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May 31, 2004

NY Phil Tests Handheld Concert PDA The New York Philharmonic tests a new handheld device that beams information to audience members while the orchestra performs. "The device, nicknamed CoCo by its creators, also features program notes and video images, all delivered in real time from a computer backstage. Think of Cliff Notes for the musically challenged." The New York Times 05/29/04

Pulitzer Music Category Expanding The Pulitzer Prizes are expanding in the music category, broadening the award in music that would "open the door to musical theater scores, film scores and works containing large elements of improvisation, in theory even an improvised jam session with a jazz ensemble. The move is sure to win plaudits in some circles, especially in Hollywood, on Broadway and within organizations like Jazz at Lincoln Center, while provoking criticism among more traditional composers at many of America's universities." The New York Times 06/01/04

Split Shift - Levine Prepares For Boston James Levine's job at the Metropolitan Opera will change as he head to Boston. "What is the prognosis now that he is about to take over the music directorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra? His title at the Met is being notched down from artistic director to music director, an acknowledgment that he will be away in Boston too much (12 weeks of concerts in addition to tours) to maintain the involvement he has had at the Met for more than 30 years. At the least, he will be less present to press for his vision with the executive committee of the board." The New York Times 05/30/04

San Jose Orchestra Looks Forward To New Hall Symphony Silicon Valley is two years old. This fall the orchestra moves into a newly renovated theatre in San Jose, armed with high hopes the building will add excitement. "The new orchestra is fighting to establish a persona and an audience, trying to stay within budget and to keep its musicians working. With so few performances its first two seasons, it's stressful. 'It feels like we're starting from scratch each time'." San Jose Mercury-News 05/30/04

Rankin: Why Abandon Scottish Opera? Author Ian Rankin unleashed an attack on the Scottish government for leaving the fate of Scottish Opera in question. "The Inspector Rebus novelist warned that the Executive had failed to answer crucial questions over the future of the beleaguered company, which this week faces the prospect of being forced to 'downsize' in order to meet ministerial budgets." The Scotsman 05/31/04

Australia's Problem Orchestras So Australia is conducting a review of the state of its orchestras. "The reality is that orchestras in Australia are in the same position as many overseas - they are living on borrowed time. Lacklustre management, poor commercial focus and lack of ground-breaking ideas are all found in varying degrees." The Age (Melbourne) 06/01/04

May 28, 2004

Is Censorship Killing Music? "Many countries around the world, including the US, censor music in various ways, according to the Free Muse organisation, which advocates free musical expression around the globe. Censorship is particularly severe in a number of developing countries, where music can have a big impact on those who hear it, they say." BBC 05/28/04

May 27, 2004

Kessler Departing American Music Center Richard Kessler is stepping down as director of the American Music Center. "Kessler is widely credited within the industry for refocusing the AMC at a crucial time in its history and securing the financial foundation needed to support the organization's mission. When he came on board in 1997, the AMC employed only three staff members and was faced with a record deficit. His first budget was approximately $1 million; this grew to almost $5 million in 2002. This year, following six straight years of surplus budgets, the Center has a staff of 14, a $300,000-plus cash reserve, and an endowment of over $3 million." NewMusicBox 05/26/04

A Call For Elitism Classical music's audience needs to get younger, and fast, writes John Bennett, and getting the educated youth into the concert hall will require a controversial tactic. "Classical music has never been, nor should it be, a mass culture staple, but that doesn't mean its audience has to be doddering. High art has always been created to be enjoyed by those who are educated to appreciate it... So if the classical music establishment wants to lure young listeners, the real task is to reassert the absolute value of the Western art music tradition. In other words, classical music leaders must challenge today's entrenched post-counterculture relativism that sees a Schubert symphony as the equivalent of the latest White Stripes album." Boston Globe 05/27/04

Third CEO's A Charm (We Hope) The troubled Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountain region has hired its third CEO since opening last August. Richard Bryant is tasked with cleaning up the vast mess left by his two predecessors: the center opened to great fanfare and the promise of becoming the summer home of the Pittsburgh Symphony, then went belly up midway through its first year. State legislators are considering a bailout package for the project. Wilkes-Barre (PA) Times Leader (second item) 05/27/04

The Australian Orchestra Crisis As government researchers prepare to mount a major review of Australia's symphony orchestras, many in the industry have begun anew the old debate of whether such massive ensembles are worth the subsidy they require to stay afloat. The Sydney Symphony may have found a way out of the vicious cycle of deficit - through a combination of layoffs, cutbacks, and musician agreements to perform in hospitals, sports arenas, and commercial advertisements - but for many smaller ensembles without the benefit of Sydney's tourism draw, there seem to be very few answers. Sydney Morning Herald 05/27/04

Classical Salesmanship & The Curse Of Beauty The classical music world has always liked to consider itself above such plebeian niceties as marketing or salesmanship. Still, artists like Lara St. John, who appeared on her first album cover wearing nothing but a violin held across her bare chest, force everyone to confront the fact that sex and physical beauty sell albums, whether you're hawking Bach or rock. But for St. John, her lithe and alluring frame has been a double-edged sword. Yes, it got her noticed, but classical snobs have a habit of dumping everything that looks pretty into the much-derided "crossover" bin, and for St. John, a serious artist who plays serious music, that creates a distressing image gap. The New York Times 05/27/04

May 26, 2004

Pavarotti: 1.5 Billion In The Audience - Top That! Lucian Pavarotti on tenors singing pop music: "Some say the word 'pop' is derogatory and means 'not important' - I do not accept that. If the word 'classical' is the word to mean 'boring', I do not accept that either. There is good and bad music. With one Three Tenors concert, we sang to one-and-a-half billion people. I don't think Caruso sang to more than 100,000 people in his entire career." The Guardian (UK) 05/27/04

Mimi And Rodolfo In Trafalgar Square The English National Opera will produce La Boheme this summer in the middle of Trafalgar Square. The production is expected to draw an audience of 8,000. Tens of thousands more are likely to spill over on to surrounding pavements, the steps of the National Gallery and any space near enough to catch the amplified sound. La Bohème is the first opera to be put on in the square, an event that will trump the impresario Raymond Gubbay's recent success in staging the same work in the Albert Hall." The Guardian (UK) 05/27/04

Terfel Wins Classical Bit Prize "Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel won the prizes for best album and male artist at this year's Classical Brit awards. Italian opera star Cecilia Bartoli was named best female artist at the event, held at London's Royal Albert Hall. British conductor Sir Simon Rattle won orchestral album of the year for his recording of Beethoven's Symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic." BBC 05/26/04

Why Crossover Rules How is it that classical "crossover" has come to dominate the classical music business? Indeed, most of the artists and recordings that dominate the classical list these days are crossover... BBC 05/26/04

Small Town, Big Drama Another conductor controversy has broken out in a small North American city. This time the showdown is in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where the board of the La Crosse Symphony has voted narrowly to dismiss conductor Amy Mills, after musicians in the orchestra complained bitterly about her musicianship. But some board members are furious at the way the vote was conducted, saying that two uncounted proxy votes in favor of Mills were not counted because they would have swung the vote in favor of retaining her past 2005. La Crosse Tribune 05/26/04

