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December 30, 2004

Lebrecht: The Year Recording Didn't Die (But I Don't Apologize) Last year Norman Lebrecht brashly predicted that 2004 would be the end of the classical recording business. But a funny thing happened in the form of numerous interesting new releases. "With such exuberance on offer and more promised in the year ahead, what then of my rock-solid prediction 12 months ago that 2004 would see the end of the classical recording industry? Must I now eat humble pie, not mince? The evidence suggests otherwise. For effervescent as the new crop may seem, no-one is making any money." La Scena Musicale 12/30/04

Vienna Philharmonic Donates For Disaster Relief The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra says it will donate $136,000 to the World Health Organization to help provide drinking water to survivors of the tsunami disaster. "We wish to express our solidarity with all those who have lost everything." The orchestra typically donates $68,000 to humanitarian causes every New Year's day from the poroceeds of its worldwide New Year's broadcast. Miami Herald (AP) 12/30/04

Shanghai's New Concert Hall Wonder Shanghai opens a glittering new $120 million concert hall. "With a new look, stunning architecture, advanced facilities and modern management, the center will be the crowning jewel of Shanghai's many performing venues." China Daily 12/30/04

Cleveland Institute Gets Into The Radio Game The Cleveland Institute of Music is launching a new weekly radio show on WCLV. 'Each show will explore the work of an artist or delve into a musical topic in-depth. CIM described the series in a news release as a combination of great music, interesting guests and slightly off-the-wall commentary." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 12/29/04

December 29, 2004

Was Tippett A Superstar? Big celebrations are planned for the centenary celebrations of Michael Tippett. But "is he really worthy of a place alongside those great masters? Or is his high stature just another symptom of that insecurity we Brits have about our composers, which makes us elevate them beyond their worth? He certainly wasn't a great innovator who left his mark on succeeding generations, the way Messiaen and Stravinsky have done. And his place in musical life is not quite first-rank." The Telegraph (UK) 12/29/04

Oldest Flute Discovered Archaeologists have discovered one of the world's oldest known musical instruments — a 30,000-year-old flute finely carved from a woolly mammoth's ivory tusk in southern Germany. "The findings would point to the region as one of the key areas of cultural innovation at the start of the Upper Paleolithic and demonstrate that the origins of music can be traced back to the European Ice Age over 30,000 years ago. The flute would have been capable of playing relatively complex melodies." Discovery 12/29/04

Here's Your New Concert Hall, No Charge After years of futile efforts, it looks as if the Montreal Symphony Orchestra may finally get the new home it's always wanted. A plan being floated by the new Quebec government would abandon the idea of building a $280 million performance complex, and instead renovate an existing (and terribly underused) theater for the orchestra's use. The plan is likely to succeed where others have failed partly because it is simple, but mostly because it won't cost the province's taxpayers a dime. Montreal Gazette 12/29/04

Up Next: Rockers For Senate File 2347.63!! Back in the 1960s, you couldn't swing an acoustic guitar without hitting a folk musician singing a protest song about something that was bugging him, usually something pretty specific. These days, overtly political music is rare, and specific issue-oriented songs are usually eschewed in favor of broader-themed anthems trumpeting such controversial concepts as peace and justice and brotherhood and so on. But a new CD released by aging folkies and frustrated teachers is taking direct aim at the Bush Administration's controversial No Child Left Behind Act, with proceeds going to fund an alternative school that has been hurt by the act's reforms. The Christian Science Monitor 12/28/04

December 28, 2004

Reviving Salieri La Scala's decision to reopen after its renovations with a long-ignored Salieri opera is a high-profile indication that the long-maligned composer's reputation is being rehabilitated. Why now? The New York Times 12/28/04

Internet Royalties Add Up Royalties for music streamed over the internet is beginning to add up to serious money. And, unlike conventional broadcast radio, royalties are paid not to composers, but to performers and copyright holders. The New York Times 12/28/04

Berlin Operas Get First Director Michael Schindhelm, currently director of Switzerland's Basel Theater, has been apointed the first general director of "a foundation set up this year to oversee Berlin's three opera houses. In 2003, the city threatened to merge two of the opera houses until the federal government stepped in with extra arts funding. This year, the three houses were placed under the new foundation in a move meant to enhance coordination and cut costs." Yahoo! (AP) 12/28/04

December 27, 2004

Departure Puts Chicago Lyric Opera Back Into The Pack Matthew Epstein's departure from Chicago Lyric Opera won't affect the company's day-to-day operations much. But the experienced administrator brought a forward-thinking style that set the company apart. "Epstein's departure at Lyric leaves no leading American opera company except David Gockley's Houston Grand Opera with a bold artistic visionary among its top administrators. Everybody else is taking a cautious line and blaming artistic reticence on a sputtering economy." Chicago Tribune 12/27/04

America's Disappearing Music Rarities of American music are disappearing because care isn't being taken to preserve old movies, recordings and sheet music. "The irony is that original artifacts are vanishing, but the golden era of American song is enjoying a comeback. New recordings of old standards by Rod Stewart and other artists have sold millions of copies, and record companies are forever reissuing classic albums. Songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday provide nostalgic soundtracks for films, sitcoms and television commercials." Chicago Tribune (LATimes) 12/27/04

Prince Tour Tops Box Office Prince's tour of North America was the best-selling live tour of 2004. "His 69 city, 96 show tour took $87.4m during 2004, beating Celine Dion's Las Vegas residency, which came in second, taking $80.4m." BBC 12/27/04

December 24, 2004

Pittsburgh Symphony Chief Won't Answer Questions About Violin Deal A report on the controversial sale of rare violins to the New Jersey Symphony raised questions about the actions of the orchestra's then director Lawrence Tamburri. "Tamburri helped lead the effort to acquire the instruments and was singled out by several of the report's authors for failing to properly investigate rumors that Axelrod was under investigation by federal authorities over other instrument transfers." Now Tamburri runs the Pittsburgh Symphony, but refuses to talk about the report... Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/24/04

