Dark season?

Yesterday a friend told me some surprising news -- that Gerard Mortier, the incoming director of the New York City Opera wants to cancel the company's 2008-9 season. That's right. No City Opera performances at all. And my friend seems to have impeccable sources. And today the same news surfaced on the ineffable (and drop-dead accurate) Parterre Box opera blog. Check it out! La Cieca, the onlie begetter of Parterre Box, has pretty much the same story I do. Mortier wants to shut down the New York City Opera for a year. One reason, the public … [Read more...]

Making a living

Erich Stem put something very well in his presentation at the DePauw symposium I spoke at. (See my last post.) He asked whether classical music faced death -- or a paradigm shift? I'm sure it's the latter. And part of the new paradigm would be all sorts of non-conventional performances, string quartets in clubs, new music groups (there seem to be more of them every day), exploding numbers of releases on indie classical record labels, and much, much more. But there's one big question about the new paradigm (or, if you like post-classical … [Read more...]

Wonderful time

Last Wednesday, I flew to Indiana for a "Post-Classical Symposium" at the DePauw University School of Music -- and it was just a fabulous event. Some of the high points: Hearing classical music students -- freshmen and sophomores -- play a concert of improvised music Hearing the first concert of the DePauw New Music Ensemble, with a truly unusual program Getting to know the terrific people in eighth blackbird, who're in residence at DePauw Hearing a concert by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (not that I don't hear them in New York, but … [Read more...]

Under the surface

Deutsche Grammophon has just unveiled a new download site, where all of us can buy their classical recordings, including many that have long been out of print on CD. And all of this without DRM! ("Digital Rights Management," which means the kind of copy-protection that up to now has beenalmost universal when we buy downloads (though the tide is starting to shift, not only at DG, but also on iTunes and at Amazon, where all downloads are DRM-free). A good thing, obviously. But the day it was announced, I got an amazed e-mail from someone who … [Read more...]


Some comic relief. Pinchas Zuckerman, uneasy about the future of classical music, and squirming helplessly as he moans about it in the Denver Post, let fly with this: If [classical music isn't] synonymous with our existence, or [isn't so to] at least 5 to 6 percent of the population, then society will become a jungle. And we don't want to see riots as we saw them in the '60s, because that was chaos. Classical music as a civilizing force -- that's a gratifying myth (idealistic at best, self-congratulatory at worst) that we've all met … [Read more...]

Correcting mistakes

I'm withdrawing my "Indie pop footnotes" post. It had some mistakes, some due to my carelessness, some from misinformation. What follows is (I hope) more accurate. It follows up on my earlier post about Sufjan Stevens making history -- maybe -- at BAM. Other indie rock people have done work with orchestras. I've heard, for instance, about this happening in Australia. Ben Folds has appeared with many Australian orchestras, with whom he sometimes improvises, even in songs where they might simply be backing him. The DVD of him playing with … [Read more...]

Berlin moves

I've never seen such a crush of classical music personalities, as at the two concerts in New York this week by Dudamel and the Venezuelan youth orchestra. And then came three concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic, which of course has close ties with the Venezuelans. These five concerts together were the hottest classical music ticket in New York, and also meant a lot for the future of the field. I'm reviewing it all for the Wall Street Journal, so here I'll skip any comments on the musical performances. But as for the future of classical music -- … [Read more...]

A look at the future

Well, maybe not the future, but one possibility. This was Sufjan Stevens's piece BQE at BAM last weekend, part of their Next Wave festival. Here was a top indie rock guy creating a multimedia piece, 30 minutes long, with the music written for orchestra (30 pieces or so, counting his band). And he most certainly can write for orchestra. This wasn't the embarrassment we all too often get, when pop people venture into classical music. Jon Pareles wrote a rave review in the New York Times, both of  BQE and the show of Stevens's songs that … [Read more...]

Levine a lot better

I'd been critical of James Levine's conducting in the Met's opening night Lucia. So it's only fair to say that in the new Macbeth production, he's much, much better. Right from the start, the orchestra was crisp, and dotted rhythms (very vague in Lucia) were strong and clear, with each note distinct. Sudden loud chords were really loud and sudden. Some scenes were terrific, or even spectacularly terrific -- the apparitions, the Sleepwalking Scene, the Scottish exiles. Conducting like this -- sharp, pristine, focused, energetic, … [Read more...]

“How to do it” footnote

A while ago I wrote about  interpreting ticket-sale statistics, as what I hoped would be a helpful guide for journalists trying to make sense of those numbers. I had a lot to say about subscription sales, since these are especially tricky. When someone says "our subscriptions are up," do they mean the number of subscribers, the number of tickets sold to subscribers, the amount of money made from subscription sales, or the percentage of total sales that subscriptions make up? So here's something else to think about, most helpfully offered in an … [Read more...]

Dumbing it down

I can't say I liked the piece on Peter Gelb and the Metropolitan Opera in the October 22 issue of the New Yorker. It's far too positive. In fact, it's 11 pages of syrup. I hope I've made it clear that I admire Peter, and what he's doing. He's my poster boy for the future of big classical music institutions; when I was asked to nominate people for a classical music award, I named him (though he didn't get it). And certainly I liked the things in this piece that showed his personality, and what seems to be his admirable working style. But still … [Read more...]

Suffocating Berio

At a concert by the Theatre of Voices Friday night, I loved a Berio piece, A-Ronne. Twitters, muttering, all kinds of entertaining vocal sounds, and also some compelling singing, all structured in a way that captivated me. But when I said I liked the piece, at intermission, two composers (one quite well known) objected. To them the piece felt suffocating. I knew why, of course. They'd studied composition in the 1970s, when modernism ruled in academia, and when -- as I know from my own composition studies then -- you had to like and write atonal … [Read more...]

Final word on North Korea?

We Americans can theorize all we like, but there's something most of us don't have -- the ghastly experience of living under a totalitarian regime. James Zhu, who had that experience, posted the following as a comment to my North Korea posts. He fully supports the Philharmonic's visit, and wrote what follows as a response to my fellow blogger Terry Teachout's piece in the Wall Street Journal. Terry opposed the Philharmonic's visit, which of course he has every right to do. I thought I'd promote James Zhu's thoughts from a comment to a full … [Read more...]


There's been a small explosion over Richard Taruskin's long piece in the New Republic, about, yes, the future of classical music. Or, more precisely, about three books that try to make classical music's case. Taruskin, as anyone who's read him might expect, goes after these books with savage virtuosity, or maybe it's virtuoso savagery. I loved every word, and agreed. This is a very long piece, but ought to be required reading. Sample excerpts: I had a grim laugh when I read an interview in The New York Times this past July with George … [Read more...]

More on North Korea

I was privately asked two very good questions, and thought I'd share the answers. Can the New York Philharmonic have any contact with the North Korean people? Not likely. Attendance at the Philharmonic's concerts will be carefully controlled. And of course any concert in Pyongyang can't possiblyreach the North Korean people, because only the elite, for the most part, are allowed into Pyongyang. North Korea, as far as I know, doesn't have the kind of artistic life that other countries have. Even in most repressive countries, there will … [Read more...]