Lara Downes: Here at the Exiles’ Cafe

lara photo blog

[Lara Downes was the first of our guest bloggers here, and she began with a post about classical CD covers she likes.  And about how she came up with the cover for her own latest album. Her list -- along with mine, and others that I hope will come later — can serve as a resource for people looking for inspiration and encouragement.] Well, I've been enjoying the lively debate about Greg's comments on the cover art [on the right] for Exiles' Cafe. It's so interesting to see the wide range of personal responses to any image - I think we all … [Read more...]

Points of light

Been used before, I know, meaning my title. But should I say "solutions" every time? Anyhow (for those who remember the elder Bush) I'll offer only three of these, not a thousand. Anyone have more names I could slot in, in place of "solutions"? But any way you slice it, these are good ideas. Call it "sound art"Here's a communication from Margaret Crites, a composer who's getting her master's degree at Baylor University. (And do visit her website! A classy job, she did, putting it together, full of personality, and everything exactly the right … [Read more...]

Nathan Shirley: Videos — untapped potential

1- mY8

I've spent some time compiling a list of videos I think especially stand out from the very bland standard classical music videos (no easy task to find these!). Most bigger budget classical music videos are basically just documentations of performances. So they end up looking fine, but certainly nothing special which might better serve the music. They are typically filmed the same way a golf tournament or baseball game would be filmed — everything very well-lit (overly lit, with little or no shadow). Several different camera operators film … [Read more...]

Greg streaming

Today I'm going to the Yale School of Music, where -- very much at my request -- they're going to drain me dry. I mentioned my trip here earlier, and posted the text of a presentation I prepared for the school's excellent website. (My presentation can be found via a link here.) My main event comes Saturday, from 10 AM to noon eastern time, when I'll be talking to students involved in Yale's community outreach program. I'll suggest a shift of emphasis, in which they try to find an audience their own age. Loyal readers know that's one of my … [Read more...]


I've been reading the comments on my post about El Sistema and new music, and truly I'm surprised. I criticized El Sistema for (if my information is correct) not teaching composition and not including new music in the music its students play. And people reacted as if I'd said they shouldn't teach traditional classical music at all. Douglas Laustsen put it very simply in a comment he posted yesterday:I think all that Greg is suggesting is that in addition to a core classical training, the kids are given the experience of music written in their … [Read more...]

El Sistema — troubling

This may be controversial.Yesterday I got promotional email about an event the LA Philharmonic is cosponsoring -- a three-day symposium in May about El Sistema, and the attempt to transplant it to the US. The other sponsors are El Sistema USA and the League of American Orchestras. And of course we all know the connection. Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema's proudest son, is the LA Phil's music director. The LA Phil is engaged, bigtime, in the attempted transplant. As are others. When American classical music people learned how El Sistema was teaching … [Read more...]

Orchestra. Circa now.

Conductor/composer Paul Haas sent this as a "solutions" comment:For our upcoming NYC concert - Tweetheart - Sympho has teamed up with the multimedia team Aytia|Matia and four intergenre composers to craft a continuous, truly multisensory evening.  Sympho's fan base has an active role in programming Tweetheart, having already sent in suggestions for love songs via Facebook and Twitter contests.  The winning entries will be announced and performed (arranged for orchestra, of course!) at the concert.This was wonderfully laconic. Sympho … [Read more...]

An audience your own age

From March 25 to March 27 I'll be at the Yale School Music (where i got an MM in composition in 1974), for a variety of activities, culminating in a talk on the 27th at one of their Think Tanks, a series of discussions they've set up for students involved in community outreach, and which they're advertising with a slogan that says "reimagining the future of classical music."When they asked me to speak, i asked if I could deviate a little from standard ideas of community outreach, and talk about how I think music students should be reaching an … [Read more...]

Proactive orchestras

Proactive, that is, with anyone who buys a concert ticket. Momentary digression. Note that the solutions page has been updated, as will happen every Monday. This is where you find a growing catalog of ideas and projects that help to define classical music's future. What follows came by email from David Ezer, who formerly worked for Chamber Music America, and now is Conference Director of the Jewish Funders Network. I'm putting this in the blog with David's permission:Each group/orchestra/opera house/whatever needs to be asking themselves: … [Read more...]

Strategy and social media

In my post on using new media for promotion, I said something that might sound provocative. I said that some people at big institutions may not understand that before they can jump into social media, "they have to understand how to use them, and make them part of a larger strategy." And, even more, that...they'll never learn about social media and never understand a larger strategy unless they jump in first! The changes social media have brought are so radical, that an understanding of those changes ought to change -- maybe drastically … [Read more...]

Involve the audience in composition

The "Solutions" page at the right of the blogsite is updated. Hope to have updates every Monday. Thanks, as ever, to Douglas Laustsen, for maintaining the page. And here's a terrific contribution from Xavier Losada, a composer and producer in Caracas, who just sent it as a comment to my "Something to talk about" post:I try to involve new and more people in my creative process so they can own and sell part of the story. Designers, editors, writers, painters, etc. My first two CD's "Escritorio" and "acantilado" were overwhelmed with my name in … [Read more...]

Nose — quick review

ADDED LATER: The future of classical music connection. Too often we worship at the shrine of the great composers, and react as if every note they wrote needs to be taken very seriously. Which means we sometimes miss the most obvious things that -- if we found them in something that isn't classical music -- we'd react to instantly. In this case, what we might not get is that Shostakovich was a 22 year-old brat when he wrote The Nose in the 1920s, and that -- unrestrained brattiness here -- he piled on 1920s ironies that just don't mean very much … [Read more...]

Something to talk about

As a comment to my "Getting around" post (though really to the piece about composers that I wrote for Peabody Magazine and spoke about in the post)), Xavier Losada wrote this:I totally agree with you! We need to find our audience day after day.That's the real tough part of our journey as composers. We need to practice, we need to listen, we need to record, we need to criticize us, we need to a lot of stuff, but to find our audience! How should we eat that? I believe in our music evolution (composer's evolution) as a main part of the strategy, … [Read more...]

Getting around

I've written a piece about composers and their audience for Peabody Magazine, a publication of the Peabody Institute. It's the kind of thing some people might call a provocation, but I don't mean it that way. i think it's about a simply truth -- that classical composers on the whole don't have a true audience, and that they ought to go out and find one. Which I hope will be part of what happens as I continue working at the University of Maryland. (At College Park, by the way, since I'm thinking some people since I didn't say otherwise, think I … [Read more...]

Good beginning

This, too, is a "solutions" post. I've mentioned that I'm artist in residence this year and next at the University of Maryland, with a mandate to work with students at the music school there, to help them develop concerts where they'd reach an audience their own age. This follows, of course, from my work at Maryland last summer, where I spoke to students at the National Orchestral Institute, who then went out and took control of one of their concerts, to extraordinary effect. I blogged about that, here, here, and here. The key to what happened … [Read more...]