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December 10, 2006

World's Oldest Record Store In Danger "Spillers Records in the centre of Cardiff is officially acknowledged as the world's oldest music store by Guinness World Records. Now its future is uncertain - and some of the world's biggest stars are being asked to back a campaign to keep it open." The Independent (UK) 12/10/06

India Gets A New Professional Orchestra "India, which has never shown much interest in sonata form and suchlike, now has a professional symphony orchestra and this week named a Kazakh violinist as its music director." La Scena Musicale 12/07/06

Zeffirelli Returns To La Scala It's been 14 years since director Franco Zeffirelli worked at the opera house, and the buzz was considerable. "Tickets reserved for sale online for all 11 showings of Aida sold out in a record two hours. One of the season's most-anticipated cultural events, Aida attracted an audience of leading political, business and cultural figures — among them Italian Premier Romano Prodi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as his guest." The Globe & Mail (AP) 12/10/06

When Classical Musicians Were Stars "Today, thanks to CDs, DVDs, podcasts and downloads, we have access to more classical music, at our fingertips, than the most visionary composer of the 1970s could have imagined. But the notion of the classical-music composer as a major celebrity was pretty much buried with Britten. Thirty years ago, last Monday." Dallas Morning News 12/10/06

Ten Best Recordings Of 2006? John von Rhen makes his choices of the year's best... Chicago Tribune 12/10/06

Under The Influence - How To Make The NY Phil Matter More As the New York Philharmonic begins looking for a successor to Lorin Maazel, the orchestra ought to be thinking about getting a leader who will participate more in its community. "The debate about the future of classical music and the role of the symphony orchestra goes on across the country, but the Philharmonic under Mr. Maazel is not part of the conversation. Despite the problems facing orchestras, there are real success stories and encouraging news to report. But is anyone looking to the Philharmonic for answers?" The New York Times 12/10/06

December 8, 2006

Austrian Librettist's Heirs Sue For Strauss Royalties "A German court on Thursday began considering a lawsuit seeking royalties from the heirs of German composer Richard Strauss for nine works, including opera favourites Der Rosenkavalier and Elektra. In the suit, five heirs of Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal claim they have a right to about a quarter of the royalties from the operas, for which Strauss wrote the music and his partner von Hofmannsthal the libretto, or words. The payments would amount to nearly $1-million a year." The Globe & Mail (AP) 12/08/06

Boston Pops Trims Itself "Struggling to fill seats for some Holiday Pops concerts, the Boston Pops have cut the size of the orchestra in half for five of the performances, including the Pops' pricey New Year's Eve show. The move to a 40-person ensemble has angered Boston Symphony Orchestra players, who sent a petition to BSO management raising concerns about whether ticket buyers for the concerts... will feel misled when they show up at Symphony Hall." Boston Globe 12/08/06

Wasn't Classical Recording Supposed To Have Died By Now? Still looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the music lover in your life? The music critics of the New York Times are here to help, with their annual roundup of the best classical CDs of 2006. On the list this year: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's last album, the London Symphony's Beethoven cycle, plenty of Mozart (have you heard? It's his 250th birthday!), and a new Concertgebouw recording of Stravinsky. The New York Times 12/08/06

Tanglewood Hit By Windstorm The Boston Symphony's summer home at Tanglewood suffered an estimated $250,000 of damage last week when hurricane-force winds ripped through the area. "There were 300 trees down on the grounds, but the cleanup will be complete by the time Tanglewood opens in late June." WCVB-TV (Boston) 12/08/06

December 7, 2006

UK To Take On Piracy, But Leave Copyright Law Alone The British government will boost its budget for combating music piracy by £5 million next year, and is prepared to launch an all-out crackdown on illegal file-trading. "A wide-ranging intellectual property review [also] recommended the existing 50-year copyright term for sound recordings be retained, much to the chagrin of a vocal lobby of major record labels and artists who wanted it increased." The Guardian (UK) 12/07/06

Grammy's Classical Noms The Grammy nominations are out, and the London Symphony's live-to-tape Beethoven symphony cycle will be going up against a much-lauded new recording of Mahler's 7th Symphony by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for best classical album. Other notable nominees include Osvaldo Golijov's Fountain of Tears in the opera category, pianist Martha Argerich for a live recording from the Lugano Festival, and the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson for her solo album entitled "Rilke Songs." Grammy.com 12/07/06

Two Operas Canceled In L.A. Two small L.A. opera companies have been forced to cancel productions this week. El Dorado Opera and Lyric Opera of Los Angeles are both facing financial difficulties, and not having the resources of larger companies, they've begun scrapping shows in the middle of the holiday concert season. Los Angeles Times 12/08/06

Ringing True What is it about Wagner's Ring cycle that has such a hold on so many people? "It's absurd, lasts for ever, and has no sympathetic characters... [Furthermore, if it] does not appeal to women as much as men, it is perhaps because Wagner's idea of love doesn't extend much beyond sexual passion." Still, there's no denying the raw power of the music, as a first time Ringer found out in Cardiff this week. The Guardian (UK) 12/08/06

Another Ontario Orchestra Generating Drama Ontario's Orchestra London is on the verge of a possible musicians' strike over low pay and lack of benefits. "Most of the 29 full-time musicians (there are also 17 part-time musicians) are paid $23,223 for working a 36-week season... They receive no dental, drug, disability or health benefits. But the musicians are even more incensed by the fact that at a time when the symphony's operating revenue is at an all-time high, tickets sales are healthy and wages in other sectors of the organization have increased... base pay for musicians has inched up only 1.5 per cent per year since 2000." London Free Press (Ontario) 12/07/06

