The Peter Gelb furor

thinking blog

So much fuss about Peter Gelb, so many accusations flying! And not just from the unions he's locked in battle with. I'm late to this discussion, but what got my attention was Norman Lebrecht saying that Peter was not only wrong, but was lying — outright lying — when he says that attendance at opera performances (and at classical music events generally) is falling, both in the US and in Europe Lebrecht: This is untrue, and Peter knows it is untrue. The Lyric has just reported record results. So have Vienna, Amsterdam, Dresden and more. … [Read more...]

Sitting in a tree


I use an app called TalkTo. Which, when I need it, is one of the most valuable apps I have on my iPhone. With it, I can text stores, to ask questions. Does the supermarket nearest me have a garlic press in stock right now? An answer comes within five minutes. Invaluable! Once, out at our country place, I needed to buy a MacBook Air in a hurry. Ten minutes with TalkTo told me that I needed to drive an hour to an Apple Store, because neither of the Best Buys in the area, which were closer, could configure the computer as I wanted it. Why am … [Read more...]

From Jeffrey Nytch: Entrepreneurial transformation (2)


This is the second part of a two-part post, abridged from a paper in Artivate, an online journal of entrepreneurship and the arts. In the first part (where you can also read the reasons why we've abridged the version we're publishing here), Jeff Nytch set forth a problem: That far too often in the performing arts (and maybe especially in classical music), we expect people to come to performances because the performances are supposed to be worthy in and of themselves. And so we don't do anything to make the performances an experience worth … [Read more...]

From Jeffrey Nytch: Entrepreneurial transformation (1)


From Greg:  Anyone who's read this blog will know why the words that follow caught my eye. They're about what a journal article I was reading called "the traditional orientation of arts presenting organizations (particularly, but not exclusively, “classical” music groups)." This, said the paper, might be expressed, “this is what we have to offer; won’t you come and see it?”.… To put it bluntly and in market terms: “you should want to buy this. [Now eat your peas!]” When applied to an art form that is likely to have a smaller audience to … [Read more...]

Come down from the mountain

mountain blog

Last week I went to a party, where I met a lot of people who are (1) precisely not the classical music audience, but (2) precisely the people we need to have in it: Smart, educated, intellectually curious people in (I'd guess) their 30s. The creative class, if you like, of Washington, DC, in 2014. I talked the most with a couple who were very savvy, and very involved musically, involved enough to go (even though they have a two-year old) to New York for a music festival. Of course the music they went to hear wasn't classical. But later in … [Read more...]

Links are fixed

podles blog

A thousand apologies. My last two posts, on ornamentation, had bungled links. Due to my misunderstanding of a feature in my FTP software. Very unfortunate, to offer you what I think are stunning examples of ornamentation, and then not let you hear them! But now the links are fixed, including my favorites, which go to Eva Podles's vocal fireworks, showing how an 18th century singer might have ornamented the da capo repeat in a Handel aria. And to three versions of "Ecco ridente" from the Barber of Seville, recorded in 1963 (by Luigi Alva), … [Read more...]

Making the old new (3)

backhaus blog

NEW VERSION — LINKS WORK! I bungled many links in this post, for which I give so many apologies. Not helpful, to set out to show what ornamentation was like, and then block you from hearing it. Now it's all fixed. I also bungled the link to Eva Podles in my last post. And then bungled it again, trying to fix it here. Here it is correctly. Podles is singing "Or la tromba" from Handel's opera Rinaldo, giving a stunning display of go-for-broke virtuosity. And of how to properly ornament a da capo repeat in true — extravagant — 18th century … [Read more...]

Making the old new (2)

baroque opera 3

Continuing my thoughts about how to make old masterworks sound contemporary. In my last post, I said what I think the problem is. At most classical music performances, the old works don't immediately sound like they come from the time when they were written. (Compare reading Dickens: One paragraph and you know what century you're in.) But they also don't sound like they fit anywhere in our current world. Or at least not in the world outside classical music. So one way to fix this — such a wonderful paradox — is to go back to the past. … [Read more...]

Making the old new (1)

classical masters library blog

One of my recurrent thoughts is that classical music (you've read it here) has to become a contemporary art. And in two recent posts — here and here — I've blogged about concerts that seemed to do that. But they did it largely by playing new music. How can older classical music — all those familiar masterworks — sound contemporary? Because most of the time they don't. Or let me qualify that. Most performances of works from the classical canon live — or at least I think so — in temporal limbo. They don't sound like music of the past, not … [Read more...]

Another concert for today

part blog

i've been saying that classical music  needs to be a contemporary art. Gave an example here of how it can be. Here's another one. Imagine the Kennedy Center concert hall at 6 PM this Tuesday, packed with people attending a concert of works by a living composer. The concert, featuring an orchestra and chorus, was scheduled as one of the Center's daily Millennium Stage productions, which take place in one part of the lobby, with removable chairs, for what's looked, to me, like a couple of hundred people. But there was more demand for this … [Read more...]

Essential video

a spring blog

I blogged awhile ago about the extraordinary Appalachian Spring, performed by the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra, with the musicians playing from memory and dancing. Now there's a video. Watch it! I think you'll be inspired. And if you haven't seen it, you also might watch the group's earlier video of Afternoon of a Faun, also played from memory and danced. These two performances, Faun and Appalachian Spring, are some of the most extraordinary musical work being done in the US, probably in the world. They demonstrate how … [Read more...]

A performance for the present day

pekka blog

I've said many times — most recently here —  that classical music needs to be a contemporary art. But what does this mean? That's a long discussion, one that deserves a full chapter in a book, or maybe even a book of its own. But I'd like to start on it now, with some blog posts in the next month or so. And what I'd like to address today is maybe the hardest part of the discussion (or at least the part we might not have thought too much about), which is what -- once classical music becomes truly contemporary — our musical performances … [Read more...]

Speak truth to power

Truth_to_Power_Banner blog

"Truth to Power": That's the name of a festival the Chicago Symphony is offering from May 22 to June 5, with the idea of highlighting "music's ability to connect people and harness the power of shared experience," and to "inspire justice and fairness."  The title, of course, is a shortening of "Speak truth to power," one of the most powerful rallying cries in politics. It comes from a Quaker manifesto, published in 1955, about the need for peace, to be fulfilled by active pacifism. That humans have that need, if you agree with the … [Read more...]

A stunning manifesto

ross 2 blog

In my last post, I raved about the incredible University of Maryland performance of Appalachian Spring, with the musicians playing from memory and dancing, a sequel to the student orchestra's similar performance of Afternoon of a Faun two years ago. But performances like these don't happen on some sudden whim. They have a history. They grow from some serious thinking about what classical music should be, and about what classical music students should be taught. And in this case we know what the thinking is, because Jim Ross and Mike Votta — … [Read more...]

A very special concert

apsring blog 2

We often say music is moving, without really thinking about what the word means. Our actual experience of classical music tends to be still. The musicians may sway a bit when they play, and we in the audience may tap our toes, but there’s a sense that such movements are involuntary outbursts in a climate in which they are meant to be suppressed. On Sunday afternoon at the Clarice Smith Center, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra offered a literally moving performance. Playing Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” from memory, the … [Read more...]