AJ Logo Get ArtsJournal in your inbox
for FREE every morning!
March 31, 2003

Alabama Symphony: Riding Out The Storm Five years ago the Alabama Symphony was in bankruptcy. And with no executive director currently and a music director preparing to depart, ticket sales and endowment down, the orchestra is working hard to keep things going. "Yet in the face of reports nationwide of unprecedented deficits, curtailed seasons, canceled concerts, layoffs and bankruptcies, ASO is holding up quite nicely, thanks to loyal support from corporate sponsors and dedicated board members and musicians." Birmingham News 03/31/03

Classical Chill? Throw It Back In The Deep Freeze Rupert Christiansen ventures to a London club to sample the new phenomenon of "chill" music. "It sounded vile. I hasten to add that I write this without prejudice. I may be the paper's opera critic, but I am not a musical purist. Some opera bores me rigid, and there's plenty of rock and pop, from the Beach Boys to Coldplay, that I adore. But, as demonstrated by Anne Dudley and the BBC Concert Orchestra, classical chillout struck me as execrable. The Trades Description Act should be invoked: classical fallout would be a more appropriate and accurate title. Essentially, the two-hour performance consisted of nothing more than a medley of tunes mangled through samplers and synthesisers and then spewed out at a pitch of amplified volume associated with nuclear explosions." The Telegraph (UK) 04/01/03

Settlement In Houston Symphony Strike? Striking musicians of the Houston Symphony are voting on a tentative settlement in the 23-day-old strike. The deal was reached Sunday afternoon after "an intense weekend of negotiations" mediated by a representative of Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown. Houston Chronicle 03/31/03

Music And Meaning - These Notes Mean Something As good a movie as Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" is, it fails in representing the music, writes David Patrick Stearns. "How could anybody emerge from five horrific years of hard labor and starvation in World War II Warsaw with such clean, crisp, emotionally unclouded renditions of Chopin?" The answer? They couldn't, and the real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose memoir was the basis of the film, was profoundly changed, and with it his performances. "Such performances gain impact because the music's lack of specificity allows it to be invaded by meaning in unpremeditated ways. Popular music, in contrast, has a verbal element that can serve as a political rallying point, but one that can render the music obsolete." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/30/03

  • How "The Pianist" Lit Up The Oscars How did a film that only grossed $20 million come away with big Oscar wins? "As usual in Hollywood, marketing and politics played just as big a role in this success story as the evident quality of the film." Newsweek 04/07/03

During War - Music As Retreat Or Reaction How are musicians dealing with the war? "After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Leonard Bernstein declared, `This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than before'." Many musicians burrow into their music either to respond to or get away from the world. San Jose Mercury-News 03/31/03

Sony Will Lay Off 1000 Sony CEO Andy Lack, who succeeded Thomas D. Mottola about three months ago, "plans to eliminate 1,000 jobs in the United States and abroad as part of a broad cost-reduction plan that would try to cut expenses by more than $100 million a year, people close to the company said yesterday." The New York Times 03/31/03

Nervous Tension It had been 30 years since Roy McDonald had played as an extra in Ottawa's National Arts Center Orchestra. So when he was asked to audition for an extra role in Symphony Nova Scotia, he was flattered...and a lot nervous. But "I was told the audition would be casual, which I incorrectly interpreted to mean friendly. I pictured me and the conductor in a brightly lit rehearsal hall - introductions would be made, smiles, a couple of handshakes, and then someone would say, 'OK, Mr. McDonald, let's hear you take a whack at the Beethoven.' I had also imagined I would steadfastly avoid falling into the trap of getting nervous: I had nothing to lose." Boy was he wrong. National Post (Canada) 03/31/03

March 30, 2003

Sony CEO: CD Sales Could Drop 15% In 2003 Andy Lack, the new CEO of Sony, says that his company predicts that CD sales will fall 15 percent this year. "We've prepared for a scenario that acknowledges that industry sales may be down as much as 13-15 per cent this year." The drop in sales could lead to layoffs of 1000 employees this year. Yahoo! (Reuters) 03/30/03

Where Did All The Critics Go? "Time was you knew where you stood with pop critics. There were certain bylines in the pop press that you could trust with your life, and more importantly, with the future health of your record collection. What strikes me about pop criticism of late - and this afflicts the broadsheets as well - is the tyranny of received opinion. What gives here? Maybe writers are too hidebound by the notion of providing their readers with glorified consumer guides rather informed criticism. Maybe the sheer doggedness of the reviewer's task dulls the senses, precludes reflection and encourages the quick response. Are there so many mediocre albums coming out that, were reviewers to be honest, their negativity would send readers scurrying to the news section in search of some light relief?" The Observer (UK) 03/30/03

Deathwatch On CDs "The music industry braces for a future that will involve the death of CD stores and the rise of wireless, pocket-size MP3 players that will enable consumers to access thousands of hours of music at the touch of a button. The only real question is how long it will take for those scenarios to become reality. You'll see CD sections in stores decline quickly over the next few years because they will be replaced by technology that provides dirt-cheap storage and the ability to basically access and play any type of music anytime, anywhere. Wireless technology basically will create a world where we can have anything we want all the time." Chicago Tribune 03/30/03

  • Reasons To Love/Hate The CD Cd's revived the recording industry when they were first introduced. They allowed you to listen to music differently and they were a big improvement over vinyl (or so most people thought). But there are drawbacks too to CDs... Chicago Tribune 03/30/03

Chicago Lyric Opera Slips Into The Red The Chicago Lyric Opera sold 96 percent of its tickets this season. But that's a few percentage points below its customary 100 percent sale. So the company will post a $1-2 million deficit, only its second shortfall in the past two decades. Chicago Sun-Times 03/30/03

March 29, 2003

How Many Operas Are There? (How Many Worth Listening To?) How many operas are there? a few hundred? A thousand? Fifteen hundred? We're aware of more and more from the past as the years progress. "Strange then that the part of the repertoire least certainly alive is the modern, the new, the freshly commissioned. But perhaps 50 years from now people will look back on us and pity us for our ignorance of our contemporaries, who are as obscure to us as Handel was to Dent." The Guardian (UK) 03/29/03

Have Band, Will Hire Want to hire the Rolling Stones for your party? It'll cost you $13 million. The Eagles will play for $7.8 million. Indeed, many famous bands will sign on for a private performance if the money's right. "Michael Jackson started the trend 10 years ago when he played for the Sultan of Brunei, who has also hired Diana Ross and Whitney Houston for family gatherings, and Bob Dylan has been known to do a gig or two." Sydney Morning Herald 03/30/03

March 28, 2003

A New House For Jazz America's best jazz clubs present great artists, but to small audiences. Lincoln Center's new jazz complex - a collaboration between architect Rafael Vinoly and acoustician Russell Johnson - now being built at Columbus Circle, will be a versatile institution meant to promote jazz in many forms. Chicago Tribune 03/28/03

March 27, 2003

Money Woes? Who Ya Gonna Call? Opera Australia has turned to a money expert to be its new chairman. "Dr Gordon Fell, 38, has strong links to the money networks of Sydney, including his business partnership with David Coe, chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art. These are vital connections for Opera Australia, whose operating deficit was $2 million last financial year. It expects a loss of $1 million this year." Sydney Morning Herald 03/28/03

Chung To Leave Rome Orchestra Conductor Myung-Whun Chung has decided to leave as principal conductor of Rome's Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. "News reports said Chung had a tense relationship with chairman Luciano Berio. The orchestra said in a statement that Chung's decision not to renew his contract had been made 'in complete harmony' with the orchestra, adding that Berio was 'deeply grateful to Maestro Chung for the excellent work he is carrying out'." Yahoo! (Reuters) 03/26/03

How SF Opera Found Itself In Money Trouble So how did San Francisco Opera, one of the biggest in America, work itself into a $7 million debt? "In 1999, with 93 performances and $24 million ticket income, we had an optimal year. Last year it was $22.4, the previous two years, $21.2 and $23.7 and for the current year we are projecting $21.5. There is Iraq, and the tourists are not coming. We’re trying to cut costs as responsibly and as carefully as possible. Every dollar. It would be phenomenal to end with zero deficit." San Francisco Classical Voice 03/25/03

