Napster era. But with thousands of musicians to negotiate rights with, and so many conflicting regulations to worry about, it could be years before it all gets sorted out. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 05/10/01

Thursday May 10

PERLMAN'S GAMBLE: When the Detroit Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman as its new principal guest conductor, the sounds of eyes rolling in their sockets could be heard across the music world. But unlike many soloists who take up conducting as a side hobby, Perlman may be serious about learning the craft. So far, the results of the DSO's experiment seem to be positive. Detroit News 05/10/01

WALTER'S MAHLER: Bruno Walter started out as Mahler's assistant. But by the time his career was done, he'd become indespensible to the composer's memory, and a first-rate conductor in his own right. A new biography explores his legacy. Performance Today, NPR 05/08/01 [Real Audio required]

SINGING THE PRAISES OF NEW MUSIC: Getting tradition-bound classical musicians to embrace new music can be like pulling teeth. But choruses have been welcoming new works with open arms, and composers are willing to take less money in exchange for better attitudes and more artistic freedom. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/10/01

WHERE ARE THE GREAT CONDUCTORS? One of the world's most prestigious conducting competitions has concluded without awarding a first prize. Denmark's Malko Competition for Young Conductors awarded a second prize and a "special prize," but judges did not see any candidate worthy of the top award. Gramophone 05/09/01

JUST WHISTLING IN THE WIND? A new software application promises to help users catch music pirates on services like Napster and Gnutella. But Songbird, as the application is called, isn't impressing many people, as program glitches and search engine limitations allow too many songs and pirates to fall through the cracks. Wired 05/10/01

Wednesday May 9

NOT GOOD ENOUGH: Violinist Nigel Kennedy has declared a holy war on the practices of English orchestras. They offer one rehearsal of a concerto before performance, clearly not enough to explore an interpretation in any detail. "I don't think I am going to play in London with an orchestra until I can be assured that I'm getting adequate rehearsal." The Telegraph (UK) 05/09/01

THAT BIG SOCCER BREAK: Two singers who call themselves the Opera Babes were sin ging along to recorded music in the plaza outside Covent Garden when the team that books singers for British FA Cup soccer match final heard them and booked them to sing. Singing a soccer gig was how some really famous singers became household names... The Guardian (UK) 05/09/01

STUNG: It was supposed to be a concert by Sting in front of the Great Pyramids. Add an Egyptian opening act, and it could have been one of those "occasion" events. Instead, it turned into a fiasco, a national incident, with wounded Egyptian pride and angry accusations all around. Los Angeles Times 05/06/01

CONDUCTOR OF THE YEAR: Pierre Boulez has been named "conductor of the year" at the annual Royal Philharmonic Society awards in London. BBC 05/09/01

IF IT AIN'T BROKE... The ingredients never seem to vary: the young prodigy, the Gilbert & Sullivan, the Broadway show tunes, and for a finale, The Stars and Stripes Forever. Must be opening night at the Boston Pops. Boston Herald 05/09/01

HURDLES ON THE ROAD TO FREE MUSIC: Songwriters Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and the Wilson sisters are suing MP3.com for forty million dollars, alleging "that the music website illegally gives listeners access to their songs through the My.Mp3.com service." Meanwhile, back in San Jose, Napster was announcing its newest new technology: sound fingerprinting, which can identify songs by sound characteristics, not just file names. However, "the new software did not result in any additional files being blocked during a test by The Associated Press." BBC and USAToday (AP) 05/09/01

Tuesday May 8

CALLAS, THE TEEN YEARS: Given her turbulent childhood and neurotic upbringing, it's a wonder Maria Callas ever had a career, let alone one that lasted as long as it did. A new 670-page biography traces the Diva from age 14 to 22. The Times (UK) 05/08/01

WHEN CRITICS KILL MUSIC: Has rock music died? No, but "a new class of music writers is on the rise - call them the rock curmudgeons. Call them dangerous." Thay've stopped listening to rock - and it shows. Chronicle of Higher Education 05/07/01

WHAT WE WANT IS PATSY CLINE, THAT'S WHAT WE WANT: The Country Music Association has noticed a slight drop in record sales lately, so they're trotting out a new slogan - "Country. Admit It. You Love It." But that may not address the real problem. "Country music's problem isn't a rough-and-tumble reputation. It's lousy music. Country music has been overrun by such pabulum-pushing singers as Faith Hill, Shania Twain, and Tim McGraw, who despite that big ol' cowboy hat is about as country as Air Supply." Boston Globe 05/08/01

Monday May 7

LIVING WITH MUSIC: Why is it that many art lovers' taste in contemporary visual art is so much more developed than their sense of contemporary music? Michale Tilson Thomas and Frank Oteri wonder if contemporary music is just a more in-your-face experience. NewMusicBox 05/01

