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August 31, 2006

The Top Concert Tours Of Summer '06 "Overall, sales are up over last summer — despite fewer shows. Total reported grosses were $695.9 million for 2,887 shows, compared with $648.5 million for 3,817 during the same time in 2005, according to the Billboard data." Madonna scores the most - $80 million for 32 shows. USAToday 08/31/06

Why Are We Crazy For Guitars? "The basic design of the electric guitar (in essence a plank of wood with a pick-up and some strings) has barely been altered and arguably not at all improved on since the 1960s. Yet, putting sales of such relatively modern instruments as synthesisers, samplers and DJ turntables in the shade, it would appear that, halfway through the first decade of the 21st century and more than 50 years after the birth of rock and roll, this relatively primitive six-stringed instrument remains the pre-eminent tool of pop culture, the ultimate musical object of desire." The Telegraph (UK) 08/31/06

The UK's Top 10 Orchestras - A List Richard Morrison makes a list, ranking Britain's major orchestras. At the top? Halle... The Times (UK) 08/31/06

An Opera About Gaddafi? Are You Nuts? No question the subjects for contemporary opera have expanded in recent years. But why an opera about Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi? And why is English National Opera taking it on? The Guardian (UK) 08/31/06

Two Bach Manuscripts Discovered The earliest-known manuscripts to be written by JS Bach have been discovered in a fire-damaged library. "The two manuscripts date from around 1700 and contain copies Bach made of organ music composed by Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Adam Reinken. Researchers found the documents in the archives of the Duchess Anna Amalia library in Weimar, where a previously unknown aria by Bach was discovered last year." Yahoo! (AP) 08/31/06

Can The World Get Excited About A Haydn Birthday? The world has been awash in Mozart this year. Three years from now it's a major Haydn birthday. "While just about everyone alive has been exposed to Mozart if only on a ring-tone or a lonely bus station, you could play Haydn seek all day long on Oxford Street without finding a single shopper who can name one of his works or whistle a theme. In the Classic FM Hall of Fame, that rough guide to middlebrow taste, Haydn does not rank at all in the top 100 and even at the BBC Proms he gets just three nods in eight long weeks. How, demand the marketing men, do we sell something so resolutely obscure?" La Scena Musicale 08/30/06

Why Seattle's Musicians Are Leaving "Over the past couple of years, significant members of Seattle's music community have been drifting south, drawn by Portland's inexpensive cost of living and vibrant creative community. Scott McCaughey, Michael Maker, Chris Walla, Tucker Martine, and Laura Veirs are my neighbors. That you might not have noticed can be partially attributed to our somewhat nomadic lifestyles, but it also speaks volumes about how disconnected the once-cohesive Seattle music scene has felt lately. In a lot of respects, Portland has become Seattle's hot new neighborhood." The Stranger 08/31/06

Early Music Heaven The Utrecht Early Music Festival offers 100 concerts in a week. "About 55,000 people will attend. More than half of the concerts are free; most of the rest have ticket prices around 15 euros, or a little under $20. About 25 concerts are broadcast live. Seen from the United States, where classical radio is courting extinction, you wonder whether this is utopia." Philadelphia Inquirer 08/31/06

Beatles Sue Record Companies The surviving members of the group are the latest musicians to object to recording company sales accountability. "The lawsuit, filed in December, claims EMI and its affiliate Capitol wrongly classified copies of Beatles recordings as destroyed or damaged "scrap" but then secretly sold them. It also alleges the number of units sold was under-reported, and the firms classified some recordings as 'promotional' and as a result non-royalty bearing, but then sold the material. The lawsuit was triggered by an audit of the companies' books from the period 1994 to 1999, which the band says uncovered allegedly deceitful behaviour." BBC 08/31/06

August 30, 2006

Mozart In The Clubs Classical musicians are moving into clubs. "Purists may shudder at the thought of string quartets spliced with breakbeats and dance grooves, but none of these young musicians, composers and producers sees classical clubbing as a threat to traditional classical music. If anything, they hope that, by introducing classical sounds to a club-going audience who would never usually set foot inside a concert hall, they may breathe new life into the genre." The Telegraph (UK) 08/30/06

Hear The Music, See The Commercial The new service SpiralFrog is offering with Universal to give away music is a marked change in the traditional music industry business model. "Instead of copying Apple's iTunes store by charging customers to buy music, SpiralFrog says it will replace the traditional cost of downloading with money made from advertising. Audiences will have to sit through a short advertisement before downloading their track of choice, a tactic used by some other media websites but thought to be a first for music." The Guardian (UK) 08/30/06

A Great "Vile" Australian Opera? The opera "Batavia", with music by Richard Mills and libretto by Peter Goldsworthy has had its premiere in Sydney. But Peter McCallum, the Sydney Morning Herald's critic described the opera as "the vilest thing I have experienced in the theatre ... one felt raped by the volume, alienated by the lack of sensitivity or aptness in the musical symbols, and repelled by the unctuous sermonising." PlaybillArts 08/30/06

Orchestra On The Move (Literally) How do you move a large symphony orchestra around Europe? It's a ballet of trunks and containers. "The payload has its own itinerary, flying from Toronto to Rome to Athens to begin the tour, while the musicians flew through Frankfurt. The cargo has its own seating arrangement, with each case holding multiple instruments stacked like a Tetris game on pallets loaded into the plane. It also has its own strict program -- an important customs document called the carnet that is as strictly adhered to as any concert personnel chart." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 08/30/06

Reversal - Music Giant Okays Free Downloads "Universal Music Group announced Tuesday that it would license its digital catalog to a website offering free legal downloads. The two-year deal marks a significant shift in an industry long criticized for fighting, rather than harnessing, the Internet's potential. The new website, backed by New York company SpiralFrog, hopes to make money selling advertisements that play while songs download." Los Angeles Times 08/30/06