  • Union Files Complaint Against SF Opera The American Guild of Musical Artists has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint against the San Francisco Opera. In February the companay, which is having big money problems, announced it was cutting its annual Western Opera Theater tour because "the costs, scope and purpose of the Western Opera Theater tour were no longer in line with the Opera Center's need for fiscal responsibility." The union says that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act "by taking such action without prior notice to or bargaining with the union." Backstage 03/27/03

Here's Your Trophy, Now Hit The Road The musicians who win the top prizes at major international competitions are, of course, some of the best players in the world. You would think that such prizewinning talents would immediately find themselves with a full schedule of recital dates and solo appearances in the world's top venues. But in fact, most prizewinners quickly find that their careers get only a minimal boost from even the most celebrated competitions. Case in point: Van Cliburn gold medalists Olga Kern and Stanislav Ioudenitch, currently touring such classical music meccas as, um, Kansas City. Kansas City Star 03/23/03

Musicians Avoiding America Cancellations are coming in from European musicians and ensembles wary of performing in America in the midst of a globally unpopular invasion of Iraq. Last week, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu cancelled an appearance at the Met Opera, and this week, the Rotterdam Philharmonic called off a major U.S. tour, which would have included a stop at Carnegie Hall. Some of the performers have cited security concerns - others have merely said that they don't wish to be in America while the war is going on. The New York Times (first item) 03/27/03

Finally, Legal MP3s! Ever since the record industry began cracking down on illegal file-trading services like the now-defunct Napster, consumers looking for a legal way to download music online have been stymied by an industry which seemed more interested in stonewalling the digital music movement for as long as possible than in finding a way to turn the new technology into profit. Now, a new site called MusicNow has been launched, aimed at 30-to-50-year-olds who want digital music, and won't mind paying for it. The fees are reasonable - $10 a month for unlimited downloads, and 99 cents for a single song - and the company behind the site hopes it will finally begin to attract music consumers with money to spend. Wired 03/27/03

Truly Cerebral Music "Hook a whole bunch of brains up to a computer, capture and play the sounds they make, and you get, well, not quite music, but certainly some interesting noise. That's exactly what happened at the Cyborg Echoes Deconcert in Toronto over the weekend. The concert was billed as a participatory event, and it certainly was: Audience members' brains were scanned, the scans were transformed into sounds, mixed with a solid little backbeat from some heart scans, combined and played back to create Music in the Key of EEG." Wired 03/27/03

March 26, 2003

Scotland - Jazz Incubator? Scotland has long made a contribution to jazz out of all proportion to its size. The list of famous players runs across generations and genres. But the 1990s were a particularly invigorating period for Scottish jazz. 'This is a small scene. It doesn't have the economic power to keep buying American tours. What's been appreciated here in recent years, and what is becoming apparent inside and outside Scotland now, is that we're growing our own stars'." The Guardian (UK) 03/26/03

Covent Garden To Stage Its First Musical London's Royal Opera House, out to prove it is more populist than in the past, has scheduled its first musical for the main stage: Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. Music director Antonio Pappano "said he wanted to open the windows ... 'I am not interested in this old argument about what is opera and what is musical theatre. Often it's so intense and serious here, but it is OK for this opera house to have fun too'." The Guardian (UK) 03/27/03

Dream Team Orchestra Many conductors, as they travel 'round the world, play games of Dream Team - picking the best players from top orchestras and imagining how the all-star orchestra would sound. Mostly, it's an excercise of imagination. But Claudio Abbado, "presiding at this summer's Lucerne Festival, has cherry-picked players from symphony and chamber orchestras, string quartets and solo rosters to form an ensemble that will be the envy of Salzburg and a thumb in the eye for the Berlin Philharmonic, from whom Abbado parted company last year. Such dreams can come true only at festival time. In permanent orchestras, maestros get along with tenured musicians of uneven temperament and with the human clay thrown up at auditions." London Evening Standard 0326/03

Preemptive Cuts at Boston Lyric Boston Lyric Opera unveiled its plans for next season recently, and shocked local observers with the announcement that it will trim its schedule of large productions by 25%. Despite the tough economy, the Lyric Opera has thrived over the past decade, and has earned much praise for its artistic leadership. But donations to the Lyric are down significantly, and management decided to trim the season now rather than face a budget crisis later. But not to worry, says the company's general director: the Lyric plans to expand its season again once finances improve. Boston Herald 03/26/03

Racing The Clock In Colorado "Colorado Springs Philharmonic leaders formally announced nine days ago the creation of the orchestra to replace the defunct Colorado Springs Symphony, and already time is running short to carry through on their plans to present a 2003-04 season... The philharmonic is scrambling to find guest artists and secure dates at the Pikes Peak Center, work that normally would have been done months ago. If that weren't hard enough, the organization has to quickly begin raising enough money to get the orchestra off the ground. Fundraising is tough any time but especially on such a tight deadline when community feelings are still unsettled in the wake of the symphony's bankruptcy." Denver Post 03/25/03

March 25, 2003

A New Opera Masterpiece? John Rockwell heads off to New York City Opera for Mark Adamo's "Little Women" with low expectations and comes away believing he's heard "some sort of masterpiece." Almost everything in the production work, from the libretto to the music and cast. "The two styles blend effectively, the modernism not rigorously alienating and the lyricism genuine and heartfelt. Nearly all the big moments in the opera work." The New York Times 03/26/03

British Radio Restricts Songs During The War British radio stations are restricting the songs they play. " 'We do not want to upset listeners by playing anything which is inappropriate in the current climate. We continue to monitor our output on a daily basis in light of the war to ensure we are sensitive to the expectations of our listeners'. Producers have been asked to play music with a 'light, melodic' feel before and after news bulletins, especially if the reports contained distressing news." The Guardian (UK) 03/25/03

Bringing Jazz To Rock Trying to win fans, jazz tried hard to incorporate pop music into its bones. "But as each new attempt to bring jazz to rock failed loudly, a new generation of jazz musicians has quietly been bringing rock to jazz. In this reverse fusion, instead of applying rock's rhythms and amplified dynamics to jazz forms, they've brought jazz sophistication and swing to rock tunes. The range of material being drawn from is as broad as pop itself." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/25/03

Is Salsa Dying? "To put it mildly, salsa music is in a slump. The once-vibrant genre that has captivated audiences around the world for decades has suddenly become a backwater business, with a declining market share and extremely uncertain prospects." Los Angeles Times 03/25/03

Reality Music - In Search Of The Blues Congress has declared 2003 as the Year of the Blues, commemorating the 100th anniversary of an encounter that may have produced the first written account of blues music. And the blues is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity. But some worry that the authenticity of the music is being compromised... The New York Times 03/25/03

March 24, 2003

The Hermit Who Wrote A Hit Opera Not for years has a new opera wowed the critics and enthralled the public as Danish composer Poul Ruders’s opera of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid’s Tale" has done. "Premiered three years ago in Copenhagen in a staging by Phyllida Lloyd, the Dane’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1986 bestseller was acclaimed as a modern masterpiece: savage, satirical, yet lyrical, evoking both a brutal totalitarianism and private tragedy. 'The Handmaid’s Tale' looks like it may be one of the most popular operas of our time. Productions are planned in Washington, Minneapolis and Toronto. And next week it gets its British premiere when Lloyd’s staging comes to English National Opera." The Times (UK) 03/24/03

  • Previously: Margaret Atwood Sees Her Word Turned Into Music Writer Margaret Atwood was suprised when she was approached with the idea of turning her book "The Handmaiden's Tale" into an opera. "I was aware of the problems the creators of the opera must have faced. The novel has much internal monologue: how would they handle that? How to convey the back-story to the plot? Would the costumes look not strange and ominous, but merely silly?" The Guardian (UK) 03/23/03

