main: May 2007 Archives
A letter from an artists management agency in Los Angeles provides an accurate diagnosis:
Like many of even the best young musicians today, 'x' and 'y' are caught between eras in the music recording industry. Corporations like EMI and Sony will not offer them contracts... Gone is the time when music labels felt responsible to support and present the next generation of musical masters.
Without a doubt, concert artists need high-quality commercial recordings available in lobbies or music stores associated with their concert halls. Audiences expect to see professionally produced albums of these artists and they expect the artists to greet them and sign albums. Self-produced albums from the same musicians do not have the same effect. They sometimes make the artists look more amateur.
So what to do? This particular agency, Yarlung Artists, has launched its own label as a stop-gap. Other artists and orchestras deliver performances for free to cottage labels in the hope of gaining the oxygen of general distribution. Others still huddle their own-label efforts under such discreet and helpful umbrellas as Avie Records.
Few of these enterprises make it to front of store where the decrepit major labels use muscle and money to obtain prime position for crossover signings. Entering a record store these days is a dispiriting experience.
What is to be done? I guess the small and self producers need to agglomerate in some way, buy themselves some time with a good PR and start acting like they believe in the product.
Any better ideas?
'The classical recording industry can't possibly be in trouble,' writes Don Rosenberg in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 'Compact discs keep piling up, like sonic mountains.'
What kind of logic is that? You might as well say city newspapers can't be in trouble because there are piles of them every day at the vendors. Or that pizza deliveries must be the hottest thing on earth because so many fliers are shoved through your letterbox.
It must surely be obvious, even in the misty Cleveland heights, that the mainstream classical industry has shrunk in a decade from 700 releases to fewer than 100 and that most of the inflow that clutters reviewers' desks consists of non-commercial vanity products, paid for by the orchestra, the artists or their anonymous best friends.
The facts of decline are laid out in my book, which has not yet been reviewed in Cleveland, and there can be no excuse for such wilful myopia.
Nor is the blindness total, since Rosenberg continues: 'Most of (the discs) stay put in their plastic wrappers.' Of course they do. A disc that may sell 100 copies cannot claim review space in a newspaper that sells 344,704 daily.
The Dealer got a new editor this week, the well-respected Susan Goldberg. She will doubtless wish to take a fresh view of its narrow cultural perspectives.
In a celebratory article about Elgar, launching the Daily Telegraph's Elgar week, BBC Proms director Nicholas Kenyon observes of a distinguished scholar that 'it is perhaps understandable of (Donald) Mitchell to regret that Elgar did not become more like Mahler.'
Come again? Apart from Elgar lacking any trace of irony or central-European angst, it would have taken more than a leap of faith and conscience to transform the blunt, race-going, business-minded Edward into Gus the nervous wreck.
Still, it kicks off this year's great Christmas game - Who should have been more like whom?
Try five for starters:
Wouldn't it have been great if
- Lenny Bernstein had been more like Pierre Boulez,
- Boulez had sounded more like Charles Aznavour
- Aznavour had sung like Roberto Alagna (closer than you'd guess)
- Alagna was as tough as Angela Gheorghiu
- And Gheorghiu was more like Saint Hildegard of Bingen.
Now play on.
The joys of the book tour begin to pall somewhere between the fourth and fifth consecutive interview in a bare-walled room in Brussels. Or perhaps a couple of hours later before a sun-numbed audience at the Bozarts that fails to laugh at my jokes. Or maybe in that first earnest interview in Berlin when, barely off the plane, I lose all my German at the sight of a radio mike.
These, though, are inevitable lows. The best moments are the bookstore events - debating the state of the arts with Greg Sandow at the Strand in Manhattan and, an ocean apart, with Sir John Tusa at Daunts in Marylebone. Amazing how many turn out to hear about the nuts and bolts of what's going right and wrong in our culture - more than 80 at each talk, and very few of them working in the arts industry. When Greg quotes Karl Marx and I counter-quote, heads nod sagely: a New York bookstore audience knows its Marx and Freud.
In London I mention that I used to be Tusa's copy taster when he presented Newsnight on BBC2, back in 1979. John says he could never figure out what I was doing there, my head always in a book or score, scribbling notes. I reckoned he was pretty unusual, too. Not many TV presenters spent their nights off at the Wigmore Hall, soaking up chamber music.
His recent book, Engaged with the Arts, does exactly what it says on the wrapping - it gets to grips with a lot of the pusillanimous euphemisms of arts management and delivers some home truths to a fumbling industry mired in fudge. He retires as head of the Barbican Centre this summer. We need more of his ilk. And soon.
They took his name off the Floral Hall at Covent Garden today and replaced it with Paul Hamlyn's, a deceased publisher whose foundation kicked in the £10 million (that's $20m in Met equivalents) that cheeky Al promised the Royal Opera House but never paid.
Well, never paid in full. He kicked in a couple of million, before the hi-tech hedge find ran dry and Alberto stopped returning calls. The Hamlyn money has been ring-fenced for education (which was also Vilar's intent), and I suppose that means all ends happily ever after - pending the possible fraud trial of which nothing has been heard for ages.
Sad, really. Vilar came on the scene at a really important moment for the ROH. He made his pledge at a time when the place was a building site and the newly elected Blair government were not going to let it reopen unless the books balanced. They were £10 million short. Vilar's promissory note made all the difference. He does not deserve to be erased from history.
If you're out there, Alberto, drop a line to say, Hi.
And that goes for you, too, Karen.
A week in New York is a long time in musical politics. I was there to launch the book and do some recording work for my new BBC series.
I saw Company and LoveMusik, and had no spare nights for the NY Phil and the Met - a matter of some regret since my ears tell me from recent broadcasts that the Phil are playing better than I have ever heard them. The improvements must be credited to the directorship of Lorin Maazel, whom the chief critic of the NY Times lashed into once again last week for not being the kind of conductor the chief critic of the NY Times would wish to see.
Some dysfunction here, surely. If Mr Tommasini has a problem with Mr Maazel - as Harold Schonberg had with Leonard Bernstein, most London critics had with Giuseppe Sinopoli and I increasingly have these days with the way Simon Rattle makes music - he should consider recusing himself from reviewing. Unless, of course, he is an incorrigible opitimist who imagines each night that Mr Maazel is about to undergo a miraculous transformation into exactly the kind of conductor Mr T wishes he would be.
Meanwhile, the Philharmonic president Zarin Mehta announced that since he has no candidate in mind to succeed Mr Maazel in 2009 - both Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti having firmly declined - he will create an extra post of principal conductor, an artist with some ideas input but no authority whose job will be to cover managerial indecision with a figleaf of continuity.
Am I reading this right? You tell me. It seemed to be more important for the health of the nation than the music itself since it was with this business that Mr T opened his concert review. Or maybe it was the most interesting thing that happened in musical New York all week.
And then Slava died on Friday, and I got a high-voltage reality check. Five texts on my mobile at six in the morning. Turned on the TV: nothing on any US news channel. Several New Yorkers told me later they heard it on the BBC World Service over the internet or read it on the BBC website. Classical music has lost its last toehold on US media. If Slava couldn't make it, which classical musician will ever again get a mention on US TV news?
Slava was more than just a musician. He was a Cold War hero and a post-Soviet icon. Was it his membership of the classical music elite that made him invisible to news producers?
The NY Times began its warm apprecation by Allan Kozinn appropriately on the front page and spilled over into obits. It was the valediction Slava deserved.
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Joe Horowitz on music
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary