And to all a…

...wonderful holiday season. I've been much distracted with family -- a good distraction. I'll return to blogging in the new year, with the conclusion of our disconnect discussion, or at least the conclusion for now; these things are ongoing. (Read the many comments to the post I've linked, and look here, too).And also, in the new year:   -- a post about some good news: the image of classical music is changing in the U.S., and very much for the better;   -- a look at where we are right now, with classical ticket sales up … [Read more...]

Another subject for an opera

A followup to my post about The Money Shot, a noir thriller I thought would make a fabulous -- and maybe pathbreaking -- opera.But it would be pathbreaking only because -- in the manner of Tarantino's Kill Bill films -- it's so sexy and violent. And also, maybe, because of its implicit rock & roll ambience, which then would have to be central to its musical language. But in other respects, it's conventionally operatic. And I also take to heart Jay Langguth's remark, in a comment to my post, about noir not being the only contemporary … [Read more...]

The day the

In The Day the Earth Stood Still, there are two moments we might think about, for the future of classical music. (And, by the way, I think it's better than most of the critics thought, though maybe I'm just a sucker for sentiment, and it certainly has really dumb lapses in logic and common sense.)(Spoilers follow, though if you know science fiction and watch the first 20 minutes or so of the film, I doubt you'll be surprised by anything I reveal, especially if you've seen the original.)The first moment comes when Keanu Reeves, as the alien … [Read more...]


Went to two Elliott Carter concerts in Washington this weekend, neither much good. Not Carter's fault; weak performances. Sent me running back to the old Arthur Weisberg recording of the Double Concerto. Precise, expressive, musical, informed, and above all -- in great contrast to the Carter concerts I went to -- clear. (I'm starting to think that the striking virtuosity of 1970s new music groups like Speculum Musicae and Weisberg's Contemporary Chamber Ensemble has now migrated to eighth blackbird and the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Alarm Will … [Read more...]

Ornaments good and bad

I've enjoyed the comments on my post about ornamentation and rubato in past centuries. And I certainly agree with a point at least one commenter made, that when musicians (in the old days or now) change what the composer wrote, they can do it well or badly. But that, at least to me, doesn't reflect badly on ornamentation as a practice. We judge all kinds of things about performances, and this just adds another element. If we flag it as especially troublesome -- as if it's worse to change the composer's written notes in a bad way than it would … [Read more...]

Another disconnect

Well, we seem to have moved from disconnects -- classical music not connecting to the world around us -- to ornamentation, and (this would be one way to put it) classical music not connecting to its own past. I'm happy to see so many comments, and I'll have something of my own to add in not too long. But I want to return for some last thoughts on disconnects, in this and one more post. I'll also have to  make my tentative final list of disconnects, drawing on ideas from so many of you, which I hope you'll also supply in reaction to the new … [Read more...]

Quotation of the day

Some people will hate this one. It's something the distinguished rock and blues critic Robert Palmer said in a film called Bluesland (I found the quote in a book by Dave Marsh, The Beatles' Second Album):My feeling is that if you want to listen to something primitive, you should listen to Mozart. Because if you hear Mozart, there's almost no rhythmic variation in it, it's 1-2-3-4 forever. No cross-rhythms or polyrhythms to speak of. The way that music's interpreted, all of the tonal qualities of the instruments tend to be very clean and … [Read more...]

How they used to do it

I've talked many times here about performance practice in the past -- how musicians used to change the music they played, and how they often improvised their changes. We know that, of course, and the standard word for what they used to do is "ornamentation." What we don't often hear, though, is how extensive those changes used to be. So here's a striking example. It's a passage from the Almamiva-Figaro duet in the first act of The Barber of Seville, as sung by Manuel Garcia, the tenor who created the role of Count Almaviva. It was published … [Read more...]

Money Shot footnote

I hope one thing's clear -- that when I said Christa Faust's noir thriller The Money Shot would make a good opera, I wasn't just trying to be provocative, or to break any barriers. I didn't say, "OK, I'm going to go out and find an opera subject that could turn opera upside down." Instead, I was naive, as I almost always am. I read the book, loved it to death, and thought, with no ideological spin at all, that I'd love to make an opera out of it. In the same breath, of course -- because I think about these things so much -- I stopped being … [Read more...]

Reconnecting opera

In the spirit of my "Disconnected in the past" post, here's an opera I'd like to write. It would be based on a hardboiled thriller I've just read, The Money Shot, a piece of noir perfection by Christa Faust. This is the story of a former porn star, who now works as an agent for women in the sex industry and gets caught in the ripples from a truly ghastly business, run by people who import women from Eastern Europe and turn them into sex slaves. These people try to kill our heroine, whose (stage) name is Angel Dare, and whom we first meet left … [Read more...]

Disconnecting in the past

I'm grateful to everyone who joined in our recent discussion, about ways that classical music isn't connected to our present world. And that includes people who disagree with me, who are always welcome here, and who often teach me a lot. Soon enough I'll post my own revised list of ways in which classical music doesn't connect. But first, here's a disconnect from the past! I recently read a novel by Balzac, called Ferragus, which is dedicated to Berlioz. (It's part of a trilogy, and the second installment, The Duchesse De Lange, is dedicated to … [Read more...]

Quotation of the day

"Whether through discussion circles, on-line forums, or post-event coffee hours, the larger idea for arts organizations is that their job is to build community around content, rather than just generating content." -- from my fellow-blogger Andrew Taylor's post, "Enabling and rewarding your critics."   … [Read more...]

How good ideas happen

I'm sure we've all read about this -- the YouTube initiative, which big-time orchestras have joined, to allow musicians anywhere to audition for orchestra projects online. ArtsJournal linked to the New York Times story, though you'll forgive me if I think my wife's piece in the Washington Post was more incisive. Now, I think this is a good thing, maybe a wonderful thing. But someone highly placed in the biz gave me a critique this morning -- the project didn't do anything to help orchestras or other classical music institutions develop an … [Read more...]

Not connecting (first draft)

I'm making a list -- and checking it twice -- of all the ways in which classical music doesn't connect to our larger culture. This'll eventually be a detailed blog post. I'd love comments. Can anyone add to the list?1. Most of the music at classical concerts comes from the past. So we're rarely engaged with contemporary life. (Is this one reason the people who go to these concerts like them?)2. Formal dress looks archaic, and out of touch.3. The musicians don't talk to the audience. In our culture today, people expect musicians to talk.4. … [Read more...]


Here's a comment from Eric Lin, a college student, to my "Why I'm Here" post. I'm giving it a post of its own, because I think it's important:There is some overlap between the theater folks and the classical music folks at the school I currently attend, and I happen to have worked and know people in both circles. This season, student dramatic productions include works by Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Sondheim, a Mac Wellman play from the mid-1990s, and The Front Page, a comedy from the 1920s. This is not including the bi-annual productions of … [Read more...]