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September 30, 2005

The People's Choice Conductor The readers of the UK's Gramophone magazine have voted San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas their Artist of the Year. "Thomas beat out a slate of musicians compiled by the editors that also included mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and tenor Rolando Villazón." San Francisco Chronicle 09/30/05

The No-Longer-Quite-So-Cheap-But-Still-Quite-A-Bargain Seats "For the first time in four years , the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has raised prices on the cheap seats at Powell Hall. This comes in the midst of a publicity blitz for new symphony music director David Robertson, who is drawing raves. Before this year, the cheap seats were a terrific bargain at just $10. That’s for 71 seats in the first three rows (called Orchestra Front on the symphony’s Web site). These seats are not for everyone: they’re like the front row at the movie theater. But if you enjoy being really involved with the sound, you can’t beat it: the music is all around you. This year, the cheap seats went up to $15." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 09/30/05

The Evolving Art of Conducting For the most part, the days when a conductor could rule his orchestra with rage and threats are gone, and most musicians expect the rehearsal atmosphere to be one of collegial, if not exactly friendly, collaboration. But as conductors have changed, the art of conducting has, as well: the physical demands are not nearly as great as the riddle of how to motivate a group of players and draw out their best performance. The best conductors are frequently those who never seem to be imposing their will on the orchestra, but still maintain a firm grip on the reins of interpretation. In other words, friendly is good, but respect is still the main thing. Financial Times (UK) 09/30/05

September 29, 2005

Build It And They Will Come (Maybe. When They're Good and Ready.) There was a time when the audience for classical music preferred - nay, demanded - that the genre be presented as a dressed-up affair, all formality and glamour, and that those in attendance listen "not only with their senses, but their soul." These days, most classical presenters are considerably less picky - as long as there are butts in the seats, who cares what they're wearing or if they squirm a bit? Amanda Holloway suggests that, in a world of seemingly endless entertainment options, catering to supposedly modern tastes just isn't ever going to bring new audiences to the concert hall, and neither is reminding them constantly that culture is good for them. "No clever direct-mailing approach from an arts centre can replace... personal motivation." The Times (UK) 09/30/05

The Voices In Your Head You probably think that your taste in music is your own, borne of your free spirit and personal experience. Well, it isn't. No, the people who tell you what you like to hear (or at least control what you have access to) are a motley collection of TV presenters, marketing execs, and general know-it-alls who you have never heard of, and who generally like it that way. Of course, they must be fairly good at knowing what you like, since you do like that new Coldplay single on your iPod. Don't you? C'mon, listen to it again... The Guardian (UK) 09/30/05

Spurned Conductor Rides Again "The conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who was dumped by a major record label after a long and distinguished career, has had the last laugh after his self-released album of Bach cantatas was named record of the year. Sir John, a world expert on the music of J S Bach, took the top honours at the Classic FM Gramophone Awards in London yesterday, one of the most prestigious dates in the classical music calendar. He took the decision to release the music himself after the label Deutsche Grammophon pulled the plug on him in 2000 after nearly 20 years, just as he was about to embark on a tour of Europe performing all of Bach's 200 cantatas." The Independent (UK) 09/30/05

Playing The Finale, And Hoping For One More Reprise Conductors of international stature regularly flit from job to job, leaving little mark on any one city in which they might alight for a week or two. But for conductors of smaller ensembles who make their careers with a single ensemble in a single town, the roots put down can run deep. So what happens when one of those ensembles dies for lack of money? Enter Ruben Vartanyan, the 69-year-old music director of the newly bankrupt Arlington Symphony in suburban Washington, D.C. "There is a move afoot to resurrect the symphony in a more modest form... But the odds are long. Funding is scarce. And the work to rebuild could be enormous. The old conductor, though, is available." Washington Post 09/30/05

25 Music Critics In One Concert Hall? Is That Legal? The Columbia School of Journalism has released a list of 25 arts journalists who will be taking part in an NEA-sponsored Institute in Classical Music and Opera this October. "Participants will attend performances at all major New York concert venues, including Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera. They will write reviews and take part in writing workshops led by critics and editors at the New York Times, the New Yorker and other major publications, study music history with professors at NYU and Columbia, and meet with leading decision makers and thinkers in the field of classical music." Columbia University (NY) 09/29/05

PSO Looks To Its Musicians For Fiscal Relief The musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony got an astonishingly mammoth raise this season, the result of a backloaded contract negotiated by a management team that his since left the building. And now, with a financial crunch on the horizon, the PSO's current managers are hoping the musicians will be willing to take their raise back a notch. A proposed new three-year deal, which would replace the current contract, would shave $6,000 off the minimum salary, but restore the higher wage beginning in fall 2006, and preserve it through the 2007-08 season. The musicians will vote on the revised deal tomorrow. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 09/29/05

Finally, Black Ink In Philly In what will be seen as a major turnaround for a troubled organization, the Philadelphia Orchestra has announced a balanced budget for fiscal 2004, following several years of deficits and a contentious contract negotiation with its musicians which very nearly ended in a strike. The orchestra also announced that it played to 89% of its hall's capacity, and that its ongoing endowment campaign has passed the $100 million mark. Philadelphia Inquirer 09/29/05

Is Music Good For The Heart? "Musical training might be good for the heart, suggests a small study, which shows that it is musical tempo, rather than style, that is the greatest stress buster... Half of those taking part were trained musicians, who had been playing instruments for at least seven years. The remainder had had no musical training... Faster music, and more complex rhythms, speeded up breathing and circulation, irrespective of style, with fast classical and techno music having the same impact. But the faster the music, the greater was the degree of physiological arousal... This effect occurred, irrespective of the musical style or preferences of the listener, but was stronger among the musicians, who are trained to synchronise their breathing with musical phrases." News-Medical.net 09/29/05

Should LA Phil Go Casual? When architect Frank Gehry designed the L.A. Philharmonic's dazzling new concert hall, he promised to make it "a living room for the city," and if the comfort level of the patrons is any indication, he succeeded. Whereas a concertgoer in anything less than a shirt and tie might have been well out of place in the Phil's ultraformal old concert hall, the modern slopes and inviting facade of Disney Hall seem to have convinced many to shed the three-piece suits in favor of more comfortable attire. So why is the Philharmonic persisting in wearing those hopelessly over-formal tuxedos? Los Angeles Times 09/29/05

Less Money, Less Music In Milwaukee The musicians of the Milwaukee Symphony have ratified a new contract which will reduce their annual salaries by 9%, eliminate two full-time positions in the orchestra, and cut the ensemble's season by four weeks. "A player making the minimum will see his or her salary fall from $59,125 to $53,625. Paid vacation drops from six weeks to five, and the players' contribution to health insurance is likely to rise under a formula linking it to insurance costs." Despite the concessions, the musicians ratified the deal willingly if not happily, which may have something to do with an unusual provision requiring members of the orchestra's upper management team to take the same 9% wage cut as the players. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 09/29/05