The Man Who Saved The Kirov "In 1988, conductor Valery Gergiev emerged as a "poster-boy for Gorbachev's perestroika, an intense young man chosen at the tender age of 34 to lead Leningrad's Kirov Opera. Today, everything has changed: Leningrad is once again St. Petersburg, and the Kirov Theatre has reverted to its czarist name, the Mariinsky (although its ensembles - the opera, the ballet, the orchestra and chorus -- still tour under the name Kirov). The one factor that has remained constant is Gergiev. He's no longer quite so young - his shaggy hairstyle disguises a combed-over bald spot - yet he has lost none of his intensity." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/24/03

Houston Mayor To Get Involved In Symphony Strike It worked in New York with the Broadway musicians strike. Now Houston mayor Lee Brown has decided to get involved in the Houston Symphony musicians strike. He's appointed a special representative to work with the two sides and "said his action is aimed at helping the parties come to an agreement and return the Symphony to the Jones Hall stage, since a prolonged dispute is not only detrimental to the orchestra, but also to the entire city of Houston." Houston Mayor's Office 03/24/03

San Francisco Opera Cuts Staff, Budget Struggling to solve its financial situation, San Francisco Opera has cut $5.2 million from its budget. Six jobs were cut, and production cutbacks were made. "In addition to the $2.8 million in savings projected from the staff cuts, SF Opera director Pamela Rosenberg has approved $1.8 million in savings in production expenses, including travel, material and construction costs." San Francisco Chronicle 03/22/03

March 23, 2003

Margaret Atwood Sees Her Word Turned Into Music Writer Margaret Atwood was suprised when she was approached with the idea of turning her book "The Handmaiden's Tale" into an opera. "I was aware of the problems the creators of the opera must have faced. The novel has much internal monologue: how would they handle that? How to convey the back-story to the plot? Would the costumes look not strange and ominous, but merely silly?" The Guardian (UK) 03/23/03

Happy Talk From The Podium It used to be that conductors proved themselves with their music. Nowadays, writes Sarah Bryan Miller, many conductors seem more at ease schmoozing with their audiences than showing insight in their music. "The younger ones, in particular, have grown up with the idea that they should be as comfortable chatting - on radio, on television, to an audience - as actually leading an orchestra. Besides, conductors are not, as a breed, short on ego. Nattering from the podium seems, for many of the more egregious practitioners, to be just another way of hogging the spotlight." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 03/23/03

The Sound Inside Your Head HyperSonic Sound is something entirely new in sound reproduction. It sounds like it's coming from inside your head. "It is no exaggeration to say that HSS represents the first revolution in acoustics since the loudspeaker was invented 78 years ago - and perhaps only the second since pilgrims used 'whispering tubes' to convey their dour messages." The New York Times 03/23/03

Why Wait For The Sky To Fall? Some striking Houston Symphony musicians have apparently abandoned all hope that their orchestra will continue to be a viable employment option. The HSO strike is now more than two weeks old, and there are no signs that a settlement is near. Four musicians have already won jobs elsewhere, and many more are taking every audition that comes along. A few are retiring, and some are leaving the area to become freelance musicians in friendlier artistic climes. The departing musicians have good things to say about their years in the HSO, but nothing but hopeless resignation regarding the current dispute. Houston Chronicle 03/22/03

Who Says There Are No New Protest Songs? If critics are having trouble finding musical protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it's probably because they're looking in the wrong corner of the music industry. Once the province of folkies with acoustic guitars, political outrage has become the province of rock music, and artists from the Beastie Boys to Sheryl Crow are issuing quick hits against the military action. A web site even offers the chance to download protest songs by major artists free of charge. Chicago Tribune 03/23/03

Saving Up For A Really Good Ring Putting on a production of Wagner's Ring Cycle is the operatic equivalent of staging four major Broadway musicals and four symphony orchestra concerts simultaneously. That kind of excess costs money, and if you aren't the Metropolitan Opera (and these days, who is?) you'd better have a plan for serious fundraising. In Australia, the State Opera of Adelaide is putting the finishing touches on an innovative campaign to bring a Ring Cycle there in 2004. Rather than merely soliciting donations from opera lovers, organizers offered donors the chance to 'sponsor' a specific role in the opera, a member of the creative team, or even the conductor. Adelaide Advertiser 03/18/03

Winnipeg Sym Can't Make Payroll The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which has been facing a severe cash crunch for many months, announced this weekend that it would not be able to make its Friday payroll. The orchestra is $800,000 in the hole for the current season, and may not be able to continue presenting concerts without a quick influx of donated cash. A $250,000 loan from the federal government has been approved, but the WSO won't get the money until it raises another $750,000 on its own. "The orchestra began the season with a $1.8-million accumulated deficit. Even if it gets the money it needs to finish the season, it expects to almost double the deficit to $3.3 million." Ottawa Citizen (CP) 03/21/03

  • Winnipeg Musicians Will Play For Free The musicians of the cash-strapped Winnipeg Symphony have announced that they will continue to woprk, at least for the time being, despite not receiving paychecks on Friday. "You have to separate the issues," according to a spokesman for the musicians. "There's a long-term relationship with the audience... and the business issues." Canada.com (CP) 03/21/03

How Much Bailout Is Too Much For The ENO? "The beleaguered English National Opera is worth saving 'but not at any cost', the Arts Council of England has said at a meeting discussing ENO's cash troubles." The issue of whether the ENO 'deserves' a bailout is a delicate one, but some council members have been disgusted by revelations of finanial mismanagement and continuing fiscal irresponsibility at the company. At the very least, any bailout package from the Arts Council is likely to include stipulations that the ENO clean up its act, and provide evidence that it is doing so. BBC 03/21/03

  • Previously: English National Opera Settles With Chorus The chorus of the English National Opera has called off a threatened strike after making a deal with the company for layoffs. "Around one-sixth of the choristers have agreed to take voluntary redundancy, leaving a permanent chorus of 50." BBC 03/20/03
March 21, 2003

UK Radio Follows Song Guidelines British radio stations are editing their playlists, avoiding songs that contain "offensive or insensitive material" during the war with Iraq. "We need to match the mood and tone of the nation, which seems to be changing on an hourly basis." BBC 03/21/03

March 20, 2003

Rattle At The Top Is there a bigger star in classical music than conductor Simon Rattle? "Rattle's career path has been a perfect, shooting-star arc from the National Youth Orchestra to Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to his mould-breaking 10 years with the City of Birmingham Orchestra. At 48, he is very young to be a conductor of international repute and he remains, to many, the perennial high-achieving golden boy of British classical music. He certainly seems to be much too amiable and accommodating to have survived and thrived in one of the notoriously brittle areas of the arts." The Telegraph (UK) 03/21/03

English National Opera Fails To Get Bailout The English National Opera, which is thought to have asked the Arts Council for a £10 million bailout because it is "on the verge of bankruptcy, has been turned down, offered a smaller funding package instead. "The package is believed to contain £2 million to pay for seats which tilt back, and a system for surtitles - a surprise request for a company founded to produce operas in English." Martin Smith, the company's chairman, "claims that the company will be £4.2 million in the red by January, and insists a fifth of its workforce of 500 will have to go if it is to survive. The number of productions will also have to be cut." The Guardian (UK) 03/21/03

  • English National Opera Settles With Chorus The chorus of the English National Opera has called off a threatened strike after making a deal with the company for layoffs. "Around one-sixth of the choristers have agreed to take voluntary redundancy, leaving a permanent chorus of 50." BBC 03/20/03

March 19, 2003

FileTraders - Throw 'Em In Jail, Says Congressman A Texas Republican Congressman suggests that the way to stop college students from downloading music is to put them in jail. "What these kids don't realize is that every time they pull up music and movies and make a copy, they are committing a felony under the United States code. If you were to prosecute someone and give them three years, I think this would act as a deterrent." Wired 03/19/03

The One-Hour "Carmen" The Welsh National Opera is producing a radical version of "Carmen." It's short - clocking in at about an hour long. "Its short span is not the only unusual thing about this production, which is currently on tour. It is also radically cheap - tickets cost £5 and £10 - and played at unfamiliar times. Performances are at 2.30pm and 6.15pm: the afternoon show is designed to allow visiting parties of kids to be back at the school gates by home-time, and the early-evening performance is aimed at an after-work crowd." Will this really tempt people to get the opera habit? The Guardian (UK) 03/20/03

