A really good press release

The following showed up in my e-mail today. It was from the New England Conservatory, but (with no disrespect to NEC's public relations department), the animating spirit here -- the person who made the press release so convincing -- is Benjamin Zander, music director of the Boston Philharmonic, whose descriptions of music he's performing have wowed me before. And maybe what follows is a little over the top, but how many press releases (or advertisements, or marketing brochures) do we see that make classical music even a little bit appealing? … [Read more...]

Breathtaking CD covers

Very interesting story linked in ArtsJournal about John Eliot Gardiner, and how he's making his own CDs. That's a growing trend, of course, and I should have mentioned it in my "dimensions of the crisis" point about classical recording. Musicians can make CDs on their own, and get their music out no matter what happens to classical record companies. The London Symphony does it, the San Francisco Symphony does it, composer Michael Torke has done it, and of course lots of people do it in pop. Why not? Take control of your own destiny! But one … [Read more...]

Wild audience

Antonio Celaya e-mailed, quite wonderfully, from Oakland, California, about his experience with a wide-awake opera audience. With his permission, I'll share what he wrote. Thanks, Antonio! Taruskin's description of baroque opera in Italy had much in common with a performance I attended recently.  In fact, after the performance I wrote to friends and compared my experience to what opera must have been like in Venice during carnavale.    I attended the opening night of SF Opera's production of Ligeti's "Le Grand … [Read more...]

The crisis

For the benefit of my Juilliard class -- and because I don't know any writing that sets forth, in full gory detail, the extent of the classical-music crisis -- I'm going to list some of the ways classical music is in trouble. I'm taking this from remarks I made on a panel at the music critics' conference in New York back in October. 1. There's less media coverage than there used to be, maybe drastically less. In the early '80s, as a critic/columnist for The Village Voice, I could write long and serious classical music essays. They don't run … [Read more...]

Too-careful Handel

I knew something was wrong -- at least to me -- just a few bars into the overture, when I saw Handel's Rodelinda at the Met last month. I feel a little churlish saying this, because the production was lovely and serious, and the Met orchestra, in part simply because the strings played without much vibrato, transformed itself into a passable version of a period instrument ensemble. But still I thought something was wrong. The orchestra sounded too thin. At intermission I did exactly what I later found someone else in the music business had done … [Read more...]

Sign of the times

Here's something that happened at a concert at Symphony Space in New York, given jointly by the Ying Quartet and the Turtle Island String Quartet. It was a brave event for the Yings. The Turtle Island String Quartet plays jazz and improvises, the Yings normally don't. But (though only their cellist improvised at this concert) they stretched themselves very happily into Turtle Island territory. This in itself is a sign of changes happening in classical music, but that's not the only thing I want to mention here. What especially struck me is … [Read more...]

NOA panel

On January 8 I spoke on a panel at the National Opera Association convention. This was a panel of very diverse composers -- myself, Ned Rorem, John Eaton, Eric Salzman, and Jack Beeson. I don't want to diminish what anyone said (Ned, as always, was adorably Ned; Jack was wonderfully witty; Eric had forceful things to say about music theater that isn't opera, and doesn't use operatic singing), but I was especially taken with John, whom, alone of this group, I'd never met before. His presentation fell into three parts. First a fetching anecdote … [Read more...]

St. Louis lockout/strike

Happy new year, everyone. I didn't think I'd be coming back from my holiday to news of a strike (or lockout). St. Louis, everybody always says, is a happy orchestra, and at least, in the middle of this sad news, it preserves its reputation in one way -- all the reports I've gotten, from the press and from personal sources, tell me that management and the musicians have remained friendly. I'm hardly going to take sides, or try to sort out every major detail of all the issues involved. But one thing seems clear. Management thinks it's more … [Read more...]