September 28, 2005

Adams: A Link To Our Atomic History John Adamsa says his new opera Dr. Atomic is an attempt to reconnect us with history. "Every time you pick up a paper, turn on the TV or go on the internet, you're presented with some huge human tragedy. It might be an Iraqi policeman blown apart, or somebody shot by a terrorist, but the way it's presented in the media, it all just becomes so much data. The story of the development of the atomic bomb has become like a comic-book narrative: all these ingenious young American scientists building this bomb, and then setting it off in the desert, and then we drop it on the Japanese. We've heard this story so often that it doesn't have any meaning any more. It's just an event in our cosmic consciousness. It's my job to make people feel the significance of the story again." The Guardian (UK) 09/29/05

Classical Music In Decline Is classical music in America a shadow of its Golden Age past? Joseph Horowitz makes his case... The Nation 09/28/05

Winnipeg Symphony Gets Debt-Free The Winnipeg Symphony has erased a formerly crippling accumulated deficit. "Two years ago, the orchestra was $2.9-million in the hole after several seasons of major losses. The official deficit at the end of the 2003-2004 fiscal year stood at $1.6-million. Of that, $1.3-million has been covered by the province and the rest by private fundraising and a small amount, about $44,000, by a sustaining fee on some ticket sales." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/28/05

NJ Symphony Musicians Settle For Less In New Contract The New Jersey Symphony has a new contract with its musicians. The contract "cuts their annual salary 10 percent, temporarily reduces the number of players from 76 to 69, and trims the orchestra's season from 36 weeks to 32 weeks, effective retroactively to Sept. 1, when the previous, two-year contract expired." Newark Star-Ledger 09/27/05

When Rock Stars Go Classical (It Isn't Pretty) Alan Kozinn puzzles over pop stars' desires to crossover to classical music. "It seems to be a part of the human condition that having established a specialty, we hanker to do something else. And far be it from me to say that we shouldn't. But speaking as a classical music critic who also listens to lots of rock - and who wishes that more rock fans found classical music exciting as well - I must confess that I find many of these crossover incursions dispiriting. For one thing, rock stars who become interested in classical music are bizarrely conservative." The New York Times 09/28/05

September 27, 2005

Instant Concert CDs A Big Success "Instant Live recordings made with Universal labels will be sold at shows, and also made available on the Instant Live Web site, individual band sites, and also via online retailers. The concept of selling recordings of live concert echoes what happened in the 1960s, when the underground bootleg industry, operating outside the auspices of the record labels, started to fulfill fan needs by, for example, offering recordings of concerts they could not afford to attend. In the last couple of years, technology has made it profitable for artists and companies to record and sell instant live recordings to the audience--all through legal means. PCWorld 09/27/05

Utah Symphony & Opera Improves Financial Outlook Salt Lake's Utah Symphony & Opera has taken a step back from financial ruin. "In March, managers acknowledged that US&O had run up deficits of $3.4 million after the merger of the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera in 2002. Administrators used private donations to keep US&O from dipping into endowment funds. The US&O board responded with a three-year plan to get back on track. US&O has made progress in cutting costs and raising revenues. The organization ended fiscal year 2005 on Aug. 31 with a deficit of $312,000, beating a target of $571,000 in the red. Revenues from contributions were $6 million, squeaking in at just $500 more than the organization's goal." Salt Lake Tribune 09/27/05

No Orchestra, Savannah Musicians Leave Since the Savannah Symphony folded three years ago, half of its musicians have left the city. "Of the 38 musicians who made up the orchestra, 19 have left the area. The financially-strapped orchestra succumbed to bankruptcy in 2003." Savannah News 09/27/05

Sony: Help Wanted Think Sony is abandoning classical music? Naw. The label is advertising in a magazine for children for a new classical band. "Are you the next Aled Jones or Charlotte Church? One of the UK's biggest record labels is looking for boys and girls aged 10-14 to form the next classical crossover band." The Scotsman 09/27/05

Louisville - Looking For A Leader The Louisville Orchestra is looking for a new music director. What kind of person should lead the orchestra? "People expect more out of a music director now than they did, say, 10 years ago, because the structure of the orchestra has changed. There's more raising money and less trading on big grants and gifts. By the same token, there must be artistic excellence. There has to be a balance. We cannot have an enigma on the podium, seen only at a masterworks concert. We have to have someone who is in the community representing the orchestra." The Courier-Journal (Louisville) 09/26/05

September 26, 2005

UK Judge Convenes In Cuba Over Song Rights An English court considering who owns the UK rights to some popular Cuban songs has adjourned to Havana. "The case was proceeding in London earlier this year when an attempt to hear from Cuban witnesses via a video link to Havana failed. The presiding judge, Mr Justice Lindsay, then made the decision that justice would be best served if he appointed himself special examiner, went to Cuba, and gathered evidence." The Guardian (UK) 09/26/05

September 25, 2005

Opera Doesn't Work In The Present Opera set in modern times just plain doesn't work. Writes Andrew O'Hagan: "Opera can't cope with modern boredom or the banality of everyday speech without making it seem hilariously camp, overblown, unreal, and unfelt. Anything prosaic quickly seems fake. Everything practical suddenly seems doomed. Maybe opera is just too bold-gestured and not the kind of drama I can believe in when set in a modern context. Even where the music is lovely, and the look is right." The Telegraph (UK) 09/25/05

What Happened To "Just The Music"? More and more orchestras are dangling "extras" to entice people to come to concerts. "Spicing up concerts with bells and whistles may very well engage the short-attention-span set, but those folks may then expect the extras every time they enter a concert hall. And this could keep them essentially stuck in one kind of experience, patronizing only one kind of orchestral product. That wouldn't matter as long as all the other products are doing well. But orchestras have been suffering mostly from lagging sales for the traditional, just-the-notes-ma'am subscription series, which play to an orchestra's base and usually do the most to shore up the finances." Baltimore Sun 09/25/05

Declining To Cross Over Soprano Aprile Millo cancels a Carnegie Hall concert after the promoter wants her to sing "crossover" music. "I said, 'My crossover is to Handel,' It's one profession trying to get another profession to modern up. And it's not going to work, not with this girl." The New York Times 09/24/05

BSO: Excellence Costs James Levine costs the Boston Symphony. And he makes the musicians work hard. "The BSO players knew what they were getting into. That's why they negotiated what's called the 'Levine Premium' before the maestro's first season. They get an extra $220 for each of the music director's 12 weeks. With about 100 players in the BSO and including other expenses, the total adds up to roughly $278,000 for the season. And there are other costs..."
Boston Globe 09/25/05