Has English National Opera Chronically Lost Money? Management of the English National Opera have claimed that the company has lost millions of pounds over the past decade - "on average, £1m to £2m for nearly 10 years." The losses have been the company's justification for wanting layoffs and financial assistance from the government. But "analysis of the accounts show that between 1994 and 2000 the company was in surplus in every year but one, before falling back into the red. Last year, its worst since 1997 when it had to be bailed out with £9.2m from the Arts Council, it lost less than £600,000." The Guardian (UK) 03/19/03

  • Can The English National Opera Be Saved? Members of the troubled English National Opera - threatened by layoffs - have some hope that their fortunes will improve. "Their cause is further boosted by the company's comic inability to communicate information in a timely, orderly and credible fashion. Statements are sent out and swiftly recalled; press briefings verge on the farcical. The verifiable fact that ENO is living beyond sustainable means is lost in transmission." But will striking save company jobs? No, writes Norman Lebrecht, "the grim truth about strikes in the arts: they never work." London Evening Standard 03/19/03

The Revolution Will Be Webcast Last week, one of the Dixie Chicks casually mentioned that she was rather ashamed of President Bush sharing her home state, and a furor erupted that has the Chicks' music being pulled from radio stations nationwide. With that kind of wild-eyed nationalism infecting the U.S., it's no wonder that protest songs are hardly in vogue among big stars at the moment. But they do exist - on the web. "From hip hop artists Chuck D and the Beastie Boys to veteran singer/songwriters such as John Mellencamp and Billy Bragg, a general distaste for political fare on commercial radio has lead them to the Web, where songs they've written to protest the looming war with Iraq are readily available for free." Toronto Star 03/19/03

Happy Ending After All in Colorado Less than a week after the beleaguered Colorado Springs Symphony dissolved itself in bankruptcy court, the musicians of the old CSSO joined with their old music director and a new board leadership of their choosing to form the new Colorado Springs Philharmonic. The executive director of the Phil will be Susan Greene, who had been dismissed from the same position at the CSSO a year ago, sparking angry questions from the musicians. Denver Post 03/18/03

Baltimore Symphony Facing Money Woes "Like a persistent virus, the economic downturn continues to infect musical organizations across the country. No immediate cure is in sight... The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's projected deficit for the current fiscal year has gone from $515,000, estimated last November, to $806,000 as of this month. Underlining the troubling financial picture is the fact that BSO management has unexpectedly opened up negotiations with the musicians, even though their contract, approved three years ago, doesn't expire until 2005. Neither side will provide details of these discussions, but it's clear that the orchestra is looking into every option, including possible financial concessions from the players, to stop the flow of red ink." Baltimore Sun 03/18/03

Cleveland Losing Three Principal Players Major orchestras don't lose their principal musicians very often. After all, these are the plum jobs of the music industry, high-salaried and high-profile. But this year, the Cleveland Orchestra will lose no fewer than three of its principal players, and the scramble for their jobs is on. Two of the three principals are retiring, and the other, who had moved up from second chair, is returning to his old position after not being tenured at the principal position. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 03/18/03

March 18, 2003

Of Goalies I Sing... Any doubt that opera is the high-art form of the moment? "The Czech National Theater said on Monday it was working on an opera to commemorate the surprise gold medal victory of the Czech men's Olympic ice hockey team in Nagano in 1998. 'It is a kind of modern Czech legend and operas have always been based on legends. We know it is an unusual motif but it is quite interesting and able to carry some kind of a musical form'." Yahoo! (Reuters) 03/18/03

Debate On The Future Of English National Opera The English Arts Council is meeting to discuss the fate of the troubled English National Opera. How much money will it take to save the company, which has been plagues by cutbacks, strikes and defections? "We are not going to give them any money as long as we think it is going to be bad money after good. What ENO must do is take their own destiny into their own hands." BBC 03/18/03

Getting It Together To Sell Music Pretty much everyone agrees that digital copying of music isn't going to stop any time soon. And there's a growing consensus that the recording industry needs to "loosen up" if it wants to emerge with a viable business in the "rip, mix, burn" era. Finally tech companies and recording producers are getting together to explore nw ways of distributing and selling content. Village Voice 03/18/03

Boston Lyric Opera Cuts Season Boston Lyric Opera cuts its season from four operas to three. "We are operating from a position of strength, and we do not want to lose that in the current difficult economic climate. We can't do four operas for the price of three, and we do not want to compromise the quality of what we do. Large five- and six-figure gifts are coming in smaller and slower. We wanted to present a world premiere, but we have had to postpone that again because the donors who are helping us with that are not in a position to give what they would like to." Boston Globe 03/18/03

March 17, 2003

Another Blow For Troubled English National Opera Tony Legge, the company's head of music, resigned after plans for shrinking the company's staff and repertoire were announced. Legge's decision was a shock to company members. "People looked to him as having artistic integrity. We only have to assume he didn't want to be part of what the future holds." The Guardian (UK) 03/18/03

Musicians Looking To Reverse Decline Of Industry Fortunes As musicians gathered last week in Austin Texas for the South By Southwest Festival, there was a common theme running through the proceedings. "In panels and seminars, in casual conversation and passionate addresses, many insiders at SXSW seemed to be looking to the past for the values and integrity - in both making music and doing business - that will lead to a brighter future for an industry in decline." Boston Globe 03/17/03

March 16, 2003

You Can't Legislate Manners, But Really...It's A Concert... Between ringing cell phones, program rustling and yahoos screaming bravo before the last notes have a chance to die out, concert manners seem to be at an all time low. Peter Dobrin offers a code of conduct he wishes could be adopted by audience members. "It's obviously time to find some pleasant way of reminding visitors how to act. This is not one of those disapproving tsk-tsk reprimands. I'm not in favor of tradition for tradition's sake. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad. On the contrary, I'm trying to make everyone at the concert feel good." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/16/03

Out Of The Garage - Dominating This Year's SXSW Fest This year's SXSW conference in Austin Texas found "many of the acts that generated the most buzz during the five-day lineup of 1,000-plus bands came from outside the country." This year's dominant music: "Garage bands were definitely the rage this year, a trend that felt like overkill by the end of the week. Many of the groups came up through the same Detroit scene that spawned the Stripes, which led to a quip by the singer of the black-clad Motor City band the Electric Six: 'If this were the Olympics, [Detroit] would be like Russia'." Los Angeles Times 03/17/03

Bob Moog's Back With The World's Greatest Synthesizer - But What's It Called? Forty years ago Bob Moog invented the first synthesizer. It defined electronic music in the 1960s. Now Moog is back with what he calls the greatest synthesizer ever made. It's his first instrument in decades. Only one problem: "British trademark law means that the 70-year-old creative genius cannot sell his synth under the internationally recognised brands of Moog Music or Minimoog, because they have been appropriated by an entrepreneur in Wales." The Independent (UK) 03/14/03

Why Sarah Vaughan Was One Of The 20th Century's Great Voices A reissue of Sarah Vaughan's recordings give insight into what made her one of the great singers of the 20th Century. Yet she was also careless about protecting her musical gifts. "Essentially, she was correct in her belief that miracles, like her voice itself, not only happen but, like diamonds, are forever. Or, at least, they should come with a lifetime guarantee. Her voice, which ripened with age into plummier, darker depths, really was a like a precious gift from heaven that just kept on giving. It kept on giving, in fact, right up until the lifelong, two-pack-a-day smoker died from lung cancer at 66 in 1990." Hartford Courant 03/16/03

Political Songs So As Not To Offend Where are the new anti-war songs? "We're in an age now when the record companies groom you not to say anything that [ticks] anybody off. The debate over activism and music is growing louder, with Friday's furor over Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines' remarks on President Bush. Earlier this week, she told a London concert audience she's 'ashamed' that Mr. Bush is a Texan, but late Friday she apologized after some radio stations decided to boycott the Chicks' music." Dallas Morning News 03/15/03