May 25, 2004

Music As Predicted By Math "The power of music to convey a certain emotion can now be predicted by a mathematical model, an Australian psychologist has found." Discovery 05/26/04

Music Sales Up Sharply Sales of music in the US are up 9 percent this year, and some recording execs are predicting a recovery in the global music business: "If this is the result of a combined formula of anti-piracy lawsuits knocking people off file-sharing sites and the massive adoption of legal services and a spike in CD sales then it could be good news for everyone." BBC 05/25/04

"Rings" Soundtrack Scores In Phoenix The Phoenix Symphony makes all sorts of new fans and sells a record number of tickts as it presents a "Lord of the Rings" symphony, taken from Howard Shore's movie soundtrack. Arizona Republic 05/23/04

KC Symphony Search Narrows The Hunt The Kansas City Symphony has narrowed its search for a music director to three candidates, and it's clear that standing in front of musicians isn't the only thing the orchestra is looking for... Kansas City Star 05/25/04

May 24, 2004

A Bad Night For Levine And The Met James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra finish up their Carnegie season on a down note. Why? "It's futile to speculate on whether any of this reflects the effects of recent public discussion of long-standing concerns about unexplained tremors in Mr. Levine's left arm and leg and whether tension was created in the orchestra by its members' willingness to voice their doubts in The New York Times in an article on May 1. The only effect one can state with certainty is the huge outpouring of love and support from the audience every time Mr. Levine conducts. The only reason to raise the issue is that one wants to find a reason for the poor quality beyond simple fatigue at the end of a long season." The New York Times 05/25/04

The Enduring Stride And Swing "Few pop idols survive changing fashions unscathed, but Glen Miller and Fats Waller seem to have done just that. One might have expected the renown of Glenn Miller, a hard-nosed martinet who devised the big-band sound most associated with reveries of the nineteen-forties, to fade with memories of the war in which he lost his life. Instead, critics who once denigrated him as a humorless purveyor of diluted swing, banal novelties, and saccharine vocals are reassessing a sound that clings relentlessly to the collective memory. The ongoing preëminence of Thomas (Fats) Waller is perhaps less of a surprise, given the dazzle of his pianism, the thumping pleasures of his small band, and the frequent hilarity of his satire." The New Yorker 05/24/04

Veggie Orchestra Cuts A Novel Sound "The sound of 90 pounds of finely tuned cucumbers, leeks, potatoes, radishes, peppers and other vegetables entertained a German audience at a weekend concert by the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra. The nine-piece orchestra plays a range of original compositions on instruments constructed from vegetables -- including a flute made from a carrot, a saxophone carved out of a cucumber and a pumpkin converted into a double bass." MSNBC (Reuters) 05/24/04

Leak On Scottish Opera Puts Minister On Defensive Last week a Scottish government official leaked word to the press about a funding deal for Scottish Opera. "The deal would see the cash-strapped company given a final £5m bailout on condition that it overhauls its working practices, making chorus members part-time and relinquishing the running of its base in Glasgow, the Theatre Royal. The leak angered Scottish Opera officials and the proposal dismayed the arts community. The first minister was accused of having a hand in the story." And now the leak itself has turned into a story... The Guardian (UK) 05/24/04

London On Top? Is London the capital of the classical music world? That's the claim by the city's musicians who point to the city's busy concert scenes and its five symphony orchetras. BBC 05/24/04

May 23, 2004

Performing Music Remotely Over Internet2 Classical music organizations are finding ways to use Internet2, the next generation of internet, "with enough broadband capacity to transmit huge quantities of data, including CD-quality sound and DVD-quality images, at as much as 250 megabytes per second (more than 4,000 times the rate of a standard dial-up modem; more than 800 times that of a cable modem). The New World Symphony is using it a lot, setting up coaching sessions, lessons and other interactions with top-flight professionals around the country." The New York T imes 05/22/04

The Return of the Protest Song? "Is folk music getting its political hackles up? It has often been the soundtrack of American protest, from the labor movement of the early 20th century through the civil rights and antiwar movements of the '50s and '60s. Now, in the midst of our longest and most controversial war since Vietnam, is history repeating itself? There are definite signs that this summer's folk-festival crowds may hear more political songs than they have in many years." Boston Globe 05/23/04

Jansons Exits Pittsburgh America is a tough place to be a music director, and even some of the world's greatest conductors eventually decide that the constant strain is just more work than it's worth. Case in point: Mariss Jansons, who this weekend conducted his final performances at the helm of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. "Many things didn't work out the way he would have liked or else Jansons wouldn't be leaving so soon -- after only seven years. But he is a class act, a committed servant of the music and above all a good person." Jansons leaves the PSO an ensemble transformed, but with an uncertain artistic future. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 05/22/04

Is Acoustic Science Killing the Concert Hall Acoustical engineering is an especially tricky business. Just ask anyone who has been in charge of designing the sound of a major concert hall over the last half-century. "Over the last 50 years, more computing power has been applied to acoustic data than ever before, but most big halls have turned out to be dry and pale frames for music." In fact, as acoustic science has advanced, concert halls have arguably regressed, sounding more like glorified loudspeakers or hi-fi sets than chambers of orchestral sound. Perhaps the problem is the desire to build a hall that can be all things to all people, or the corruption of our ears and minds by recorded sound. But whatever the problem, one thing seems clear: they just don't build 'em like they used to. The New York Times 05/22/04

Reinventing the Wheel in St. Paul One year ago, the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra agreed to a new contract which would fundamentally change the way the ensemble operates. The position of music director will soon be eliminated in favor of a network of "artistic partners" who the SPCO hopes will bring star power and musical expertise to the organization. "Perhaps even more significantly, decision-making, formerly the responsibility of top management and the music director, would now be the work of two committees, each composed of three musicians and two management personnel, a ratio that puts musicians in the driver's seat." The rest of the American orchestra industry is watching St. Paul closely, if skeptically. Minneapolis Star Tribune 05/23/04

Concern For The Future Down Under The Australian government is undertaking a national study of the country's orchestras and opera companies, to determine whether the current funding formula is capable of supporting struggling arts scenes in cities and states across the continent. Of particular concern is the Melbourne music scene, where Opera Australia has steadily reduced the number of annual productions from 11 to 6 in the last decade. The last time such a review was conducted, the review team recommended that Melbourne's two orchestras be merged, and only an outcry from the local arts community prevented the merger. The Age (Melbourne) 05/21/04

  • Previously: Opera Australia Funding Crippling Company's Activities Opera Australia posts its second annual deficit. The company's chief executive says Victorians were "not getting the opera they deserved. He said the company could not afford to service Melbourne as it would like unless the Victorian Government increased its contribution. 'The funding level of the company is too little to do all the activities that are asked of the company and the cost of staging opera in Melbourne had been seriously underestimated when the formula was drawn up in 2000. As a result, Victorians were now seeing fewer productions." The Age (Melbourne) 05/20/04
May 21, 2004

One Ringy Dingy Hate the sound of cell phones ringing? Music producers don't. For them, ring tones are a huge and growing business. "In 2004, your average record company executive is more likely to stifle a cheer every time he hears a tinny version of a chart hit bleeping from a nearby Nokia. According to some sources, the mobile phone ringtone has come to save the music industry. Last year, mobile phone users spent $3 billion on them. They account for 10% of the world's music market." The Guardian (UK) 05/21/04

