Cleveland needs a strategy

My Wall Street Journal piece about the Don Rosenberg fiasco ran today. The link will take you to it.I said that the Cleveland Orchestra is in a bad position. Many people think they instigated Don's demotion at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, because his reviews of their music director weren't favorable. Feeding that perception is what looks like a conflict of interest -- the Plain Dealer's publisher sits on their board. They've been denying involvement, even in comments on blog posts, but each time they deny it, they seem weaker and less … [Read more...]

Cleveland critic mess

I'll have a piece in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow -- Saturday -- about the mess in Cleveland. Most of us know about it, I'd think. Don Rosenberg, for 16 years the very good classical music critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, has been demoted, presumably because his reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra weren't favorable enough.Not that my piece breaks new ground. The New York Times wrote a story, after Tim Smith, classical critic of the Baltimore Sun, admirably broke the news in his blog. The comments he's gotten, many from Cleveland, are … [Read more...]

Something’s wrong when… of the world's top opera singers sings La Gioconda at the Met, and gets just polite applause for her big killer aria. But that's what happened to Deborah Voigt last night. What went wrong?She's not a strong presence onstage. She keeps leaning forward, which makes her look weak. And she's not a diva. When she first comes onstage, you don't even notice her. In the old days, when a star Gioconda made her first entrance, not singing a note, a shockwave went through the opera house, and the crowd would go wild. Voigt might think she's an … [Read more...]

Met opening — the performance

OK, I can't resist. Just a few notes about the very blah show onstage at the Met Opera opening.Renée Fleming. No heat onstage at all, either in her singing, or her presence. Occasionally an emphatic moment in her acting, but none of the acting was sustained. She doesn't (to my ear) act through her voice in crucial long legato passages, like "Dite alla giovane" in the big Traviata scene with Thomas Hampson. But above all -- no heat! If this is our reigning prima donna, than opera isn't what it used to be, or what I want it to be. And one vocal … [Read more...]

Why I like fashion

It's a new delight for me. I used to think fashion was frivolous, not anything (God help me!) serious people should care about.Then I started watching Project Runway. And got hooked. Of all reality shows (at least in my experience), it's the fairest. To viewers, I mean. You can see the fashions the contestants design, just as well as the judges on the show can. You can see who does well, and who does badly. You can develop your eye, as I did. You can learn to see how fashion can be art. You can hear the judges -- expereinced fashion people, … [Read more...]

No glamour at the Met

I went to the Metropolitan Opera season opening last night, and didn't see much glamour, in the audience or on the stage. And since we've been talking about clothes here, let me stress something that hit me very strongly. A man in black tie doesn't look dressy any more, at least not to my eye, and certainly doesn't look fancy or glamorous. I saw a few men in tuxes, and the effect was blah, no more striking than a man in a business suit. And why? Because fashion has moved beyond that. Fashion designers -- along with plain old non-designer people … [Read more...]

Vacation thoughts — opera in English

I've said before that I don't love English titles onscreen or in the opera house when an opera is sung in English. (Scroll down to the section on Britten's Peter Grimes if you follow the link.) They seem geeky, to say the least, and only reinforce the notion that opera is -- by nature -- remote and unfathomable. (Even while they make it accessible. There's a paradox there.) Well, late in July, I saw Britten's Billy Budd in a quite good production at the Santa Fe Opera. Of course there were titles, but I was also able to understand most of the … [Read more...]

Music by everybody

On the heels of Joan Tower's 70th birthday concert at Merkin Hall -- where Joan presented music written by some of the musicians who've played her own work -- comes another triumph of participation. On October 2, Bang on a Can's office staff will offer their own performances, at the Bell House in Brooklyn, NY. They call their music, variously, nouveau-bluegrass, smarty-pants avant;skronk, neo-indie-classicism, baroque noir (I like that one), and boogie-down anachronism-funk, while happily telling us that "such ludicrous descriptive categories … [Read more...]

Formal dress footnote

When I was younger, into the 1960s, the president of the US never appeared in public without a suit and tie. Or at least a jacket and tie. Then late in the '70s Jimmy Carter went on TV wearing a sweater. That was the beginning of a huge change. Now it's routine to see presidents and presidential candidates in shirtsleeves. Our society, in other words, has gotten lots less formal. So why shouldn't classical music follow suit? And if the might and majesty of the U.S. government now doesn't have to be represented by a gentleman in business … [Read more...]

Formal dress (summing up)

(A portion of a famous photograph by Weegee, showing society women on their way to the opening of the Metropolitan Opera season in 1943. Yet another example of formal dress of a kind we just don't see anymore in real life.)First, the new comment system -- I love it, love it. Comments go online without waiting for my approval. So they go up fast, many of you comment on the comments, conversations start. And I don't have to do anything at all. I don't have to take time to approve each one, and I'm freed from the temptation of adding my own … [Read more...]


In response to DJA -- thanks for alerting me to check whether the new comments process really does work. Apparently it does, with just one glitch. All comments are posting automatically, as they're supposed to. Except for one, a comment on my formal dress post, which somehow landed in my inbox, marked "unapproved." I have no idea why that happened. Maybe there's a delay, sometimes or always, before comments appear, but with the one exception I've noted (and which I don't understand), everything you all post is getting on the site.If any more … [Read more...]

Vacation thoughts — formal dress

While I was away, I had many thoughts I could have posted in the blog. Here's one of them: This photo was taken in 1937. It shows two boys from Eton, one of England's leading public schools (we'd call them prep schools in the USA). They're visiting London -- not to go to the opera, or meet the king, but to attend a cricket match, with Eton's rival, Harrow. Working-class boys are gawking at them.The photo ran in the Guardian, the British paper, at the end of August. They used it to illustrate a piece on continuing inequality in British … [Read more...]

“Of a star outshines the rays”

Singing in the shower this morning. "Il balen," the baritone aria from Il Trovatore, a good exercise for breath support. And as I sang, I suddenly heard the words I was singing:Il balen del tuo sorrisoD'una stella vince il raggioThe light of your smileOf a star outshines the raysStilted, no? I had to laugh. "Balen," also, is a poetic or obsolete shortening of the current word, "baleno." So how often, when we're reading titles in the opera house, are Italian operas translated in their full archaic glory? Hardly ever, I'd think, maybe never. The … [Read more...]


So, yes, I'm back from vacation, and already plunged deep into the new year. (Years really do seem to start in September.) Wednesday my Juilliard graduate course on music criticism began, and today, Thursday, I spent the day at a major music school outside New York, serving on a private panel to help the school decide what to do with technology. My Juilliard link, by the way, takes you to the same webpage the students use in the course, so you can do the assignments along with them, if you're somehow interested in doing that. You can also look … [Read more...]

Making musicians compose

I was going to return from vacation with a post about -- what else -- myself? (I'm a blogger, right?) But then I thought it'd be more fun to start with something about Joan Tower's concert last Saturday night, at Merkin Hall in New York. She celebrated her 70th birthday, and some top musicians played her music. I love her stuff, and especially liked hearing pieces live that I only knew from recordings. Even though I'd studied some of the pieces, and wrote liner notes about them for Joan's Naxos CD, I was struck by how physical they sounded … [Read more...]