By Arrangement Only - Music In Other Guises Making arrangements of composers' music was a flourishing business up until the early 20th Century. But more recently the arrangement "is widely regarded as second-class music. At best it is tolerated, at worst disdained." What happened? "For the last 80 years, musicology has been increasingly successful in pressing the case for the urtext: an authentic performing edition in which, purportedly, the composer's original thought is perfectly preserved, every note is sacrosanct and the 'sonic surface' of the music is reproduced exactly as the composer envisaged it. A musical performance, by this view, should amount to the re-creation of a bit of history." The New York Times 03/16/03

Chicago Symphony - Looking For Leadership With American orchestras struggling to stay open and solve their finances, even big orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony are having to re-evaluate their positions. "Our moment of fiscal truth is fast approaching. There is a new labor contract to be negotiated next year, and many are expecting a dogfight. Whoever succeeds Henry Fogel as president and CEO of the CSO Association must satisfy the board's mandate to trim costs while satisfying musicians that he or she is maintaining the CSO's competitive edge among the Big Five U.S. orchestras. All this will place an unusually heavy burden on the CSO's next top administrator." Chicago Tribune 03/16/03

Singing Out Of Harlem The Boys Choir of Harlem is an American success story. "The journey from church-basement dream to established institution with a $3.8 million annual budget is an astonishing achievement.Today there are 622 students, male and female (the Girls Choir of Harlem was founded in 1993). Each year, about 2,000 young people audition for about 150 places. All of the students take classes in music history, theory, voice, and an instrument, in addition to the full New York state-mandated curriculum; classes continue during tours - some teachers come along, some students keep up through the Internet. Ninety-eight percent of the graduates attend college. The academy has inspired similar schools in Chicago and Detroit." Boston Globe 03/16/03

Rochester Philharmonic In Financial Difficulty The Rochester Philharmonic is projecting a $550,000 deficit this season. But in the short term, finances are even worse. "An estimated cash shortage of up to $900,000 this fiscal year could jeopardize the RPO’s ability to pay its musicians and vendors as soon as next month. The RPO faced a similar budget squeeze last year, but $350,000 in administrative cuts paved the way for a modest surplus. This year, however, the ensemble has little left to cut." The Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester) 03/14/03

March 14, 2003

Making Out To Mozart? Really? Showing a little skin to try to sell recordings is one thing, but a new series of "classical" (and we use the term advisedly) recordings is right over the top. "Shacking Up To Chopin, Making Out To Mozart and Bedroom Bliss With Beethoven are the three albums in the Love Notes series. Each claims to be "the perfect addition to intimate moments" and boasts a selection of "teasing, tantalising and suggestive melodies with rapturous crescendos". They also promise to provoke "uninhibited passion", "loss of control" and "sleepless nights of the best kind". The Scotsman 03/14/03

San Antonio Symphony Catches Up On Some Of Its Bills The San Antonio Symphony, which announced two weeks ago that it didn't have enough money to make its payroll or pay more than $400,000 in past-due bills, says it has raised $200,000 since then, enough to pay musicians for the delayed payroll and cover some of the payroll due today. The musicians agreed to continue playing, and most staffers remained on the job. "The symphony has collected about $200,000 in individual gifts and proceeds from benefits hastily organized by other organizations concerned for the orchestra's survival." San Antonio Express-News 03/14/03

March 13, 2003

Sell Off - Major Music Labels For Sale There are five major recording labels. And that number looks to be reduced in the near future. "In a sign of how bad things have become in the down-and-out music industry, most of the five biggest music companies are either up for sale or contemplating deals." Yahoo! (Reuters) 03/13/03

Royal Liverpool Orchestra Puts Itself On The Endangered List The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has declared a financial crisis. In a letter to all 76 players, musicians were told that "the gap must be closed by 2005-6 to secure a continued and viable future for the Phil. What we have become is not sustainable because it is not affordable. If the books are to balance, cuts will be inevitable, leading to possible redundancies among players and management. There are also fears that some players of less mainstream instruments may be offered part-time contracts." The Guardian (UK) 03/14/03

No Light At The End Of The Tunnel In Pittsburgh The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is making progress in its fundraising efforts, says the organization's board chairman, but there is still the potential for a serious cash crunch even before the end of this season. The PSO is prohibited by its bylaws from running a cash shortage, but its reserves are depleted an its endowment, like those of most American orchestras, has lost a full third of its value in the decline of the stock market. "It faces the daunting statistic that Pittsburgh ranks next to last for private donations among the 22 largest orchestras in the United States in per capita donations." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 03/12/03

March 12, 2003

Where Are The Peace Songs? "Whatever the actual effect of anti-war songs on global politics, they have long been a staple of pop culture. As evidenced by Bob Dylan's 'Masters of War', Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On?', the Clash's 'Straight to Hell' and U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday', the heavyweights of rock and pop have never been slow to let us know where they stand. But, with war on Iraq now apparently imminent, where is the song to rally round the white flag?" The Telegraph (UK) 03/13/03

An ENO Rescue Plan That Provokes Questions The hard-up English National Opera has got a plan to reinvent itself and restore its finances. But Charlotte Higgens writes that "the filleted document that has been released prompts as many questions as answers. It is full of management-speak and empty of figures. The story that has hit the headlines is about redundancies. A hundred jobs out of 500 are to go. But will this deliver sufficient savings? Redundancy deals for 100 people could cost at least £2m. Freelance singers and musicians will be hired for the bigger shows, which suggests that there will be fewer of them when times get hard. Yet it is massive shows, such as The Capture of Troy, or Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, that ENO does especially well, and come off best in the Coliseum, London's biggest theatre." The Guardian (UK) 03/13/03

China Bans Four Stones Songs China has forbidden the Rolling Stones from performing four of the band's songs at concerts in China in April. "The songs were submitted to the Ministry of Culture for approval a few months ago. They simply said 'no' to those four songs. They didn't give a reason." The Age (DPA) 03/12/03

Is The Musical Establishment No Longer Worth Joining? Norman Lebrecht is summoned to membership in two British music institutions - one old, one new - and round-files the invitations. Why? Neither represents the state of music at its best. And neither ought to be encouraged or endorsed for its views of the musical world. London Evening Standard 03/12/03

Detroit Expansion Comes Into Focus A $125 million expansion of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's home in the city's downtown is drawing to a close, and the face of the new facilities which will be available to the orchestra is coming into focus. A new 500-seat recital hall will play host to a new chamber music series, featuring members of the DSO playing alongside big-name guest soloists. The smaller hall will also feature guest ensembles which otherwise might have skipped Detroit for lack of a good chamber music hall. And the new building "offers patron comforts that... Orchestra Hall, has always lacked: elevators, a spacious four-story atrium lobby, additional rest rooms, coat checks, lounges, refreshment centers and a high-tech box office." Detroit Free Press 03/12/03

March 11, 2003

Orchestra Musicians In Hard Times Symphony orchestras are struggling across America. "After relatively flush times in the 1990s, the current problems of the economy are taking their toll. Ticket sales are down for some orchestras; corporate sponsors are withdrawing some support; and foundations, after watching the value of their portfolios drop for several years, are reducing the size of their grants. It's not helping that state and local governments facing large budget deficits are cutting back on their help for the arts." Christian Science Monitor 03/12/03

English Parliament Votes Down Licensing For Live Performances In Small Venues Parliamentary debate forces a whittling back a government plan to require small pubs to license live music. "Last night's defeat by 150 votes to 120 would mean that smaller pubs and restaurants would be able to offer live entertainment as long as their capacity was below 250 people and the entertainment finished by 11.30pm." The government's plan was bitterly fought by musicians who claimed the plan would have cut the number of venues for live music. The Guardian (UK) 03/12/03

English National Opera Faces Another Strike After Announcing Cuts Backstage staff of the English National Opera said they would go on strike, after the company announced that "up to 100 permanent artistic, technical and administrative staff will face redundancy - a fifth of the company. This figure includes the 20 chorus members threatened with redundancy under plans to shrink the chorus by a third." The Guardian (UK) 03/12/03

What Makes Baz Boheme Work On Broadway? Opera and Broadway have long tried to mix it up - but rarely with success. Somehow, despite the rising popularity of crossover, one can't escape the conventional wisdom that opera and Broadway occupy two distinct and conflicting worlds. How, then, is one to react to the surprise success of Baz Luhrmann's $6.5 million production of Puccini's La Bohème on Broadway?" Opera News 03/03

