I'd claim I proofread everything I post here, but obviously I'm not careful enough. The music critic with the Detroit Free Press is Mark Stryker, not Mark Styker, as I mistakenly typed. Sorry, Mark! … [Read more...]

Back to modernism

Real life, both personal and professional, has dragged me away from blogging, so I haven't posted some thoughtful responses about modernism, James Levine, and the Boston Symphony. Here's one (and I'm grateful for all of them), from Mark Styker, classical music critic with the Detroit Free Press: Many interesting and complicated things in this discussion and I agree with you on some points. But one thing I really like about Levine's programming for next season is that he's doing what a music director ought to do with any important historical … [Read more...]

Good performances

From Eric Bruskin comes this worthwhile note: Another reason not to hate the season - to give it a chance (and, if you wish, to see it as a further test of a hypothesis): maybe a good performance will help people appreciate this music, because they'll finally hear what the composer wrote. I love the music he's programming. (I also love the music you've offered as an alternative.) I've loved hard-core modernism since I was in high school. But after moving to NYC and hearing many many concerts over the years, along with repeated listening to … [Read more...]

Still more

From Janet Shapiro, who with her husband Philip Byrd produces fine TV films of classical performances: I'm not sure exactly how this fits into what you've been discussing on ArtsJournal these past few days re the Boston Symphony’s programming under Levine, but I thought I'd share something that happened just last night. In an effort to avoid the State of the Union speech while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner (oh, what a domestic goddess I am!) I turned on WNYC-FM and was shocked to hear a performance I'd taken part in.  It was … [Read more...]

And finally this…

From Alex Ross, classical music critic for The New Yorker, some very well-considered words: Here are some thoughts on the evergreen Levine matter. I agree with you up to a point, disagree thereafter. The BSO repertory is to my taste a bit of a late-modernist snooze. Carter is to my taste an overrated composer, the Max Reger of our time. To my taste Levine's choices in contemporary music are highly circumscribed and even small-minded, etc., etc. But it's his taste, and this is significant. If the question were, should Levine be director of … [Read more...]

Wonders and marvels, the sequel

Check out this month's Vanity Fair -- they put Paul Kellogg, the man who runs the New York City Opera, in their hall of fame. And for reasons that have everything to do with art, not glitz. Which brings me back to my post some months ago about Vanity Fair's annual music issue. They'd featured two classical artists, Juan Diego Florez and Anna Netrebko, both heavily pushed by Deutsche Grammophon's publicists. I wondered what it would take to get the magazine to highlight classical people who aren't glamorous, and aren't the flavor of the … [Read more...]

Wonders and marvels

Today, linked in ArtsJournal, are two delightful surprises -- daily newspaper pieces that talk in great serious detail about classical music, and in fact talk about music the way professionals do. One, about how Daniel Barenboim conducts Schumann, is by my wife, Anne Midgette, writing in The New York Times; the other is by Michael Barnes, writing in the Austin (TX) American Statesman, is an explanation of theme and variation form, showing how it works in the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. (There's no point, as I've said before, … [Read more...]

Further comment

Here's yet another view of modernism and the BSO -- well worth taking seriously -- from a reader who'd prefer I didn't use his name: I come from the same side of the boat as you with regard to modernism, but I don't have the same distaste for the BSO season you've expressed. When we were young the modernists would always say If only this music got played more often, people would come to like it. Now, for the first time, one of the premier professional orchestras in the country is going to test that theory. If they are right, and the … [Read more...]

Another view

Here's the comment I mentioned in my last post, from Scott Spires, with whom I've been having a friendly e-mail exchange. What he says is worth taking seriously: This is in response to your article decrying Levine's programming of "hardcore" modernist pieces with the Boston Symphony. In the article you assert, I believe, that these hard modernists have never really gained an audience beyond the typical academic new-music crowd.I'm a 39-year-old non-musician, just a listener, and I can say that I regard such composers as Lutoslawski, Ligeti, … [Read more...]


A little more on the subject of my last post, the modernist music that dominates next year's Boston Symphony programs. Start with why I criticized that, and did it very strongly. Earlier today, I finished next month's copy for my column on the NewMusicBox webzine. My subject -- titled, tongue in cheek, "How We Can Save the World" -- was about how the spirit and mood of new music concerts could change the classical music mainstream. In this piece, I said that people in the new music world (that includes me) should redouble our efforts to get … [Read more...]


I want to protest, really loudly, the Boston Symphony's newly announced programming for next year. This will be James Levine's first season as music director, and he's packed it with bristling modernist works: DUTILLEUX Tout un monde lointain LIGETI Lontano CARTER Micomicón CARTER Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei CARTER Sonata for flute, oboe, cello, and harpsichord (on a Boston Symphony Chamber Players concert) LUTOSLAWSKI Cello Concerto LUTOSLAWSKI Concerto for Orchestra LIGETI Cello Concerto BABBITT Concerti for … [Read more...]


Last week my Juilliard course on the future of classical music began ("Classical Music in an Age of Pop). Some of the students talked about friends they'd introduced to classical music -- people who didn't know classical music, but who came to a concert, and found they liked it. That led to talk about what could attract more people to come, and, most crucially, about what happens when newcomers do show up. I talked about a friend of mine who impulsively bought a ticket for some orchestral concert at Lincoln Center (could have been the … [Read more...]

Met marketing

In my Joseph Volpe post, I said the Metropolitan Opera might not really do marketing, at least as serious marketers understand the term. Here's an example to show what I mean. In 1996, I talked to the marketing director of the Met (whose current title, as one of their top executives, is Assistant Manager for Finance, Planning, and Marketing). At the time, he was quite happy with ticket sales, which he said averaged 92% of capacity. There was only one thing he'd change, he said. Each year, the artistic staff decided to produce four or five … [Read more...]


Already one friend has e-mailed me, expressing horror at the upcoming BBC broadcast of John Cage's famous (or is it notorious?) silent piece, 4'33". I'm thrilled, then, to see the radiant story linked in ArtsJournal today from the Guardian, the British newspaper, putting Cage in a fuller context. Please read it. Cage was a great man and a great artist. I understand why a lot of people don't see that -- he was very far from the way most of us live and think -- but I've found that many people who think he's nonsense don't know much about him. … [Read more...]

Time for Joe to go?

  Has anyone read the Financial Times interview with Joseph Volpe, the man who runs the Metropolitan Opera? Extraordinary document. You could, if you wanted, make a case after reading it that Volpe should be fired right now. The Met, it's widely known, is having trouble -- not selling enough tickets, accumulating a deficit. And Volpe, if this interview is accurate, has no plan to deal with that. Nor does the interviewer ask him what his plan might be, in this almost-a-crisis situation. I kept thinking of Casey Stengel's famous line, … [Read more...]