Renée the Grinch

It's 11 PM on December 23. Tomorrow my wife and I leave to see family for the holidays. I wasn't planning to post anything to this blog. And then something arrived by e-mail that just appalls me. It's a press release from Universal Classics, Renée Fleming's record label. It announces some auctions on eBay, to be conducted literally during Christmas, from now until December 26. Some lucky Fleming fans will…but let the press release speak for itself: Universal Classics announced today that Renée Fleming, opera superstar and two-time Grammy … [Read more...]

Lost in space

For the last week or so, I haven't been able to blog. A work crunch hit -- this is the time of year when I write marketing blurbs for major orchestras, trying to describe next season's concerts in ways that both respect their artistic intentions and will attract an audience. You'd think this wouldn't be a new idea, or that there shouldn't be any contradiction between the two goals. But in fact orchestras are only starting to learn how to talk to their audience, and (sad but true) the way the artistic staffs of orchestras talk to musicians and … [Read more...]

How to think about public radio

Quite by chance, I learned that my post about public radio quite a while ago generated some froth on the web, not least a strong dissent from my blogmate Terrry Teachout. I'd said that public radio has reasons for cutting back on classical music, and that it doesn't do any good to protest without understanding what the reasons are. But some people think I've forgotten what public radio's mission is supposed to be -- to broadcast things unavailable elsewhere. Now, this is an old argument. It's one of the first objections brought up -- often … [Read more...]

Piano advertising

Here are some freely paraphrased responses to my post on piano advertising (by which I mean piano companies blazing their brand name on the side of their pianos):    -- from a music publicist: Thanks, I hate it too!    -- from the publicist at a mid-sized orchestra: Get over it! Commercial sponsorship is here to stay. To which I can only answer, sure, but shouldn't there be limits? Advertising, all over our culture, is spreading out of control. In the past year or so it started showing up on supermarket floors. … [Read more...]

Unwelcome advertising

We'd all be shocked, I think, if we saw a Nike swoosh behind the musicians during a classical concert. Of course commercial sponsorship helps keep classical music alive, but commercial sponsors are supposed to know their place. Yet there's one kind of advertising we constantly see -- advertising for the brand of piano being played. I was at a mostly wonderful concert Saturday night, a recital by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson at Zankel Hall in New York. Peter Serkin was her accompanist, and there it was, on the side of his piano, placed … [Read more...]


Like most of you, I'm sure, I get a lot of spam. But lately someone has been having fun with it -- I'm getting messages that pretend to be from crazy names. Much as I hate the spam, I'll congratulate the spammer, who's weirdly, unforgettably inspired. (I imagine that it's just one person making up the names, because the style -- which I might describe as W. C. Fields gone totally insane -- is so consistent.) How could anybody think an offer could be real, when it claims to come from names like these? Revitalize B. Germany Anthrax T. … [Read more...]


The following e-mail comes from Iris Greidinger of New York, who corrects me about some things I said about Andrea Bocelli earlier. I said, for instance, that the Metropolitan Opera should book him for a pop concert, unaware that (as Ms. Greidlinger lets me know) he now sings pop songs only as encores. Whatever one thinks about Bocelli's singing, I should have known more before I ventured my comments. I'll only add that Ms. Greidinger and I have now exchanged more friendly messages, and that I hope it's clear that I'm serious about posting … [Read more...]

After Litton

The e-mail just poured in, after I wrote my post about Andrew Litton. I've never gotten so much mail, even when I've raised questions I think are more important. But I'm not objecting. Conductors are big news, and, more to the point, they affect people directly -- listeners, orchestra managements, critics, and, not least, musicians. The Dallas Symphony staff member who wrote to me angrily, wrote back still more angrily to say he didn't want his message to me posted here. Of course I'll respect that. One critic wrote asking whether artistic … [Read more...]

Why we need classical music

  I'll take a break from everything I've stirred up about conductors, and how they're covered in the press, mainly because I don't have time today to write about this. But there's been new e-mail, raising worthy points, not all agreeing with me. I'll get to it tomorrow.   Meanwhile, though, here's something I scanned a while ago from Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity. I've quoted Hornby's writing about pop music here, including some challenges he throws (though not intentionally) at classical music.   But I'm also always … [Read more...]

Litton and beyond

I got many responses to my Andrew Litton post, including a hearty "thank you" from someone in touch with the Dallas music scene, and a lively dissent from a musician who's worked with Litton recently (not in Dallas), and likes him. Not to mention an angry message from a staff member at the Dallas Symphony, which I hope he'll let me print here, uncensored. The musician who wrote to me points out that the personal detail I touched on -- people close to Litton making demands on orchestras that Litton guest-conducted -- is years out of date. The … [Read more...]

Some of the truth

In a story linked from ArtsJournal, we read that Andrew Litton is leaving the Dallas Symphony. Two things were immediately notable. First, Litton has nowhere to go. He holds relatively minor jobs in Norway and in Minneapolis, but he's not leaving Dallas because of them. Above all, he's not moving up from Dallas, as his career path would have led us to expect. From Dallas, he might have gone to Pittsburgh, let's say, if not to some larger American orchestra, or to an important post in Europe. instead, he's leaving -- or so he says -- so he … [Read more...]

The digital future

It seems more and more obvious that we're going to get recordings digitally -- and that this will, on balance, be pretty wonderful. I, encouraged to think this by two recent experiences. First, I've been using Naxos Music Library, a soon-to-be-available service I've talked about here. (Available, anyway, to institutions.) If you use it, you'll be able to hear, on the web, any recording from the huge Naxos catalogue, in more than decent sound. Lately I've been working on projects that require me to hear huge amounts of music, mostly from the … [Read more...]

Die Frau ohne audience

I went to the Met last night, to see Die Frau ohne Schatten. Striking production, and a touching one, too, by the late Herbert Wernicke; variable singing, but one really warm, deep performance, from Wolfgang Brendel, as Barak. (And OK, he's a friend, whom I met through my wife, who knew him when she lived in Munich. But sometimes there's an artistic reason, on top of personal ones, why someone is a friend. Wolfgang is a real mensch on stage, who feels everything in his heart, and renders it honestly, with no fuss. And he sings beautifully.) At … [Read more...]


in 1979, the San Francisco Opera staged a troubled production of Ponchielli's La Gioconda. It was troubled because the two leading singers -- Pavarotti and Renata Scotto -- didn't get along. Or, rather, Pavarotti pulled some of his familiar tricks (showing up late for rehearsals, not knowing his part), and Scotto didn't like that. She says as much in her autobiography (out of print, but available through Amazon); she doesn't mention Pavarotti's name, but everybody in the opera world knew who she meant. Everybody in the opera world, … [Read more...]

Bad news and good news

Very scary story linked from ArtsJournal today -- it says that in England, not enough kids are learning to play less popular orchestral instruments, like the trombone, bassoon, oboe, or french horn. Here's a quote: Gavin Henderson, principal of Trinity College of Music in London and chairman of Youth Music, the government advisory group behind [a plan to do something about the problem], said the future of traditional music was at stake. "Orchestras are facing difficulties due to the lack of young, high quality players," he said. While … [Read more...]