Milwaukee Symphony Cuts Budget And Staff The Milwuakee Symphony is cutting "more than $2 million off its $17 million operating budget" and laying off 17 employees in an attempt to balance its budget. Additional cost reductions will come from other areas of the organization over three years. The layoffs come as the MSO stops the practice of dipping into its unrestricted endowment fund for operating cash." Milwaukee Business Journal 05/20/04

May 20, 2004

Where's That Philly Sound? Is the Philadelphia Orchestra slipping a few steps? "With a new performance space, and a European tour imminent under a new director, all seems rosy enough superficially. But there have recently been mutterings in the press about strife beneath the surface, including difficult contract negotiations for the players and arguments about poor acoustics at the Kimmel Centre. But then in Philadelphia, there is a sense, more than other places I've been, that the orchestra is a potent symbol, an ambassador of the city, and everyone you meet has an opinion about it." The Telegraph (UK) 05/18/04

Opera Australia Funding Crippling Company's Activities Opera Australia posts its second annual deficit. The company's chief executive says Victorians were "not getting the opera they deserved. He said the company could not afford to service Melbourne as it would like unless the Victorian Government increased its contribution. 'The funding level of the company is too little to do all the activities that are asked of the company and the cost of staging opera in Melbourne had been seriously underestimated when the formula was drawn up in 2000. As a result, Victorians were now seeing fewer productions." The Age (Melbourne) 05/20/04

Milwaukee Symphony - Good And Bad News The Milwaukee Symphony picks up an influential new chairman for its board. The orchestra has also extended music director Andreas Delfs' contract by three years. "These positive developments come at a low point in the MSO's fortunes. Attendance has fallen for several seasons, the value of the endowment has slipped to $28 million from a high of over $40 million in 2000, and contributed income has been soft since the economic downturn in 1999. As of March 31, the symphony's debt stood at $7.1 million, with a credit ceiling of $9 million. That debt includes a projected $3 million shortfall for operations during the current season." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 05/20/04

Electronic Sheet Music The MusicPad Pro Plus is a five-pound tablet computer that displays music scores. "The $1,200 device, with a 12-inch liquid-crystal-display touchscreen, is the first of a class of computers that enable musicians to store music and edit it onscreen. Soon it will also allow them to communicate with one another over wireless networks. In much the way that portable digital audio players have changed the way people consume tunes, tablets like the MusicPad are changing the way musicians use sheet music, which is so compact that it can be digitally stockpiled far more cost-effectively than MP3 audio files." The New York Times 05/20/04

A Dumpster Full of Unanswered Questions So Peter Stumpf has his priceless Stradivarius cello back, thanks (apparently) to the benevolence of a woman who was ready to turn it into a CD rack. But why won't anyone at the L.A. Phil, Stumpf included, answer questions about the incident? Simple embarrassment might be part of the reason, but some observers speculate that the owner of a valuable instrument is much better off if the world doesn't have a lot of details about what harm may have come to it. In fact, the world of high-end instrument dealing is so shady these days that it doesn't seem unlikely that the Philharmonic might be hiding some of what it knows about the case of the stolen cello. The Christian Science Monitor 05/20/04

  • Previously: Stolen Strad Recovered In Dumpster The Stradivarius cello stolen from a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic a few weeks ago has been recovered. A woman found it damaged in a dumpster and took it home, asking her boyfriend if he might be able to repair it. "The woman also told her boyfriend that if he couldn't, the cello might make an unusual compact disc case. 'Thank God my boyfriend doesn't work too quickly on things of mine'." Los Angeles Times 05/18/04

Jansons in Pittsburgh: Well Worth The Effort Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the impending departure of Pittsburgh Symphony music director Mariss Jansons is the memory of how long it took the orchestra to adjust to its leader. Jansons's style was so different from that of his predecessor, Loren Maazel, that it was several years before musicians and conductor seemed to feel at ease with each other. But the result of the collaboration has been widely deemed to be worth all the effort spent building a rapport - in recent years, the PSO has been hailed by critics as regularly coming up with "once-in-a-lifetime" performances. Jansons bows out this weekend, with the ultimate curtain-closer: Beethoven's 9th. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 05/20/04

NY Phil To Renovate Hall (Again) It was 1976 when the New York Philharmonic, in an effort to improve the acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall, gutted the place and mounted a huge renovation. It didn't help much, and last year, the Phil, not wanting to run the risk of another unsuccessful construction project, attempted a merger with Carnegie Hall. The merger fell through very publicly when the boards of the two organizations couldn't reconcile their schedules and goals, and the orchestra was once again stuck with Lincoln Center. Now, the plan for a new renovation of Avery Fisher is back on, at an expected cost of $300 million. Construction won't begin until 2009, and the Phil will have to find a new temporary home for a couple of seasons during the renovation. The New York Times 05/20/04

  • No Guarantees The New York Philharmonic has no guarantee that a new Avery Fisher Hall will be any acoustically better than the one it has now. Still, it's a $300 million risk worth taking, says Anthony Tommasini, and not only for acoustical reasons. "The Philharmonic is exploring a bold plan to remove some 350 of its 2,738 seats to make room for a smaller recital hall. Quite apart from acoustics, the hall has long seemed an impersonal and inefficient public space. So these changes would be welcome, perhaps even exciting." The New York Times 05/20/04

All That Fuss Over A Hunk Of Wood The science of violin-making hasn't changed much since the days when Antonio Stradivari cranked out some of the greatest instruments known to man. But the music world has changed, in ways both subtle and obvious - top-quality instruments are now bought and sold for unthinkably high prices, and the science behind them is examined in all its minutiae by individuals hoping to unlock the secrets of the great masters. For one American luthier, the quest for the perfect instrument is quixotic, but fulfilling nonetheless. Washington Times 05/20/04

Comeback of the Moog What would classic rock music have been without Bob Moog? The New York engineer's musical invention - the world's first playable music synthesizer - revolutionized the genre when it debuted in the late 1960s, and helped keyboardists to emerge as important figures in rock music. "After a long legal battle, Bob Moog not long ago won back the rights to start marketing synthesizers in his name. The timing couldn't have been better. After years in the shadows of digital keyboards and software-based synths, the fat bass and piercing highs of analog keyboards have re-emerged -- big time." Wired 05/20/04

May 19, 2004

Study: Teaching Music Is A Health Hazard "The clash of cymbals, blast of recorders and off-key choirs mean music teachers are exposed to noise levels that can cause hearing loss, concludes a University of Toronto engineering study released yesterday." Toronto Star 05/19/04

Thielemann Quits Deutsche Oper "Christian Thielemann is quitting as music director of Berlin's Deutsche Oper in a dispute with the city government over scarce funding, the opera said Tuesday. His departure follows years of bickering over the future of Berlin's three opera houses as the capital tries to balance its cultural ambitions with $57 billion of municipal debt. Thielemann has complained that the rival Staatsoper, headed by Daniel Barenboim, was getting a better deal and demanded equal treatment." Chicago Tribune (AP) 05/19/04

