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...]

Dumbing it down

I can't say I liked the piece on Peter Gelb and the Metropolitan Opera in the October 22 issue of the New Yorker. It's far too positive. In fact, it's 11 pages of syrup. I hope I've made it clear that I admire Peter, and what he's doing. He's my poster boy for the future of big classical music institutions; when I was asked to nominate people for a classical music award, I named him (though he didn't get it). And certainly I liked the things in this piece that showed his personality, and what seems to be his admirable working style. But still … [Read more...]