Boston Symphony Changes Crew Rules (And With Them, A Tradition) The Boston Symphony has decided to change the work rules for its hall crew. "It is no secret that BSO management has wanted to cut overtime for the non-unionized crew for years. Cost is not the only issue, as the symphony will save no more than $250,000 by making the overtime cuts, according to a symphony official who did not want to be identified because BSO officials prefer not to speak on personnel matters. The move is also about modernizing an old-fashioned way of operating the department, the official said." Boston Globe 08/30/06

August 28, 2006

Who Will Run Bayreuth? "The battle for the succession has been fierce in recent years, but the frontrunner is now Wolfgang Wagner's chosen heir, his 28-year-old daughter Katharina -- great-granddaughter of Hitler's favorite composer. Yet it remains uncertain when or whether she will take over as director of the Bayreuth Festspiele, which closes on Monday night for the season. Her strong-willed father may not give up the post or another might still seize the crown." Yahoo! (AP) 08/28/06

Warner Bucks Record Industry Trend - Music Sales Up Major recording companies have been fighting sales declines. "But Warner Music's sales of worldwide recorded music in its most recent quarter rose 15% from a year earlier to $678 million. In the first half of 2006, Warner Music was the only major music company to increase its U.S. market share. That's a significant accomplishment for a company that, when it went public last year, the stock debut was criticized by at least one high-profile analyst as a dud." Los Angeles Times 08/28/06

When Opera Debuted In San Francisco Who came out to San Francisco Opera's first opera ever, back in 1923? There were 6000-7000 "opera addicts." "By taking a poll of the addicts, it was easy to see their ranks included gentle blood and unlicked cubs, gentlemen and gaberlunzies, kitchen mechanics and knights of the kid glove, overlords and underlings, big bugs and plain bugs, rajahs from Russian Hill and garlicked gents from Broadway, the bosses and the bossed, the squirarchy from St. Francis Wood and the waldgraves from Westwood Park, the sahibs from Sea Cliff and the bluebloods from Burlingame, the bobbed-haired brigade from Telegraph Hill and..." San Francisco Chronicle 08/27/06

August 27, 2006

Musicians - When Just Getting Paid Requires A Law Degree "If being an independent rocker conjures images of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle and easygoing contracts, think again. Whether it's a major-label contract or one from an independent label, artists can find themselves lost in a legal web when dealing with their music's availability and royalty payments." Chicago Tribune 08/27/06

The New Music Tastemakers "Despite the disparate nature of today's pop music consumption and the implosion of the genre's distribution, there are still "tastemakers" out there, people who influence what many of us hear on TV (the last bastion of massive music promotion), commercial radio, surging satellite radio and the Internet. These people aren't publicists, record producers or frustrated artists-turned-critics. They started out as music fans, then parlayed their passions into rewarding careers behind the scenes - on TV, through satellite radio and online - managing to carve out a role exposing listeners to new music." Baltimore Sun 08/27/06

Jazz At Lincoln Center - One-Man Band? Wynton Marsalis is the face of and driving force behind the organization. "Once you’ve made that decision that the Jazz at Lincoln Center brand really can work well with your brand, Wynton’s power as the spokesperson — the front man, if you will — for Jazz at Lincoln Center really kind of takes on a life." The New York Times 08/27/06

Sharing Talent With The World An anonymous guitarist makes a video of his virtuoso rock version of Pachelbel's Canon and it becomes a sensation on YouTube, watched more than seven million times. It's a phenomenon that speaks to the way talent is being shared and embroidered. The New York Times 08/27/06

A Requiem For Tower Records The Tower Records bankruptcy marks the end of a generation. "If Tower is looking for a convenient scapegoat, it could well point its corporate finger at Seattle's Beacon Hill, where Amazon.com resides. Record retailers such as Tower liked to boast that they offered far more breadth and depth in music selection than the mall stores or the music departments of the discounters. But even the music retailers couldn't match the universe of offerings from Amazon, which didn't have the carrying cost of bricks-and-mortar stores." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 08/25/06

Winning Wagner (Now Wait A Few Years) Seattle Opera holds a Wagner competition. "The contrast of demonic emotions with the more mundane prospect of building an operatic career gave a special poignancy to the competition at the Seattle Opera, the most Wagner-centric of American opera companies. Unlike the army of teenagers who appear for piano or violin competitions, the finalists were mostly in their mid-30’s, which put them barely on the brink of being likely to perform a major Wagner role onstage. The proper age for initiating a Wagnerian career seemed like a movable goalpost throughout the competition, getting older and older." The New York Times 08/27/06

August 25, 2006

An Audacious Attempt To Reinvent The Music Business "To all appearances, Nettwerk is just a midsize music management company with an indie record label on the side. Many of the artists on its client roster – which includes Avril Lavigne, Dido, Sarah McLachlan, and Stereophonics – are mainstream acts. But McBride, the company's cofounder and creative force, is quietly carrying out a plan to reinvent the music industry, including legalizing file-sharing and giving artists control over their own intellectual property." Wired 08/25/06

August 24, 2006

Report: Music Downloading Will Be Slow To Replace Disk Sales The music business is going more and more online. "Despite the growth, Screen Digest predicts that the overall European music market will continue to lose value until 2010 at the earliest - when sales of downloaded music will have grown enough to offset the losses." BBC 08/24/06

Cleveland Orchestra Takes Miami Concert Hall For A Spin The hall, which is opening in October, is getting its first acoustic tests. "The most striking quality was how consistently clear and detailed the sound was from several different positions in the hall, from the furthest back row of the balcony's vertigo-inducing third tier to the side boxes and choral riser seats behind the stage." The Sun-Sentinel (South Florida) 08/21/06