  • The War Behind The Words The fierce battle between Daniel Barenboim and Christian Thielemann to become the one true leader of the Berlin opera scene was a tragic but inevitable conflict made necessary when the city decided that it could no longer afford to fully subsidize three full-time opera houses, says Martin Kettle. But Barenboim/Thielemann is more than a faceoff between two great artists scrapping over a common pool of money: it is a clash of ideologies, both musical and political. It is liberal versus conservative, innovator versus traditionalist, and Berlin is caught in the middle. The Guardian (UK) 05/19/04

Radiohead Frontman Gets BBC Composer Post The guitarist for the art-rock band Radiohead has been named the BBC's newest composer-in-residence. Jonny Greenwood will fill the role for the next two years, and is committed to composing at least one orchestral work in that time. Greenwood, who is a classically trained viola player, has never formally attempted composition before, although Radiohead's songs have been hailed by many in the art music world, and pianist Chris O'Riley has even transcribed them for solo piano. BBC 05/18/04

May 18, 2004

Chicago Lyric Back In The Black After last season's $1.1 million deficit, the Chicago Lyric Opera has bounced back with a surplus of $700,000 for the season that ended Mar. 21. The company sold more than 98 percent of its tickets this season. Chicago Sun-Times 05/18/04

Stolen Strad Recovered In Dumpster The Stradivarius cello stolen from a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic a few weeks ago has been recovered. A woman found it damaged in a dumpster and took it home, asking her boyfriend if he might be able to repair it. "The woman also told her boyfriend that if he couldn't, the cello might make an unusual compact disc case. 'Thank God my boyfriend doesn't work too quickly on things of mine'." Los Angeles Times 05/18/04

Haimovitz: Bach In The Clubs Cellist Matt Haimovitz has given up traditional concert life to play in nightclubs. "No one hearing Mr. Haimovitz at CBGB could doubt his integrity and passion as he continues a 50-state tour that included a performance at a pizza palace in Jackson, Miss. Still, just as there are trade-offs when restless young listeners go to a chamber music concert at a venerated recital hall where they are expected to sit quietly and pay attention, no drinking, no eating, there are trade-offs to hearing Mr. Haimovitz play at a place like CBGB, among them his use of reverberant amplification." The New York Times 05/18/04

May 17, 2004

Scottish Opera Gets Emergency Grant (But Company Cuts Are Made) The ailing Scottish Opera is to be given £5 million of public money to bail it out of a financial crisis on condition that its chorus members go part-time and administrative posts are cut. The opera's youth work could also be handed to a national youth arts company under plans to restructure the beleaguered organisation. Proposals to cut the 53-strong orchestra have been rejected, but the permanent contracts for the 35 chorus singers could be terminated, while administrative posts will also be scaled back." Glasgow Herald 05/17/04

Australian Inquiry Into Orchestras' Health The Australian government is opening an inquiry into the health of the country's six major symphony orchestras. "Three of the six symphony orchestras were flagged in a recent Australian National Audit Office report as having had difficulty continuing as going concerns in 2002, and two, the Adelaide and Queensland symphonies, will post deficits for 2003." The Australian 05/18/04

Ft. Wayne Phil To Post $300,000 Deficit "The Fort Wayne (Indiana) Philharmonic is expected to report a $300,000 budget shortfall at the close of the 2003-04 season and may have to mortgage its building." Indianapolis Star (AP) 05/17/04

Jansons Legacy At The Pittsburgh Symphony This week Mariss Jansons leaves his post as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. "Jansons inherited an ensemble of first-rate musicians. And with that beaming smile and charming personality, he navigated them to warmer artistic waters. If they were choppy at times, it's clear Pittsburgh and its orchestra ultimately benefited from him as captain, and he with them. The city that repaired his heart with a defibrillator and warmed it with a cordial writing campaign received in return the kind of passionate performances that result in the loftiest of musical standards." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 05/16/04

  • Who Will Succeed Jansons In Pittsburgh? "With potential candidates streaming into the vacuum next season -- including Marin Alsop, Martin Haselbock, Peter Oundjian and Mark Wigglesworth -- it may take a year even to name a designate. Pinchas Zukerman comes often next year as a pseudo music director and Hans Graf will lead the PSO on an important European tour in 2005, but both appear to be far down the list. Candidates such as Donald Runnicles, Alan Gilbert, Leonard Slatkin and Antonio Pappano may now be in the running, though they need to get in front of the orchestra." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 05/16/04

May 16, 2004

Music School Makes Big (Economic) Impact A recent study shows that the Cleveland Institute of Music "as an annual economic impact in Ohio of about $92.3 million. The firm surveyed students, faculty, staff and audience members to come up with the figure, which surprised even the Impact Economics consultant who did the study." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 05/16/04

Death Of The Small Record Store "Across the nation, record stores are being hit with a perfect storm of challenges. Aggressive competition from Best Buy and other big box retailers, Internet piracy, online music shopping and slumping CD sales have pushed many smaller stores out of business or to the brink of bankruptcy. The survivors are having to rework decades-old business models. And it's not just store owners who are singing a sad tune." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 05/16/04

A Downloading Plan That Pays Musicians Harvard professor Terry Fisher has unveiled a plan that would pay artists for their music and allow (even encourage) rampant downloading. "Fisher advocates an alternative compensation system that would pay artists based on the popularity of their music. Artists would first have to register their work with the copyright office, which would track how many times that work was downloaded. Revenue generated from taxes on things like Internet access and the sale of MP3 players would then be used to pay the artists." Wired 05/16/04

Scottish Opera's Impossible Position The entire board of Scottish Opera should resign to protest the impossible position the government has put them in. "Five years on from the devolution settlement and all those lofty words about the arts being put at the centre of Scottish life, the company’s programme has been cut to just one new production. It is facing hefty redundancies. Confidence is low. Morale among the 240 staff is at rock bottom. Given all the rhetoric expended by the arts and political establishment in Scotland, what is unfolding here is shocking, and the position in which the directors have been put is wholly invidious. They are effectively being asked by the Executive to collaborate in an attack on the artistic base which they as directors are duty bound to defend." The Scotsman 05/14/04

St. Louis Symphony Won't Go To Voters For Support The ailing St. Louis Symphony won't ask voters to join the city's zoo-museum district that distributes $50 million for St. Louis cultural institutions. "Some observers believe the St. Louis Symphony serves too wealthy an audience to need tax support. 'That is always going to hurt the Symphony. Most voters are not Symphony-goers, and they think it's elitist. Voters look at what they really need, and funding the Symphony would be one of the last things voters would support." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 05/14/04

May 13, 2004

In Bamberg: Looking For A Conductor Of Greatness The Bamberg Symphony stages a conducting competition, but not just any conducting competition. "In Bamberg, the entire city searched along with the orchestra for a person with charisma, an ear for music and a clear beat, with unmistakable body language and a feel for the orchestra as a social system. Such an unruly concert as that which was performed on the closing evening of the competition to such an enthusiastic audience at the same time is probably only conceivable in such an environment, where almost 10 percent of the population has a subscription to the local symphony orchestra and the musical ensemble is visibly supported by the city as a collective." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/14/04

