The virtues of obscurity

The most interesting cultural news in today’s New York Times comes not in the business section, where I’d usually expect to find it, but in the national news. There’s a piece on the new popularity of curling, after the Olympics, which I certainly can relate to, because my wife and I got fascinated by it. We’re not alone. As the Times reports, the United States Curling Association’s website actually crashed, because so many people wanted to look at it. (I was one of them.) So the piece talks about all the reasons people like curling. It’s a … [Read more...]

The Met and the press

I said I’d write something about the press reaction to Peter Gelb’s announcements, which amount to the most promising first steps toward a turnaround that I’ve ever seen a classical music organization take. Some of the stories, like two in The New York Times, noted or even stressed skepticism about Peter’s plans. People were quoted saying things like, “What will he [Peter Gelb] do with the core audience while he’s courting this new audience?” Well, he’ll have star conductors, new productions, and also very likely more star singers, since yet … [Read more...]

Empty seats

I've been hearing a lot about empty seats over the past year or so. I meet people out of town who come to New York, go to the Met, and can't believe how empty the house is. They ask me about it. (People in New York often ask the same thing.) Or I get e-mail from people who've been to concerts in their own cities (most recently a Philadelphia Orchestra program), and they wonder why the house is so sparse. I've seen the same thing myself, in Pittsburgh last year, for instance. At one Pittsburgh Symphony concert I wanted to sit with a friend in … [Read more...]

Delight

Yesterday was a red-letter music day for me. I heard two things I just loved. One was Janine Jensen's recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I was interested in it because Universal, which released it, has been successfully marketing it on iTunes, and selling a lot of downloads. That got me curious.Turns out it's a sensational performance, alert, vivid, sweeping, fun. It's done as chamber music, with only one string player per part in the ensemble, which gives it extra intimacy. Plus some very lively continuo playing, using harpsichord, theorbo, … [Read more...]

Sign of hope

Is it just me, or did Peter Gelb, the incoming general director of the Metropolitan Opera, just announce the most substantial turnaround plan ever seen from a major classical music institution? It’s not just me. Peter did exactly that—or at least he announced the most impressive first stages a turnaround plan that I’ve ever seen. And yet some noticeable portion of the press doesn’t seem to get it. More on the press later, though. (My colleagues weren’t having their best day, I fear.) First let’s see what Peter announced, first in stories from … [Read more...]

Noir music

I have some big posts coming, about the dramatic turnaround plans at the Metropolitan Opera, and (as promised) about the British research on a young audience. But no time for anything big today, so here’s something smaller. In my Cleveland hotel room, I worked for a while on some piano pieces I’m writing, little musical embodiments of Weegee photos (Weegee being the now-famous New York tabloid photographer from the ‘40s). I’ve finished the first of these pieces, a musical setting, if that’s the word, of the Weegee photo I’ve uploaded here, … [Read more...]

Book 2.0

I'm very happy to say that I've launched the new version of my book on the future of classical music. I trust that it's tighter and more focused than the last one. I invite you to read it, and then feel free to post comments. I'm back from Cleveland, and since it's now 5 AM -- that new book episode needed some last-minute (well last-hours) work -- I'm not going to say much about my trip. Except that we had an unexpected program change. Garrick Ohlsson, after playing the Barber Piano Concerto on Thursday and Friday, had to leave unexpectedly. … [Read more...]

Me in Cleveland

I'll be in Cleveland on Sunday, stepping out on stage at Severance Hall to lead some conversation during a Cleveland Orchestra concert. I've done this once before, last season, and will do it again on March 26 and April 23. (I'll also be in Milwaukee from March 17 to March 19, speaking about the Milwaukee Symphony's Brahms festival, and about some other things, along with my old friend Tim Page from The Washington Post.) The Cleveland conversations will be short, but if past experience is any guide, pretty interesting. I'll be talking to Jahja … [Read more...]

A sign of hope

Is it just me, or did Peter Gelb, the incoming general director of the Metropolitan Opera, just announce the most substantial turnaround plan ever seen from a major classical music institution? It’s not just me. Peter did exactly that—or at least he announced the most impressive first stages a turnaround plan that I’ve ever seen. And yet some noticeable portion of the press doesn’t seem to get it. More on the press later, though. (My colleagues weren’t having their best day, I fear.) First let’s see what Peter announced, first in stories … [Read more...]

Sample of the young audience

Here's something from a faithful correspondent, who wants to be known simply as a music student from Missouri. She liiked my list of young-audience characteristics, and adds something important: May I just add to the list that a lot of younger people find the whole classical music scene hugely pretentious, in ways that those of us inside the circle may not even think about? I took my sister, who is really just a huge music fan and goes to a TON of non-classical concerts, to a SLSO [St. Louis Symphony] concert not too long ago. At the end of … [Read more...]

Younger audience

To resume this thread, which I started a while ago… A month or so ago I was asked to speak to members of the board of a major orchestra, about how to attract a new audience. I was especially interested in talking about how to attract younger people, because I think it's a subject we talk about a lot in the classical music world, but not always with much thought about what younger people actually are like. Unless, of course, we trot out those old bromides about their alleged short attention span and alleged need for visual stimulation. As … [Read more...]

A peaceful moment

Here's the view from my front door in Warwick, NY, after the snowstorm today: It's peaceful here; silent; hardly any cars on our road. (Which you can't see from our front door; our house faces away from the road, toward woods and a field.) This is a rare moment of peace for me. I've been buried in work and travel for the past few weeks. Each Thursday I've been flying from New York to Rochester, to teach a course on the future of classical music at the Eastman School of Music. On Wednesdays I teach the same course at Juilliard. I flew to … [Read more...]

It’s that time again — episode six

I've finished another episode of my ongoing book on the future of classical music, and it's online at the usual place. It wraps up the discussion that started two episodes ago, about form and structure in classical music. And in two weeks, on February 20, the next episode comes out. It's going to mark a new departure. Quite honestly, I'm not happy with the way the book has been going, and I think I've learned how I should have proceeded. So, beginning on February 20, I'm going to start the book all over again. It'll be more orthodox, more … [Read more...]