August 23, 2006

Norwegian Chorus Wins Choir Olympics "The Norwegian Student Choral Society (founded in 1845) has won the gold medal for Men's Choir at the 4th World Choir Games in Xiamen, China. Previously known as the Choir Olympics, this international competition gathers about 20, 000 singers from 400 choirs." Norway Post 08/24/06

UK Hot For Guitars Guitar sales in the UK are at an all-time high. "It's probably got a lot to do with guitar bands and kids being inspired by young singer-songwriters." The Guardian (UK) 08/24/06

Dylan: CDs Are Crap Bob Dylan complains that modern CD sound quality is terrible. "His main criticism of contemporary CDs is the lack of sound clarity arising when producers try to make each strand of a recording as uniformly loud as possible. 'You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just, like ... static'." The Guardian (UK) 08/24/06

Exposing Simon Rattle "Seven years after being elected as music director and four after his triumphal entry to Berlin with his portrait plastered on bus stops, Rattle, 51, is facing an ocean of troubles that cannot be held back by lashings of charm and spin control. The question being asked is whether he has the intellect, the emotional strength and the clarity of purpose to develop the orchestra for a very different age of media dissemination. Setting aside for the moment the quality of performances, there is no denying that the Berlin Philharmonic is not what it was." La Scena Musicale 08/23/06

Slatkin To Nashville Outgoing National Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin has been appointed music adviser to the Nashville Symphony. "Slatkin, 61, is also principal guest conductor for both the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its Hollywood Bowl summer series. It is unclear whether he will take another full-time music directorship when he leaves the NSO, although he was widely considered to be in pursuit of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before the team of Bernard Haitink and Pierre Boulez were given interim directorship." Washington Post 08/23/06

A New Way To Test Drive Opera: College "New operas are usually commissioned by one or two companies, often on different continents, and are more or less shot out of a cannon - with an opening production assembled without the benefit of a workshop or tryout. There are successes, but even among those, some parts are good, others not." But new consortiums of educational institutions are banding together to commission opera. And from A-list composers... Philadelphia Inquirer 08/23/06

Iranian Symphony Orchestra Plays On Despite Ban On Western Classical Music The Tehran Symphony Orchestra is performing in Germany. "Western music of all types has an uncertain status under the Islamic government. It was officially banned in October by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but state-run radio and television still broadcast it. Classical music can be heard accompanying Iranian TV and radio programs, and Iranian television recorded Sunday's concert in Osnabrueck." Still, the orchestra has to make some adjustments... The Globe & Mail (AP) 08/22/06

August 22, 2006

Musicians Losing Out With Airline Restrictions The Musicians Union says musicians are suffering because of airline travel restrictions restricting instruments from being carried on. "It says its members 'are reporting significant lost earnings' because they are unable to take their instruments on board aircraft as hand luggage. Many instruments are too fragile to be placed in the hold of an airliner, the union told the BBC News website." BBC 08/22/06

August 21, 2006

Great Jazz Festival... But Where's The Jazz? Richard Scheinin has a great time at this year's San Jose Jazz Festival. But he entertains a nagging question: "Was the 'Jazz' in the title of the festival starting to take a back seat to funk, pop, soul? And looking ahead, is San Jose's jazz festival about to morph into one more 'jazz and pop' festival, in which jazz is a guest at its own party? Why does it matter? Because there are a million venues for the Nevilles and Dr. John, who closed Saturday's Main Stage events. There are, on the other hand, very few venues, a shrinking few, for jazz, which is continually pushed to the margins..." San Jose Mercury-News 08/21/06

Irish, English Singers Win Wagner Competition Seattle Opera's first International Wagner Competition drew eight singers from five countries and five judges from Europe and North America. "Two $15,000 prizes were awarded -- some three hours after the affair started, by Speight Jenkins, general director of the company -- to Miriam Murphy of Ireland and James Rutherford of England. Rutherford also won the vote of the orchestra -- members of the Seattle Symphony -- and the audience." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 08/21/06

Impending Music Glut Worries Retailers There's a glut of blockbuster albums about to be released in the last quarter of this year. Music sales have been down, so there should be a bump at the cash register. But "most merchants, however, feel the release schedule is so strong that some titles may get lost in the shuffle; for years now, retail executives have lamented that the majors wait until the fourth quarter to release their big projects." Yahoo! (Reuters) 08/21/06

Musicians Build Concert World Online "Musicians are increasingly using the virtual world to hold live concerts, at specific times and dates, or listening lounges where their music plays when an avatar pays a visit..." Washington Post 08/21/06

Music Publishers Attack Musicians Over Websites "In the last few months, trade groups representing music publishers have used the threat of copyright lawsuits to shut down guitar tablature sites, where users exchange tips on how to play songs like 'Knockin' on Heaven’s Door,' 'Highway to Hell' and thousands of others." The New York Times 08/21/06

August 20, 2006

The Art Of Great Jazz "Gone are the days when we could search in jazz dealers for those sumptuous cardboard squares that always seemed to promise so much, even if that promise was sometimes disappointed when you actually played the contents. The cult of labels has a lot to do with packaging: the yummy colour photographs in the case of Impulse and luxurious folding sleeves, the more austere Bauhaus look of Blue Note. It all comes down to shopping. And that's something that, with the advent of iPods and downloading, is changing out of recognition." The Telegraph (UK) 08/20/06

Peeling Away The Layers Of Shostakovich While little if nothing has been gleaned from the Mozart birthday celebrations this year, Shostakovich's 100th birthday celebrations have been an opportunity for deep reflection... La Scena Musicale 08/19/06

A Computer That Can Replace The Human Orchestra? "A program developed in Vienna mimics human musicians in the performance of greats such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart so convincingly that a casual listener to Classic FM would be unable to tell the difference. Perhaps more importantly, it allows notes - 1.5 million different sounds, to be precise - to be combined in new ways, so that composers can make new music on their laptop without needing to hire an orchestra." The Observer (UK) 08/20/06

A Political Debate Occupies Israeli/Palestinian Orchestra A decision to attach a political statement about the Israeli/Lebanese war to programs by Daniel Barenboim's West Eastern Divan Orchestra made up or Palestinians and Israelies provokes a debate among the musicians. The New York Times 08/19/06

How Does Music Physically Affect Us? Daniel Levitin, "who now runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University in Montreal, has immersed himself in music about as deeply as is humanly possible. He began asking scientific questions about the nature of his beloved obsession -- Where does creativity come from? What goes into making a song memorable? -- in the late 1980s. He began asking his peers and role models in the music business and publishing those conversations in magazines such as Billboard and Mix." Boston Globe 08/20/06

August 18, 2006

Summertime, And The Music Is Anything But Easy People who don't actually play a musical instrument love to refer to highly skilled players as having a "gift from God," or just a boundless supply of natural talent. The reality is usually far more pedestrian: more important than natural aptitude is a willingness to work long, hard hours in the practice room. For decades now, the art of intensive practicing has had a summer home in upstate New York, and it's called Meadowmount. "Part summer camp, part music school, and part boot camp, the Meadowmount School of Music is strict, austere, and responsible for creating some of the top string players in the world." Business Week 08/21/06

The Revolution Does Not Come With Liner Notes Mark Swed says that the downloading revolution is nothing to be afraid of, and that all we stand to lose is our space-hogging collection of plastic jewel cases. Still, "how the iPod and the Internet will affect music cannot be predicted. We have yet to make the required paradigm shifts in our thinking. At this early stage, you could be forgiven for believing that nothing more than another step on the evolutionary ladder of music reproduction has been taken, and only for the sake of convenience." Los Angeles Times 08/18/06

Is Bayreuth In A Rut? The Bayreuth Festival is still the toughest ticket in Europe during the summer, and the Wagner family have kept the music coming even through their endless (and often embarrassingly public) spats. But critics have not been terribly kind to Bayreuth's new Ring cycle, and some are suggesting that the "stultifying weight of this dreary new [production]" is merely a symptom of a larger malaise afflicting the festival. Bloomberg News 08/18/06

Handel, Haydn, and Hard Work Boston's Handel & Haydn Society was once little more than a struggling concert organization in a city jam packed with music and musicians. Then Mary Deissler came along. 24 years later, H&H, as it's known, has become one of Boston's premier musical organizations, and supports itself with help from a $3 million endowment. Deissler is stepping down from her position as H&H's CEO this week, and she leaves an important legacy for her successor to follow. Boston Globe 08/18/06

How To Play A Symphony With Your Butt "The public has been invited to take part in what has been described as the first virtual orchestra. Plastic cubes, attached to a light and a speaker, have been laid out on a full size orchestra stage outside the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank. Sitting on a cube activates a musical note and as more people sit down, more of the score is revealed." BBC 08/18/06

August 17, 2006

Met Commissions Marsalis For Opera The Metropolitan Opera has commissioned an opera from Wynton Marsalis. "The opera, which will feature a libretto by American playwright John Guare, has no working title, nor an estimated time of arrival." Opera News 08/17/06

The 8pm Conundrum Why are symphony orchestras in so many cities bound and determined to start every evening concert at 8pm? Doesn't the reality of modern life suggest that concertgoers might want a range of options as to start time? Late-night concerts have been a major success at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, and early start times have been embraced in some other cities. "The bigger challenge is finding ways for music lovers to fit a concert or opera into a workday with time to spare for dinner." The New York Times 08/17/06

Last Minute Leonard? Leonard Slatkin seems to have become the go-to conductor for orchestras in a tight scheduling spot. Twice this season alone, he has stepped in to lead the Pittsburgh Symphony when other conductors took ill at the last minute, and next week, he'll lead the first half of the PSO's European tour. Most conductors hate being pressed for time, but Slatkin claims to actually enjoy these unexpected engagements, even when they mean canceling his vacation. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 08/17/06

New Miami Hall Gets A Tune-Up, Cleveland Style Miami's new concert hall is almost ready to open its doors, and while the city doesn't have a professional symphony orchestra of its own at the moment, it has engaged the very best ensemble it could find to help fine-tune the acoustics of the chamber. The Cleveland Orchestra, which will play a 3-week residency in Miami this winter, will be on hand later this week to give acousticians Russell Johnson and Tateo Nakajima their first taste of the hall's full sound. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 08/17/06

August 16, 2006

Oregon Symphony Cuts 10 Jobs Following two years of million-dollar deficits, the Oregon Symphony has to take action. "To stem a continuing deficit, the Oregon Symphony cut 10 positions from its administrative staff of 55 on Tuesday. The layoffs, the largest in the orchestra's history, affected employees in the orchestra's marketing, development and education departments, but did not affect the musicians or conducting staff." The Oregonian 08/16/06

Hear The Sample, Buy The Ticket The City of Birmingham Orchestra is posting excerpts of music it will be performing this year on the orchestra's website. It's a try-before-you-buy offer. "Many of the excerpts featured were specifically recorded for the website to provide an accurate representation of the concert-hall experience." Gramophone 08/16/06

August 15, 2006

Locals Rescue Traveling Orchestra That Had To Abandon Instruments An Italian Baroque orchestra had to fly to Canada without their instruments over the weekend because of increased airline security. "Scouring the city and calling out to performers across B.C., Festival Vancouver promoters found baroque-era replacements -- made of 18th-century wood and strung with catgut rather than modern steel for a 'warmer' tone -- for all 16 of the missed instruments for the musicians from Turin." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/15/06

Psych Out - Classical Roots "When peddling Provençal sea salt — or deterring crime, or boosting efficiency in a hospital's operating room — classical music seems to be played as much for its psychological properties as for the art-for-art's-sake aesthetic of the concert hall." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 08/15/06

Documentary's Treatment Of Nazi Era Alienates Salzburg Festival Not all is well this summer between the American Friends of the Salzburg Festival and the festival itself. "Festival officials are miffed with the Friends over that group’s decision to present 'The Salzburg Festival: A Short History,' a new documentary by the British filmmaker Tony Palmer. The festival has disavowed the film, partly because of what festival directors consider Mr. Palmer’s overemphasized and sometimes inaccurate account of the festival’s intertwined relationship with the Nazis." The New York Times 08/15/06

August 14, 2006

Airline Security Endangers Musical Instruments It's getting more and more difficult for musicians to travel with their instruments as airline security gets tougher... The New York Times 08/15/06

Looking For An American Opera Classic July saw the premiere of several new American operas. "Are any of these new operas towering masterworks that will alter the course of music history while winning the hearts of millions? People have been asking that loaded question of American opera for a hundred years, and the way they phrase it almost demands a negative answer." The New Yorker 08/14/06

San Diego Opera Buys A Home Lyric Opera San Diego has bought its own home. "Of the country's approximately 125 professional opera companies, only 13 (including Lyric) own their own venues. In California, the Lyric is one of just two companies in that category, the other being the Jarvis Conservatory, a Napa-based organization whose performances include opera and zarzuela (a popular Spanish form of operetta)." San Diego Union-Tribune 08/13/06

Is Bayreuth Endangered? Wolfgang Wagner has been the driving force of the annual Bayreuth Festival for 40 years. But he's 87 and suddenly frail. "Given his sudden physical decline, Bayreuth-watchers have begun to ask who is really running the show and what moves are afoot for an orderly hand-over. 'Wolfgang doesn’t seem to have any clout any more. But the management doesn’t want to talk about the succession'." Financial Times 08/14/06

A Lot Of Fanfare Over Nothing? A debate about Fanfare magazine's pay-for-review policy has broken out, but Kyle Gann believes the debate is overblown. "Given the largely labor-of-love basis on which Fanfare was run, the paid ads seemed to do little beyond ensuring that the magazine would continue to appear. Nobody was getting rich off it, or even anywhere near well-recompensed. With so much massive corporate evil besetting the music business and everyone else from all sides, I have to regard poor little Fanfare as a rather uncharitably chosen target." PostClassic (AJBlogs) 08/12/06

Charge: Brazilian Piano Competition Has Been Rigged The Villa Lobos International Piano Competition begins this week. But the event has been tarnished by accusations of cheating and manipulation of which pianists were allowed into the finals... The New York Times 08/14/06

August 13, 2006

St. Luke's Cancels UK Tour Over Flight Restrictions The New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke's has been forced to cancel its upcoming concerts at festivals in London and Edinburgh as a result of the UK ban on carry-on baggage on all flights. Many of the orchestra's instruments cannot be stowed in airline cargo holds, and despite efforts to reach an accomodation, it was determined that there simply wasn't time for the orchestra to make alternate plans. So far, it is believed that the other American orchestras set to perform at the BBC Proms in London and the Edinburgh Festival, most of which transport their instruments in heavy-duty trunks, will be able to keep to their schedules. BBC 08/13/06

Mostly Mozart Comes All The Way Back It wasn't too terribly long ago that New York's Mostly Mozart Festival was considered a relic, a musty and moribund example of what happens when classical music takes its audience for granted. But today, as the festival cruises through its 40th season, audiences are swelling, critics are cheering, and the whole enterprise feels like a winner again. So what changed? Over the last few years, "Mostly Mozart has become a haven for diverse, conflicting, even fringe-y viewpoints on Mozart and his near-contemporaries and descendants." Philadelphia Inquirer 08/13/06

Levine Makes Tanglewood His Own It's far too early, of course, to say what James Levine's ultimate legacy as music director of the Boston Symphony will be. But already, it is clear that Levine is having a rejuvenating effect on the BSO's famed Tanglewood Music Center, which brings many of the country's top young musicians together for several weeks of summer instruction and orchestral training. "For years, the presence of Tanglewood icon Leonard Bernstein made the TMC the place to be, despite the competition. And that phenomenon is happening again because Levine is in the Berkshires." Boston Globe 08/13/06

Welcome Back To That Same Old Place That You Laughed About When the Louisville Orchestra announced that Jorge Mester would be its next music director, many in the industry wondered what the ensemble's leaders were thinking of. Mester, 71, served as Louisville's music director for 12 years in the 1960s and '70s, and is hardly considered a rising star in the conducting world. Furthermore, Louisville was rumored to have several top young conductors on its shortlist. So what happened? Andrew Adler says that, on reflection, Mester's second act could turn out to be exactly what the financially strapped and frequently chaotic orchestra needs. Louisville Courier-Journal 08/13/06

Cleveland Orchestra Bassist Killed Charles Barr, 31, was the ultimate orchestral success story: he graduated from Curtis in 1997, became principal bassist of the Charleston Symphony shortly thereafter, and in 2002, landed a dream job in the bass section of the Cleveland Orchestra. He was an active outdoorsman and avid mountain biker. And all of that came to an abrupt and tragic end last week when Barr lost control of his bike and swerved into the path of a pickup truck. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 08/12/06

Rumors Abound On The Fringes Of Chicago MD Search It's coming up on three years since the Chicago Symphony announced that Daniel Barenboim would step down as music director in 2006, and the ensemble has made no discernible progress in the search for a successor. "The appointment of the dream team of Bernard Haitink as principal conductor and Pierre Boulez as conductor in interim leadership roles, beginning this coming season, has bought the CSO time to conduct the search process as thoroughly as possible... In any case, the search is being carried out under such tight security that the Bush administration would do well to study its methods of forestalling information leaks. That official silence has fanned the flames of outside speculation." Chicago Tribune 08/13/06

Orchestras Struggling With New Flight Rules The strict no-hand luggage measures imposed on UK air travelers following the arrest of 24 individuals suspected of a plot to blow up transatlantic flights is wreaking havoc with touring orchestras accustomed to carrying their instruments on board. Members of the Bolshoi Theatre's orchestra, in the waning days of a summer residence in London, will likely have to travel home by rail to avoid risking damage to their instruments, which cannot safely be stowed in a plane's cargo hold. Meanwhile, at least two American orchestras (Pittsburgh and Minnesota) will be kicking off European tours which include stops in the UK within the next week, and organizers are scrambling to make contingency plans. BBC 08/12/06

Summer Comeback Continues In Minneapolis Summer seasons have long been a touchy issue with orchestras - they tend to lose money, are hard to sell, and frequently require an investment in a special summer venue that may or may not pan out. A few years back, the Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest was a textbook example of a failing summer season, playing to half-empty halls and searching for an identity in a city packed full of summer activities. But in the last three years, ticket sales have jumped 30%, a 24-hour marathon kickoff day has become one of the signature events of the year, and this summer, half of the orchestra's Sommerfest concerts sold 95% of capacity or better. The Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 08/12/06

Davis To Have Surgery, Miss Tour The Pittsburgh Symphony will be forced to make its upcoming European tour without its chief conductor on the podium. Sir Andrew Davis, who also serves as music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, will have arterial bypass surgery in his leg this coming week, and will be out of action for the next several weeks. Leonard Slatkin will replace Davis on the PSO's tour, which includes stops in Greece, Germany, London, Ireland, and Wales. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 08/12/06

Big Fundraising Coming In Cincy Facing the unpalatable possibility of a return to financial instability (even as its artistic fortunes climb,) the Cincinnati Symphony is preparing to launch a major endowment drive, as well as a drive to remodel its concert hall in the city's notorious Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Music Hall is the largest orchestral concert hall in the U.S. - it seats more than 3,400 - and CSO officials have long contended it is far too large for a city of Cincinnati's size. By comparison, most other major concert halls seat fewer than 2,500 concertgoers. Cincinnati Enquirer 08/12/06

Edinburgh Fest Stunned By Huge Bequest "An Irish spinster who travelled faithfully to the Edinburgh International Festival every year from Dublin has left the organisation £3.7 million - the biggest single gift in its history... The money is to be used for promoting the careers of young artists." The Scotsman (UK) 08/12/06

It's Not A Mirage, It's An Opera Company A bleak, barren desert in the middle of New Mexico might seem an unlikely place for a full-scale, open-air opera house, and Santa Fe, though most definitely a city, is hardly regarded by most outsiders as a major arts center. So the very existence of Santa Fe Opera "represented a gamble that people from far away would come to regard Santa Fe as they already regarded England's Glyndebourne, as a pilgrimage destination for opera. And the gamble has clearly paid off. The current 50th anniversary season of five operas, running in repertory until Aug. 26, is virtually sold out, with visitors from around the world." Toronto Star 08/12/06

August 11, 2006

No Shortage Of Classics In Pittsburgh At a time when many American radio stations are dropping classical music, Pittsburgh's WQED is reaffirming its commitment to the genre, shuffling its schedule to play more music, eliminate talk and other non-classical programming, and increase arts and culture reporting on its popular morning show. "During peak weekday listening hours, the station will play more music by the [Pittsburgh Symphony] and add opera arias, giving the music exposure to a wider audience than would tune in a program devoted entirely to the music." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 08/11/06

Should Nashville Sym Really Be Getting $20 Million In Civic Money? Several members of Nashville's Metro Council have announced that they will ask the governing body to reconsider a $5 million contribution to the city's new Schermerhorn Performing Arts Center, which opens this fall. "Metro provided the Symphony the property the center sits on, $5 million for construction last year and then... would provide $5 million this year and $5 million the next two years for $20 million total. The Symphony also receives an annual contribution from the Metro Arts Commission for operating purposes, which in recent years has totaled about $400,000." Nashville City Paper 08/11/06

Not Everyone Loves The New Recording Agreement At least three of America's top orchestras have decided to keep a new nationwide agreement governing self-produced recordings at arm's length, in the belief that it doesn't go far enough towards addressing problems with the current American system of orchestral recording. The new agreement, which allows some orchestras to reduce upfront payments to musicians, is optional (any project undertaken must be approved by the orchestra's musicians) and restricted to recordings made from live concert tapes. Some in the industry believe that a wholesale overhaul of recording agreements is needed. Boston Globe 08/11/06

  • Previously: America's Orchestras Have A New Recording Deal "The deal, to be announced Friday, drastically reduces upfront payments to musicians but gives them a share of future revenue, making it more cost-effective to produce recordings. It also gives the orchestras ownership of the recordings, which they can license to distributors for limited periods. In addition, the agreement strengthens the musicians’ role by giving them veto power over recording projects." The New York Times 08/04/06
August 10, 2006

Musical Gluttony As the phenomenon of downloadable media continues to entrance the classical music world, marathons have become the hottest promotions going. "Blockbusters, bonkbusters, eat as much as you can for £5, sit through the whole of the Ring with a nasal feeding tube and a catheter... Hogarthian feasting is in vogue, with total immersion in composers, artists, playwrights and film directors sold to us as ultimate experiences. But is this an aesthetically rewarding endeavour or a marketing ploy?" The Guardian (UK) 08/11/06

Poetry In Motion: Writing A Libretto For Opera Poet and lyricist Simon Armitage discusses the surprisingly rewarding experience of writing an opera libretto. "It was Craig Raine who said that librettists are to opera what toilets are to theatres. So when someone from the Edinburgh festival asked if I'd be interested in writing the words for a newly commissioned opera, I hesitated. I've never thought of what I do as a mere functional necessity and, despite having the surname Armitage, I don't take kindly to being pissed on. But in the end I couldn't say no." The Guardian (UK) 08/10/06

August 9, 2006

Steve Reich Turns 70 (The Man Who Made Music Cool) There was a time when composer Steve Reich was derided for the "simplicity" of his music. But "more than any living composer, Steve Reich transformed the image of contemporary classical music from painfully abstruse to potentially cool. Vinyl remixes of his early works can be heard at many dance clubs (there's a new set out next month from Warner)." La Scena Musicale 08/09/06

Critical Theory So how much value is the average critic's take on music? "The more I think about the process of listening to music, the more I realize that any listener's reactions to a piece are his or her own and have little to do with the music they are listening to, at least in so far as how that music will relate to any other listener. They also vary over time. Each time you listen to something, what you are listening to is clouded both by what you've heard before and what you haven't heard before. A repeated listen to a specific piece of music will never be the same as a first listen, but neither will multiple experiences to similar musical ideas in any piece be the same as that initial encounter with such an idea." NewMusicBox 08/09/06

Will New Recording Contract Boost Classical Music Activity? A new contract between the American musicians union and 48 orchestras redefines recording rules. "The new agreement will provide a greater opportunity for symphony orchestras to record. It ultimately will enable a symphony to get its product into the marketplace and maintain a presence that may otherwise be lacking." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 08/09/06

August 8, 2006

Has Bayreuth's Time Passed? "There are signs that the festival organisers, and its audiences, are becoming entirely cut off from the concerns of ordinary concert-goers and Wagner-lovers. Amazingly, the festival is still run by Wolfgang Wagner, Richard's grandson, who is 86, and a stubbornly efficient administrator rather than a great artist (unlike his brother, Wieland, who died in 1966). Wolfgang's productions have been, on the whole, unremarkable." The Guardian (UK) 08/08/06

Can Opera Be Viable In Today's Society? "Can an art form that is averse to controversy survive in this kind of society? Doesn’t it risk seeming to be in the care of dull people, equivocators and cowards? There is an argument, a powerful argument, that opera should stand apart from the baser trends of society. If the larger culture thrives on simple oppositions, on sound bites, not serious discussion — on voices talking over each other at a fevered pitch — then opera, and art, should go elsewhere." OperaNews 08/06

Ad Money Up Front, Coverage To Follow When Tim Mangan's old roommate sent a review copy of his CD to Fanfare magazine, he got a curious response. "The editor of Fanfare, Joel Flegler, had sent him a letter quoting ad rates. If my roommate bought an ad, it said, his recording would be reviewed. If he bought a bigger ad or placed ads in consecutive issues, the editor would arrange for my roommate to be interviewed. The ad rates ranged from $706-$1,853. If he didn't buy an ad, a review might be forthcoming but there was no guarantee, and his CD would not 'be given top priority.' My roommate asked me if he should consider the deal." Orange County Register 08/06/06

Russians Dump Pianos During the days of the Soviet Union, playing the piano was officially encouraged as a path to excellence and cultural superiority. But now Russians are dumping the instruments. "Pianos are being forced out by Ikea furniture and Japanese stereo systems as young professionals turn their back on their parents' dreams of having a classical pianist in the family. The scramble to get rid of the instruments is seen as the latest blow to Russian cultural prestige in the wake of high-profile artists opting to ply their trade abroad and even taking foreign citizenship." Scotland On Sunday 08/06/06

August 7, 2006

50 Years In Santa Fe John Crosby founded Santa Fe Opera in 1956 "among the high hills a few miles north of the city. Over the decades of his visionary and sometimes autocratic stewardship, Crosby evolved a trademark artistic profile that has made Santa Fe Opera one of the nation's most distinctive companies..." San Francisco Chronicle 08/07/06

That Music And Sex Thing (Yes! There's A Link!) "Teenagers who listen to songs with raunchy lyrics start having sex earlier than those who listen to other types of music, according to a new study in the US." The Guardian (UK) 08/08/06

August 6, 2006

The Top-Selling Album Of All Time? Not Elvis. Or the beatles. Or even Michael Jackson. No, the top selling recording of all time (with room to spare) is the Eagles' Greatest Hits (1971-75). And what does that say about us? Denver Post 08/06/06

Boston Symphony Replaces Floor (And Worries) The Boston Symphony is replacing the 105-year-old floor of its stage. But not without some trepidation. "The maple floor has an almost mystical reputation among musicians because of its fundamental contribution to the hall's acoustics, though in many eras the presence of risers on stage for the orchestra diminished that impact." Boston Globe 08/06/06

Music, Period (But Not In America?) The period music movement has long been absorbed into the classical mainstream. But why has it not found its way into the larger American musical culture? "What comes out of obscure colleges in the middle of the Arizona desert is amazing. But this doesn’t translate into everyday musical life. I don’t know why. Maybe the structures are too rigid, or there isn’t the motivation. So American players by and large still have to come and work in Europe." The New York Times 08/06/06

August 4, 2006

Aspen Festival Asserts Itself The Aspen Music Festival is billing itself as "America's Premiere Music Festival" since new CEO Alan Fletcher arrived this spring. Premiere? "Why do we segregate ourselves as classical? Newport Jazz is fantastic, but they're sort of intermittent. Monterey? Burning Man? Lollapalooza? Who would be the premier music festival if we are not that? So, as a marketing principle, I just thought, let's just go for it and see what people say." Denver Post 08/04/06

America's Orchestras Have A New Recording Deal "The deal, to be announced Friday, drastically reduces upfront payments to musicians but gives them a share of future revenue, making it more cost-effective to produce recordings. It also gives the orchestras ownership of the recordings, which they can license to distributors for limited periods. In addition, the agreement strengthens the musicians’ role by giving them veto power over recording projects." The New York Times 08/04/06