A Challenger To Chicago Lyric Opera Emerges Chicago Opera Theatre was founded 30 years ago as n alternative to the Chicago Lyric Opera. But "with the appointment five years ago of former Glyndebourne chief Brian Dickie as general director, it has begun to offer productions with musical and theatrical qualities worthy of international attention. In its first season in the new, acoustically splendid, Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater, Chicago Opera fulfils its new promise with the much-belated Chicago premiere of Benjamin Britten's 1973 Death in Venice." Financial Times 05/12/04

Is Communication The Key In Pittsburgh? The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's new CEO, Lawrence Tamburri, has spent his first several months on the job attempting to improve the orchestra's climate of communication. From brown bag lunches with PSO musicians to private gladhanding sessions with the city's cultural and financial elite, Tamburri has reportedly done much in a short time to raise the PSO's profile and improve its image in the eyes of the community. But there could be a downside to the good word of mouth: a perception is beginning to develop that the PSO's financial problems are in the past, which could not be further from the truth. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 05/13/04

FBI Investigating Axelrod's NJSO Deal "The FBI is investigating the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's high-profile purchase last year of Stradivarius violins and other rare instruments from Herbert Axelrod, the philanthropist who fled to Cuba in April after his indictment on federal tax fraud charges... At issue in the NJSO deal is whether Axelrod inflated the value of the stringed instruments... to make himself eligible for a large tax write-off. Axelrod, 76, claimed the strings were worth $50 million, a figure that has since been roundly questioned by violin dealers and appraisers. Axelrod ultimately agreed to sell the collection to the New Jersey orchestra for $18 million." Newark Star-Ledger 05/13/04

Maybe A Set Of Handcuffs Would Help? Why can't classical musicians hold on to their priceless instruments? "In January, violinist Gidon Kremer left his $3-million Guarneri del Gesu violin on an Amtrak train. In 1999, New York police helped Yo-Yo Ma recover his $2.5-million Stradivarius cello after he left it in a New York taxi. And two years later, cellist Lynn Harrell also left his $4-million Stradivarius in a taxi, when he got out at his New York apartment." Throw in the recent theft of L.A. Phil cellist Peter Stumpf's $3.5 million cello, which he left overnight on his front doorstep, and the question has to be asked: are we really supposed to feel sympathy for such forgetful musicians? Los Angeles Times 05/13/04

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's... a musical landscape? A fleet of hot air balloons hovering over the UK city of Birmingham awakened residents this week with a specially designed "musical landscape... Although the music devised by sleep psychologists was designed to stimulate sweet dreams, balloon pilots watched residents run out into the street to observe the fleet hovering just a few hundred feet above them. The early morning stunt marked the launch of Birmingham’s bid for a share in a £15 million Arts Council fund for promoting cultural events, backed by Fierce!, an international festival of live art." The Scotsman (UK) 05/13/04

When Things Look Dark, Innovate How real is the threat to orchestral music that critics and pundits are always writing about? Real but not dire, says Henry Fogel, former Chicago Symphony chief and current head of the American Symphony Orchestra League. Fogel points out that, of the various art forms used as popular entertainment, only concert music has remained unchanged in its presentation since the days of Brahms and Beethoven. That's a problem, since modern audiences have come to expect innovative presentation in theaters and museums, and orchestras are perceived as stodgy and boring as a result. Fogel also cites the lack of music education in schools as a factor in the form's decline, calling the current system of American arts education "a disaster." Rocky Mountain News (Denver) 05/13/04

Orchestra Prez: We're Fine, Thanks For Not Asking The president of the Charleston (SC) Symphony Orchestra is upset with a local critic who has been speculating in print that the CSO is "reportedly on the verge of collapse." Ted Halkyard would like to know who, exactly, is reporting such a rumor to the critic, since the critic himself never contacted the orchestra to inquire into its financial situation. Halkyard insists that the CSO is regaining its financial footing after a cash crisis in the summer of 2003 threatened its future. Charleston Post & Courier 05/13/04

May 12, 2004

Hockey Opera Sells Out Prague "With subjects such as television reality shows providing fodder for contemporary opera, why not sports? Martin Smolka’s Nagano, an opera in three periods plus overtime, relates the Czechs’ victory at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, having come near but never achieving the gold four times in 50 years." Financial Times 05/11/04

Cut-Rate Opera Doesn't Fly Why did Raymond Gubbay's Savoy Opera fail so quickly? "Gubbay was selling the Savoy Opera as unexceptional everyday West End fare, without the 'snobbery' and 'elitism' that supposedly put "ordinary" folk off. But what came across, I think, was an unfortunate impression of mediocrity. And Joe Public never wants to pay good money for that. Precisely the opposite, in fact." The Telegraph (UK) 05/13/04

A Bad Night At The ENO Richard Dorment vows never again to set foot in the English National Opera. "When the curtain finally fell, I did something I've never done in a lifetime of opera going – joined in booing the director Phyllida Lloyd when she came on stage to take her bow. The sound came out involuntarily, an expression of pure hatred directed at a person who had so wantonly done violence to a beloved work of art. Had I a rotten tomato to hand, it would have given me great pleasure to throw it." The Telegraph (UK) 05/13/04

Apple Looks To Expand Its Library With Apple's iTunes service an unqualified success in the lucrative music-downloading business, the company is setting its sights on a massive expansion of the library of music available digitally. Consumers are coming to expect that iTunes will be able to come up with the music they want to hear, even if it's obscure or out of print, and the company's team of song-hunters are determined to convince record companies to open their vaults and license more songs for digital release. Wired 05/12/04

May 11, 2004

Jazz As Institution (Lincoln Center) "Jazz at Lincoln Center's first season in its $128 million new home in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle will be a dialogue between the music and where it will be played. It's a program — starting in the fall and to be announced today — that has been carefully thought out from the moment the organization began to conceive the hall's physical space six years ago." The New York Times 05/12/04

  • A Home For Jazz Jazz at Lincoln Center is "the world's first performance center built for jazz, and the hall represents a milestone for jazz as an American art form. Construction is scheduled to be completed in July, and opening night, after a summer of private "tuning" concerts and adjustments, is set for Oct. 18. The project commits $128 million and prime real estate to recognize the lasting importance of music that was born in the streets." The New York Times 05/12/04

Attack Of The Alien Atonality Why is it, all these many years after atonality was introduced into music, that it still seems to shock listeners? And what is it about tonality that makes it seem familiar and easy to like? NewMusicBox 05/04

Degrading Experience - CD's Rotting Some consumers are finding that older CD's in their collection are degrading, suffering from "CD rot," a gradual deterioration of the data-carrying layer. It's not known for sure how common the blight is, but it's just one of a number of reasons that optical discs, including DVDs, may be a lot less long-lived than first thought. 'We were all told that CDs were well-nigh indestructible when they were introduced in the mid-'80s. Companies used that in part to justify the higher price of CDs as well." Washington Post 05/11/04

Dohnanyi's Cleveland Deficit Conductor Christophe von Dohnanyi has a busy international schedule. But curiously, his schedule conspiculously does not include Cleveland, where he was the orchestra's music director for 18 years. "Oddly, the Dohnanyi situation is a chilling case of Cleveland deja vu. For reasons sometimes clear and often not, the Cleveland Orchestra has a terrible record of bringing former music directors back to town." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 05/11/04

Last-Minute At The Met "You can spend a decade singing minor roles in residence at a major opera house. And another 10 years in the hinterlands, perfecting major roles with minor opera companies. And by the time your ducks are lined up, you're lucky to have a few years of good singing left, since opera stars, like professional athletes, have careers circumscribed by age and time. Too much too soon can kill a young voice. But too little too late can waste a singer's prime." So when a singer gets an opportunity to step in on short notice to sing at the Met... Philadelphia Inquirer 05/11/04

May 10, 2004

Disney's Unconventional Organ Disney Hall is an unconventional concert hall. So the organ designed for the hall should be unconventional too. Its builders "had to adjust the size, sound and volume of each of its 6,134 pipes to suit the acoustics of the four-tiered, 2,265-seat hall. They had to engineer a way to make huge display pipes in bizarre shapes, anchor them securely into the rest of the structure, and yet allow them to sound normally. And since earthquake faults run beneath downtown Los Angeles, they had to make the organ quakeproof." The New York Times 05/11/04

Student Composers - Looking For Heroes "Composers grow up with the idea that music is a game of heroes. In history books, they read that their forebears dazzled kings, electrified crowds, forged nations. Sooner or later, they come up against the disappointing realization that modern American culture has no space for a composer hero. That disappointment easily metastasizes into profound resentment, which no amount of success can dislodge. Indeed, the most famous composers are often the unhappiest." The New Yorker 05/10/04

May 9, 2004

Video Game Music Makes The Concert Stage Video game music is finding its way onto the concert stage. "A decade ago it would have been difficult to imagine that the beeping and whirring that accompanied most video games would have been worthy of the concert hall. But with the introduction of high-powered video-game consoles like Sony's PlayStation2 and Microsoft's Xbox, games could finally play on cue large audio files containing recordings of acoustic instruments instead of cheesy synthesized sounds. And as the game industry grew into an annual business of more than $7 billion, having high-quality music provided a competitive edge." The New York Times 05/10/04

Eschenbach's Bumpy First Year In Philly Christophe Eschenbach has been music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra for a year. So how's it going? "The orchestra's board and members are thrilled with Eschenbach's energetic community profile, his fund-raising success, his congenial personality. But a cloud of doubt hangs over the music-making. Eschenbach's relationship with the players, some inside and outside the orchestra have said, has been slow to jell." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/09/04

  • The Perpetual Music Director Search The Philadelphia Orchestra just hired a new music director, writes Peter Dobrin. But it's not too soon to be looking for his successor. "All the major orchestras have experienced change at the helm in the last decade; orchestras everywhere seem to be in a perpetual state of search. Chicago is looking for a new music director, and no sooner will it announce a choice than New York will reveal that it is in the market. Such is the pace of a peripatetic profession. Ideally, Philadelphia would be developing relationships with conductors now, so that when it finds itself looking for new leadership, an actual leader will already be in the pipeline." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/09/04

Cleveland Orchestra Re-Evaluates "The Cleveland Orchestra is facing an annual deficit of $4 million this season that will raise the accumulated deficit to a disquieting $7.5 million." The numbers are forcing a hard look at some of the orchestra's operations. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 05/09/04

National Treasure - Scottish Opera There's a debate in Scotland over the fate of Scottish Opera. The company has been a big critical success, but it's broke and in dancer of going out of business or being scaled back considerably. "Scottish Opera is, for those outside Scotland, one of the great cultural achievements of Scotland, and one of the great ambassadors for Scotland’s commitment to high culture. The Scottish Parliament is now the custodian of one of the great cultural institutions of the United Kingdom and people will be looking from all round the world to see how Scottish Opera now fares under this new autonomous government." The Scotsman 05/07/04

Low-Cost London Opera Experiment To Close London's new Savoy Opera, born only a month ago, and dedicated to presenting opera with affordable tickets, has decided to close. "We just haven't sold enough seats, and it's impossible under those circumstances for us to continue. But the experiment is not by any means over. We intend to review the situation. We are looking at why we were not selling enough and whether there is any way forward." The Guardian (UK) 05/09/04

  • Why The Savoy Failed Why did Raymond Gubbay's new Savoy Opera fail to make it? "The product was simply not good enough. For opera regulars the performing standards were very ordinary; coach parties would have found the stagings skimpy and unambitious, while general theatregoers, used to the zip and glitz of musicals with production budgets many times larger than the Savoy's, would have regarded the shows as village hall efforts. There was no razzmatazz, nothing striking enough to make an instant convert out of an opera sceptic, nothing you cannot see regularly at a decent music college production. Musically and dramatically, standards have simply not been high enough." The Guardian (UK) 05/09/04

Why Indie Music Has Hit The TV Big-Time "Since Moby's Play parlayed the blanket licensing of its track listing to innumerable TV ads into several million in record sales five years ago, it has become almost de rigueur for artists slightly outside the mainstream to let their songs sell Volkswagens and iPods. The stigma against "selling out" has faded considerably as artists from the Dandy Warhols to the Flaming Lips to Bob Dylan have conceded that a paycheque and the extra traffic at the record shop that comes with having your song drilled into people's heads 14 times a night are preferable to not selling at all." Toronto Star 05/09/04

May 8, 2004

Making The Moves On Steinway "Accusations of hard-knuckled dealing continue to circulate among titans of the keyboard as Bösendorfer and other manufacturers mount renewed challenges to Steinway's overwhelming dominance of the high-end piano market. Bösendorfer — a 175-year-old Austrian firm whose instruments were played by Liszt, Brahms, Dvorak and Bernstein — has now opened its first New York showroom and begun pushing to get its pianos more widely heard, and seen, on American concert stages. Bechstein — a venerable German maker whose 150th anniversary just coincided with Steinway's — introduced a newly designed concert grand in January. A relative newcomer, Fazioli, is attracting a following among performers, some of whom are running afoul of Steinway in the process." The New York Times 05/09/04

The Video Classical Concert Companion The New York Philharmonic is testing a a new handheld device that concert-goers could hold at performances and get real-time narration of the music. "The device will provide a play-by-play analysis of the music as the concertgoer listens. No pictures (so far), only words: the text changes every 15 to 20 seconds. Think sports patter, only highbrow, musical and blessedly mute." The New York Times 05/08/04

The Minnesota Way - Building A great Orchestra Critics are taking notice of the Minnesota Orchestra as it completes an impressive first season with new music director Osmo Vanska. So what's the secret to the orchestra's regeneration? "I found the morale (of the players) especially good here. The harder I made them work, the broader the smiles. They are an orchestra that knows they can do better than they have been asked and they want to show what they can do." Toronto Star 05/08/04

iTunes Expected To Raise Download Price Say goodbye to those 99-cent downloaded songs. "The five major record labels have been in negotiations recently with Apple over pricing and other issues associated with the year-old download service, which was launched to great fanfare last April. All five of the deals - with Universal, Sony, BMG, EMI and Warner Music - have already been signed, sources say, and the new pricing is already being rolled out for albums." Prices are expected to go up to $1.25 per track. New York Post 05/07/04