Festival Producers Howl Over New UK Fees The UK government proposes to levy enormous new license fees for outdoor music festivals that attract more than 6000 people. "The Department for Culture, Media and Sport wants to levy fees of up to £50,000 to cover the cost of health and safety inspections." BBC 12/24/04

December 23, 2004

Eos Orchestra Is No More New York's Eos Orchestra has shut down because of money peoblems. The band put on "unusual and theatrical concerts like stripped-down versions of Wagner operas and the nonfilm music of Bernard Herrmann. "The group, which was founded by Jonathan Sheffer in 1995, had about four productions a year with up to 20 performances, and "at its peak" had an annual operating budget of about $2.5 million." The New York Times (3rd item) 12/23/04

Fire At Paris Opera House Paris' Bastille Opera House was evacuated because of a fire. "The evacuation of the modern building on the historic Place de la Bastille during a performance of The Sleeping Beauty went calmly but the show could not go on as some parts of the theatre were filled with smoke." Andante (AP) 12/23/04

Lebrecht: Why Does Anyone Like Tippett? The British have always been taken with the work of homegrown composer Michael Tippett, although he is hardly a household name elsewhere in the world. This is exactly as it should be, says Norman Lebrecht, and the coming celebration of his centenary will be little more than a tip of the cap to mediocrity. Tippett was, in fact, "an inglorious exemplar of English amateurism... Set beside any of his contemporaries, radical or conservative, British, American or European, Tippett fails the driving test of coherence." La Scena Musicale 12/22/04

MusicMax, Direct-To-You For many composers, the decline of classical recording has meant a lack of new opportunities to get their music memorialized in a permanent recorded fashion. For Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, it meant half a lifetime's work suddenly becoming unavailable to the public when his record label was sold. But Davies' refused to admit defeat, spent months reacquiring the copyrights to his recorded work, and launched a new web site offering the old recordings and more, either by quick-and-easy download for between £1 and £4, or on custom-made CD for only slightly more. "It is a dazzling, breathtaking example of the composer cutting out the middle man and taking charge of his own destiny." The Herald (UK) 12/23/04

How Do You Say 'Merry Christmas' Three Octaves Down? Tuba may seem like an odd instrument around which to center your life and work, but ask the musicians of nearly any orchestra, and you'll find that those brassy low note specialists are usually among the most well-liked members of the band. So it shouldn't be a big surprise that all-tuba Christmas concerts are an increasingly popular phenomenon. "For many, the annual concerts--held in Chicago and 200 other cities worldwide--are a chance to break away from the tubist's traditional role as steady bass accompanist and whale away on the melodies, albeit a few octaves lower than they're normally played." Chicago Tribune 12/23/04

The Last Orchestra Settlement of 2004 (We Think) The musicians of the Rochester (NY) Philharmonic have a new contract, albeit one which will last only eight months. After playing without a contract for several months as negotiations continued, an agreement was reached on a one-year deal (retroactive to September) which will freeze the base salary at $36,100. There is little time for either side to catch its breath, though, as negotiations will need to begin anew in the spring. Syracuse Post-Standard 12/23/04

December 22, 2004

Melbourne's "Commonsense" Opera Merger Why are Melbourne's two opera companies merging after all these years? "The merger is 'primarily one of commonsense' for companies staging the most expensive of artforms on private patronage and box-office income alone - that is, they get no government subsidy. 'You can't have two non-funded companies struggling in competition against each other and against [companies such as Opera Australia] which are subsidised'." The Australian 12/23/04

NJ Symphony Reflects On Critical Report The New Jersey Symphony takes stock of its position after a critical report about its handling of a purchase of a group of rare violins. The report found that though the orchestra hasn't done anything illegal, it had not been careful in how it made the purchase. The New York Times 12/23/04

Jellinek Signs Off After 36 Years After about 1900 broadcasts, 84-year-old opera lover George Jellinek is signing off his WQXR show. "New York is losing one of the oldest and best-loved facets of its opera life: after some 36 years, George Jellinek's weekly radio program, "The Vocal Scene," is going off the air. The final broadcast is tonight at 10 on WQXR-FM, where the show originated in October 1969. The first program was titled "Love in Opera." Tonight's finale will be called, appropriately enough, "Leave Taking" and will be devoted to operatic farewells and Mr. Jellinek's own." The New York Times 12/23/04

Virtual Orchestra Battle Spreads To California A touring production of the musical Oliver! opened this week in California, with a machine in the orchestra pit and live musicians protesting outside the front door. As in similar disputes in New York, producers claim that the so-called "virtual orchestra" synthesizer is nothing more than a versatile new instrument which augments the sound of the show's 10 live musicians, while the local musicians' union claims that the Sinfonia, as it is known, takes jobs away from trained musicians. Costa Mesa (CA) Daily Pilot 12/22/04

Using Money To Make More Money It's been a rough year at the Detroit Symphony, with mid-contract pay cuts for the musicians and serious upper management upheaval to boot, but things appear to be changing for the better. "Three of the DSO's highest-profile donors have combined to give the orchestra an unusual $1.5-million challenge grant designed to broaden the orchestra's base of support." The orchestra intends to use the matching challenge as an opportunity to cultivate a new generation of donors who can stabilize the organization in the long term. Detroit Free Press 12/22/04

December 21, 2004

Is The Shine Off Simon Rattle? Simon Rattle has had a storybook career as one of the world's great conductors. "But lately it's not all been rosy. In Berlin, there's one prominent dissenting voice in the shape of prominent music critic Klaus Geitel himself, who declares roundly that Rattle is the weakest musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic he's ever seen. The recent recordings of the nine Beethoven symphonies left many reviewers puzzled by its odd mix of "period" and mainstream styles, and the Fidelio recording had some curious vocal casting. In the UK, the dissenters are more numerous..." The Telegraph (UK) 12/22/04

Melbourne Opera Unites For years, two Melbourne opera companies have been competitors. Now they're joining forces. "The two local companies, once bitter rivals - Melbourne Opera and Melbourne City Opera - are merging under the name, VicOpera. They also declared that they want to co-operate with the Sydney-based national company, Opera Australia. This simplifies the situation, but leaves several issues unresolved." The Age (Melbourne) 12/22/04

For Fun And Success - Bypassing The Record Labels In a growing trend, artists are bypassing established recording labels and selling their music in non-traditional outlets. "Bypassing the record labels, James Taylor has sold 1 million copies of his new holiday album by offering it next to the greeting cards at Hallmark Gold Crown Stores." Rocky Mountain News 12/21/04

Who Should Run SF Opera? San Francisco Opera is getting close to naming a successor to general director Pamela Rosenberg. Who might that person be? "Ideally, the search committee will recognize the tremendous strides the company has taken under Rosenberg's leadership and select a general director who won't roll back those advances. The task, instead, is to retain the artistic and theatrical excitement of the curtailed Rosenberg era while expanding its appeal to a wider and more varied audience base." San Francisco Chronicle 12/21/04

The Death Of Good Christmas Music? What's happened to Christmas music? "The proliferation of novelty tunes such as Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer suggest that Christmas as a public event has become so thoroughly commercial as to defy attempts to treat it non-ironically. Those who try end up producing songs that sound like advertising jingles." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/21/04

December 20, 2004

Connections - What New Music Needs To Live What does new music need to win the hearts of listeners? "Decades ago, composer Pierre Boulez predicted that audiences would subscribe to music-generating computers much the way they now do to their favorite orchestra. Guess why that hasn't happened: no warm bodies. Instead, I hear current composers translating the shape and timbre of electronic sound to, say, the live acoustic string quartet." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/19/04

Shankar: Indian Classical Music In Peril Sitar master Ravi Shankar says he's concerned for the future of Indian classical music. India's musicians should not expect support from the government, he says, but corporate and indivisual support is essential. “After some great performers in the field of Indian classical music we have had promising talents, however, the programmes which new talents get to perform are not good.” Navhind Times 12/20/04

December 19, 2004

At Chicago Lyric Opera - A Personality Clash Matthew Epstein's departure from his job as artistic director of Chicago Lyric Opera was a surprise. Does it signal a change of direction for the company? "Clashing personalities may be a factor in Epstein's departure. Artistic differences certainly play their part. Without a doubt, he could once again set himself up as a powerhouse consultant to opera companies and artists. We can hope that his longtime friends and new clients won't boycott Lyric out of some sense of personal loyalty. With or without Epstein, it remains one of the world's great opera houses. Whether it remains one of its most exciting only time will tell." Chicago Sun-Times 12/19/04

Play, Don't Talk! Lawrence Johnson has a complaint against a growing practice at concerts he attends of concert organizers getting up and giving speeches. "This kind of superfluous chatter is, at a minimum, distracting and annoying, and frequently crosses the line to being crass and provincial." The Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) 12/19/04

A Singular History Of Classical Music The new six-volume "Oxford History of Western Music" was 13 years in the making. Despite its bulk, it may seem to pale in comparison with, say, the 29-volume second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, of 2001, but that represented the work of more than 2,500 writers. This is the work of one, Richard Taruskin, a music historian at the University of California at Berkeley, who has been an occasional contributor to Arts & Leisure and other publications. The New York Times 12/19/04

Boston Pops, Recording Mogul When RCA decided to end its contract with the Boston Pops, the orchestra decided to go into the recording business itself. "That means there's no big record company to pick up the tab for studio time, promotion, and even pressing new CDs. Instead, the Pops have gone into the recording business, laying out money normally provided by a label. This is the new business model, and it's risky. It's why conductor Keith Lockhart is being trotted out for 18 signings this holiday season." Boston Globe 12/19/04

Australian Pops Orchestra To Close? The Australian Pops Orchestra is going out of business after failing to find a sponsor. "The orchestra, which also performs as the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra, will play its final concert on New Year's Eve. It has a long line of credits, having played behind Jose Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Managing director Kel McMillan says it is a big disappointment ahead of the orchestra's 25th anniversary year." ABCNews (Australia) 12/19/04

Virtually Yours - Pit By Pit Musicians protest the "virtual orchestra. "It produces sounds amazingly similar to orchestral voices. But is it an instrument or merely a fancy mechanical substitute? Musicians who claim to be put out of work by the thing sneeringly call it a machine." But the device's inventors call it an instrument, not a substitute for musicians. "You could say that a flute is a machine, because it is a device that must be operated by a person in order to do its job. But we call flutes - and violins and trombones - musical instruments." Rocky Mountain News 12/19/04

December 17, 2004

Is Pittsburgh's Hahn Headed To San Francisco? "Even after a contract extension, Pittsburgh Opera artistic director Christopher Hahn continues to be talked about as a top candidate to succeed Pamela Rosenberg as general director of the San Francisco Opera." Neither Hahn nor the San Francisco company are talking publicly about the rumors, but with Chicago Lyric Opera also now seeking a new artistic director, SFO may want to move quickly to secure Hahn's services. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/04

Creating Kahane's Colorado Symphony Conductor Jeffrey Kahane will have some big shoes to fill when he takes over as musid director of the Colorado Symphony next fall. For better or for worse, the CSO has been identified for a decade as Marin Alsop's orchestra, due in large part to Alsop's blossoming international reputation over those years. Kahane may not be as outsized a personality as Alsop, but he has some definite ideas about where his new orchestra needs to go. "One thing is the way in which the orchestra is central to the life of a community. That the orchestra is not just there to entertain, although that's part of what we do, but to provide a sort of spiritual core to the cultural life of the community." Denver Post 12/17/04

Report: NJ Symphony Should Have Known Better A scathing internal report on the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's purchase of more than two dozen rare string instruments from now-imprisoned philanthropist Herbert Axelrod has concluded that the orchestra ignored warning signs that the collection was not worth what Axelrod claimed, fast-tracked the purchase in order to meet a deadline that did not exist, and deliberately misled the public and its own trustees throughout the process. The report singles out NJSO president Lawrence Tamburri, who has since jumped to the Pittsburgh Symphony, saying that he kept reports of Axelrod's legal troubles to himself, and ignored serious questions of authenticity raised by experts engaged by the orchestra. Newark Star-Ledger 12/17/04

December 16, 2004

Beijing's National Theatre Faces Money Woes Beijing's controversial National Theatre is under construction but facing budget problems. "Shaped like a tear drop, the silvery theater -- made of glass and titanium -- once sparked controversy on whether such an modern design was appropriate for the center of Beijing. The project met numerous obstacles before finally gaining approval -- now it faces budget troubles." China Daily 12/17/04

World's Oldest Flute "German archaeologists revealed yesterday that they had discovered one of the world's oldest musical instruments, a 35,000-year-old flute carved from the tusk of a now-extinct woolly mammoth. The flute was dug up in a cave in the Swabian mountains in south-western Germany, and pieced back together again from 31 fragments." The Guardian (UK) 12/17/04

The All-Beethoven Network BBC3 Radio plans to broadcast every note Beethoven wrote. "The schedules will be cleared for a week in June, the Radio 3 airwaves will be unsullied by music by any other composer, and listeners will be treated to such little-known delights as Beethoven's 100 or so settings of Scottish, Irish and Welsh folksongs. Over the six days and nights some of Beethoven's works will even be heard twice. 'There are about 100 hours of Beethoven's music, but we are devoting 136 hours to him'." The Guardian (UK) 12/17/04

Chicago Lyric Opera Says Goodbye To Epstein Matthew Epstein, for 24 years associated with the Lyric Opera of Chicago (the last six as artistic director), won't have his contract renewed at the end of this season. "While few dispute Epstein's gifts, his blunt manner can ruffle feathers. His lusty "bravos'' regularly punctuate Lyric's performances, but he can make his displeasure known with equal force. "He's a genius,'' said one opera world insider, "but he's an abrasive genius." Chicago Sun-Times 12/16/04

December 15, 2004

Scottish Culture Minister: We Should Help Scottish Opera The new Scottish minister of culture says she supports helping the beleaguered Scottish Opera. But as to what exactly that help might be, she's vague. Still, she has attended the company's first two operas of the season and claims to love opera... The Scotsman 12/15/04

Lebrecht: I Was Banned By The Met Norman Lebrecht was asked recently to appear on the Metropolitan Opera broadcast as a commentator. Then he was disinvited. "The Met's curse is unlikely to blight my life, as it did the careers of many artists. My only surprise was that it hadn't happened before. In a quarter of a century of reporting musical affairs and commenting on them polemically, I have never been censored. I have been threatened with legal writs and, once, with a fist in my face, but no arts organisation until now has ever felt it necessary to shut me up." La Scena Musicale 12/15/04

Virtual Orchestra Demo Canceled In NY A demonstration of the "virtual orchestra" by the Brooklyn Opera was canceled at CAMI Hall in New York Tuesday after CAMI withdrew use of the hall. The New York musicians' union, which is bitterly opposed to the use of the machine to replace live musicians, had planned protests outside CAMI Hall. The New York Times 12/15/04

Chicago Lyric Sheds Artistic Director Chicago Lyric Opera has decided not to renew artistic director Matthew Epstein's contract. General director William Mason: “Matthew and I have enjoyed an excellent relationship for many years, but our visions for the company diverged. I thank him for his many valuable contributions to Lyric and wish him the best with his future endeavors.” PlaybillArts 12/15/04

Thinking Smaller In South Florida With no new symphony orchestra in sight, some former members of the now-defunct Florida Philharmonic have banded together to form the Renaissance Chamber Orchestra, with the aim of filling the classical void while maintaining enough organizational flexibility to stay afloat in an area that has not shown a great deal of interest in the genre. The Fort Lauderdale-based group is showing early signs of success, and is already being booked for concert dates as far north as Georgia. Miami Herald 12/15/04

December 14, 2004

Madonna Tops 2004 Tour Take The top touring artist of 2004 was Madonna, who took in $125 million this year. "The singer sold out 55 of 56 shows worldwide on her Re-Invention tour, making about $2.23m a night. 'My Re-Invention tour was by far the most creatively satisfying experience I have ever had,' Madonna told Billboard." BBC 12/14/04

A Very Beethoven New Year Japanese conductor Hiroyuki Iwaki and Japan's NHK Orchestra will perform all nine Beethoven symphonies New Year's Eve in a marathon concert. "Iwaki will conduct members of the NHK Orchestra, with other musicians, in a concert that begins at 3:30 p.m., and will likely last over six hours. There will be five intermissions." PlaybillArts 12/14/04

Phoenix Symphony's New Music Director The Phoenix Symphony has chosen Michael Christie, a 30-year-old American, as its new music director. Christie has been artistic director of the Queensland Orchestra in Brisbane, Australia for three years. He succeeds German-born maestro Hermann Michael, who retired last year at age 66 after seven years with the symphony.
Arizona Republic 12/14/04

Chicago Symphony - 100 Years At Home The Chicago Symphony commemorates 100 years in its home at Orchestra Hall tonight. "In 1903, CSO trustee Daniel Burnham designed Orchestra Hall, an eight-story building of brick and limestone; the building was built for $750,000 over seven months the following year." PlaybillArts 12/14/04

December 13, 2004

Licitra Wants To Be Next Pavarotti Salvatore Licitra has been annointed by some as the next Pavarotti. He likes the comparison: "All singers have to thank Pavarotti because he transformed opera. Everybody knows opera because of him. I hope to become like him. All singers dream of that. Pavarotti and Domingo presided over the last golden age of opera. Now opera is in a dramatic crisis. Even in Italy young people don't care about opera. They are only interested in TV, computers, fast and easy communication. To appreciate opera you have to know it." Miami Herald 12/13/04

NY Phil To Break Performance Record The New York Philharmonic will set the Guinness World Record for 'the most concerts performed by a symphony orchestra' with concert No. 14,000 on Dec. 18. "In the course of our 163 years, we have commissioned 128 new works, and performed 485 world premieres and 443 U.S. premieres, including music that has become a staple of the classical repertoire." Miami Herald 12/12/04

December 12, 2004

MacMillan To Scots: People Think We're Philistines Composer James MacMillan says recent events in Scottish arts have portrayed his country in a bad light. "Many people outside Scotland are beginning to speculate that Scotland is a philistine country, and I find this very troubling. I find it insulting but I can understand why it’s coming about because the indications from the top are precisely that. Those in power, those in the government, those associated with some of the arts provision in Scotland are giving marvellous impersonations of being philistines." The Scotsman 12/12/04

The History Of Classical Music - Re-evaluated Is it possible anymore to tell a coherent history of "classical" music? Richard Taruskin attempts it with a six-volume 3,800-page new history. "Taruskin's chef-d'oeuvre, however, is a feast of contrarian ideas, with enough spice to sting the palate of anyone with a stake in telling the old stories in the old way. It aims for nothing less than the revaluation of practically everything you thought you knew about "classical" music." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/12/04

Suing Wal-Mart For Obscene Lyrics The parents of a 13-year-old are suing Wal-Mart for selling music with "obscene" lyrics. "The lawsuit seeks to force Wal-Mart to censor the music or remove it from its stores in Maryland. It also seeks damages of up to $74,500 for every customer who bought the CD at Maryland Wal-Marts, and also naming record label Wind-Up Records and distributor BMG Entertainment in the legal action." BBC 12/12/04

Studying Australia's Musical Life (Where's The Money?) "Do reviews of the arts always lead to dollars? The music community must be asking itself this, as no fewer than three separate federal studies have been taking place into Australia's musical life this year." The Australian 12/12/04

Rigoletto House For Sale The house where Verdi wrote Rigoletto is up for sale. "The asking price for the house in Busseto, near Parma, is about $8 million (Cdn). Whoever buys it will probably have to spend $4 million more to renovate it." Toronto Star (AP) 12/12/04

Juggling Rings A production of Wagner's complete Ring cycle is always the talk of whatever city is lucky enough to host it. But in London, the unthinkable is about to occur: two simultaneous Rings, being performed in two different opera houses by two different companies. It could be a rare chance to compare and contrast differing visions of arguably the greatest operatic accomplishment of all time. Or it could just be repetitive. The Guardian (UK) 12/11/04

  • The Wagner Conundrum Richard Wagner was, by all accounts, a horrible human being, a vicious anti-Semite, and an extremist ideologue. That legacy hasn't exactly tarnished his musical reputation, but it does give many musicians pause when asked to perform his works. "So, why bother with Wagner at all? Why grant him four long evenings, as in the case of The Ring? ... One question is: can we live without it?" The Guardian (UK) 12/11/04

Could Slatkin Fill Barenboim's Shoes? True, Leonard Slatkin has recently lost two high-profile music directorships amid rumors of his increasing unpopularity amongst musicians in London and Washington. But John von Rhein says that the time is right for the Chicago Symphony to appoint its first American music director, and Slatkin, with his famous enthusiasm and 30-year history of good relations with the CSO musicians, might be just the man for the job. Chicago Tribune 12/11/04

Forget The Scandal, Those Are Some Nice Fiddles Ever since philanthropist Herbert Axelrod was indicted for tax fraud, his sale of two dozen valuable violins to the New Jersey Symphony has been spoken of mainly in terms of the scandal surrounding the seller. But questions of authenticity aside, the NJSO musicians are thrilled with the chance to play on some of the finest instruments ever crafted, and while they are certainly unhappy to be at the center of a controversy they had no part in creating, many are still amazed that "people who could never hope to play such instruments now have regular access to them. Superstar violinists, of course, can buy, or are lent, famous instruments, but they are out of reach for back-benchers in a midsize orchestra." The New York Times 12/11/04

  • Previously: Axelrod Pleads Guilty In Tax Case Herbert Axelrod, the New Jersey businessman famous for selling a collection of rare violins to the New Jersey Symphony, "pleaded guilty to a federal tax fraud count yesterday in a deal that spares the elderly millionaire from the threat of prosecution on a panoply of other dubious acts... The count, aiding and abetting the filing of a false tax return, carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, but prosecutors have agreed to seek a term of 12 to 18 months." Newark Star-Ledger 12/09/04

News Flash: Diplomas Don't Win Auditions New York's Juilliard School might be the world's most famous training ground for young musicians. But even armed with a Juilliard degree, the highly competitive world of classical music is a tough place to make a living, and no one on an orchestral audition committee will give a rip where you went to school if you can't nail that fast run in Don Juan four times in a row. A look at Juilliard's graduating class of 1994 reveals that, ten years removed from the school's rigorous teachings, some have gone on to great success as soloists or orchestral musicians; others have become teachers themselves; and still others have given up the dream of playing music professionally altogether. The New York Times 12/11/04

December 10, 2004

A Failed Chamber Music Org - 3 Cents On The Dollar Two years after it suddenly shut down operations, the Washington Chamber Society has settled claims of creditors. "And so a listener who put down more than $500 for two subscriptions to the announced 2002-03 season ended up receiving a refund check for $19.07 -- more than two years later." Washington Post 12/10/04

December 9, 2004

The Pavarotti Legacy? "How good was Pavarotti? Will he be remembered a century from now, as we remember such indisputably great tenors of the past as Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, or Lauritz Melchior? Possibly, but not necessarily. To be sure, he was in his prime a remarkable singer, without doubt the foremost lyric tenor of his day, and well beyond his fiftieth year his luminous, pointed tone and crisp diction retained much of their quality. On the other hand, Pavarotti was never a distinctive interpreter, and his acting was at best barely competent. Instead, he cultivated an expansive, outgoing manner that charmed his listeners at the expense of the dramatic credibility of the operas in which he appeared." Commentary 12/04

The Musicians' Life: Poverty "We don't often hear about the poverty of musicians. There is a pop culture myth, particularly prevalent among the young, that music makes you rich, fame equals fortune, and that anyone who dwells in the magic realm of television, or has their visage in the pages of a magazine, must be reaping abundant financial reward. But only one in 10 records makes a profit, and even fewer of those make enough money to support the livelihoods of those involved." The Telegraph (UK) 12/10/04

Protests Rise Against Homophobic Jamaican Dancehall Stars Jamaican dancehall music stars are flamboyantly homophobic in their music. "People have known about and protested against dancehall artists' homophobic lyrics since the early 1990s, when Buju Banton had a Jamaican hit with Boom Bye-Bye, a song advocating shooting and burning homosexuals. In the past six months, however, the protest against homophobic dancehall has gained momentum. No one seems entirely sure why the campaign of letter-writing and event picketing, headed by UK pressure group OutRage!, has suddenly started yielding results, but you can only gawp at its new-found effectiveness." The Guardian (UK) 12/10/04

St. Louis Symphony Managers Seeking Musician Pay Cuts There's still one U.S. orchestra without a new musicians' contract, and talks seem to have bogged down at the St. Louis Symphony, where the current agreement runs out on January 2. "Management has made one financial proposal to the union. That suffered an 'overwhelming rejection' at a union meeting on Nov. 8. Management, according to the memo, has refused to make a counterproposal to the union's last offer... Management sources, speaking anonymously, have said that given the Symphony's commitment to a balanced budget, it cannot commit to higher salaries without a larger income. Management's current proposal would reduce musician salaries, reportedly to $61,000 a year." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/08/04

Fiscal Turnaround In Detroit The Detroit Symphony has rebounded from three straight years of deficits and posted a small surplus for the 2003-04 season. "Some factors leading to the positive financial news are unique and unlikely to be repeated. The October 2003 opening of the orchestra's new home, the Max M. Fisher Music Center, was a once-in-a-lifetime event; the gala that marked the opening netted $1 million." The persistent deficits led the DSO to replace its executive director last winter, and the orchestra's musicians agreed to reopen their contract early and make significant concessions to stem the tide of red ink. Detroit Free Press 12/09/04

December 8, 2004

New La Scala In The Spotlight La Scala's reopening gets high marks from opening night attendees. "The uncontested stars of the evening were La Scala's fully restored, resplendent auditorium and its brand-new, technologically advanced stage. Uncontested inside the theater, at any rate. Outside, amid the thousands of bystanders, there were vociferous protests against the expenditure of public funds on a cultural operation at a time of high unemployment and government cutbacks." The New York Times 12/10/04

Crossover - But To What? Crossover classical dominates best-seller classical charts these days. But is it good for classical music? Or is it greasing the skids of decline? "Crossover is an imprecise term, covering classical pieces performed in a pop way, pop songs performed in a classical way, orchestral film soundtracks such as Howard Shore's scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and easy-on-the-ear compilations with names like Classical Chillout Gold. Every one of the 20 biggest classical sellers of 2003 was crossover to some extent." The Guardian (UK) 12/10/04

Climbing On The BandWagon Band music isn't anything a lot of serious classical composers have spent much time thinking about. And yet, a new generation of composers is finding opportunity in the world of bands. "Many music professionals believe that bands and wind ensembles offer composers distinct advantages over orchestras, like vast amounts of rehearsal time, the potential for multiple performances (thanks to a well-connected network of university band directors), opportunities to reach new audiences, and sometimes significant financial incentives." NewMusicBox 12/04

Berlin Symphony To Go Private Berlin's cultural groups are struggling to stay alive. Now, "following the Berlin Senate's decision this past summer to cut subsidies, the Berliner Symphoniker, the smallest of the city's eight official orchestras, is looking to start anew -- as Germany's first private orchestra. In doing so, the director is hoping to return to solvency and set an example for Germany's other struggling cultural institutions." Deutsche Welle 12/08/04

Rachmaninoff Manuscript Sale Halted The sale of an important Rachmaninoff manuscript was halted this week. "The annotated manuscript of his famous Second Symphony was due to be sold at Sotheby's in London, with an estimated price of £300,000-£500,000. But it was withdrawn just before the sale after Rachmaninov's estate claimed to be the true owners. It was found in a cellar in Switzerland after being lost for almost a century." BBC 12/08/04

UK's Isle Of Operatic Woe "One cannot ignore the woes of three national companies, or their common origin. Devolution, the 1997 mantra of victorious New Labour, has reverted large parts of the island to a dreary provincialism where parish pump functionaries lord it over public entertainments. Anti-elitism, the lip service that Labour rulers pay to their grass roots, has fostered a class war against high culture. And the disavowing of responsibility that is the hallmark of this governmenthas allowed successive culture secretaries and arts council chairmen to escape Scot-free – in the Caledonian sense – for demolishing two generations' worth of artistic growth in the very regions where it was most needed." La Scena Musicale 12/08/04

December 7, 2004

Music From Opposite Ends Of The Earth New instant communications technology links audiences in one part of the world with those in another. At Carnegie Hall "it was a simulcast music exchange in which 450 students in New York and 200 more in New Delhi listened to music together, chatted with one another and danced, with the help of a 22-foot-wide movie screen and some good speakers." The New York Times 12/08/04

Festive La Scala Opens With Pageantry "The holiday offered downtown Christmas shoppers a look at the theatre's newly painted facade, decorated for the occasion with red roses and green foliage. The 18th-century theatre was commissioned in 1773 by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, then ruler of Milan. Large video screens were set up in Milan's elegant passageway, the Galleria, opposite La Scala, inside the city's San Vittore prison, and other places around town." Canada.com (CP) 12/07/04

  • The Complexity Of Scala's Opening "Socially, the occasion was not quite as illustrious as the theatre authorities had hoped. They had invited the Queen and presidents George Bush and Jacques Chirac, among others. Instead they got King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway, and the president of Switzerland." The Guardian (UK) 12/08/04

Buffalo Philharmonic Sees Red Despite a great season that included its first trip to Carnegie Hall in 16 years, the Buffalo Philharmonic posted an operating deficit of $1.1 million. "Management said weakness in fund-raising and ticket sales, higher costs for performances and health care and a onetime real estate write-off from the sale of the Birge Mansion contributed to the loss." And prospects could be worse for the next season... Buffalo News 12/07/04