August 3, 2006

The Cellos On The Roofs Three intrepid British cellists have finished a 12 day marathon of performing, "which has seen them play recitals, usually on the roofs, at all 42 Anglican cathedrals in England." And why? The Guardian (UK) 08/03/06

Hear Beethoven's Violin Beethoven's own violin has been used in a new recording. "It was played by German violinist Daniel Sepec on a CD of the composer's violin and piano sonatas. The instrument, which is engraved with Beethoven's insignia, was in his family's possession until the early 19th Century." BBC 08/03/06

August 2, 2006

Turns Out The Internet Helps Live Music Thrive "The Internet is seizing the spotlight in the live-music business — again. A dot-com-era bid by concert promoters to market live gigs online fizzled out. But now concert Webcasts and vintage performance clips are gaining new currency. An array of players — from independent record labels to major concert promoters — are drawing up plans to capitalize on fans’ appetites for everything from the latest club shows in Hollywood to decades-old film of the Grateful Dead in Copenhagen." The New York Times 08/03/06

Sell Job - Why Does Classical Music Need It? "We have been told variously that classical music is an indispensable dinner-party accessory (Classic FM), an IQ boost for the newborn (LSO), a deterrent to vandals (London Underground), an MTV substitute (New York Philharmonic), a mating call for gay men (BMG), a readers’ companion (Penguin Books), a come-on for tourists (Republic of Austria) and a cure for the common cold (lab results awaited). What any of this has to do with sampling and enjoying a 300-year heritage of lyric narrative and emotion gets lost in the fever of the sales pitch." La Scena Musicale 08/02/06

A Little Music With Those Humanities? "A University of Pittsburgh music professor is disseminating a new approach to teaching history, English, social studies and other humanities by including music to be studied like any primary text. The results have been stunning for those teachers who have implemented his program in their curriculums. 'If music is one of the primary ways teenagers identify with each other, why not use it in the classes'?" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 07/26/06

Ben Franklin, Composer Benjamin Franklin was the inventor of many things. Now a Pennsylvania professor of music says the founding father was also a composer... Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 07/30/06

August 1, 2006

Ditch The Stupid Tuxes Already! Charlotte Higgins recently took some time off from attending live classical concerts, and upon returning to the concert hall, she was struck by how absurd orchestra musicians look in their white ties and tails. "For the musicians, these heavy clothes can barely be comfortable on searingly hot nights; in any case, it is interesting to note that more and more conductors (who, unlike the rank and file orchestral players, have the power to dress as they please) abandon dinner jacket or tails whenever possible... Formality and dignity do not have to go hand in hand with antediluvian dressing. You would have thought that someone would have asked Paul Smith to design their orchestra's kit by now. Or Prada (what a delicious thought)." CultureVulture (Guardian Blogs) 08/01/06

BC Museum May Have A Strad "A community museum in British Columbia has discovered a violin in its collection that may be a rare instrument created by 17th-century maestro Antonio Stradivari. The violin has been held at the New Westminster Museum and Archives since the 1980s." But the violin has yet to be authenticated, and the museum admits that it may well turn out to be a copy. "An authenticated Stradivarius violin typically fetches between $2 million and $3 million." CBC 08/01/06

No,You're Out Of Order! Two London orchestra executives are taking great umbrage with a Guardian critic who recently painted the classical music industry as out of touch with the public and obsessed with money and marketing gimmicks. "Money is important - it keeps orchestras in business - but it is wrong to say that the extra commitment is not there... Little in life remains unaffected by the market economy - including English symphony orchestras. To succeed, we have to attract sponsors and be able to fund our activities. Diversifying and trying new ventures, such as producing DVDs aimed at six-month-olds, allows us to reach out to new audiences and become self-financing." The Guardian (UK) 08/02/06

So Bad It's Good, Perhaps? The Edinburgh Festival is a huge event and a potentially overwhelming experience, and anyone could use a hand in selecting which concert might be their best bet, and which one they should avoid like the plague. The ever-helpful Michael Tumelty is on hand to point out that this year's fest features a performance by a Hungarian orchestra of what nearly everyone agrees is the worst concert piece ever written by Richard Strauss. It's just mind-numbingly awful, simplistic, and clearly tossed off by the composer while he waited for something better to do. So which concert would Tumelty recommend you not miss? Yeah, um, that one. The Herald (Glasgow) 08/02/06

A Grand Silence Among the unusual amenities available to patrons of Minneapolis's new Cesar Pelli-designed public library are two refurbished grand pianos that anyone can sign up to practice on. "But unexpected problems with soundproofing, acclimating and tuning in the new building have caused delays," and the pianos will stay silent for the forseeable future, until the library comes up with a plan to fix the problems and the money to pay for it. The Star Tribune (Minneapolis/St. Paul) 08/01/06

Houston's New Young Concertmaster Following a two-year search, the Houston Symphony has appointed violinist Angela Fuller as its new concertmaster. Fuller, who has been a member of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1999, will join an extremely select group of women leading major American orchestras. At 29, she will also be one of the youngest concertmasters among major orchestras. Houston Chronicle 08/01/06

Your iPod Could Soon Sound Like A Concert Hall The technology required to reproduce music through a set of speakers has come a long way in the past 80 years, and in recent years it has shrunk down to the point that you can get very decent sound out of a music player the size of a credit card. However, there's one aspect of audible sound that has never been able to adapt to the needs of the portable generation of music players: bass sound. The subwoofer has always been a big unwieldy thing, and it has always been essential to truly high-quality sound reproduction. But a new breakthrough promises to change all that, offering true bass resonance in a tiny tube. Wired 08/01/06

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