May 7, 2004

Opera At Pop Festival? Really? Opera at the pop orgy that is Glastonbury? And Wagner yet? What a concept. "All agreed that this was a landmark event, a marriage of opposites, the very thing that the word 'crossover' had been invented to describe. I'm surprised, frankly, that it's taken the festival organisers this long to make their point." The Telegraph (UK) 05/07/04

May 6, 2004

Rappin' The Word In Music Are you a music or a words person? That is - are the words or the music more important in a pop song? "To be sure, the music of much rap is minimal compared to, say, a Frank Sinatra ballad or George Martin's productions for the Beatles. In the eternal roundalay of melody, harmony and rhythm, rhythm has seized the spotlight. But that is merely a reflection of the steady evolution of 20th-century popular music, led by black music, that starts out underground and eventually conquers the mainstream." The New York Times 05/07/04

Anonymous Donor Covers Cincinnati's $1.8 Million Deficit The Cincinnati Symphony was fretting over what was looking to be a $1.8 million deficit this season. But then an anonymous donor stepped forward to cover the entire amount. "More than anything, today is a day to celebrate the incredible generosity of this community-minded individual. It's almost beyond comprehension, and it's inspiring." Akron Beacon-Journal (AP) 05/06/04

New Hampshire Pulls Out Of Money Woes The New Hampshire Symphony has announced it is close to solving its money problesm this year. "Back in February, the orchestra warned it could be forced to shorten its performance schedule or let go musicians should it fail to raise about $250,000 by June 30. Since that time, though, the position of the group’s finances has improved." The Union-Leader (New Hampshire) 05/06/04

Maligned Musicians Drop Lawsuit "Violinists from Bonn's Beethoven Orchestra have decided not to go ahead with their groundbreaking legal action in which they were suing for higher wages because they felt they played more than their colleagues in the woodwind and brass sections. [The musicians] agreed to drop their lawsuit, originally scheduled to have been heard by a labour court in Bonn on Thursday, and try and negotiate a compromise with the city authorities instead." The violinists had been widely ridiculed worldwide for their complaint, although many of the critics seemed unaware that many orchestras already pay string players extra salary, or allow them additional time off to compensate for the higher workload. The Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 05/06/04

Schwartz: Levine's Just Fine Lloyd Schwartz says that all the breathless speculation about James Levine's health is much ado about nothing. "Levine’s BSO performances have demonstrated no apparent diminishment of energy or quality. He conducts sitting down, but he’s far from the only major conductor to do so... Several musicians from the Met orchestra, who refused to be named, claimed that the maestro gets tired toward the end of five- or six-hour Wagner operas. Well, duh! — who wouldn’t? But has it hurt any performances? ... Is this front-page news? Musicians who were happy to be identified, both from the Met and from the BSO, had nothing but praise for Levine’s musicianship, conducting technique, and energy level." Boston Phoenix 05/07/04

  • News Flash: 6-Hour Operas Are Hard Work Justin Davidson is amused by the New York Times's breathless tone in describing the supposed physical deterioration of James Levine. "A few musicians in the Met orchestra have noticed that, halfway through a six-hour performance of Wagner's Die Walküre, the workaholic maestro was liable to exhibit symptoms of fatigue. If so, he is still showing the strain less than one 37-year-old critic with nothing more arduous to do than sit and listen. Suddenly, we are all vicarious hypochondriacs, listening to Levine's performances for signs of his decline." Newsday 05/06/04

May 5, 2004

Proms In The Digital Age London's annual Proms concerts have been reborn. "Digital and web technology has not only revolutionised universal awareness of the Proms, it has become an invaluable PR tool for the BBC. If the two-month event was ever in danger of being an expensive and cumbersome weight around the corporation’s neck, the Proms are now, without doubt, its greatest cultural showcase." The Scotsman 05/05/04

BBC 3 Giving Up Classical Diet? Is BBC3 giving up its commitment to broadcasting classical music? "They don't claim to be the classical music station any more and we feel sad about that. I think they desperately don't want that mantle." The Independent (UK) 05/05/04

  • Listeners Protest BBC 3's New Music Policy "The Friends of Radio 3 have launched an all-out assault on the station's controller Roger Wright and the way he has, since he took on the job six years ago, sought to widen its remit. Classical music, they complain, is being sidelined to make way for a trendy cultural cocktail liberally laced with world music and jazz. Now, they say, the Rubicon has been crossed - in the BBC's statement of programme policy, released last week, the old maxim that "classical music remains at the heart of the [Radio 3] schedule" has been quietly dropped." The Guardian (UK) 05/06/04

Banner Year For Opera in Toronto The Canadian Opera Company has released the numbers on its just-completed season, declaring 2003-04 to be one of the company's best years ever. 114,000 people attended COC productions during the season, bringing in $8 million of gross revenue, a 14% jump over 2002-03. Additionally, subscription sales were up 24%, and are already strong for next season. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/05/04

Toronto Music School Raising Money By The Bushel Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music is more than halfway to its $60 million fundraising goal after announcing a new round of $12 million in donations. The money will go towards a major expansion of the school, including a 1000-seat concert hall. Another announcement is expected in June, which should bring the RCM to 75-80% of goal. The campaign has been so successful that the school recently added $10 million to its goal, and redrew the expansion plans to include more studio and rehearsal space. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/05/04

Valkyries at Glastonbury The Glastonbury Festival is not where you would generally expect to find fans of Wagner's Ring Cycle, but the UK rock fest is giving Brunhilde a chance anyway. This June, the English National Opera will travel to Glastonbury with 91 musicians and 11 soloists to perform the third act of Wagner's "The Valkyries" before an audience of better than 100,000 fans, most of whom likely do not fit the standard profile of the opera enthusiast. For the ENO, it's a chance to reach out to an untapped (and young) audience; for the festival, it's just one more way to maintain its reputation as quirky and daring. BBC 05/05/04

Anything For A Buck With legal music downloading services like iTunes being judged as unqualified successes in the digital marketplace, you would think that the recording industry might finally be coming around to the notion that offering consumers a good deal on pop music is an effective way to build customer loyalty and increase revenue. But industry executives apparently aren't satisfied with the existing model: not only have they consistently resisted efforts to introduce creative pricing into the download business, they seem determined to raise the standard per-song download cost as quickly as possible. Wired 05/05/04

May 4, 2004

Recording Companies To Pay $50 Million Royalty Settlement To Musicians Recording companies have made a settlement with thousands of musicians to pay outstanding royalties. "The settlement, which amounted to nearly $50 million, was the result of a two-year investigation that found the world's largest recording companies had failed to maintain contact with many artists and writers and had stopped making required payments to them." The companies offered "an array of explanations like `we didn't really pay close attention,' and none were persuasive legally." The New York Times 05/05/04

Monster Mashup (Taking The Mashup Challenge) "For some time, DJs - at first in England and later in the United States and other countries - have been developing a new style of remix, known as mashups, in which two songs are melded together. Often, the resulting track features the melody of one song and the vocals of another. Until recently, mashups had been the province of underground DJs, in part because those doing the remixing hardly ever had permission from the original artists to do so." But now, David Bowie has issued a mashup challenge... Wired 05/04/04

