It has long been considerably less expensive to spiff up and repackage an existing recording than to make a new one. The first stereo albums of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, for example, sound as though they were recorded yesterday, although some of them are nearly sixty-five years old and every person associated with them is either dead or long retired. Brilliant young performers now have to compete not only with their contemporaries but also with a host of legendary ghosts. Through technology we have established a permanent pantheon of great performances, one that can be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for newcomers to crack.
“The deal values EMI Music Publishing at $4.75 billion including debt, more than double the $2.2 billion value given in 2011 when a consortium led by Sony won bidding rights for the company. Sony, which has run the business since then, will buy a 60 percent stake owned by [UAE sovereign wealth fund] Mubadala Investment Company, lifting its ownership to around 90 percent from 30 percent currently.”
Two of the protesters that entered the hall led music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to slam his baton on the podium and walk off the stage. Some musicians began to leave, too, before the protesters, who were loudly booed by the audience, were forcibly removed. After the 10-minute disruption, the orchestra’s interim co-president, Matthew Loden, told the audience: “We live in an age where dissent is important. It matters. It should be heard. But the sanctity of the concert hall should be respected.”
Weaponized classical music is just the next step in the commodification of the genre. Today, most young people encounter classical music not as a popular art form but as a class signifier, a set of tropes in a larger system of encoded communication that commercial enterprises have exploited to remap our societal associations with orchestral sound. Decades of cultural conditioning have trained the public to identify the symphony as sonic shorthand for social status — and, by extension, exclusion from that status. The average American does not recognize the opening chords of The Four Seasons as the sound of spring but the sound of snobbery.
Composer in residence Alexandra Garner worked with the youth over a few months. “The participants, she said, never wanted to talk much about whatever traumatic back stories they’d brought into the room. Instead, they wanted to make music about love and hope. ‘In one way or another, they all said ‘just because we don’t fit into other people’s boxes doesn’t mean we’re not people — we have a lot of love to share.’’ Once the musicians got the score, she added, ‘some were surprised that it was very sweet and beautiful — not the angry, thorny experience they expected it to be.'”
From the Met’s countersuit to Levine’s lawsuit against the Met, details from the investigation: “The company says it found credible evidence that Mr. Levine had ‘used his reputation and position of power to prey upon and abuse artists,’ citing examples of sexual misconduct that it says occurred from the 1970s through 1999.”
Nineteen-year-old British star cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason was scheduled to perform for LACO’s final concert of the season, but then a little thing called Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding got in the way. LACO’s executive director knows how to spin: “It’s such a great moment for the classical music world. This kind of visibility on a global stage for classical music is great for all of us.”
That all-important ability is called “working memory,” and it takes considerable mental effort. That is, unless you play a musical instrument, or speak a second language. New research suggests that, over time, engaging in those challenging activities effectively rewires the brain, allowing it to complete complex assignments with greater ease. A 2017 meta-study found musicians have stronger working-memory skills; this research provides a likely reason why.
It’s dispiriting to see how ‘what’s on’ listings pigeon-hole music by genre – classical, jazz, pop, folk, world – and then realise that your music doesn’t fit comfortably into any of these categories. Our large-scale shows contain elements of opera, musical, lyric theatre, but none of these accurately characterises their form.
Surprised (happily) by a reader outcry that The Washington Post didn’t cover Washington National Opera’s performances of The Barber of Seville last month, Anne Midgette explains the limits she and the paper have on how much can be covered, how she decides which events among those on offer will get reviewed, and the unusual run of bad luck that affected critics that particular weekend.
Last week, general director William Florescu resigned unexpectedly, just a few days before a Magic Flute production he was directing opened. (Two years ago, he had renewed his contract through 2023-24.) Now the company’s board has revealed publicly that Florescu’s departure was because of “violation of the Florentine Opera’s policies and prohibitions concerning sexual misconduct.”
Yes, there’s certainly concern over the controversial and deadly events of this week in Israel, and for weeks pro-Palestinian activists have been protesting before the orchestra’s concerts at its home hall. Even so, Philadelphia Orchestra officials insist there is no political element to the tour, and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin says, “We’re not going to these countries for the government, but to bring music to the people.”