Page: Domingo Conquers Tristan Tim Page declares Placido Domingo's new Tristan recording a triumph. "It has long been thought that Domingo had it in him to actually sing Tristan, and some listeners suspected that he might prove to be the most musical Tristan since the legendary Lauritz Melchior, who virtually owned the role in the 1930s and '40s. And now, at the age of 63, Domingo has proved it, with a new recording of "Tristan und Isolde" for EMI Classics. His performance is everything one could have hoped for -- ardent, lyrical, intelligent and astonishingly sweet-toned, with only a few effortful passages to remind the listener that Domingo has been before the public for more than 45 years." Washington Post 09/25/05

LA - Story Of A Chamber Orchestra The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is 35 years old. A tumultuous history and a record of solid music-making have put the orchestra on a solid track as one of the city's primary musical assets Los Angeles Times 09/25/05

John Adams Goes Nuclear "Doctor Atomic will surely not deliver history's final verdict on Robert Oppenheimer. It may, however, lay to rest persistent misconceptions about John Adams's work, which has been described since "Nixon in China" as "CNN opera." The label applies well enough to other operas "ripped from the headlines." But it never really applied to the Adams operas, which sought from the first to lend topical subjects the timelessness and ambiguity of myth." The New York Times 09/25/05

  • Checking Out The Physics In A Opera About Science When John Adams and Peter Sellers tried out their new "Dr. Atomic" in front of a physicist last year, they got an immediate reaction. Bad physics! cried the scientist. Well, you can't do an opera about science and have the science be wrong. So the libretto has been tweaked... The New York Times 09/25/05

Do We Care About Who Sings What? "Today many well-known rock bands are pursuing second acts with new lead singers, raising questions not only about just how far the trend can go, but about where a band's identity truly lies. Music executives say a band's ability to outlive its singer usually depends on which was more influential: the songs or the cult of personality. In the case of Motown ensembles on the oldies circuit, the songs win out every time." The New York Times 09/25/05

September 22, 2005

Is Los Angeles Deadly For Singers? "The more singers you talk to, the more the impression emerges of Los Angeles as a prime booby trap for anyone who contemplates a serious vocal career..." LAWeekly 09/22/05

Are iPods Destroying Hearing? Audiologists have long expressed concern about hearing loss stemming from the use of headphones, but according to some, the new generation of digital music players pose a particular threat, allowing consumers to listen for long periods at high volume, and eliminating so much of the distortion and background noise common to, say, cassette players, that many listeners won't even realize how much sound they're pumping into their head. "Even with the sound piped directly into the ear canal, noise from the outside often competes with the music, and listeners turn it up louder. People listening to music while riding [commuter] trains, for example, frequently increase the volume levels to drown out the sound of the commute." San Francisco Chronicle 09/22/05

Crunch & Twang, Together At Last That the gulf between rock and country music has narrowed in recent years is old news, and to a large extent, the sub-genre known as "arena rock" (hard-driving bands capable of filling arenas that seat tens of thousands - think Bon Jovi) has been replaced by ultra-popular country acts like Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith. But as country rises and rock continues to morph horribly into candy-coated pop, marketers are seeing serious potential in a crossover approach to selling old-fashioned arena rock. "There's no reason, after all, why a pop song can't crunch and twang at the same time." The New York Times 09/22/05

September 21, 2005

Preservation Hall Band Reunites Musicians of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have reunited in New York. "Preservation Hall itself dates back to a private residence built in 1750, when New Orleans was still a French colony. Like most of the French Quarter, the building suffered only minimal damage from Katrina, its stone walls and thick wooden shutters holding firm against yet another hurricane. The band last performed at Preservation Hall on Aug. 27, a Saturday night, one day before Katrina hit. They played for about 20 people, one of the smallest crowds since the hall was founded by Jaffe's parents in 1961 in a former art gallery. The performance ended early so the musicians could get out of town." Yahoo! (AP) 09/21/05

Spano, Runnicles Earn ASO Extensions The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has extended the contracts of music director Robert Spano and principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles through the 2008-09 season. The move to lock up a popular music director for an additional two years will likely be seen as a signal to larger U.S. orchestras with music director vacancies that the 44-year-old Spano, a rising star among American conductors, is not available to them in the near term. Andante (AJC) 09/21/05

Concert Canceled Due To Approaching Disaster With Hurricane Rita churning across the Gulf of Mexico toward the Texas Coast, the Houston Symphony Orchestra has canceled all of its scheduled concerts for the upcoming weekend. Houston sits approximately 50 miles inland from where Rita, now a Category 5 storm, is expected to make landfall, but officials are warning of the possibility of severe flooding in the city nonetheless. The orchestra's concert hall and library were badly damaged by storm-induced flooding in 2001. PlaybillArts (NY) 09/21/05

Monk Competition Wraps Up In D.C. Washington, D.C.'s annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition might be the genre's most prestigious contest, and this week, the 2005 edition was won by a Norwegian-born strummer now living in New York. Unlike many classical competitions, the students hoping for first prize weren't the only ones to take the stage - all the judges, whose names read like a roster of America's finest living jazz musicians - performed in addition to their jury duty. Washington Post 09/21/05

September 20, 2005

Jobs: Resist Those Greedy Recording Companies Apple chief Steve Jobs says recording companies are getting greedy and want to raise the price of online music. "We're trying to compete with piracy, we're trying to pull people away from piracy and say 'you can buy these songs legally for a fair price'. But if the price goes up a lot, they'll go back to piracy. Then everybody loses." BBC 09/20/05

September 19, 2005

Springer Gets Backing To Tour Jerry Springer, The Opera, will make its UK tour after all. "The show seemed doomed when 30% of theatres pulled out after Christian Voice said it would picket venues. The Arts Council of Britain then refused a request to fund the tour. But the theatres have agreed to pool marketing costs and producers Avalon will put £650,000 into the tour." BBC 09/19/05

Wilkins To Lead Orlando Phil Chris Wilkins has been named music director of the Orlando Philharmonic. "For 10 seasons, Wilkins served as music director of the San Antonio Symphony. For the past five years, he has guest-conducted orchestras around the country -- including two stints at the Orlando Philharmonic. Wilkins, 48, will replace much-lauded maestro Hal France, who is leaving the orchestra after this season to pursue other interests." Orlando Sentinel 09/19/05

How The Internet Is Revitalizing The Music Business "The indie-rock surge has been ushered in by an Internet community of music connoisseurs who trade MP3 files and gather to talk music and champion favored bands on blogs and Web sites such as Myspace.com, and write for e-zines such as Pitchforkmedia.com. 'The Internet's role is important because there aren't as many gatekeepers. You can put the music on a Web Site, or on Myspace or the blogosphere and let the fans find it, talk about it and analyze it before radio or MTV even knows it exists. The fans get it first, and that gives them a sense of ownership'." Chicago Tribune 09/18/05

