This week: A solo Beethoven marathon, the Frite of Spring, a new Kennedy CD. Plus two out-there festivals, and a thorough — definitive — debunking of the idea that studying music raises kids’ test scores.
The last item first. One problem we have in classical music, if you ask me, is that we pat ourselves on the back, when we think how wonderful — and how helpful to humanity — our music supposedly is. Not that I’m saying the music isn’t wonderful, but we should be careful not to make extravagant claims for it.
One of these claims, supposedly bolstered by studies, is that studying music increases kids’ test scores. But a new study explodes that notion.
Yes, students who study music have higher test scores than those who don’t study it. But now remove from the statistical pool everyone who’s a high academic achiever, or who comes from an upscale home. Remove, in other words, everyone who’d be expected to do better than average on tests, whether they studied music or not.
The result? The remaining students, all of them studying music, have scorse no higher than anyone else. So music study doesn’t raise scores. The connection between test scores and music in fact goes the other way. Students who do well on tests are the ones more likely to study music.
End of a myth.
So many celebrations of the Rite of Spring! But this one has to take some kind of prize — a mashup of the Rite and “Thriller,” created by the musicians of the Pacific Symphony. Click the link to see it. You’ll find a full-fledged music video, professionally produced. The orchestra starts playing the Rite. Soon a rock beat starts, and the players turn into zombies, surging into the hall to chase a woman in the audience, whom they’ve chosen for the sacrifice. So witty, so well done, such a great way to bring classical music back into the rest of our world, into the cultural space where “Thriller” is a classic. And with so much feeling for the power the Stravinsky score still has.
Some people, I fear, will be bothered by cuts in the piece. But please! This is fun, not scholarship, and the cuts are expertly made.
The Frite will be screened outside the Pacific Symphony’s concert hall on June 8, right after their concert. Which shows they’re not afraid to mix their performances with their fun.
And there’s a special bonus. Watch the bassoonist playing the opening solo. See how she moves! She puts her whole body into her playing, as nonclassical musicians so often do. Along with the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic! While other orchestras — most of the ones we know — would tell their players not to move.
And now he’s doing it. Last year in Ottawa (to wild acclaim, I’ve heard), and this year in three US venues, in Princeton, Dallas, and Davis, CA.
This draws attention to classical music, because it’s more than just a performance of masterworks. It’s a wildly audacious personal feat.
And Stewart plays Beethoven wonderfully. As you can see, he’s recorded the sonatas. And I’ve previously put on this blog (and in my newsletter) links to the two movements — first one here, second here — of Op. 111.
Tanglewood relay run
The Boston Symphony organized this — a 24-hour relay race, going from Symphony Hall in Boston to the orchestra’s summer home in the Berkshires. Why? To publicize the start of the summer season, and to raise money for the BSO’s education and youth programs.
Not remarkable, you might say. Everyone has charity runs. But orchestras are only starting to do things like this, which makes it a small milestone in (again) classical music’s slow, steady move toward rejoining our culture.
Ending on a downer
Orchestras’ problems — will they never end? “Nashville Symphony revenue drops 50 percent, losses mount in 2012,” shouts a headline in the Tennessean newspaper.
And the story under it is grim (a word the writer doesn’t hesitate to use). The orchestra ran an $11.5 million deficit. Contributions dropped 28%, investment income (from the Symphony’s endowment, I assume) dropped 66%.
There’s nothing in the story about ticket sales. For all I know, they’re healthy. But what’s truly grim, exceptionally so, is the financial disaster that the orchestra’s concert hall turned into. The hall — the Schermerhorn Symphony Center — was the Symphony’s pride and joy when it opened in 2006. And still is, if you believe the orchestra’s website.
But the orchestra can’t make payments on the debt it incurred when it built the hall. So the bank holding the debt might foreclose — seize the hall, take ownership away from the orchestra. Or the orchestra might declare bankruptcy, to stop that happening. Either way, the picture isn’t pleasant.
I posted this Thursday night. Today, Friday, came more news: the bank foreclosed. Now, unless the orchestra declares bankruptcy, the hall will be put up for sale, so the bank can recoup its losses.
The quotes in today’s story were, in a quiet way, priceless. Says the orchestra:
Negotiations with the bank group are continuing, and the Symphony and its Financial Advisory Committee remain squarely focused on achieving a resolution that positions the Symphony for long-term stability,
Says the bank:
The bank group has been in discussions for some time with the orchestra to help it resolve its debt on an acceptable basis and operate at a sustainable level. However, [the Nashville Symphony Association] is in default and has been unwilling or unable to repay the debt.
The orchestra, in other words, can claim anything it wants, but the bank says — publicly — that there’s no more room for negotiating. Which makes the orchestra look even worse. Especially when its auditors, as the story also says, question whether it can stay in business. (Or, as they put it, continue as a “going concern.”)
How did things ever get this bad? Add a scathing indictment of the Minnesota Symphony’s management that recently appeared — bitterly scathing, and, on its face, very hard to refute — and you have to wonder how many other orchestral disasters might be waiting to explode.