Classical, Jazz Grammys Announced The Grammy nominations are out In the classical categories, conductor René Jacobs and composers John Adams and Jennifer Higdon are among the most-cited. Jazz nominees include saxophonist Branford Marsalis, drummer Roy Haynes, and pianist Bill Charlap. PlaybillArts 12/07/04

December 6, 2004

La Scala - Europe's Cultural Event Of The Year La Scala makes its traditional opening Tuesday. "The opening performance - always on December 7, the feast day of Milan's patron saint, St Ambrose - is an opportunity for the rich and powerful to network, and an excuse for others to protest. It is customarily too the pretext for a shock and awe display of furs, jewels and cleavage. But not since 1946, when Toscanini lifted his baton to reopen the theatre after it was damaged by allied bombs in the second world war, has there been quite such a sense of occasion as this year. Almost everyone who is anyone in Italy will be there." The Guardian (UK) 12/06/04

  • Is Opera Running Out Of Gas? So La Scala is reopening. Many will talk about the restored building and the state of its acoustics. But there is one topic they don't bring up: "There is no getting away from the fact that, like every other aspect of the Italian operatic pyramid which it commands, La Scala is in decline. No Italian opera of importance has been written since the death of Puccini 80 years ago. There is no obvious successor to Muti. And the standards of Italian singing are declining by the year." The Guardian (UK) 12/06/04

Allure Of The New "More and more top-tier classical soloists who are not new-music specialists seem to be playing the work of living composers. 'There is something magic about having in your hands this whole piece that nobody has heard. It's challenging when you have never played a piece by a composer to learn how it fits under your fingers. I think it would be the same if we suddenly had a new Beethoven sonata because we would not be used to it'." The New York Times 12/06/04

Canadian Opera Balances Budget Thanks to the large sums the Canadian Opera Company has been raising for its new home, the company has managed to balance its budget. "In general, the COC had a highly successful year, taking in significantly more money from private and public fundraising (including a 41-per-cent increase from the Ontario Arts Council), and 13 per cent more at the box office. Average attendance rose to 95 per cent, from 86 per cent the previous year." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/06/04

The Mortier Era Begins In Paris "All of Paris had turned out to see the debut offering of the Paris Opera's new director, Gérard Mortier, and their curiosity was not entirely friendly. Operagoers are a conservative bunch, and the Belgian-born Mortier, who was appointed just a few months before, is widely regarded as a high-modernist provocateur. In an astonishingly short time, he had assembled his own repertory." New York Times Magazine 12/05/04

December 5, 2004

Debating La Scala's Makeover Remarkably, La Scala is reopening this week on time and within budget. It looks good, and the good acoustics have survived. "Continuity is the leitmotif of Tuesday's gala. The work chosen to reopen the theater is Antonio Salieri's "Europa Riconosciuta," the opera that inaugurated La Scala, in the presence of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, on Aug. 3, 1778. Clearly, the intended message is that La Scala is both modern and eternal. But now that the dust has settled, it's worth asking if the closure and the reconstruction were actually necessary." The New York Times 12/04/04

In Praise Of No Big Ideas Is a Big Idea likely to dominate classical music in the next few years? Nope, says Kenneth LeFave. There are plenty of reasons why. "Styles tend to only separate men, because they have their own doctrines and then the doctrine became the gospel truth that you cannot change. But if you do not have a style, you just say: Well, here I am as a human being, how can I express myself totally and completely?" Arizona Republic 12/03/04

History As A Selling Point The New York Philharmonic is obsessed with its own history, to the extent that it keeps a running count of all the concerts it has ever performed in its program book. The continual focus on the ensemble's venerable status has a purpose, though: in a city as culturally rich as the Big Apple, it takes a lot to impress the populace, and the Phil counts on its status as an American original to bolster its modern reputation as one of the country's top orchestras. The New York Times 12/05/04

The Vigilante Violist When Min Jong Shon's $46,000 viola was stolen from her practice room at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she didn't sit back and wait for the police to recover it. Instead, she banded together with some friends, and used a network of phones and e-mail communications to try to prevent the thief from fencing the instrument. Shon tracked the thief's movements to various instrument dealers, and eventually recovered the instrument and fingered the culprit on her own. Police were stunned and thrilled, and expect to have the suspect in custody shortly. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (LA Times) 12/05/04

Europe's Operatic Trinity Jossi Wieler, Sergio Morabito and Anna Viebrock are not household names, even among opera fanatics. But inside the European industry, they are known as "the trinity," a team of directors driven by a passion for the operatic form and a willingness to collaborate to achieve greater results. "Together, the three have made a trademark of obsessively researched direction in rigorously conceived modern translations. Their symbiosis extends to a kind of collective innocence, an intense, shared excitement about the task in hand." Financial Times (UK) 12/03/04

More Red Ink In Minnesota, But Less Of It The bad news for the Minnesota Orchestra is that it ran a $1.5 million deficit for the 2003-04 season. The good news is that the orchestra shaved a million dollars off the previous year's deficit, increased ticket sales, reached agreement on a cost-saving contract with its musicians, and launched a major new organizational strategic plan designed to eliminate the red ink within three years, all without looting the endowment. The orchestra's leadership says that this year's deficit could have been eliminated completely through extra endowment draws and accounting tricks, but they are trying to send a signal to potential donors that they intend to operate completely above board in turning their organization around. Minneapolis Star Tribune 12/04/04

  • Vänskä Picks Up Conducting Award Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä has been named Conductor of the Year by Musical America, which annually honors those in the classical music industry. Other winners this year include Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, composer Arvo Pärt, contemporary percussion ensemble Bang On A Can, Juilliard president Joseph Polisi, and violinist Christian Tetzlaff. Minneapolis Star Tribune 12/05/04

