How to kill classical music (3)

Here's a press release from a major classical music publicity firm: S U S A N  G R A H A M  S I N G S  A T  Z A N K E L  H A L L Well, stop the presses! Susan Graham, a singer, is going to sing! Who knew? And here I thought that she was going to tap dance. Again we have a headline that doesn't tell us anything. Or, anyway, doesn't tell us enough, because, just maybe, the fact that Graham will sing at Zankel might be news. Zankel is Carnegie Hall's spiffy and artistic new performing space. The season there has … [Read more...]

Arresting cellist

"Arresting Cellist Wins Award, Will Make Debut." Why not say something like that? That was my advice, in my last post, to people writing classical music press releases. Why not start with a headline that tells us why we ought to care about whatever event the release promotes? Drew McManus agreed. My suggestion, he e-mailed me, is simply "common sense." But there's one little wrinkle. If you're going to write a headline that grabs attention and is also honest, the artist it's about has to have distinctive qualities, either personal or … [Read more...]

How to kill classical music — press releases

My wife and I are both critics; we both get press releases, announcing classical music events. Their quality, it's fair to say, is dismal. Which isn't to say they aren't written with professional skill, or some reasonable imitation of that. But they don't say anything. Example (chosen just because it came in the mail today; it's no worse than many others): 43d Young Concert Artists Series Presentsthe New York Debut ofRomanian Cellist Laura Buruiana March 9, 2004 -- On Tuesday, March 23, 2004, at 8:00 PM, Young concert Artists presents … [Read more...]

How to kill classical music

Here's the cover of a new classical CD, from a major label, Universal Classics: It's ugly and ridiculous. Brendel looks like he's in pain; Goerne looks like he's roaring. (And it looks worse in real life than it does here.) When we in classical music aren't doing music -- and especially when we advertise or market ourselves -- we live in the same world as everybody else. Other people design good CD covers. It's not hard to do. If we don't do it -- especially for an A-list recording like this one -- we look like fools. … [Read more...]

[Revised version] Weighing in…

…on the Fat Issue: 1. It's common and reasonable to make casting choices based in part on how people look. Just last week I heard dance teachers at Juilliard say that students routinely lose out in auditions because choreographers think they're too heavy. Someone at Juilliard's opera program said the same thing happens at regional opera companies. This isn't discrimination, in any legal or ethical sense. It's art; choreographers and directors care how their productions look on stage. Regional opera companies are able to care, I should add, … [Read more...]


From a brief Q&A with soprano Andrea Gruber, in the April issue of Opera News: All-time favorite singer: Janis Joplin. One thing I absolutely cannot live without: My CD player, mini-speakers, and hip-hop, R&B or rap music before I go onstage. Guilty-pleasure CD: Justified, by Justin Timberlake. And from a longer Q&R with singer-songwriter Rufus Wainright, in the March 14 New York Times Magazine: Hero: Verdi. This is a bust of him [pictured]. He's my favorite composer. I'd like to follow the examples he set in his career, writing … [Read more...]


Yesterday I shopped in a new Staples that providentially opened a block a way from me. Office supplies right down the street! A genuine convenience for the busy freelancer. And as I was coming out, I noticed a big Staples ad, featuring the tagline "That was easy(SM)." The SM, of course, is a superscript, marking -- like dog piss on a tree -- Staples territory, a service mark they've legally registered, so nobody can steal it. I had to laugh. Service marks like that -- and we see a lot of them in advertising -- accidentally tell a … [Read more...]

Recreation; Re: Creation

I've been in the Bahamas, on vacation, and I've also been intoxicated with a piece I'm writing, the slow movement of a prospective symphony. It's emerging as a pop ballad, with classic doowop harmony; cheesy, some might say, but isn't it supposed to be? And all scored for a Haydn-size orchestra, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, and strings. Quite a trick, I might say, scoring a pop ballad for those instruments. Where's the rhythm section? (Though that's not the biggest problem -- cello and double bass, playing pizzicato, can make a lot of rhythm. … [Read more...]

Creating The Creation

Not long ago I went to hear Haydn's Creation at the New York Philharmonic. The performance wasn't much to write home about -- Maazel conducted with a kind of distracted ferocity, pushing the music forward, but not doing much else with it. Barbara Bonney, the soprano soloist, sang badly out of tune; Bruce Ford, the tenor, was not much more than competent. Only Thomas Quasthoff, the bass soloist, stood out, singing with more truth and radiant delight than any singer I've heard in quite a while. I wanted to jump on stage, and say to Bonney … [Read more...]