Fire Back - The Art Of Jazz Protest What's become of jazz protest? The question is old, but in an era of international emergency, it's relevant. So poet Amiri Baraka, playwright Sonia Sanchez, Columbia professor Robert O'Meally, and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater are discussing dissent in jazz — and maybe exercising it — when Lincoln Center hosts "Jazz and Social Protest" on March 18. But dissent against what? And why? How successfully the panelists address jazz activism, and prescribe a course for it, might depend on how clearly they consider Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln's legacies..." Village Voice 03/11/03

A Concerto About Me - And It's Good! Toronto Star music critic William Littler was surprised to get an announcement of a performance of a new concerto dedicated to...him. So he had to go and see why an Edmonton-based composer was honoring a Toronto-based music writer. "It turned out that he had been reading my reviews on the Star's Web site. The concerto, he explained before its world premiere, represented his way of thanking me." Naturally Littler stayed for the performance, and reports that "the 24-minute concerto turned out to be a piece worth hearing, with a distinctive musical character and an emotional communicativeness." Toronto Star 03/11/03

March 10, 2003

R&B Awards Come Without Cash This Year Winners of this year's R&B Foundation Pioneer Awards didn't get the cash awards that have accompanied the prizes in the past. "In the past individual acts have received $15,000 and groups $20,000. But this year the R&B Foundation has significantly altered the size of the awards and the way they are paid because of lagging fund-raising and a decrease in donations from record companies and individuals. Donations from our music industry sponsors are down about 60 percent."
The New York Times 03/11/03

All Together - English National Opera Ponders Future The English National Opera is a mess. Critics contend that plans to save the company will strip the company of its artistic integrity. "The word 'ensemble' is at the core of the debate about ENO's future. What does it mean, and why does it provoke such intense emotions whenever it seems to be threatened? At one level, the answer is simple. An ensemble performs together. It can be half a dozen actors touring Strindberg in the provinces; or a band of period- instrument specialists bringing baroque concertos back to life; or a company of 500 in an Edwardian theatre in London's West End. Size doesn't matter, but shared values, collective experience, training, exploring and changing together – these are what count." The Independent (UK) 03/07/03

Why'd They Forget About Bix? Bix Beiderbecke was a seminal figure in jazz. This week is the 100th anniversary of his birthday. So "where are the sort of commemorative CD reissue series that celebrated Armstrong's 100th birthday in 2001, or Duke Ellington's in 1999? The major labels, which rarely miss an opportunity to make a quick buck off sentimentality (not to mention recordings paid for nearly 80 years ago), have apparently missed this one." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/10/03

The New Classical Music? "Alongside the traditional classical realm of Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart, another scene is asserting itself - one in which unconventional repertoire is embraced, new music by living composers is emphasized and being engaged with the cultural present is a priority. This scene isn't entirely new. But it is deriving renewed energy from artists in their 20s and 30s who grew up listening to the British rock band Radiohead as well as Ravel. And the new sounds are attracting young audiences to a musical genre whose health seems forever at risk." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 03/08/03

Community Concerts On The Rocks Since 1927, Community Concerts brought classical music to the corners of America, to communities that never would have been able to afford to stage concerts. But the organization is in disarray - performances have been cancelled, artists haven't been paid, and Community's network of local presenters is falling away... The New York Times 03/10/03

March 9, 2003

Scoring The Best Orchestras Which is the best orchestra in the world? Donald Rosenberg tries to define criteria. "The temptation to line up orchestras and score them as if they were sports teams is tempting. But it doesn't work. Art can't be assessed on the basis of points. Every orchestra is different. Some are perceptibly better than others. Evaluating an orchestra largely has to do with style, traditions and concepts of sound. Anything else is cheerleading. Still, it is instructive and fun to listen closely to orchestras to discern the qualities that make them unusual and special." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 03/09/03

Orchestra Interrupted The Houston Symphony strike is a wrongheaded debacle that has damaged a fine orchestra and threatens to put it out of business, writes Sam Bergman. Already, musicians are slipping out of town headed to other jobs - four members have won jobs elsewhere so far - and the dismantling has already begun. No question times are tough for arts organizations everywhere, but does Houston really want to abandon one of its major cultural assets? 4th Stand Inside 03/09/03

Looks: 10...Music? How can opera compete in a world of multimedia? "In an attempt to connect with a broad and unspecialized public, opera companies have sought the ministrations of directors who are inventive, fearless - and often indifferent to the music they purport to serve. These theatrical interpreters are granted liberties that musical interpreters would never take: Operas are constantly being shuttled from one era to another, causing havoc with time-bound librettos, yet the score remains more or less sacrosanct." Newsday 03/09/03

Anti-War Songs Absent On Commercial Radio "Songwriters denouncing war with Iraq are trying to speed up an artistic and political reaction that took years, not months, to gather momentum in the 1960's. The new antiwar songs are virtually absent from commercial radio stations, where most programmers wouldn't dream of dividing or alienating their listenership. Instead, songs are arriving from various fringes — on the collegiate indie-rock circuit, in hip-hop's activist wing and among the heirs to folky 1960's protesters." The New York Times 03/09/03

Where Are The New Protest Songs? Peace rallies trot out protest songs that are decades old. "Some mutter darkly that there are more songs out there but corporate radio is keeping them off the air. The notorious list of 'banned' songs - everything from John Lennon's 'Imagine' to the entire oeuvre of Rage Against the Machine - the radio conglomerate Clear Channel issued after Sept. 11 only adds fuel to such suspicions. But no one names a great song that's not getting played." Are they out there? Boston Globe 03/09/03

Fogel: Bad Times For Orchestras Going To Get Worse Orchestras across America are struggling to stay in business. And it's going to get worse, says Henry Fogel, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. "The great economy and high stock market of the '90s helped mask some of the problems orchestras are now facing. And watch out - Fogel predicts that 'next year will be the worst year for orchestras, which by then will have suffered three bad years in a row'." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 03/09/03

  • The Savannah Symphony's "Death Spiral" The Savannah Symphony's demise was awhile coming - the orchestra has made a series of mistakes over a number of years. "Unable to make payroll, $1.3 million in debt, demoralized by dwindling audiences and backstage squabbles, the orchestra first canceled several weeks of concerts while attempting a "rescue" fund-raising drive. When no major patrons answered the SOS, the season was declared over. In hindsight, the SSO's death spiral started on two paths: budgetary promises made and later broken, and a triangle of acrimony within the organization." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 03/09/03

Hickox Promises Diversity For Opera Australia Opera Australia's new director, Richard Hickox, says he's committed to presenting diverse work in Melbourne and building the company's stature internationally. "There is not an opera company in the world that is not under some sort of pressure and, believe me, the turmoil here is nothing like as great as most." The Age (Melbourne) 03/10/03

March 8, 2003

Houston Symphony Musicians To Strike Musicians of the Houston Symphony say they'll go on strike after Saturday night's concert, rejecting the orchestra's imposition of unilateral cuts in pay. The musicians had offered a compromise pay cut Friday, but the orchestra rejected it. "Our decision is a stand for the principles that we continue to espouse: that Houston deserves a world-class orchestra. It has one now. It stands to lose that now." Houston Chronicle 03/08/03

  • Houston Symphony Rejects Players' Contract Offer The Houston Symphony has rejected an 11th-hour counterproposal by the players and "stuck with its 'best and final' offer of pay reduction averaging 7.4 percent across the orchestra." On Friday, "musicians in the 97-seat Houston Symphony Orchestra instead proposed a 4 percent payroll reduction achieved through a two-week unpaid furlough and an immediate one-week salary deferral to allow the society some breathing room as it approaches a $6 million debt ceiling imposed by major foundations that contribute annually." Houston Chronicle (AP) 03/07/03

March 7, 2003

Opera As A Big Fun Show "Whether or not the Broadway Bohème is an operatic success is almost beside the point. It is a marketing triumph that will likely allow Luhrmann and his investors to recoup the show's $6.5 million investment - and then some. La Bohème's success shows that it's possible, if expensive, to sell opera to non-operagoers. There's a lesson here for opera impresarios. It shouldn't be that hard to persuade people who love the art form to attend performances by giving them a good reason for going. And if opera can go to Broadway, why can't Broadway go to the opera?" Opera News 03/03

