One of the happiest professional moments I had in the last year came when I named a baby llama. I was e-mailed by a llama breeder, Trish Brandt-Robuck, who runs the RBR Ranch in Newcastle, CA. She likes to name her llamas after opera singers, because groups of children often visit, and she likes the llama names to be educational. Her question to me was this. A new and perfectly adorable llama baby was black, and male. Could I suggest a male black opera singer to name him after? I thought a bit and came up with Roland Hayes, the pioneering … [Read more...]

“Ghastly ad” followup

From Joshua Kosman, the fine classical music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, comes this reaction to my post about the Shostakovich ad: The SF Symphony had a marketing director once who was perfectly capable in many areas, just not really as marketing director of a symphony orchestra. She lasted a *very* short time. The best mistake she made -- the one people still cackle over -- was the ad she conceived and approved in connection with the Symphony's performance of Babi Yar on 2/14. I can't remember the details, but it was actually … [Read more...]

More on Bohemia

Not long ago I teased — was that the word? —Early Music New York for their CD A Bohemian Christmas. Of course they meant Christmas in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, but I thought people new to classical music wouldn’t have a clue, and might wonder if the CD was for an offbeat artist’s holiday. So now, to be fair, I have to note that the CD is the latest in a series from the group: A Medieval Christmas, A Renaissance Christmas, A Baroque Christmas, and A Colonial Christmas. So if the target audience is established fans, then of course … [Read more...]

Ghastly ad

I was in a store, and heard an ad on a classical station for a Shostakovich festival put on by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. “Celebrate Shostakovich,” said the ad, “with spectacular performances.” Or something like that. “Celebrate” and “spectacular” were certainly words the ad used. I pulled out my little notebook and wrote them down. This was ridiculous, of course, and almost offensive. Shostakovich isn’t celebratory or spectacular. He’s bitter, wry, and painful. Yes, he’s dramatic, but not in spectacular ways. This is … [Read more...]

Renewed thanks

Many thanks to ArtsJournal founder, guru, and all around good guy Doug McLennan for the spiffy new look of this blog. Doug does prodigious work, and has prodigious ideas as well. I don’t know when I’ve had a more stimulating or more helpful colleague. As I’ve said before! But it bears repeating many times. Doug deserves massive funding for everything he does, so he can be repaid in more than gratitude. … [Read more...]

Forster on Beethoven

Here's a wonderful passage from E. M. Forster's novel Howards End, about Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. A followup, more or less, to those Louis Biancolli notes about the Sixth that I posted recently. Again we have somebody describing music the way we might experience it, not historically, and not analytically. A rare art, today, as many of you agree (if I can judge from the enthusiastic e-mail I've been getting). I'd love to know more literary passages that describe classical music this wonderfully. I know a few: the famous passage about Lucia … [Read more...]

What’s Happening Here

Is classical music dying? No way -- I think it's going to be reborn, reconnect with the world around it, and become a truly contemporary art. But this is a big topic, and there's resistance to the changes that are taking place. … [Read more...]


Unfortunately, the start of my book has to be delayed a week. My apologies to everybody who hoped to read the first installment today (Monday, 10/24). And especially to the good people who have already written to me with interest in the book, and with fine suggestions for what should be in it. As they know from my responses, I take everything they say very seriously. The first installment will appear, without fail, on Monday, October 31...Halloween! I trust the only people it will scare are the few remaining die-hard purists. … [Read more...]

Biancolli footnote

If anyone would like to see the complete liner Louis Biancolli liner notes for the Pastoral Symphony (see my post called "Out of the Past"), just contact me, and I'll e-mail them back to you. … [Read more...]

Now it can be told

So now it's official. The first installment of my book will appear on Monday, on a special page right here on ArtsJournal. The subject of the book, of course, is the future of classical music. The title might be something like Looking for a Future: What We're Going to Do About Classical Music. Or maybe just What We're Going to Do About Classical Music. Which do you prefer? Or would some other title be better? True to the adventure that's a big part of this project, I'm happy to revise the title as I go. I'm certainly going to be revising the … [Read more...]

Out of the past

I was in Tower Records the other day, and they were playing the opening chorus of what turned out to be the Klemperer recording of Bach's B Minor Mass. It was slow and massive, moving (if it could be said to move at all) without a trace of what we now understand to be Baroque rhythm. Nobody, I think, could do Bach that way today. Some people would laugh, others would groan. Then, later the same day, I was listening to a 1955 Charles Munch recording of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, and could barely believe the liner notes. They were by Louis … [Read more...]


I've gotten two e-mails about my "Media world" post, from people who got the idea that I'm impressed because guys in the Marines put Carmina Burana -- a classical piece -- on DVDs they made about their time in Iraq. So I guess I didn't write clearly enough. Really, I do know that Carmina Burana has been heard a lot in pop culture; I wouldn't conclude that anyone who uses it on the soundtrack of their homemade movie is sophisticated in any way about classical music. What I wanted to say, instead, was that guys in the Marines are making such … [Read more...]

Doing their jobs

The recent announcement from the BBC about their upcoming broadcast of everything Bach wrote reminds me that — unaccountably —I never said anything about their free Beethoven downloads, which must be the most wildly successful classical music promotion I’ve ever heard of. And it wasn’t just the downloads. They filled their website with Beethoven material, fascinating, readable stuff. They knew, in other words, how to create an event. And in fact they’ve been creating classical music events for a while now. We shouldn’t forget their … [Read more...]

Christmas where?

Is it just me, or is this yet another demonstration of the way classical music lives in a little box, without looking up to think how it might look to the outside world? A CD by Early Music New York came in the mail, called A Bohemian Christmas. Now, nothing against the CD itself, which is just fine, really nice to listen to. But won't most people think first of offbeat artists celebrating Christmas, and not, as the group intends, about Christmas in medieval Bohemia, the place Dvorak later came from, which is now part of the Czech … [Read more...]

Media world

My wife's cousin just got back from Iraq. He's in the Marines; he was in combat for seven months. And he came back with a DVD full of films about his unit there. He didn't make them; someone else (or maybe a couple of someone elses) in his unit did. The films were quite adept -- mixtures of stills and video, with music, little snippets of shoutss or conversations, explosions, gunfire, black-humor asides. And all with music running in the background, either the "O fortuna" opening of Carmina Burana, or else rock songs (acerbic rap/metal … [Read more...]