Christmas cheer

Happy holidays, everyone. I'm shutting down the blog -- well, shutting down my blogging -- till January 4. I'm off to visit family, and take a much-needed break. Comments might not be posted during that time (remember that, as protection against spam, they have to be approved before they go online). Though here I want to give a shout of Christmas and year-round thanks to Douglas Lautstsen, who's been helping me tremendously by going online to approve the comments for me. So, again, best wishes for the holiday season. I hope all my readers … [Read more...]

How do they listen?

A thought, bouncing off the discussion of my "Orchestra Scoreboards" post -- in the comments to the original, and then in my followup, and in comments to that. When I or others suggest changes in the classical concert format, some people worry that these will hurt the way people listen. If, for instance, we have a screen showing what's going on at any moment in the piece we're hearing, this will disturb people trying to listen seriously, or actually hurt their ability to listen. In my followup post, I suggested that all of this is … [Read more...]

How could I forget?

When I suggested some Christmas gift CDs, I somehow forgot Maya Beiser's Provenance, which I'd raved about so strongly earlier. It's a rich solo cello exploration -- with added multitracking, electronics, and drums -- of the middle eastern music Maya heard when she was young, and growing up in Israel. Plus (middle eastern-esque) Led Zep's "Kashmir," which she heard, just as we all did. Her romp through that crowns the album.And I might also give a shout to Carlo Bergonzi's Christmas album. Such a wonderfully pure tenor, though also formidably … [Read more...]


Three recordings that enriched my life this past year, as if they were gifts. And, therefore, gifts I'd happily buy for any musical person on my list. Stewart Goodyear, late Beethoven piano sonatas, on the Marquis labelStewart's a friend, so if you want to say I'm praising this too much, go right ahead. But I think you'd be wrong. Stewart told me a while ago that he wanted to play all the Beethoven sonatas -- in a single day's marathon. Last summer he played them in Ottawa (he's Canadian), but over a few days.At the Ottawa cycle, … [Read more...]

Another portent

This is the second news item I promised yesterday. Might have commented on it a while ago, happened. The Cleveland Orchestra wants a younger audience. Though the headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer story about that was pretty mild. "Free tickets for children one of many new initiatives planned by Cleveland Orchestra." And yes, anyone under 18 will in the future get free admission to the lawn, for the orchestra's summer concerts at the Blossom Music Center. And, at some point, they'll also get free tickets to at … [Read more...]


Here's a news item with -- as I'll hardly have to stress -- great importance for the future of classical music. Work for New York freelance classical musicians is drying up. This was a major story in the New York Times, early this month. And, believe me, it was dire. I remember the New York freelance classical music scene in past decades, and knew many musicians who made a living from it. Not always the easiest living, but you could get by, and maybe even do well. And now, to quote the Times story:[N]ight after night highly trained … [Read more...]

Essential reading

Some of the best -- most thorough, most well-documented, most perceptive -- writing I've seen on the future of classical music is in a three-part series from Kyle MacMillan, the fine arts critic of the Denver Post. Full disclosure -- Kyle and I agree on many things, and he interviewed me for the series. I'm quoted in the first part, which came out a week ago Sunday. The second part appeared yesterday, with the third one scheduled for next Sunday. But leave my involvement out of it. Kyle's writing speaks for itself. If you want one … [Read more...]

Cage Against the Machine

"Support is building like a tidal wave," says the Daily Telegraph in Britain, about a wonderful, unlikely, but conceivably successful project -- to push a recording of John Cage's 4'33" (his famous silent piece) to the top of the British pop chart. This is a protest action, a way of resisting what many in the UK feel is manipulation of the pop charts by Simon Cowell. Read all about it here, in a BBC News story. Last year, to keep Cowell from getting his hand-picked song to No. 1, a group of pop music people started a movement -- which … [Read more...]

A cautionary tale

In one spasm of my recurrent Anglophilia, I read most of a long, two-volume history of Britain in the '60s, by Dominic Sandbrook. In the first volume, Never Had it So Good (which runs from the Suez crisis in 1956 to the rise of the Beatles) there's an episode that's worth recounting here. It's about the growth of British suburbs. In the '50s, suburbs became a phenomenon in Britain, just as they did in the US. They'd grown tremendously, and seemed not just to be a new place to live, but to create a new way … [Read more...]

Scoreboards — yes or no?

My "Orchestra scoreboards" post -- or rather my reprinting of Michael Oneil Lam's blog post -- evoked a lot of comments. Some very supportive. Some people loved the idea of putting data/info about a piece being played on a screen in the concert hall. And some people didn't. More on them in a moment. But it was good that one commenters noted that similar things have already been done:The Houston Symphony and Pacific Symphony (and maybe others?) have offered something I think is akin to the scoreboard concept....both orchestras have held … [Read more...]

Orchestra scoreboards

From Michael Oneil Lam (who's married to one of the students I work with at the University of Maryland) -- an idea for making orchestra concerts more comprehensible to outsiders. And, believe me, he's got reasons for thinking about this. He's not a classical music person, but he goes to hear his wife play the bass in the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra. And wishes he could have a little help in following the music.He wrote this for his blog, The Free Arrow. I'm reposting it here with his permission. Thanks, Mike! What you wrote is … [Read more...]

Wonderful students

Each fall, I teach a graduate course about music criticism, at Juilliard. As I've said here before, it ends up being a class in how to talk about music, more than a class about criticism itself. Though we do read my favorite classical critics (George Bernard Shaw and Virgil Thomson), as well as current reviews from the New York Times, which the students pick, and bring into class.They also have to do a bit of writing. I tell them (and I mean it) that they'll be judged not by their writing skills, but by what they say. They're musicians, after … [Read more...]

Colliding with reality

Here's a thought that's been on my mind for a while. Lincoln Center, in New York, has heightened its branding. Now (on 65th Street, next to its main campus, where all the big halls are) it's got a row of very tall video displays, which often show moving images. Across the street from them, in front of the remodeled Alice Tully Hall, is another video display, looking spiffily contemporary. Well, fine. A move into current culture. Contemporary branding. Two problems, though. The images vary. Some are low-res. Painfully low-res -- … [Read more...]

Giving thanks

Warm and happy Thanksgiving wishes to everyone. One of the things I'm thankful for, all year long, is you -- all of you who read my blog. Maybe you comment, maybe you don't, maybe you email me, maybe you don't. Doesn't matter! I'm so glad you're here.And lately I've been grateful for the warm comments I've gotten on my last series of posts, about ways to get people caring about classical music (and about your own classical music performances). With two examples from the University of Maryland. If you haven't read these, you might want … [Read more...]

Don’t do it online

Not long ago I got an email from someone trying to promote some musical events. As part of the promotion, she'd posted things that seemed interesting -- questions to answer, videos to watch -- on her group's Facebook page, hoping to get some discussion going. But there wasn't much response. Which, I thought, was more or less what I'd expect. A performing arts center I'm in contact with created an extensive blog to promote a fascinating concert, and the blog was full of tasty things, including videos (really lively ones) of musicians … [Read more...]