The idea that deafness impedes the appreciation of music is gradually being debunked. In 2013, sign language interpreter Amber Galloway Gallego went viral in the US for her animated performance for rapper Kendrick Lamar at the Lollapalooza festival. Rather than merely signing the words, she embodies musical textures with her face and movements, showcasing a unique technique that she describes as “showing the density of sounds visually”.
“I’ve rediscovered the part of my brain that can’t decode anything, that can’t add, that can’t work from a verbalized concept, that doesn’t care about stylish notation, that makes melodies that have pitch and rhythm, that doesn’t know anything about zen eternity and gets bored and changes, that isn’t worried about being commercial or avant-garde or serial or any other little category. Beauty is enough.”
That’s exactly what Mexican artist Gonzalo Lebrija has devised for a piece to premiere this month at the Soluna International Music & Arts Festival in Dallas. “Mariachi songs are always loud – they’re about passion and crying. It’s liberation,” says Lebrija. “And I think playing Wagner with the idea of a broken heart, it’s a different language. It’s not Wagner anymore.”
“A retired surgeon’s research into the deaths of 70 of the best-known classical composers has led him to conclude that many of them were unfairly tainted with reputations for ‘venereal disease, alcoholism or sexual impropriety’.” Says the researcher, John Noble, “The list of composers who had syphilis is short. The list of composers said to have had syphilis is enormous.”
“Had it been down to him, [director Calixto Bieito would] have called the show The Anatomy of Melancholy, after the encyclopedic study by 17th-century scholar Robert Burton, whom he calls the British Montaigne. With a nod to the box office, however, he’s gone for a title that sums up a show in which the Heath Quartet will play angsty Ligeti, while four actors draw on texts ranging from WH Auden’s The Age of Anxiety to Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society.”
“The Prize is established on a substantial endowment left at her death in 1997 by another Swedish soprano, the legendary Birgit Nilsson, who was born a hundred years ago this month on a farm near Malmö. Stemme’s voice and personality may be very different in character from Nilsson’s … but they both excel in the same repertory. Previously the Prize has been awarded to Plácido Domingo, Riccardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.”
So things are … interesting … for the artistic director: “Kramer, who has never before held a position at an opera house or run a major arts organization, will need all his optimistic, feisty exuberance to prove himself and rescue the company. Its subsidy has been slashed, and it has bled administrative and artistic executives in recent years, curtailing its offerings, renting out the Coliseum for longer stretches to gin up revenue, and threatening its high reputation.”
As 200 million people watched, Israel’s Netta Barzilai overwhelmed the “carnival of camp” competition – “Denmark featured singing Vikings, Ukraine’s contestant rose from a coffin to play on an enormous flame-wreathed piano, and an Estonian opera singer performed in a gown 26 feet in diameter” – with a song that she said was inspired by the #MeToo movement.
Andrew Mellor writes about the commentary he did for the live video stream of this year’s Malko Competition for Young Conductors. “Much like a pundit pitting the poor defensive track record of West Ham against the unstoppable firepower of Manchester City, I tried to ascertain what dangers the prescribed works would pose for each contestant, and tapped the expertise of other journalists in so doing. What’s the worst thing that can happen in the slow movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?”
“Researchers at Sydney’s Macquarie University … trained juvenile Port Jackson sharks to swim over to where jazz was playing, to receive food. It has been thought that sharks have learned to associate the sound of a boat engine with food, because food is often thrown from tourist boats to attract sharks to cage-diving expeditions – the study shows that they can learn these associations quickly. The test was made more complex with the addition of classical music – this confused the sharks, who couldn’t differentiate between jazz and classical.”
Over what will have been 20 seasons, “Harth-Bedoya has dramatically transformed what had been a rather rough-hewn ensemble into a well-disciplined orchestra. He led the orchestra in performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Washington’s Kennedy Center and in 13 CD recordings.”
In the wake of the conductor’s sexual abuse and harassment scandal, the Met has withheld from broadcast on the satellite and online radio network all of the recorded performances Levine conducted during his 40-year career at the company. Management said that Levine’s recordings “will be reintroduced to the programming at an appropriate time.”