New York, London, Milan, and... Buenos Aires? "[Argentina's] Teatro Colón is grand opera all by itself... Despite a crushing international debt, economic near-chaos and an ugly political history, this city is a place of staggering energy, from the traffic that races up and down some of the widest boulevards in the world to the successive managements of this opera house since 1908, whose attention to Latin American composers and embrace of the new and exciting from the rest of the world have made it something we in New York might envy." The house is currently putting on a production of Britten's "Death in Venice," and while Teatro Colón may not have the budget of extravagant companies in the U.S. and Europe, it is every inch a major company, both musically and theatrically. The New York Times 12/04/04

December 3, 2004

Milwaukee Symphony Posts Another Deficit The Milwaukee Symphony had another bad financial year. The orchestra reports an "operating deficit of $2.9 million and a $169,000 decline in ticket revenue for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31. The accumulated debt now stands at $9.8 million. It could have been worse. The orchestra was projecting a $3.5 million operating deficit last January," but office staff was reduced by 17 positions, about 30%, to save the bulk of the $600,000 difference. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 12/02/04

Internet2 - Long Distance Music The New World Symphony experiments with Internet2, uniting musicians thousands of miles apart. "On Wednesday night, the New World Symphony had experimented with a violin class by a New World fellow via Internet2 with a student in Beijing 8,075 miles away. Then Thursday morning, New World upped the ante with the rehearsal of Turnage's piece, conducted by Stefan Asbury in Miami Beach. Internet2, which allows high-definition images and CD-quality sound, put composer and musicians in the same virtual space. With satellite technology, the delay is between 30 seconds and a minute. With Internet2, the delay is 100 milliseconds." Miami Herald 12/03/04

Rehearsal Manners - Boston Audience Needs Practice James Levine has been using Boston Symphony dress rehearsals to actually rehearse. It will take some re-education though, for the auidences that ettend the rehearsals. "After the grand climax at the very end of the work, the audience burst into applause, which Levine acknowledged, asking the orchestra to rise. But then most in the audience began to leave, quite noisily and rudely, although the music director and orchestra were still onstage with work to do. Ultimately Levine had to whistle for silence, and cried out in mock-agony the dying words of the villainous police chief Scarpia in Puccini's "Tosca" after he has been stabbed. "Aiuto, soccorso!" ("Help me! Come to my aid.") More freely translated: "Give me a break." Boston Globe 12/03/04

  • Previously: How Dare They Rehearse At A Rehearsal? The Boston Symphony has a long tradition of offering the public access to occasional "open rehearsals," and the events have historically borne less resemblance to an actual rehearsal than to a casual performance. In fact, on the occasion that a conductor or soloist has actually attempted to use these scheduled services to work on a piece of music at some level of detail, the BSO has been guaranteed to receive multiple letters of complaint from those patrons in attendance. Still, new music director James Levine is making it clear that a rehearsal is a rehearsal, and he has no interest in plowing through repertoire for its own sake. Boston Globe 11/19/04

Next Week Is La Scala's Grand Reopening Next week La Scala reopens in its refurbished home. "At first glance, little has changed in 226 years -- not the terraced neoclassical facade designed by architect Giuseppe Piermarini, nor the intimate, semicircular theater. Yet hovering discreetly behind the 18th-century exterior today are a tubular structure and a multistoried fly tower, both very 21st century. They were designed by Mario Botta, architect of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to update and expand the opera's backstage area in a 60.5 million euro ($80.6 million) revamp that opera professionals say was long overdue." Bloomberg 12/03/04

Apple Charged With Overcharging iTunes In UK A British consumer watchdog group has taken Apple before the European Union, complaining that Brits are being charged more for iTunes than elsewhere in Europe. "Whereas iTunes customers in the UK have to pay 79p to download a song, those in Germany and France are only charged 99 cents or 68p. Back in September Apple defended the price differential, saying that the underlying economic model in each country has an impact on how we price our track downloads."
BBC 12/03/04

December 2, 2004

State Of The Art: Music Criticism A hundred classical music critics gathered in October to talk about their chosen profession. "Conductor James Conlon sounded a recurring theme when he said U.S. classical music institutions were in crisis and needed the help of critics "not just to admonish and correct our bad tempi or poor choice of repertoire . . . but to raise the consciousness of the entire nation" about the value of the arts." St. Petersburg Times 11/17/04

Tenors, Tenors, Everywhere... The planet is awash in tenors. They're popping up everywhere. But have we hit tenor aturation? "Among serious opera people, suspicion is warranted. Legitimately trained tenors often come and go in a few seasons. And ours is a time when questionably trained pop tenors sweep the country with massive marketing campaigns and then disappear before they can develop artistically." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/02/04

December 1, 2004

Proof That Readers Don't Pay Attention To Critics Take a look at lists of critics' choices for top recordings of the year, then look at what music sold best. Guess what? They don't match. "The only thing people who buy records and those who write about them agree on, then, is an album whose pastel wistfulness just begs for the spine-stiffening effect of a stint in the marines. This prompts the disheartening thought that the only listeners whose habits rock journalists have any influence over are in fact other rock journalists." The Guardian (UK) 12/02/04

Armstrong Quits Scottish Opera Richard Armstrong has resigned as director of the Scottish Opera. "James MacMillan, the country's leading composer, reacted angrily and accused the Scottish Executive and Arts Council of 'making Scotland into a laughing stock the world over'. Mr MacMillan said the executive and SAC's lack of support for the opera company, which is to have 88 jobs cut in a money saving move, was down to "a misguided anti-elitism. They see high arts as not really Scottish - which is an insult to the people who want the highest level of opera, theatre and music provision." The Guardian (UK) 12/02/04

Another Surplus In SF, But Red Ink In Sight “The San Francisco Symphony finished its 2003-04 fiscal year with an unexpected $700,000 surplus on an operating budget of just over $50 million, according to a report presented at Monday's annual board meeting. The black ink was the result of some timely cost-cutting combined with stronger-than- anticipated ticket sales… But management isn't expecting the good times to last: The budget for the current year includes a planned deficit of more than $2 million.” San Francisco Chronicle 12/01/04

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