The Rap On Rap Music Videos A new US study says that "black teenage girls who view more rap videos are apparently more likely to get in trouble with the law, to take drugs or to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Only two factors other than rap-music viewing boosted the teens' rates of promiscuity, substance abuse and violence: lack of employment and lack of parents who monitor teen activities. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/07/03

March 6, 2003

Opera Australia's New Boss In taking on the top job at Opera Australia, conductor Roger Hickox committed to "moving to Sydney, fund-raising and programming one new Australian opera every two years." Mr Hickox, 55, was the unanimous choice of the board and the advisory committee. He was among a four-person shortlist that included two Australians. Mr Hickox has been involved with the company since 1994 and has conducted five operas for it." Sydney Morning Herald 03/07/03

  • Previously: Hickox To Head Opera Australia British conductor Richard Hickox has been appointed new director of Opera Australia. Hickox "replaces local conductor Simone Young, whose contract with Opera Australia was not renewed at the end of last year amid controversy over her vision for the company. However, she will remain in the position until Mr Hickox takes the reins in January 2005. Mr Hickox, 55, is now the principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and is also an associate guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra." The Australian 03/06/03

Houston Symphony Continues Sniping The musicians and management of the Houston Symphony continue to take swipes at each other in a bitter contract dispute. A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle called for management to withdraw its deadline for musicians to accept its 'last, best' contract offer, and continue to negotiate, but symphony management insists that the orchestra could run out of money by May if it continues to bargain indefinitely. Meanwhile, the musicians are convinced that the orchestra's problems are due to gross mismanagement, and charge that the current executive team is determined "to destroy or, at the very least, downsize the orchestra to something they can financially handle but which would not by any definition be a world-class orchestra." Houston Chronicle 03/06/03

  • Just Blow The Damn Thing Up "The cumulative force of years of negative posturing, while successful in increasing musicians' pay scales, in my opinion has weakened the Symphony's prospects and credibility." So speaks Roy Nolen, a former Houston Symphony board member who says that the orchestra's problems do not stem from a lack of management competence, but from the inability of the musicians to accept the reality that the residents of the nation's fourth-largest city simply do not care about orchestral music. "It may be time for the Houston Symphony Society to consider whether a single-city symphony orchestra of high quality is viable in Houston." Houston Chronicle 03/06/03

March 5, 2003

Hickox To Head Opera Australia British conductor Richard Hickox has been appointed new director of Opera Australia. Hickox "replaces local conductor Simone Young, whose contract with Opera Australia was not renewed at the end of last year amid controversy over her vision for the company. However, she will remain in the position until Mr Hickox takes the reins in January 2005. Mr Hickox, 55, is now the principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and is also an associate guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra." The Australian 03/06/03

Live And In Concert (And Recording) Bootleg live concert recording is booming, with fans trading recordings of thousands of concerts over the internet. "It is not just that the recordings of live performances are of far better quality than the scratchy cassettes of 40 years ago. It is that copies of such a recording, and subsequent copies of the copies, are better." The New York Times 03/06/03

Norah Jones Gets Big Grammy Boost Norah Jones' Grammy wins have done wonders for sales of her album. "Come Away With Me," sold 621,000 copies after her Grammy sweep, almost 500,000 more than the week before, the biggest post-Grammy sales spike ever, according to her record company." Hartford Courant (AP) 03/06/03

One-Minute Opera - How To Write Better For The Stage There aren't enough good operas being written. Why? Poor music, bad stories, awkward librettos. Aldeburgh is trying to help. So it invited a group of writers and composers to spend a week together exploring one another's craft. First assignment? team up and write a one-minute scene. It's tougher than it seems... The Guardian (UK) 03/06/03

Disney Hall Almost Paid For The Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall, which will play host to the Los Angeles Philharmonic beginning next fall, has come within $10 million of being fully paid for. The hall is estimated to cost $272 million, and has taken 15 years to go from initial planning stages to final construction. Backers say they are optimistic that the final fundraising push will go quickly, and the county has stepped in with an additional $14.5 million of street and neighborhood improvements around the hall. Los Angeles Times 03/05/03

Editors To Symphony: Don't Let It End Like This The Houston Chronicle editorial board has weighed in on the bitter dispute between the Houston Symphony Soiety and the orchestra's musicians. "The symphony management promises to present a five-year plan for artistic growth and financial stability in May, but the society demands that the musicians accept its final offer of reduced pay and benefits by Saturday. This precipitous ultimatum might reflect the symphony's dire financial state, but surely the final hour can wait until the society has a plan to climb out of its hole - a plan the musicians might be willing to accept and aid... Once that compromise is reached, it will fall to Houstonians to give the Houston Symphony the same generous and enthusiastic support they give to rodeos and ball games." Houston Chronicle 03/05/03

  • Previously: Houston Symphony To Musicians: Take Pay Cut Or We'll make You Take It The Houston Symphony said Monday that "the organization is dealing with a 'flat-out crisis' in its finances and the 97 musicians need to accept an average 7.4 percent pay cut. The players have until Saturday to decide or risk having the society impose the cut, which it has authority to do under U.S. labor law. Musicians still would have the right to strike." Nando Times (AP) 03/03/03

Somewhere, Charles Dutoit Is Smiling It was nearly a year ago that the musicians of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra went to their union chief, Emile Subirana, and asked him to take action against music director Charles Dutoit, who was attempting to remove two tenured musicians from the ensemble. Subirana subsequently wrote an open letter which referred to Dutoit as a 'tyrant,' leading directly to the conductor's abrupt resignation from the orchestra he had led for nearly a quarter century. Months of public and private finger-pointing and bitter argument followed, and this week, the members of the Quebec Musicians Guild voted overwhelmingly to replace Subirana with a reformer who promised a more responsive and responsible union. Montreal Gazette 03/03/03

Setting An Example In San Antonio The mayor of San Antonio announced this week that he will donate $5000 from his office's discretionary fund to the struggling San Antonio Symphony, which missed payroll last Friday and is facing more than $500,000 of immediate debt. Mayor Ed Garza also exhorted other city leaders to match his contribution, and called on corporate leaders to broaden the base of support for the ensemble. The symphony's musicians have agreed to keep playing despite going without their paychecks, at least for the moment. San Antonio Express-News 03/04/03

  • Previously: San Antonio - The Costs Of Losing A Symphony Orchestra What will it mean if the San Antonio Symphony goes out of business for lack of money? "A symphony orchestra is like the canary in the mine. If the bird stops singing, it's a good bet the air isn't safe for anybody to breathe. To be blunt, if the San Antonio Symphony goes silent, you'd be well advised to update your résumé. Appropriately valuing the symphony means rejecting the big lie — that's what it is — that San Antonio is too poor and lowbrow to afford a luxury like a symphony orchestra. The issue isn't money. The issue is values." San Antonio Express-News 03/02/03

Forget the Women And Children! Board Members First! The entire board of the financially shaky Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has resigned after learning that its members could be on the hook for more than a million dollars if the organization were to file for bankruptcy. The resignations occurred after the WSO was informed that its liability coverage was being cut back from $2 million to $1 million. The orchestra is operating under a CDN$1.8 million deficit. For now, the WSO is being run by a 6-member management committee, and the provincial culture ministry is promising to help the organization make payroll in the short term. CBC 03/04/03

  • Pushing Ahead Members of the Winnipeg Symphony management team, as well as leaders among the musicians, are moving to assure the public and the press that the mass resignation of the orchestra's board does not mean that the organization is near filing for bankruptcy. But while the ensemble does not appear to be in imminent danger of collapse, "since the extent of its financial troubles became known late last fall, the WSO has lost three of its four professional fundraisers and three chief executive officers." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/05/03