WIGMORE AT 100: London's Wigmore Hall celebrates 100 years as one of the world's quirkiest and most successful concert halls this month. "It is almost certainly the only venue where ailing pigeons have been brought in from the street for resuscitation by the management; where regular punters know each other by their seat and row numbers... and where an esoteric recital of The Lamentations of Jeremiah, by the baroque Bohemian Jan Zelenka, can draw a capacity audience." New Statesman 05/07/01

LITTLE WOMEN, BIG PROJECT: The number one rule of selecting a libretto for your new opera is "keep it simple." The form doesn't really allow for many intricate plot twists or rambling narratives. So when composer Mark Adamo decided to adapt the Louisa May Alcott classic "Little Women" for the operatic stage, he had his work cut out for him. Los Angeles Times 05/07/01

NAPSTER LOOKS TO THE MASTER: "Beleaguered Napster, struggling to meet the demands of the courts and the music industry, is in talks with Microsoft about using the software giant's technology to help build a secure, copyright-friendly version of its online song-swapping service." Los Angeles Times 05/04/01

Sunday May 6

MAKING THE BEST OF IT: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Ravinia Festival is second only to the Boston Symphony's Tanglewood in prestige and popularity among summer concert series. But unlike Tanglewood, nestled high in the remote Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, Ravinia is semi-urban, and the most obvious reminder of civilization is the set of train tracks running through the heart of the festival grounds. Rather than quietly resent the noise and disruption, the CSO has made it all a part of the fun, and has actually commissioned works that incorporate the thundering locomotives into the music. The New York Times 05/06/01 (one-time registration required for access)

  • SPEAKING OF FESTIVALS, the Times is out with its annual list of the best (and all the rest) of North America's summer classical music festivals. Organized by state. The New York Times 05/06/01 (one-time registration required for access)

BIZET IN DA HOUSE, YO! This week, MTV is presenting Carmen in hip-hop form. Despite the network's over-stylized editing, this updated (and, truth be told, barely recognizable) retelling of Bizet's classic is the first ever attempt to draw the pop culture-saturated youth market into the world of opera, and if it achieves even a tenth of what recent Shakespeare "updates" have, the opera world may yet be grateful for the effort. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/06/01

  • OPERA MAY NOT NEED HELP: "Opera today is perceived as a luscious stew abounding in appealing ingredients. People of virtually all ages are flocking to opera houses to experience this sensory explosion... The NEA found that the largest age group was 25 to 45, while the number of 18-to-24-year-olds grew by 18 percent over the previous decade." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 05/06/01

A LOT MORE THAN FIVE: For decades, the American orchestral scene has been dominated by the "Big Five" orchestras: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cleveland. But these days, only two or three of these truly deserve to be ranked in the top five, and orchestras in several other cities have pushed their way into the upper ranks. So what will it take to get the media to pay attention to orchestras in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis? Andante 05/01

UGH, POLITICS: Nothing will get musicians and scholars arguing faster than the topic of politics in music. From Haydn to Wagner to Shostakovich, any number of composers have been said to be trying to communicate political messages through their music. But the most vexing issue is what to do when the music is as irresistible as the composer's personal politics are reprehensible. The newest target in the debate is the unlikely Carl Orff. The New York Times 05/06/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Friday May 4

CRUMBLING BASTILLE: Paris's Bastille Opera House, which isn't very old, is deteriorating and in need of expensive repair. "It's all falling apart, at great speed, so we put up the nets. The question now is, do we replace all 40,000 [slabs of exterior stone] - somewhere between 60 and 100 million francs - or do we only replace the ones that are defective, which means going up there and doing 'tap tap!' on each of the 40,000?" International Herald Tribune 05/03/01

THE CONDUCTOR WITH TWO FACES: In Boston, Keith Lockhart is conductor of the Boston Pops and known for his relaxed, informal style. In Salt Lake City, Lockhart is music director of the Utah Symphony, and a much more serious pillar of the community. The skiing is better in Utah. Boston Herald 05/04/01

Thursday May 3

THE NEXT BILBAO? Officials of Philadelphia's Regional Performing Arts Center planned a New York "coming out" for their project last night, inviting critics from around the country to see a presentation on the center. "The New York event, which was months in the making, had been designed to position the city as the new Bilbao and the concert hall as its Guggenheim Museum," and despite the resignation of the project's director a couple days before, the Philadelphians stayed on message. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/03/01

  • DIFFICULT LABOR: The new arts center is plagued with problems. Money, of course, is problematic. And none of the major arts groups - the Philadelphia Orchestra included - has signed leases to perform in the hall. "Fees, of course, have been a major issue - although most groups have now accepted the fact that the arts center has reneged on its promise that rents in the two new halls would be no higher than rents paid by the groups in their current facilities." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/03/01

WAGNER IN ISRAEL? PROBABLY NOT: "Some Israeli politicians are upset over plans to perform an excerpt from Richard Wagner's opera The Valkyries. A special session of parliament was convened today to criticize the organizers of the Israel Festival Jerusalem." Wagner's open anti-Semitism is the reason for the decades-long informal ban on his music in Israel. CBC 05/02/01

