Holiday warmth

First and most important -- best holiday wishes, warmest holiday greetings, to everyone who reads this blog. I'm grateful for your interest, your support, your disagreement, your e-mail, and your comments, whether on my side or not. As many of you have been kind enough to say, we've had some good discussions here, and I'm sure they'll continue through 2008. Next year should be interesting for me. (Understatement!) As many of you know, my wife, Anne Midgette, is going to be interim chief classical music critic for the Washington Post, replacing … [Read more...]

Age of the audience, once more

Myth: The classical music audience has always been the age it is now. A lot of people still believe this. But -- as regular readers here know -- I've discovered that the myth isn't true. Reality: The audience used to be much younger. Source for this? Studies done in 1937, 1955, and the early 1960s, combined with statistics the National Endowment has been compiling since 1982. I've never seen any data -- any at all -- that supports the myth. Of course I've posted on this subject before, here and here. But now I've gotten something new. In … [Read more...]

Unasked questions

Now the New York Times has joined the New York City Opera party, adding "new details" (it says) to the story that just surfaced in an AP story, on the Parterre Box blog, and in one of my own posts about incoming director Gerard Mortier allegedly cancelling the 2008-9 season. The Times story has one curiosity. Mortier, reportedly, doesn't like City Opera's past productions. Asked about that, he says he might keep some of them, including Jonathan Miller's famous Little Italy Rigoletto, "which [says the Times] he called 'a famous production,' … [Read more...]

City Opera update

ArtsJournal had a link today to an AP story, which ran in USA Today. So my item on the company's startling plan was right on target -- the company really might cancel is 2008-09 season. City Opera's board chairman Susan Baker spins the thing very smoothly, making it sound like the most natural thing in the world, as if singers' managers (if we believe what Parterre Box reported) weren't being stonewalled when they ask about their artists' contracts for next year. Not that USA Today seems to have asked about that, though Parterre Box (which … [Read more...]


Stockhausen just died. I've always gotten a big kick out of his music. And I think -- maybe controversially -- that he's been underappreciated in the classical world, and found his most important fans outside it. How could he not be appreciated in the classical world, when any history of music after 1945 will tell you that Stockhausen and Boulez were the two kingpins of the European serial and post-serial avant-garde? In the '60s and beyond, everything Stockhausen wrote was recorded and released by Deutsche Grammophon. There were many books … [Read more...]

Dark season?

Yesterday a friend told me some surprising news -- that Gerard Mortier, the incoming director of the New York City Opera wants to cancel the company's 2008-9 season. That's right. No City Opera performances at all. And my friend seems to have impeccable sources. And today the same news surfaced on the ineffable (and drop-dead accurate) Parterre Box opera blog. Check it out! La Cieca, the onlie begetter of Parterre Box, has pretty much the same story I do. Mortier wants to shut down the New York City Opera for a year. One reason, the public … [Read more...]

Making a living

Erich Stem put something very well in his presentation at the DePauw symposium I spoke at. (See my last post.) He asked whether classical music faced death -- or a paradigm shift? I'm sure it's the latter. And part of the new paradigm would be all sorts of non-conventional performances, string quartets in clubs, new music groups (there seem to be more of them every day), exploding numbers of releases on indie classical record labels, and much, much more. But there's one big question about the new paradigm (or, if you like post-classical … [Read more...]

Wonderful time

Last Wednesday, I flew to Indiana for a "Post-Classical Symposium" at the DePauw University School of Music -- and it was just a fabulous event. Some of the high points: Hearing classical music students -- freshmen and sophomores -- play a concert of improvised music Hearing the first concert of the DePauw New Music Ensemble, with a truly unusual program Getting to know the terrific people in eighth blackbird, who're in residence at DePauw Hearing a concert by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (not that I don't hear them in New York, but … [Read more...]

Under the surface

Deutsche Grammophon has just unveiled a new download site, where all of us can buy their classical recordings, including many that have long been out of print on CD. And all of this without DRM! ("Digital Rights Management," which means the kind of copy-protection that up to now has beenalmost universal when we buy downloads (though the tide is starting to shift, not only at DG, but also on iTunes and at Amazon, where all downloads are DRM-free). A good thing, obviously. But the day it was announced, I got an amazed e-mail from someone who … [Read more...]


Some comic relief. Pinchas Zuckerman, uneasy about the future of classical music, and squirming helplessly as he moans about it in the Denver Post, let fly with this: If [classical music isn't] synonymous with our existence, or [isn't so to] at least 5 to 6 percent of the population, then society will become a jungle. And we don't want to see riots as we saw them in the '60s, because that was chaos. Classical music as a civilizing force -- that's a gratifying myth (idealistic at best, self-congratulatory at worst) that we've all met … [Read more...]

Correcting mistakes

I'm withdrawing my "Indie pop footnotes" post. It had some mistakes, some due to my carelessness, some from misinformation. What follows is (I hope) more accurate. It follows up on my earlier post about Sufjan Stevens making history -- maybe -- at BAM. Other indie rock people have done work with orchestras. I've heard, for instance, about this happening in Australia. Ben Folds has appeared with many Australian orchestras, with whom he sometimes improvises, even in songs where they might simply be backing him. The DVD of him playing with … [Read more...]

Berlin moves

I've never seen such a crush of classical music personalities, as at the two concerts in New York this week by Dudamel and the Venezuelan youth orchestra. And then came three concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic, which of course has close ties with the Venezuelans. These five concerts together were the hottest classical music ticket in New York, and also meant a lot for the future of the field. I'm reviewing it all for the Wall Street Journal, so here I'll skip any comments on the musical performances. But as for the future of classical music -- … [Read more...]

A look at the future

Well, maybe not the future, but one possibility. This was Sufjan Stevens's piece BQE at BAM last weekend, part of their Next Wave festival. Here was a top indie rock guy creating a multimedia piece, 30 minutes long, with the music written for orchestra (30 pieces or so, counting his band). And he most certainly can write for orchestra. This wasn't the embarrassment we all too often get, when pop people venture into classical music. Jon Pareles wrote a rave review in the New York Times, both of  BQE and the show of Stevens's songs that … [Read more...]

Levine a lot better

I'd been critical of James Levine's conducting in the Met's opening night Lucia. So it's only fair to say that in the new Macbeth production, he's much, much better. Right from the start, the orchestra was crisp, and dotted rhythms (very vague in Lucia) were strong and clear, with each note distinct. Sudden loud chords were really loud and sudden. Some scenes were terrific, or even spectacularly terrific -- the apparitions, the Sleepwalking Scene, the Scottish exiles. Conducting like this -- sharp, pristine, focused, energetic, … [Read more...]

“How to do it” footnote

A while ago I wrote about  interpreting ticket-sale statistics, as what I hoped would be a helpful guide for journalists trying to make sense of those numbers. I had a lot to say about subscription sales, since these are especially tricky. When someone says "our subscriptions are up," do they mean the number of subscribers, the number of tickets sold to subscribers, the amount of money made from subscription sales, or the percentage of total sales that subscriptions make up? So here's something else to think about, most helpfully offered in an … [Read more...]