March 4, 2003

SF Opera Cuts Touring Program San Francisco Opera, looking to cut its budget, has canceled its annual touring program - Western Opera Theatre. "When I looked at my budget, the most obvious thing to cut was (Opera Theater), because it's a horrifically expensive thing that we always have lost money on." The program was designed "to bring opera to remote and underserved locations," but director Sheri Greenawald said the program had become "a dinosaur. In many ways, (Opera Theater) was no longer serving its initial mission, which was to take opera into the hinterlands - because as far as opera is concerned, there are very few hinterlands left." San Francisco Chronicle 03/04/03

Will The Big Five Recording Companies Become The Big Three? The recording industry is talking merger again. In this shrinking market, the savings that might be squeezed from a merger offer a lifeline. In the past, European regulators have been an obstacle, repeatedly blocking mergers among the big five record companies—Vivendi's Universal Music, Sony Music, EMI, AOL Time Warner's Warner Music, and Bertelsmann's BMG—which between them control 70% of the global recorded-music market. In 2000, they blocked a merger of Warner and EMI by imposing heavy divestment conditions. They stopped EMI marrying BMG even before a formal proposal was tabled." But with the industry's current woes, the merger proposition might get a more sympathetic hearing. The Economist 03/03/03

Setting The Price Of Music "After years of denial and confusion, belligerence and panic, most of the big record labels have coalesced around a set of prices at which they will make almost all of their music available to an ever-expanding array of legal online services." The New York Times 03/04/03

Houston Symphony To Musicians: Take Pay Cut Or We'll make You Take It The Houston Symphony said Monday that "the organization is dealing with a 'flat-out crisis' in its finances and the 97 musicians need to accept an average 7.4 percent pay cut. The players have until Saturday to decide or risk having the society impose the cut, which it has authority to do under U.S. labor law. Musicians still would have the right to strike." Nando Times (AP) 03/03/03

Berlin's Opera Battles "The future of government-sponsored opera in Berlin may be in the balance. In practice, even more is at stake. In a peculiar way over the last three years the opera story has become a gauge of the still volatile relations between the two halves of this long-divided city and even a test of Germany's willingness to give Berlin the profile of a genuine capital city." The New York Times 03/04/03

Time To Abolish Queen's Master Musician? With the death of the latest Master of the Queen's Music, maybe it's time to abolish the position. "There is little evidence that Her Majesty takes much interest in music (Her website finds room for the Master of the Horse but not, alas, of the Music). As with the poet laureate, one's heart bleeds for anyone given the unenviable task of having to write memorial verse or songs for most royal or state occasions. So the kindest thing might be quietly to declare the job redundant. That would be a shame. There have been many undistinguished composers since the first Master in 1626, but also many distinguished ones - including Bax and Elgar." The Guardian (UK) 03/04/03

  • Reinvent It - Maybe A Musician Laureate? Maybe it's time to revitalize the idea of a Queen's Musician. "Of course the whole notion of having a master of the queen's music is an anachronism, especially with a royal family that shows little obvious interest in the arts, but then so, equally, is the role of the poet laureate, and the present holder of that post, Andrew Motion, at least has shown how a nebulous role can be used effectively. There are plenty of issues that a publicly confident and committed master of the queen's music could get behind, numerous ways in which he or she could promote new music and expand its audience." The Guardian (UK) 03/04/03

UK Government Backs Down On Live Performnce Licensing British culture minister Kim Howells has bowed to objections by musicians and withdrawn a bill that would have required pubs to license live music. "Musicians believe the bill would have a devastating impact on the number of venues where they can perform. Says Howells: "We saw it as a civilising bill, relaxing licensing laws, cutting down on bureaucracy. It was only when it started going through the Lords we realised how it would be interpreted." The Guardian (UK) 03/04/03

March 3, 2003

Taking Aim At Norah - Critics Pile On Norah Jones Everyone's focusing on Norah Jones, who won big at the Grammys last week. "Sure, listeners worldwide love her, scooping up 6 million copies of her debut album, 'Come Away With Me.' Yes, the album has been on The Billboard 200 chart for 52 weeks. And fine, Grammy voters awarded her best new artist, best pop vocal album, album of the year, record of the year and song of the year honors." So why are critics taking pot shots at her? Chicago Tribune 03/02/03

March 2, 2003

Lost Beethoven Concerto Is Performed A lost Beethoven oboe concerto got a performance this weekend. "Two Dutch Beethoven enthusiasts have pieced together the musical clues, put them into 18th-century orchestral context and reconstructed the second movement of the only oboe concerto Beethoven ever wrote. The slow, melodic Largo movement of the Oboe Concerto in F Major was performed Saturday night in Rotterdam and billed as a 'world premiere' - even though the full concerto was performed at least once before, 210 years ago." Nando Times (AP) 03/02/03

The Closing Of A New-Music Friend The closing of the new-music label CRI in January changed the classical music landscape. "CRI, for many listeners, was not just an entree into new music but appealed to an anarchic way of listening: adventurously, without expectations, and individually, as an explorer of sound unfettered by what authorities (critics, professors, pompous friends) dictate. Young listeners, tired of whatever music they were weaned on, could find music on CRI that was, by virtue of being the forgotten avant-garde of 20 years before, far more foreign and fascinating than the newest of the new." Washington Post 03/02/03

Touring Orchestras - A Guaranteed Money-Loser "It now costs about $1 million a week to send an orchestra on an international tour - maybe more. A million dollars might do if you're talking about a standard 100-player orchestra. But some orchestras need more." And the presenter of an orchestra is guaranteed to lose money too. "If we sell every seat in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, we are guaranteed to lose up to $50,000 per concert. However, if it's a really special orchestra, our losses will go up dramatically. It's quite a business." Washington Post 03/02/03

Prokofiev - Great Music, Lousy Timing Prokofiev's legacy has been marred by contradictions. "He produced some of the sprightliest, most ingenious and most enduringly popular music of the 20th century. Yet Prokofiev's career was also, in the brisk summation of music historian Francis Maes, 'a succession of misjudgments,' marked by flawed calculations on the artistic, personal and political fronts." San Francisco Chronicle 03/02/03

San Antonio - The Costs Of Losing A Symphony Orchestra What will it mean if the San Antonio Symphony goes out of business for lack of money? "A symphony orchestra is like the canary in the mine. If the bird stops singing, it's a good bet the air isn't safe for anybody to breathe. To be blunt, if the San Antonio Symphony goes silent, you'd be well advised to update your résumé. Appropriately valuing the symphony means rejecting the big lie — that's what it is — that San Antonio is too poor and lowbrow to afford a luxury like a symphony orchestra. The issue isn't money. The issue is values." San Antonio Express-News 03/02/03

Why Is The Philadelphia Orchestra Missing Out On Recording? There was a time that the Philadelphia Orchestra dominated classical recording. Not anymore. Even projects that seem like naturals for the orchestra are going elsewhere. It's not that recording companies are going out of their way to exclude the orchestra, writes David Patrick Stearns. But maybe the orchestra hasn't made a strong enough case for itself as a candidate to record... Philadelphia Inquirer 03/02/03

Vanity Books Set To Music So you have a song you've written. So you hire pros to finish it up and record it. "The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush'' collects 28 mind-bendingly strange and very funny songs paid for by amateur lyricists and recorded by hard-up professional singers and musicians. 'It's the only scam I know of where each transaction is a unique work of art. Of course the work of art isn't always great. These are vanity books set to music. But that's what makes it so interesting. You have these very talented musicians working very rapidly to fulfill a quota of so many songs per hour, and sometimes the results transcend the limitations of the form'." Boston Herald 03/02/03

CDs With A Different Commercial Purpose Tour-only CDs are catching on with indie-label musicians and their fans. They're 'low-concept, short-production-run discs typically sold only at concerts and usually recorded live or in the artist's home-studio. Tour discs might contain early versions of songs that will make it onto future label releases, unedited recordings of live shows, or a selection of what will ultimately turn out to be rareties. For musicians it's a "chance to raise a little bit of extra cash while they're out on the road, the opportunity to experiment musically in the presence of a friendly audience, or simply a way to provide music without worrying about whether it's the best artistic or career move." Boston Globe 03/02/03

Home | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
Copyright ©
2002 ArtsJournal. All Rights Reserved