NAPSTER, AIMSTER, WHAT'S IN A NAME? Aimster is "a Napster-like file sharing program that piggybacks on America Online's messaging service." Not surprisingly, the record industry wants it shut down. Not surprisingly, Aimster wants to stay in business. So it has filed a suit against the industry - "We're asking the court for a ruling that says it would be wrong to sue us because we're doing nothing wrong." Meanwhile, a web-survey report says Napster use is down more than forty percent since it added song-blocking technology to comply with a court order similar to the one threatening Aimster. Still, it may all be in vain. Another young computer whiz appears to have figured out how to shut down the on-line sharing of music files. New Jersey Online (Reuters), Siliconvalley.com, and Washington Post 05/03/01

IT'S TAX TIME: Pavarotti thought he'd settled his tax difficulties with the Italian government last year. But no - this week he goes to trial. "The biggest-earning opera virtuoso in history is accused of dodging £13 million between 1989-95." He could face three years in jail. The Guardian (UK) 05/02/01

THE MARKETING OF CHARLOTTE CHURCH: The teen singing sensation is making a tour of America, and everything's been calculated for maximum hype. Who cares if the classical world is turned off by the marketing, say her managers. "One reason she's controversial is that she's not really classical. I call it `popera'." Chicago Tribune 05/03/01

Wednesday May 2

TALIBAN BAN MUSIC: The Taliban have banned all non-religious music in Afghanistan. That means only chants. "To most people, music means with musical instruments and the Taliban has banned musical instruments. Those caught in possession of musical instruments are imprisoned, fined or even beaten and their instruments are destroyed." Chicago Tribune 05/02/01

WHY PEOPLE DON'T LIKE NEW MUSIC: It's not because they don't like music. "For most people, the appeal of music rests not in originality but in precisely the opposite - in the number of memories it can access. Put another way, although music is capable of reflecting as wide a spectrum of human experience as any other art form, in practice it is more limited, in that its value rests in its ability to provide an illusion of constancy in a changing world." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/02/01

BIG HURT FOR BIG MUSIC: "For all its global marketing clout and lock on the biggest stars, Big Music is actually in dire straits. Sales are plunging in the United States, the world's most important market, and no one has yet figured out how to stop the erosion or to make serious money from on-line distribution. The dream of reaping Internet riches from vast music libraries is turning into more of a nightmare for music's heavyweights. They have yet to provide the content or the means of delivering it effectively." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/02/01

END OF AN ERA? Washington's largest classical music radio station has dropped weekly Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. The Met performances are the longest-running program on radio and are carried nationally by hundreds of stations. "But despite the strong support of a small niche audience for the art form, large commercial stations like WGMS, which has the fourth-highest listenership in the Washington area, have been moving away from opera and vocal music in general." Washington Post 05/02/01

HARD TIMES FOR CHAMBER MUSIC: "It has never been harder since Haydn's time to make a living as a string quartet. But the challenge is yielding a gamut of fresh ideas as quartets struggle to reinvent their genre." The Telegraph (UK) 05/02/01

PRUDENT PROGRAMMING: The Scottish National Opera recently got a big boost in funding from the government. So why does its new season look so thin? "In every sentence he utters on the subject, Scottish Opera's chief executive, Chris Barron, underlines the need for extreme caution in the progress of Scottish Opera following a period which has seen the near-devastation of the company in financial terms." Glasgow Herald 05/02/01

Tuesday May 1

BATTLING FOR THE SOUL OF CLASSICAL MUSIC: Nearly everyone says how wonderful it is that 'stylistic barriers' are breaking down, that Radio 3 and Festival Hall audiences have much broader tastes than 20 years ago, and that impeccably highbrow musicians such as Daniel Barenboim are winning new fans by applying their virtuosic skills to (in his case) tangos and Duke Ellington. But don’t be fooled. A vicious little turf-war is going on, as the various factions tug and heave at the proprietorial rights to those troublesome words, 'classical music'." The Times (UK) 05/01/01

FRESH BREEZES AT GLYNDEBOURNE: After a distinctly gloomy season last year, the Glyndebourne Festival has installed new young leadership to run the festival. The change in mood is obvious already. The Telegraph (UK) 05/01/01

BRUNNHILDE PASSES ON: Famed soprano Rita Hunter, known the world over for her interpretations of the leading roles in Wagner's "Ring" cycle, has died at her home in Australia. She was 67. BBC 05/01/01

SMALL VICTORY FOR NAPSTER: The judge presiding over the Napster debacle has issued yet another ruling to clarify a previous one. The new order reiterates that the recording industry is responsible for providing Napster with a list of copyrighted songs to be removed from the song-swapping service, and that an example of piracy must be presented for each song before Napster must comply. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) (AP) 04/30/01

ONE DEAD MERGER: The proposed merger between music giants EMI and Bertelsmann has officially collapsed, much to the relief of the rest of the music industry. The merger would have created perhaps the most powerful music distribution company in the world, but the details of the joining were simply unable to be worked out. BBC 05/01/01


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