Another Resignation At La Scala One of the theatre's biggest sponsors has quit the company's governing board. "His resignation follows a decision to hand over the running of the new theatre, the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, to the local authority, the commune of Milan." Gramophone 09/19/05

Career Choice - Singing The Blues Being a singer is not a good career choice these days. "The expansion of higher education conflicts exponentially with the contraction of the classical music business, leaving more aspirants chasing fewer opportunities and smaller budgets. Fees have barely shifted in the past decade, and what might look quite good on paper - £500-£1,000 per performance - is pitiful when you've deducted all the expenses, including 15 per cent agent's commission. And even if you do make it big, time is short: if you manage 20 years, you're doing better than most." The Telegraph (UK) 09/18/05

Are We Growing Numb To Music? "We live in a world with too much music. And the din is only increasing. Stop and listen for a moment. Hear that tune on the radio in the cubicle next to you? Hear that jingle on the TV ad? Or the Kanye West ringtone on your cell phone, clashing with the music being played by the band in the corner of the bar? Maybe you don't hear any of that because you've got your iPod earbuds in, or your home stereo cranked. Music is everywhere these days. And with the proliferation of ever-smaller electronic devices packed with ever more music, the supposed nirvana of having any song available at the push of a button seems ever closer." Are we losing our ability to really listen? The Missoulian (Montana) 09/16/05

Florida Concert Group Merges With Miami PAC The new Miami Performing Arts Center (anxious to sign up tenants) has signed up (read: merged) with the Concert Association of Florida. "Most obviously, the partnership strengthens the Miami Performing Arts Center's status as the dominant cultural force in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, even before the center opens in fall of 2006. In addition to its signing of the Cleveland Orchestra as resident ensemble for 10 years, presenting Florida Grand Opera performances and bringing Drucker's events under its authority make the Miami Performing Arts Center the most powerful presenter of classical music in the region." The Sun-Sentinel (Florida) 09/16/05

September 18, 2005

Philly Singers Cancel Half Season The Philadelphia Singers, one of that city's major choral groups, has canceled half its season. "The decision comes after five years of declining support from private donors, foundations and subscribers, which numbered 400 last year. Executive director Rebecca Bolden called the move 'painful' but 'fiscally responsible' in consideration of the chorus' $40,000 deficit against a $600,000 annual budget." Philadelphia Inquirer 09/18/05

The Highest Soprano In The World? Surely Diana Damrau sings the highest of any soprano. In a world where high "C" is considered an upper range, she goes higher. Much higher. "Last December, in the first modern performance of Antonio Salieri's "Europa Riconosciuta," at La Scala in Milan, she topped the composer's three F sharps with an unwritten high G. What's more, she managed to give that unearthly note real sheen and body. And in concert, she has sung an A flat in Johann Strauss's "Voices of Spring." The New York Times 09/18/05

Naxos Joins The Podcast Parade Everybody's getting in to podcasts. The latest is the recording label Naxos. "The label has five free mini-documentaries on classical music already available, and more are on the way. 'They're not really sales pieces. We designed them to help people get involved, learn about and appreciate classical music. It gets kids thinking about classical music too, using a medium that younger people are tuned in to'." Los Angeles Times 09/17/05

Access Problems In Denver Denver's new opera house isn't getting rave reviews from disabled concertgoers. "The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition was invited to tour the opera house and found that lifts designed to carry people in wheelchairs to the lower orchestra level were slow and difficult to navigate. Also, lower-level seating near the orchestra is on a slope instead of being level for wheelchairs." Opera House execs say that they will work with the coalition to address the problems, but some observers say that the problems needed to be corrected in the design phase, and may not be tweakable. Denver Post 09/17/05

New Era Begins In St. Louis David Robertson has officially arrived as the new music director of the Saint Louis Symphony, and the city may never have seen a conductor more eager to get started. "On Monday, Robertson threw out the first ball at the Cardinals game... On Tuesday, he heard auditions. On Wednesday, he held his first rehearsal as music director, and then charmed the audience at a 'town hall' meeting in [suburban] Des Peres." Robertson's biggest task may be restoring the orchestra to its place among the top American ensembles after years of crippling deficits, high-profile labor disputes, and organizational malaise. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 09/18/05

Awaiting A Operatic Triumph In T.O. Toronto is a year away from the opening of its new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, and William Littler says that the long wait for a true opera venue in Canada's largest city may turn out to be worth it in the end, especially if the center properly reflects its main inspiration, Munich's spectacular Nationaltheater, home of the Bavarian State Opera. Toronto Star 09/17/05

Pittsburgh On The Road Less Traveled "The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra had a rocky prelude to the start of its new season this month. First a local newspaper suggested over the summer that the 111-year-old orchestra be downsized. Then its administrators, on the heels of a $500,000 expected deficit, were forced to pay a huge raise to its players because of an unusual contract clause. Plans for a European tour in October were abandoned for lack of a sponsor. And the accidental popping of balloons shattered the mood during its gala opening program on Sept. 10, giving a new definition to the term pops concert." But behind the scenes, the PSO is tackling its challenges with an unconventional approach, making a concerted push to expand their subscription base and market the orchestra itself, rather than high-profile conductors and soloists. The New York Times 09/17/05

The Strike That Wouldn't End The musicians of l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal have now been on strike for 18 weeks, the second-longest work stoppage by a North American orchestra in 40 years, and there doesn’t appear to have been a single measure of progress towards reconciliation. So what’s taking so long? Unfortunately, the OSM strike is just the most visible battle of a continent-wide war between two mindsets in the classical music industry: that which claims that the market is saturated, and only a significant scaling back of ambitions can put things right; and that which insists that the only crisis in the orchestra world is a crisis of leadership in the boardroom, and holds fast to the notion that top orchestras can still pay top dollar and be financially viable. Both sides in Montreal are firmly dug in, and there’s no end in sight. Maclean's 09/19/05

On The Road To Better Times In San Antonio Two years ago, the San Antonio Symphony was in dire financial straits, and came perilously close to shutting down completely. Today, as the SAS launches its second full season following a tumultuous period in bankruptcy, things are looking up, and the orchestra is seeing a sharp uptick in ticket sales as well as philanthropic giving. "The symphony already has $2 million of its almost $6 million budget for the 2005-06 season," and officials are confident that the ensemble will be able to operate without a deficit this year. San Antonio Express-News 09/17/05

September 16, 2005

Rich New Deal For L.A. Phil The Los Angeles Philharmonic has a new contract with its musicians which will make it the highest-paying orchestra in the U.S. in the deal's final year. The ensemble, which currently has a minimum salary of $2025 per week, will get a better than 20% raise by 2009, eventually reaching an annual salary in excess of $127,000. "Among other provisions, the contract includes measures to streamline the Philharmonic's auditioning, hiring and vesting processes; allows for free local radio broadcasts; reduces the orchestra by two players (through attrition); redesigns the musicians' healthcare plan; and calls for the members to donate three concerts to help finance pension costs and raise money for the orchestra's endowment fund." Los Angeles Times 09/16/05

Kahane In Colorado Jeffrey Kahane debuts this week as the Colorado Symphony's new music director, succeeding Marin Alsop, and he has big plans for the ensemble. "He envisions the orchestra in four or more years playing in New York's Carnegie Hall and perhaps even touring to Europe or South America." Kahane is also promoting a "chamber music style" of music-making in which he and the musicians work as colleagues, rather than a conductor simply barking orders from on high. In that vein, he will conduct several concerts this season while seated at a piano keyboard, playing a concerto while leading the orchestra. Denver Post 09/16/05

Apparently, It's True: There Are No Good Conductors The prestigious International Sibelius Conductors' Competition, held every five years in Helsinki, has ended with the jury declining to award a prize to any of the three finalists. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, speaking for the judges, declared the level of competition to be "disappointing," and further announced to the audience that "not one finalist conducted the symphony by Sibelius in a way that would entitle him to any of the first three prizes." The jury awarded each of the finalists a lesser prize instead, but the competition's chairman was clearly displeased by the decision. Helsingen Sanomat (Helsinki) 09/16/05

September 15, 2005

Or Maybe It'll Just Mean More Unwanted Phone Noise For those who have been wondering what the big deal is about Apple's new iPod/phone hybrid, and even more for those who have become more than a little resentful about the whole iPod phenomenon, here's a pleasant thought: the MP3-playing phones, which come with powerful built-in speakers, may just have the potential to jerk us back into a reality in which music is meant for sharing with others. If the basic iPods "suggest that music is a solitary experience, comprised solely of plugging into your own greatest hits," the phone version allows for the possibility that music "can once again be something that is not just the soundtrack to your own little world, but which you enjoy with other people." The Telegraph (UK) 09/16/05

Mozart: More Than Just Hold Music No matter where you live, you're probably going to be hearing a lot of Mozart this year, as the classical music world celebrates the composer's 250th anniversary. "Mozart is so easy to underestimate. His music chimes in every muzak-infested lift or restaurant or shopping centre, and in these days of the call centre, Mozart's is among the music you hear most often when on hold. You can claim to know nothing about classical music, but you have heard of Mozart, and heard Mozart. Yet just when you are about to write Mozart off as over-exploited and over-exposed, there is the music, utterly direct, communicative yet emotionally elusive, simple yet infinitely complex, which has been moving listeners for over two centuries, offering different qualities to new generations." The Guardian (UK) 09/16/05

Louisiana Phil Reforms In Nashville Members of the Louisiana Philharmonic, scattered around America after Katrina, are gathering up in Nashville to perform a benefit concert. "It's about hope for them. The notion that they are all together, making music together, will be an incredible thing. It's about raising some money, but it's also about healing their souls.' Mark O'Connor will be guest soloist for the concert, which is scheduled for national broadcast on National Public Radio." The Tennessean 09/15/05

Kennedy Center Holds Hand Out To Struggling Orchestras The Kennedy Center is expanding an initiative to provide management help to more than two dozen struggling small and mid-size orchestras. "Sustaining the American Orchestra," the new initiative, is an effort to design strategies that will change the way many orchestras do business. Initially the center will work with 23 orchestras, ranging from the Indianapolis Symphony, which has a $23 million budget, and the St. Louis Symphony, a $21 million budget, to the Reno Philharmonic and Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, both with $1 million budgets. The Kennedy Center is using a model it developed three years ago to help minority-run dance, theater and music companies. Washington Post 09/15/05

September 14, 2005

Louisiana Transplants - Living It Up In Lafayette "No one knows what will come of the dispersal of New Orleans's artistic life, or whether the thousands of musical transients will become transplants. Like so much else in the aftermath of the hurricane, the question is unresolved. But here in Lafayette, where Cajun French can still be heard in the street, the signs are bilingual and old French Canada is the musical touchstone, musicians - locals and evacuees - are expecting a flowering of creativity." The Telegraph (UK) 09/15/05

Canadian Chain Boycotts Bob Dylan The record chain HMV Canada has removed all of Bob Dylan's recordings from its stores after the singer made a deal to sell his new album exclusively at Starbucks. "A spokesman for HMV Canada told the Hollywood Reporter they were no longer stocking or displaying Dylan's albums. The chain has previously boycotted CDs by Alanis Morissette and The Rolling Stones to complain at exclusive deals. When HMV Canada removed The Rolling Stones from its shelves in 2003, president Humphrey Kadaner said: 'Any artists that choose to exclude HMV as a retailer for selling the product, this will be our response'." BBC 09/14/05

Why Orchestras Pay So Little "A survey of British orchestral players by the Musicians Union finds that many have been reduced to taking part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. Aromatherapy, taxi driving, letting out rooms and web design are listed as supplementary occupations. One respondent complains that a young policeman earns more than a parental cellist, a plumber makes three times as much. Players may look smart in tie and tails on stage but their socks are full of holes and their satisfaction level is grumblingly low. The worst thing about being an orchestral musician, most agree, is the wretched pay." Norman Lebrecht wonders: Is anything to be done? La Scena Musicale 09/14/05

Seattle Symphony Wins New Players Contract "The three-year extension and modification of the present contract, worked out during the past nine months of negotiations between the orchestra management and the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players Organization, has three key elements. The first postpones raises that were supposed to come in 2005-06, the last year of the current five-year contract. The second affects health insurance, with musicians taking on some added costs, including covering 25 percent of the premium cost for their dependents. Finally, some future raises are being deferred" Seattle Times 09/14/05

  • Behind The Seattle Symphony's Musicians' Contract The Seattle Symphony has had a recent run of deficits, putting it in a strong position in its just-concluded contract negotiations with musicians. "The symphony did not back away from its commitment in the 2001 contract to increase musicians' weekly salaries 36 percent by 2006, which includes a 7 percent pay hike this year. To do so, the length of the season will drop back from 46 weeks to 45 weeks this year." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 09/14/05

September 13, 2005

Portrait Of The Orchestra Musician In The UK "According to the survey, orchestral musicians earn an average of £28,579 per year - of which £25,126 comes from their orchestral contract. (According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK average salary last year was £22,060.) The pay scale is fairly flat across the sector, with 71 per cent of respondents earning between £20,000 and £30,000. 14 per cent earned below that, and 15 per cent above. Over the last three years, musicians' average earnings have risen at slightly below the rate of inflation." Gramophone 09/13/05

