Happy holidays to all

Time for a Christmas break. I don't think I'll blog again till January. And I do need a rest. So to everyone who reads me (and to everybody else), all the best for the holidays, and for the new year. Let's hope that 2005 brings good things. My thanks, too, to all my readers. Simply knowing you're there means a lot to me. Your responses -- either in person, or by e-mail -- or even just your telling me that you like to read this, makes me see (among many other things) that this business can really change. I used to think the things I said were … [Read more...]

Far into the past

For various reasons -- a project with an orchestra, a pending review (which my wife and I are writing jointly) of Richard Taruskin's five-volume history of western music -- I've been listening to renaissance music, by Josquin and Ockeghem. And I'm both bored and irritated by some of the performances I hear. That pure sound of unaccompanied (and, all too often, uninflected) voices, rising and falling, without any evident point or purpose, no rhythm to speak of, every piece taken at the same tempo…yuck! That's not very musical, if you … [Read more...]

Judging conservative composers

This morning, for a project with an orchestra, I'm listening to the Sibelius Fourth Symphony (in a moving performance by the Slovak Philharmonic, conducted by Adrian Leaper, streamed from the Naxos website). I find it riveting. And I remember having the same experience a year or so ago with the Sibelius Fifth, which I think I also blogged about. But now I think of how despised Sibelius used to be, among many serious musicians and, above all, by anyone who took new music seriously. Virgil Thomson, for instance, in a review of the Second … [Read more...]

Power metal and my own composing

A footnote to my last post: What connection do Pantera and Jackson Mac Low have to my own composing? Not that they have to have one, of course; I can admire music that plays no role in my own. But still I wonder. When I was studying composition in graduate school, I began to write in what I then would have called a "downtown New York" style, with (for instance) pieces for speaking voices, whose music wasn't completely determined in advance. My score for the piece I'm thinking of was a set of verbal instructions, whose outcome would be … [Read more...]


Today I was intrigued to see obituaries for two very different people juxtaposed on top of each other in The New York Times. One of these people was Jackson Mac Low, the Fluxus poet who made his poems with random procedures, the way John Cage often composed music; the other was Dimebag Darrell, the metal guitarist who was shot last week while he was playing in a Columbus, Ohio club. It would be hard, I thought, to find two more different people either in music, or (in Mac Low's case) with strong musical connections. Idly, I began wondering how … [Read more...]

How to do it

Two posts ago, I complained about critics using empty words of praise ("masterpiece," etc.), and suggested that all of us describe our experience with music, rather than pin inflated labels on it. Now I'm happy to pass on an evocative example of a critic doing just what I like to see. It's from Anthony Tommasini's review of a recital by Simon Keenlyside, in today's New York Times: Mr. Keenlyside, accompanied by the splendid pianist Julius Drake, was also in his element in Ravel's "Histoires Naturelles," a song cycle about animals. A standout … [Read more...]

A dire statistic

Last week I learned that ticket sales for the Big Five orchestras haven't declined all that much in the past 10 years (though this year's, people tell me, are troubling, and I don't know what the decline might be for all professional orchestras). But I also learned this stunning, dire fact: In this same period, the cost of selling a ticket rose 40%. Yes, you read that right. It now costs large orchestras 40% more to sell tickets than it did 10 years ago. Why? Because orchestras sell fewer subscriptions, or, to put this more precisely, the … [Read more...]

Enough already

In the past week I've read -- in newspaper pieces by respected critic colleagues -- that a Mozart piece is "sublime," and that a Mahler performance was "stamped by magnificence." It's not exactly rare to read things like this, of course, and I'm sure I've been as guilty of this puffed-up praise as anybody else. But I'd like to call a halt to words like "sublime" and "magnificent," when classical music is talked about, along with "great" and "masterpiece," and a host of other empty ways to say how good the music (or a performance) is. Why are … [Read more...]

Critics’ conference

The critics' conference Jen Graves writes about -- in a story linked on ArtsJournal today -- was pretty interesting. It was held in New York in October, and involved critics from all over the country, plus some from abroad. Graves talks about one important thread in the discussion, a fear that critics write too timidly, and that this, as Graves says, is partly due to "the same intimidation that keeps people out of concert halls and art galleries." She goes on to say that Like orchestras, classical critics allow themselves to be suffocated … [Read more...]


Not long ago I went to a New York Philharmonic concert -- Peter Lieberson's Red Garuda, and the Mahler First Symphony, with James Conlon conducting. The lights in Avery Fisher Hall dimmed before the music started, evidently a new Philharmonic policy. I sat there in row HH, further back than I usually sit. The location seemed perfect, with the musicians, of course dressed in black, framed by the brownish wood of the stage. Looking at this, in semi-darkness, I felt something I hadn't felt in years, at an orchestral concert -- a sense of … [Read more...]

Lebrecht bullshit

It's fun reading Norman Lebrecht. He's inaccurate and irresponsible, but classical music suffers from too much responsibility. So in a way Lebrecht is a good corrective -- tabloid journalism, of a pretty extreme sort, right in the middle of the classical music world. But his column on Peter Gelb, linked in ArtsJournal, is a good example of why we can't take anything he says very seriously. He thinks Peter is a bad choice to run the Met, and of course he's got the right to think that. But when you examine what he says, it's a tissue of illogic … [Read more...]

A good press release

Since I've been ragging publicists here, it's only fair to quote a really good press release that arrived via e-mail a week ago: New York City Opera presents the world premiere of CHARLES WUORINEN's long-awaited opera "HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES" Based on the fantasy novel by SALMAN RUSHDIE Libretto adapted by British poet JAMES FENTON Directed by MARK LAMOS World Premiere, New York City Opera Performances October 31, November 3, 6, 9, and 11, 2004 On Halloween, New York City Opera mounts perhaps its most important commission to … [Read more...]

Straws in the wind

I'm picking up some changes going on in at least a few orchestras, involving the musicians' role. First, musicians are getting involved in artistic planning, formerly the exclusive province of the music director, the artistic administrator, and (sometimes) the executive director. One reason, in fact, that some orchestras wonder whether they want a traditional music director is that they want the musicians to have some of the power the music director traditionally has. And not just in programming -- also in hiring musicians, giving them … [Read more...]


At a meeting this weekend involving orchestras, talk turned at one point to the possibility that at least some orchestras might disappear. The board chair of one major orchestra had said, "If we don't put more butts in seats, we're going to have a difficult time surviving as we're presently organized." (Exact quote.) There was also talk about what kind of concerts orchestras present, and what kind of audience they can reach. Some people said that programming couldn't be like art films; it had to be more popular than that. So at one point, I … [Read more...]


Peter Gelb, as many people already know, is going to be the next head of the Metropolitan Opera, succeeding Joseph Volpe. (I'm writing this before the official announcement, but the news has leaked onto opera websites.) I trust this means the Met wants to make some changes, since Peter isn't an old-fashioned classical music guy. I expect my colleagues in the press to get a little worried, since they've long assumed that Peter has no taste, blaming him for the decline of major-label classical recording, and especially for crossover releases … [Read more...]