The Irish National Opera won’t be parking itself in the capital: plans are for and 38 performances in eight regional cities as well as Dublin, plus a contemporary work at London’s Barbican Centre. Repertory ranges from Mozart and Gluck through Verdi, Offenbach and Bartók to living composers Thomas Adès and Donnacha Dennehy.
The Bachtrack stats report that “the composer with the most performances in 2017 has returned to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, while Hallelujah choruses will be sung around the world to celebrate that Handel’s Messiah reclaimed its position as the top performed work. The Bachtrack database listed a similar number of events to the previous year, around 32,000.”
Nostalgia seems to be leading most of the charge: Billboard says that the three Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks led sales in 2017, which were followed by the Stranger Things, Volume 1 soundtrack, which hit stores last summer. Those projects were wildly popular with audiences, due in part to their reliance on nostalgia for the music and objects of the 1980s.
The winner of 2017’s male singer of the year at the International Opera awards says, “You can’t blind-cast with opera. No one has ever turned me down for a part and said ‘Because he’s black’ or even ‘Because he’s small and black!’ but there’s a code I’ve come to understand – ‘We have a different idea for the role’ is a common one. Change is slow, across the classical world.”
“As classical music searches for a wider audience, classical crossover poses an increasing conundrum — not least because it’s attracting exactly the audience that “straight” classical claims to be seeking. The mass audience is generally put off by classical music, which seems, to many outsiders, to present a facade of unwelcoming elitism. The crossover genre, however, offers the same kinds of mellow tonal sounds and rich buttery voices — music to relax to, if you will — without classical music’s perceived strictures or judgments.”
If RTÉ does what the world expects it to to, what we will actually need is a new, genuinely national orchestra, directly funded by the State, just as most of our essential national cultural institutions are. It will be interesting to see if any of our politicians will be brave enough to start that particular ball rolling.
A distinction is necessary here between creative ‘composing’ and ‘compositing’. Artificial Intelligence generativity (so-called “creativity”) is based on a compositing process; it’s basically all just recombinations of pre-existing data. While it is clear that the human process of creativity lies on a continuum between compositing and composing, a salient aspect of human creativity involves the creation of new ‘data’ rather than the novel recombination of prior ideas.
“For more than a century, the region around Sidangkou has been a hub of musical instrument manufacturing, including traditional Chinese instruments like the sheng, a reed pipe, and the di, a bamboo flute. Factories in the region now produce thousands of oboes, trumpets and tubas each year. Yet nothing seems to have captured the imagination of people here like the saxophone.”
“The Symphony Society board met late into Wednesday evening ‘to determine whether there was a path forward for the Symphony Society,’ said Board Chair Alice Viroslav in a statement issued following the meeting … ‘To be clear, this is not the end of the symphony.’ … An attempt on the part of major donors to take over the Symphony’s operations [recently] failed.”
“Wixen, a Californian company that collects royalties on behalf of artists including Tom Petty, Neil Young, Janis Joplin and the Doors, alleges that Spotify ‘took a shortcut’ when it cut deals with major labels to host their back catalogues. … The news comes at an awkward moment for the tech company, which is reportedly preparing for a stock market sale.”
Westerners don’t think of this huge, remote, sparsely populated country as an operatic hotbed, but singers from there have started taking big prizes at competitions like Moscow’s Tchaikovsky and Cardiff’s Singer of the World. Kate Molleson went there, and traveled 1,000 miles from the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to a lake in the Gobi Desert, to find out why.
“Granted to a pianist every four years, [the $300,000 prize] is not a competition, so contestants do not even know they are in the running. Instead, a small, anonymous jury travels incognito to concerts around the world, searching for an artist with the potential to make a mark on music.” Among previous winners are Leif Ove Andsnes, Piotr Anderszewski, and Ingrid Fliter.
“A few years ago, as a lover of jazz and an admirer of musicians, I decided to take up the piano. In relative terms, it was all a bit late. I didn’t expect much. I merely nursed the hope that one day, for a few fleeting seconds, I would be proficient enough to play a quiet sombre tune on a grand piano in a top-floor penthouse overlooking central Manhattan. As occurs in the best films. That aim seemed modest enough, But then I was told about the exams. You should do exams, came the advice, it focuses the mind. And suddenly the playing wasn’t the thing, it was the exams.”
“For much of the 2010s, the charts have been dominated by pop stars who weren’t necessarily delivering the most personalized, introspective music. Big productions and a litany of guest appearances on every release undermined the impact of singer-songwriters, as artists like Jazmine Sullivan and Bilal remained on the fringes of the mainstream. But this year, the pendulum swung for sincerity. Black singer-songwriters once again are redefining popular music and reshaping contemporary soul.”
Music advocate and Kennedy Center trombonist Doug Rosenthal: “You didn’t ask for it, but here are things I’d love to never hear this upcoming year. Admittedly, I write this post wearing my Grumpy Pants. But I’m also donning my Optimism Cardigan. So join me for another list. Because hey, anything to distract you from that champagne headache, am I right?”
California was more than a rumor; it was a way to change history. “For African Americans dreaming of opportunity in the early part of 20th century, that lure, the music in California’s new-start promise, was embedded into the consciousness. It burrowed deep. It was the necessary fuel — inspiration — to carry onward beyond known possibilities. Roughly between 1910 and 1970, in two great waves of migration, six million African Americans would journey out of the nightmare of the American South, fleeing post-slavery horrors: Jim Crow segregation, lynching, nonexistent or stunted economic opportunities.”
Anthony Tommasini: “Even though it was done under studio conditions, Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano (as the idealistic Mario) and Tito Gobbi (as the villainous police chief Scarpia) are thrillingly alive and subtle for the towering maestro Victor de Sabata and the forces of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. It’s hard to think of a recording of any opera that nails a work so stunningly, that seems so definitive.”
“David Bakula, who oversees Nielsen’s industry insights operations, said the changes in digital habits mean the CD is representing a larger share of the declining album sales market. He believes that writing the obituary for the CD is premature as labels look to bolster album sales however they can, while older listeners stick to their usual buying habits.”
Sure, the casting may have been ill-starred, but backstage, in the “opera factory, … the company’s army of artists and artisans started work nearly a year before its opening night, on New Year’s Eve.” Photographer Todd Heisler and reporter Michael Cooper give us a look at what the troops have been whipping up.
There have been plenty of star-crossed productions in Met history, including the premiere of Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra” that opened the Met’s Lincoln Center home in 1966 (amid serious last-minute technical glitches and labor woes) and Robert Lepage’s recent “Ring” cycle (built around a 45-ton set that had a habit of breaking down). But Mr. Gelb said that he had never before had to recast all the leads in a new production. “Luckily, there are only three principal roles,” he said dryly.
“The group of donors set to take over operations of the San Antonio symphony has backed out of the deal after discovering a potential $8.9 million pension liability, leaving the future of the orchestra in doubt. … The Symphony Society of San Antonio has been running the orchestra since 1939 and was supposed to relinquish control to the new group earlier this year.”
“The most obvious explanation was that the newfound dominance of digital streaming scrambled the entrenched hierarchies, elevating voices that had long puzzled or offended gatekeepers. With physical and digital album sales as well as track downloads all in free fall, and hip-hop and R&B setting the pace for streaming, major labels and major stars alike were often left scrambling to earn the honors that once came so easily. Because the rules and norms of this era are still coalescing, the systems could also be gamed and manipulated.”