Pop Goes The Pittsburgh... The Pittsburgh Symphony's gala concert last Saturday was repeatedly interrupted by the popping of balloons suspended from the ceiling of Heinz Hall. "Due to the resonance of the concert hall, the would-be tiny pops thundered with resounding force, startling the audience and the musicians many times over." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 09/13/05

China's Internet Pop Stars Young internet pop stars are blooming in China, where they record their music with just a laptop, headphones and a lip-mike. Xiang Xiang is the 21-year-old at the top of the charts. Her Song of Pig has notched up a billion downloads from admirers in China, Singapore and Malaysia, but the downloads are all free. Why free? "It's purely a kind of communication. I get feedback and suggestions or comments on my work and then I can make changes." BBC 09/13/05

Jazz Greats Honored By NEA "Singer Tony Bennett, keyboardist Chick Corea and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard are among those named Jazz Masters by the National Endowment for the Arts and awarded $25,000 fellowships. The other recipients are percussionist Ray Barretto, composer Bob Brookmeyer, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco and New Orleans-born manager John Levy, honored as a jazz advocate." Chicago Tribune 09/13/05

September 12, 2005

Phoenix Symphony Looks To Better Times The Phoenix Symphony has shown a deficit in 15 of its 22 years in existence. Not this year though; they're in the black. "The announcement comes in the wake of the completed $18 million renovation of Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix, the hiring of young phenom conductor Michael Christie and a landmark six-year labor agreement between management and musicians. The tide finally might be turning for the much-beleaguered symphony." Phoenix Business Journal 09/11/05

Understanding The Complete Webern This thurday the UK's Radio 3 is broadcasting the complete works of Anton Weber in order. "The timing is right. Even as recently as 20 years ago, Webern's music was, to most folk, an arid curiosity - a period-piece belonging to a faction of early-20th-century modernism that was experimental, clandestine, even frustrated. In reality, Webern, Schoenberg and Berg were passionate individuals, seeking new paths for music as it struggled to come to terms with the suicidal excesses of 19th-century Romanticism. In this postmodern age, Webern's insistent, challenging and single-minded voice has a renewed vigour and relevance." The Scotsman 09/12/05

Montreal Symphony Cancels Concerts The Montreal Symphony has canceled the first four concerts of its season due to a continuing musicians' strike. "Management announced late last week that its September concerts, including two with Belgian baritone José Van Dam, would not take place. A press release blamed the musicians, who have been on the picket line since May 9." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/12/05

What's Wrong With Today's Music Conservatories "The conservatory's emphasis is on one overriding subject: How to survive and succeed at an audition. Much time is devoted to teaching a student to stress the tried and true and to value unchanging metrical lines above expressiveness and rubato. The best performer is the one who can play a cliche in the most reliable manner. As a result, students pursue a gingerly course. This is now so entrenched in the nation's top schools that many of the soloists below the age of 35 I hear in concert are guilty of plodding and ciphering; they trudge through the music unscathed but without communicating its substantive meaning." New York Sun 09/12/05

Chicago's Weekend Of Free Music "Blockbuster Weekend was how the City of Chicago billed its trifecta of free performances that included concerts by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Sunday afternoon and the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Saturday night. Each event attracted blockbuster crowds -- some 10,000 for the CSO and 12,000 for the Lyric, according to a city spokeswoman. Now, all the symphony and opera have to do is translate that great wave of popular enthusiasm into paying customers, and nobody will be crying deficit." Chicago Tribune 09/12/05

September 11, 2005

Indies Score A Bigger Share Independently-produced recordings are getting a greater share of the music market in the UK. "Almost a third of UK albums that went silver, gold or platinum in 2004 came from independent labels, according to figures next week from the Association of Independent Music (AIM)." The Observer (UK) 09/11/05

Denver Celebrates New Opera House Denver opens a new opera house - the Ellie Caulkins Opera House to pomp and ceremony. "One couldn't help noticing that this gathering of old Denver really was old Denver, but Mayor John Hickenlooper said the opera house "will bring in a new generation and give them new reasons to be proud of their city." Denver Post 09/11/05

Cleveland's European Reception The Cleveland Orchestra finishes up a tour of Europe. For one of the world's most-acclaimed orchestra, the reviews were a mixed bag, with much attention focused on the skill of conductor Franz Welser-MÖst. Herewith a collection of critical excerpts... The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 09/11/05

Atomic: Sellars In Los Alamos Director Peter Sellars travels to Los Alamos to check out a little history before his opera with John Adams about the nuclear bomb (Dr. Atomic) opens in San Francisco. "With his spiky hair, enthusiastic laugh, endless curiosity, boyish friendliness and theatrical graciousness, Sellars attracts attention." Los Angeles Times 09/11/05

"Day In the Life" Tops Greatest Song Poll The Beatles song "A Day in the Life has been named in a poll as the best British song ever. "The song, which featured on the classic Beatles album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, topped a survey of music experts by Q magazine. The magazine called the track 'the ultimate sonic rendition of what it means to be British'." BBC 09/11/05

September 9, 2005

Denver Prepares To Inaugurate Its New Gem "To celebrate what designers believe is a world-class opera house, a run-of-the-mill classical concert just would not do. Something very special was called for, and that's what Opera Colorado plans to deliver Saturday evening with the first performance in the $92 million Ellie Caulkins Opera House... The opening of a new opera house anywhere is noteworthy, because the construction of such buildings is so rare. Some companies have to perform in less-than-ideal venues designed for multiple functions or adapted from other uses. For this 2,268-seat facility, Boulder acoustician Bob Mahoney and Semple Brown Design created a lyre-shaped theater that they believe can compete with any of the world's top opera houses in terms of sound, comfort and technical sophistication." Denver Post 09/09/05

The Orchestra Unplugged A new documentary film featuring the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra takes a decidedly personal view of music and the people who play it. "The paradox of performing in an orchestra is that it is an intensely private experience in a public arena," and the aloofness with which orchestral musicians (and orchestras as a whole) are usually portrayed stands at stark odds with the film's exploration of the emotions and contrasting inspirations of the Philadelphians. "The musicians... are presented as regular people who have been anointed with a gift they do not fully comprehend, or want to. The ineffability of their musicmaking is central to their passion." The Christian Science Monitor 09/09/05

Proms Unscathed By Terrorism The London bus and subway bombings barely made a dent in ticket sales at the BBC Proms. After an initial dip at the beginning of the festival (which occurred between the July 7 bombings and the second attempted attack on July 21), sales were robust throughout August, and the final tally will likely be down only 2% on last year. More than 20 concerts in the massive Royal Albert Hall sold out, and overall capacity was better than 80%, a big success in a venue more than twice the size of the average concert hall. The Guardian (UK) 09/09/05

September 8, 2005

Wigmore Get In To The Recording Business London's Wigmore Hall, prized for its good acoustics, has started its own recording label. The Guardian (UK) 09/09/05