Why Suing Music Fans Is Pointless Recording companies are trying to sue their fans into not downloading music for free off the internet. But while the move seems to have dissuaded some, there's no indication that such disaffected fans have actually turned to using legal online services. It comes down to this: do musicians want people to listen to their music or not? BBC 05/04/04

Senator Has Questions For Smithsonian About Strads A US Senator wants to question the Smithsonian on the gift of four Stradivarius violins it received from Herbert Axelrod, a New Jersey businessman who is on the lam in Cuba after being indicted for tax evasion. "It is troubling that the Smithsonian may be turning a blind eye to tax mischief. Government agencies should be working in concert, not against each other. . . . Donors shouldn't be able to get away with playing the taxpayers like a fiddle." Washington Post 05/04/04

Polls Split On File-Sharing Polls about attitudes towards music file-sharing are contradictory. Most people believe artists should have control of copyright. But many don't think file-sharing is wrong. Even among musicians, the polls are split. "Thirty-five per cent said that free downloading has helped their careers. Then again, 30 per cent felt that file-sharing in general poses a "major threat" to creative industries." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/04/04

May 3, 2004

Classical Winner - But Of What? This week the BBC televises the finals of its BBC Young Musician of the Year. The live broadcast is a rarity. "In an age when the competition's viewing figures have plummeted from 20 million in its heyday to an anticipated 1.5 million this weekend, what kind of future can the winner look forward to? Is classical music living on death row? Is it really a tougher place to be than ever before? And what pitfalls lie in wait for an unsuspecting young musician suddenly catapulted to fame?" The Telegraph (UK) 05/04/04

Congress To Investigate NJ Symphony Violin Deal Congressional investigators say they'll question the New Jersey Symphony on its purchase of 30 rare string instruments. "This transaction raises the question of why someone would sell a multimillion-dollar instrument collection for what he claims is less than half of its appraised value, and what tax benefits he may have received in return." The New York Times 05/04/04

  • Previously: Will IRS Seize Axelrod's Rare Violins? New Jersey philanthropist Herbert Axelrod, who fled the US to Cuba last week to avoid tax fraud charges, still owned some important string instruments that are on loan to prominent musicians. "Among the instruments given to Curtis is one on loan from the school to violinist Pamela Frank, who is both a graduate of and teacher at Curtis. Axelrod donated the 1736 Guarnerius del Gesù (Wienawski), now insured for $2 million, in 1993. Violinist Leila Josefowicz played on an Axelrod instrument, the 1739 "Ebersolt" Guarnerius del Gesù, and Maxim Vengerov played on an Axelrod-owned bow. Whether any musicians are still playing Axelrod-owned instruments is not clear. In some cases involving the IRS, such property is seized by the government." Philadelphia Inquirer 04/27/04

Music - Industry In Decline? "The music industry grew into a $40 billion sector at its peak in 1996. That figure has since fallen by almost 25%. During the last eight years, there has been a drop in global earnings of almost 25% - which record companies blame on massive counterfeiting and downloading music from the internet. Are we therefore looking at the death throes of a once invincible industry?" BBC 05/04/04

Scottish Opera's Sad Death Rattle (Part 23) Poor Scottish Opera. In death throws over funding provided by the government, the company is in dancer of having to lay off staff and reduce operations. Now, "the company - providing few details - confirmed that it aims to spend more than a third of any future budget on education and "outreach" programmes. The opera is funded with a £7.5 million annual grant from the Scottish Arts Council. It currently spends about 11 per cent of its core budget on such programmes." The Scotsman 05/04/04

May 2, 2004

16-Year-Old Violinist Is BBC's Young Musician of the Year Sixteen-year-old violinist Nicola Benedetti has won the BBC's Young Musician of the Year award. "She triumphed over four other finalists at Edinburgh's Usher Hall and became the first Scot to win the competition. Nicola began playing the violin at the age of four and left school aged 10 to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School for gifted musicians in Surrey." BBC 05/02/04

Pianists With Personality For a long time now, many pianists have suffered from a bewildering lack of personality. Oh, the notes were (usually) all there, and the technical prowess could astonish. But too many pianists sounded the same. Tim Mangan notes that four young pianists are distinguishing themselves with their individualistic playing. Orange County Register 05/02/04

Zinman: From Fame And Back Conductor David Zinman has long been the world's greatest unknown conductor, the guy whose commitment to contemporary American composers and less-than-tactful way of getting things done kept him a guest rather than a resident with the world's top orchestras. A man of principles, Zinman relinquished his conductor laureate title at Baltimore because current management hadn't sustained modern American music programming. Then, almost stealthily, the budget-priced Zinman/Zurich recording of Beethoven symphonies on the Arte Nova label - acclaimed for the crisp manner of period performance, but with the "oomph" of conventional instruments - infiltrated the music world with sales that now top 1 million discs. Now, the unknown conductor and the provincial orchestra are thinking about recording all the Brahms and Mahler symphonies." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/02/04

Colorado's New Direction When the Colorado Symphony hired 47-year-old Jeffrey Kahane to succeed Marin Alsop as music director, it signaled a distinct change in the way the orchestra will present itself to the community. Alsop was a virtual unknown when she came to Denver, and as her star rose in the wider music world, the CSO's name came along for the ride. But Kahane is no up-and-coming youngster: he's an established name in the industry, a much-respected pianist, and an artist in the prime of his career. Those may seem like excellent reasons to hire a music director, but at a time when so many other orchestras are looking for the next big thing in conducting, Colorado seems to have made something of a safe choice. Denver Post 05/02/04

Using Sound To Create Human Puppets Just as certain smells can make you salivate and certain visual images can inspire certain feelings, music and sound have the power to trigger specific reactions in the human brain. A biotech company is hoping to take financial advantage of that fact by "integrating neurosensory algorithms into music to create a certain mood and evoke more intense responses from listeners. The company hopes to market its compositions to the movie industry and video game companies." Wired 05/01/04

Will NJSO Have To Pay For Axelrod's Dodge? The New Jersey Symphony thought that philanhropist Herbert Axelrod was nuts when he offered to sell them a $50 million collection of instruments for $18 million, but they certainly never thought that, by agreeing to the sale, they would be running afoul of the United States Congress. But now, with Axelrod hiding out in Cuba from charges of tax evasion, "Senate investigators are questioning whether the instrument sale is representative of a fast-growing tax dodge in which wealthy donors inflate the value of gifts — from rare violins to paintings, period furnishings and even fossils — abetted by docile appraisers, weak tax enforcement and cultural institutions with little interest in making waves." The New York Times 05/02/04

  • Previously: Billionaire On The Lam: The Axelrod Myth Unravels In the days since New Jersey philanthropist Herbert Axelrod fled to Cuba to avoid indictment on tax evasion charges, details have begun to emerge about the man who had been called New Jersey's greatest arts benefactor. "It has become clear that myth and reality were always hard to separate in the life of Herbert Axelrod, whether the subject be tropical fish, charity or musical instruments... A review of lawsuits, public documents and interviews with those who were once close to Axelrod suggest he was never quite what people thought. Court papers filed in a pending lawsuit against him depict him as a liar and a womanizer who funneled cash in the form of author's payments to a woman with whom he had a years-long affair." Newark Star-Ledger 04/25/04

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