Can A Scene Survive Without Its Backdrop? New Orleans is, of course, an important place in the history of American music. But what many Americans don't know is that there is far more to the Big Easy than jazz funerals and Dixieland. "New Orleans is a jazz town, but also a funk town, a brass-band town, a hip-hop town and a jam-band town. It has international jazz musicians and hip-hop superstars, but also a true, subsistence-level street culture. Much of its music is tied to geography and neighborhoods, and crowds." Because of that reliance on neighborhood identity, many are asking whether the New Orleans scene can ever be rebuilt. After all, if the Lower Ninth Ward has ceased to exist, what happens to the sound cultivated by its residents for so many decades? The New York Times 09/08/05

Met Opera Broadcasts Find A New Sugar Daddy The weekly broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, under threat ever since ChevronTexaco quit as principal sponsor in 2003, have found a new benefactor in an unlikely place. Toll Brothers, a home building company based in suburban Philadelphia, has agreed to sponsor the broadcasts for the next four seasons. The broadcasts cost $6 million per year, and the Met says that Toll Brothers has agreed to pay a "major" portion of that cost. The company, which specializes in high-end luxury housing (its average home sells for $600,000 or more) is hoping that the association with the Met will add an element of class to its image in the eyes of prospective clients. The New York Times 09/08/05

Wichita Holds A Place For LPO Musicians Kansas's Wichita Symphony and Wichita Grand Opera are offering to hire one member of the New Orleans-based Louisiana Philharmonic for each performance scheduled in 2005-06, with no audition required. The chair could be filled by the same musician for the entire season, or by a rotating series of players. The musicians' union has put out a call for orchestras across the country to offer work to the New Orleans musicians. Wichita Eagle (KS) 09/08/05

Study: UK Musicians Overworked, Underpaid According to a new study commissioned by the UK's musicians' union, 90% of professional orchestra players in Britain have to find extra work outside their orchestra to supplement their income. The union claims that the study proves that UK musicians are underpaid compared with their counterparts in America and on the European continent. "Most rank and file musicians earned between £22,000 and £24,000 despite having been in the profession for an average of 21 years, with salaries failing to keep pace with inflation." The Stage 09/08/05

September 7, 2005

Webern In Hindsight Sixty years ago next week, Anton Webern stepped outside of his house for a smoke and was accidentally shot dead by an American soldier. Thus ended the remarkable career of one of history's brilliant and contradictory composers. Norman Lebrecht says that in order to appreciate Webern, it is best to embrace the contradiction. "Inspiration was anathema to Webern. All had to be strictly counted and numerically correct. If pleasure entered the process, it was the solitary satisfaction of making a line read the same forwards, backwards and upside down. Inverted by nature, Webern wrote music that turned in upon itself, rejecting every human value except absolute order. [And yet,] scan the entire canon, Passacaglia to posthumously published piano pieces, and you will not find one weak work of Webern's, or one that fails immediately to proclaim its authorship. In the history of western music, that statement is true only of Beethoven and Wagner." La Scena Musicale 09/07/05

Paris Opera To Offer Cheap Tickets The famed Opéra National de Paris is going the route of companies in Germany and the U.S., offering standing room tickets for its upcoming season, priced at €5 and aimed squarely at young audiences who otherwise might not attend a production. The company will allow 62 standing-room patrons per performance, and the tickets, which will be limited to two per buyer, will go on sale only 45 minutes before curtain. Opera News 09/07/05

Beethoven In Chains Beethoven's lone opera, Fidelio, is a dark tale of imprisonment and devotion, but it probably never seemed as starkly brutal as in a production going on this week in Philadelphia. The Philly Fringe festival has taken Fidelio on location, summoning audiences to the long-shuttered Eastern State Penitentiary, long known as one of America's more brutal prisons. But does realism really improve opera? "The genre, by nature, is grand, while prisons, by definition, are constricted. Not an easy fit... In effect, Eastern State Penitentiary left little room for audience imagination. Like most art, opera is irrational. Explain it too realistically and you're left not with an experience, but a mere explanation - and maybe good intermission chatter." Philadelphia Inquirer 09/07/05

September 6, 2005

Why The LPO May Be Doomed All members of the now-homeless Louisiana Philharmonic survived the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but many have lost everything they had, and the future of the orchestra itself hangs in the balance. Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the LPO's future is the fact that the ensemble is run by its musicians, who will have to seek employment in other cities while New Orleans is being rebuilt. Those who land jobs elsewhere may not be available to return to the LPO even if it does survive. One of the orchestra's violists tells Violinist.com that "I would love to go back to a properly rebuilt city and the orchestra the way it was, but I just can’t see how that will happen." Violinist.com 09/03/05

Levine Skipping BSO Auditions Auditioning for the Boston Symphony can be the most grueling five minutes of a musician's career, not to mention the most expensive (orchestras don't pay for your plane ticket or hotel room.) One slip-up, one mental lapse, and all your preparation can be for nought as you're dismissed from behind a screen with a cursory "Thank you." Not only that, the BSO's music director, who ought to be the final authority on all hiring decisions, has taken to not showing up for auditions, which has many of the orchestra's musicians upset, and candidates wondering whom they're supposed to be trying to impress. Boston Globe 09/04/05

Dallas Symphony Scouts Conductors Who will be the Dallas Symphony's next music director? "For all the argument that American orchestras should hire American music directors, virtually all the DSO's likely candidates at this point are foreigners. After the DSO's dozen years under an American, the change could be healthy. And the old European method of cultivating conductors in provincial opera houses still has advantages over the assembly-line degree programs at American conservatories." Dallas Morning News 09/05/05

How Much Of That New Orleans Sound Is Dependant On New Orleans? New Orleans musicians play together in a way that anticipates what the music is going to do. "This whole tradition is based on informal music-making, much of it in the open air, and in recent times that has depended on the tourist trade. Musical skills have been passed down by a kind of casual, on-the-job apprenticeship, which means having jobs, which means having audiences. Will it survive? Touch and go, I'd say. But the physical remains - the run-down corner shop which was once a famous saloon, the few rickety sheds which are all that survive of Storyville, the red-light district where the boy Armstrong used to deliver coal - they've gone for good." The Guardian (UK) 09/05/05

Cell-Phones; For The Complete Concert Experience The well-appointed music fan doesn't venture out to a concert with the modern cell phone. "At times, the atmosphere was more like a high-Catholic service than a pop concert. In the velvety dark, 10,000 points of polychrome light glimmered as cellphone screens were lit and turned, reverently, towards the stage. A sizeable part of the audience was photo- and sound-recording the event, and another sizeable part of the audience was transmitting Coldplay's performance to absent friends via mobile phones." The Guardian (UK) 09/05/05

Classical Goes Indie "Just as rock and pop have a long history of independent labels, classical music has its own well-established independent sector, where labels such as Harmonia Mundi, Hyperion, Chandos, Opera Rara and the low-cost phenomenon Naxos have been releasing high-quality recordings for years. Suddenly, triggered by the flight of the major companies towards movie soundtracks and crossover artists, the independent concept has taken off in the classical business, with any number of artists, orchestras and venues starting their own imprints." The Telegraph (UK) 09/05/05

September 5, 2005

Orchestra World Offers Help To Louisiana Musicians Offers of help are pouring in to members of the Louisiana Philharmonic. "Other orchestras, mostly regional ensembles where the pool of available musicians is small, are lending a hand, too. Many have offered temporary jobs or the prospect of auditions to the Philharmonic's 66 players, who have scattered around the country. All but one of the musicians had safely left the city or were already elsewhere for summer engagements, members of the orchestra said yesterday." The New York Times 09/05/05

New Orleans Opera Cancels New Orleans Opera has canceled its fall productions. "The warehouse where the company stores its sets is likely under water. The condition of the Mahalia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts, where it performs, is unknown." There may be more far-reaching effects: "New Orleans Opera is one of the foremost rents of scenery and costumes in the country. They're having to warn people all over the country that they may not be able to meet the contract." PlaybillArts (GRP) 09/05/05

Napster Users Ditch CDs Heavy-duty music downloaders say they're no longer buying CDs. "Some 150,000 of Napster UK's 750,000 members say they no longer buys CDs, the company has revealed. And Napster UK manager Leanne Sharman said it was "a matter of time" before downloading overtook high street shops as the most popular way to buy music." BBC 09/05/05

September 4, 2005

A Tale Of Two Tristans EMI is making the last great studio opera recording - Tristan und Isolde with Placido Domingo. It was recorded in 15 sessions spread over eight weeks and cost about $1 million to make. Another Tristan is also being released of a stage performance by the Royal Swedish Opera on the budget-priced Naxos label. "This was made in six days; the orchestra, conductor, and all but one member of the cast were performing the work in the opera house during the same period, thereby cutting down on the need for session time. The performance is professional, satisfying, and in many respects competitive with EMI's, even though Naxos's Wolfgang Millgram is not a match for Domingo. Amazon.com sells the Naxos version for $22.98." Boston Globe 09/04/05

The Little Guitar Company That Could "First Act's secret weapon is a line of small guitars in cardboard boxes with see-through plastic fronts. They're sold in the toy departments at Target and Wal-Mart. And they're revolutionizing the market for musical instruments. In the past decade First Act has essentially created the musical instrument niche at the country's mass merchant retailers. In 2004 First Act grossed over $100 million and accounted for more than 90 percent of the market share in instrument sales at such stores." Boston Globe 09/04/05

Has Cleveland Orchestra Got The Wrong Conductor? Anthony Holden compares orchestras he heard at this summer's Proms and finds the mighty Cleveland Orchestra coming up wanting. "Like a pedigree dog on an over-tight leash, this is a dazzling orchestra with an uptight conductor. Devotees of this mightiest of masses found much to disappoint, from the underwhelming Cleveland chorus to the less than inspirational conducting of Franz Welser-Most (known to our own LPO, with whom he had an unhappy six years in the 1990s, as 'Frankly, Worse Than Most'). His orchestra is one of the world's finest, its strings boasting as much sheen as the Berlin's, its wind players capable of sonic miracles. So why is Welser-Most so "bloodless"? The Observer (UK) 09/04/05

Orchestras' Problems - The Cost Of Tickets? Ticket prices for symphony orchestra concerts have gone up much faster than the rate of inflation in recent decades. "What if what we're talking about here is not a crisis in interest in classical music, but a crisis in what the public is willing to pay for that interest, orchestras nationally need to change the dialogue. Our ticket buyers are affluent, orchestras say. Some are, some aren't. But the relevant question today is not what people are able to pay, but what they're willing to pay. The answer isn't more popular programming (though that's a worthy subject on its own) or punchier adjectives in brochures. It just might be that cheaper tickets would do more to fill houses than an award-winning advertising campaign." Philadelphia Inquirer 09/04/05

Police Investigate Songwriters Guild Royalty Embezzlement Police are investigating an alleged embezzlement of $1.25 million in royalties from the Songwriters Guild of America. "The SGA represents about 5,000 songwriter members and their estates. Members may elect to have the guild collect royalties for them from publishers, collecting societies and others. The SGA collects nearly $16 million in royalties annually and holds about 2 percent of that amount, when it cannot find current addresses for writers." Yahoo! (Billboard) 09/04/05

National Symphony Looks For New Leader What kind of conductor will replace Leonard Slatkin as music director of the National Symphony? Tim Page writes that it's instructive to look at the orchestra's history. "It is too early to speculate with much authority on who will become the sixth music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. Slatkin's contract runs for another three seasons (although he is thought to be actively pursuing other jobs, especially Daniel Barenboim's soon-to-be-vacated position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), and the search process is still in its beginning stages." Washington Post 09/04/05

September 1, 2005

Can You Help The Louisiana Philharmonic? A plea from the AFM: "As we all know the musicians of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra are currently, and likely will be unemployed from their orchestra for some time, due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. In an effort to assist these musicians, it would be extremely helpful if those orchestras who have a need for substitute, extra or other casual musicians could make such need known to the LPO musicians who may desire such employment." Adaptistration (AJBlogs) 09/01/05

Do You Have To Be Young To Write A Good Pop Song? "As rock has got older, musicians and audiences have inevitably aged with it, but questions remain about what happens to the creative process over the years." The Telegraph (UK) 09/02/05

Rock Magazine Boom The boom in iPod sales is fueling a surge in subscriptions to rock magazines... The Telegraph (UK) 09/01/05

In Praise Of Mozart's Wife Mozart owed a lot of his success to his wife. "Constanze and her sisters were brought up in Mannheim, a centre of musical excellence. And, in addition to the sophistication she absorbed from this artistic milieu, she was intelligent - speaking excellent Italian and French as well as her native German. In many ways, she was an ideal wife for a composer. Mozart himself was firmly of that opinion." The Guardian (UK) 09/01/05

Details - The Repulsive Richard Wagner Richard Wagner's personal shortcomings are well known. A new book lays it out in unstinting detail. "It’s all here: how often Wagner sponged off others, how many women succumbed to his psoriatic charms, what creditors he swindled, where he fled and why, what he said about Jews, how he used everybody, what friends and supporters (from the great Liszt to the sad Ludwig II) he bad-mouthed and in one way or another betrayed. Of course, how he could attract so many absolutely impassioned admirers is far less easy to understand than how he came to quarrel with most of them. But if charisma is puzzling when one doesn’t feel it oneself even in the case of contemporaries, how much more puzzling for this long-dead, repulsive little man, Wagner." Times Literary Supplement 08/31/05

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