Domingo Roundly Booed At Met A performance of Puccini's La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera went awry this week to the extent that conductor Placido Domingo found himself getting lustily booed before the beginning of the third act. Domingo's offense was apparently to not have followed star soprano Anna Netrebko closely enough during her big arias in the first two acts. "In order to fully realize her artistic vision, she allowed each phrase to develop organically, unhurriedly, employing tasteful rubato and holding high notes expertly and impressively. But Mr. Domingo trudged along inattentively at metronomic speed, running noticeably ahead of his diva." New York Sun 12/07/06

December 6, 2006

The Complaining Choir Everybody loves to complain, but no one likes to listen to other people's complaints. If only bitching and moaning could somehow be made more aesthetically enjoyable, like maybe by having a 100-voice choir sing your personal kvetches in four-part harmony... The Guardian (UK) 12/06/06

Cycling Towards Exhaustion, And For What? Wagner's Ring cycle is a daunting thing to stage under any circumstances, but to do it in four days with a traveling company that sets up shop in a new city whenever it feels like it? That's approaching insanity, and yet, it's what Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Theatre have been doing lately. Andrew Clarke is impressed with the dedication and effort of all involved, but says that the end result is less than stellar. "Much of the performance looked poorly rehearsed. Singers didn’t react to each other, preferring to follow a basic sequence of moves... With one or two exceptions, the standard of German was lamentable: why doesn’t Gergiev employ a language coach? As for the singing, there was not much of international standard." Financial Times (UK) 12/05/06

Well-Timed Windfall In Tampa Bay The Florida Orchestra managed to raise 20% of the money it needs for day-to-day operations in 2007 in only a few minutes this week, when a prominent Tampa family foundation kicked in a cool million. The hefty donation comes at an important moment for the orchestra, which recently announced a $677,000 deficit. Tampa Tribune 12/07/06

The Finn Factor Finland is a nation of just 5 million people that gained its independence less than a century ago, and yet its impact on the world of classical music has been growing exponentially in the last few decades. "It didn't happen by accident, of course. The country has earned its international reputation for music by seriously investing in it. Total spending by the ministry of culture last year amounted to €364 million ($615 million)." The Australian 12/07/06

Delfs To Depart Milwaukee Andreas Delfs has announced that he will depart his post as music director of the Milwaukee Symphony when his newly extended contract expires in 2009. Delfs has led the MSO since 1998, and was also music director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for several years earlier this decade. His final season in Milwaukee will also be the orchestra's 50th anniversary year. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 12/05/06

Lighten Up! What New Operas Could Use There are plenty of contemporary operas these days. But why must new opera be so serious? The Globe & Mail (Canaa) 12/06/06

America's New "Big 5" Orchestras (One Man's List) Fred Kirshnit embraces the idea of a "Big Five" American orchestras. But his five aren't the traditional culprits... New York Sun 12/05/06

December 5, 2006

Did Jazz Die In The 1970s? To counter the claim, jazz bloggers have been weighing in with lists of what they coinsider classice from the era. And a new 70s jazz canon is being created... The New York Times 12/06/06

In Silicon Valley, The Maestros Are Momentary "In San Jose, instead of hiring a big-name, resident conductor to build a brand -- think Michael Tilson Thomas at the San Francisco Symphony -- Symphony Silicon Valley employs guest conductors only. The players have a new musical boss for every program -- at least seven new conductors at the podium each season. From a musician's seat, not to mention a concertgoer's, there is plenty of peril in the arrangement. ... But in San Jose, it turns out, it's working just fine, so far." San Francisco Chronicle 12/05/06

99 Tubists Play For Their Fallen King "You have likely never heard of Tommy Johnson, but it turns out that Johnson was, and still is, according to everyone who would know, 'the most heard tubist on the planet.' A first-chair studio musician in Hollywood for 50 years, Johnson played on thousands of recordings"; his was the breath behind those ominous shark-attack notes in "Jaws." After Johnson's death in October, a memorial concert was in order, and so on Sunday in Los Angeles, 99 tubists took the stage. "They came to honor their fallen tuba king." Washington Post 12/05/06

December 4, 2006

Paris Opera Changes Direction In Choice Of New Director The Paris Opera has named Nicolas Joël as its new General director, succeeding the controversial Gerard Mortier. "By contrast Joël, highly regarded for his oversight of the Toulouse opera, orchestra and ballet since 1990, is known for his elegant and conventional designs and choice of directors. He has staged five of his company’s nine productions this season and has not staged one at the Paris Opéra in recent memory." Musical America 12/04/06

Building A Better Orchestra Player "Too many orchestras, intent on recruiting absolutely the best players (however such a subjective thing may be measured), have tended to undervalue a musician’s skills at outreach. With a new program announced on Tuesday, Clive Gillinson, the executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, and Joseph W. Polisi, the president of the Juilliard School, will try to alter that thinking." The New York Times 12/03/06

Pappano Extends His Stay At Covent Garden To the great relief of many, Antonio Pappano has re-upped as music director of Covent Garden. "With New York's Metropolitan Opera allegedly grooming him for succession on the event of James Levine's retirement, the rumour mill went into overdrive when Pappano's contract came up for renewal. The consensus was that, stung by the constant criticism of his choice of directors and weary of being 'dismissed in one sentence' in reviews of Götterdämmerung, he would not be staying." The Independent (UK) 12/03/06

God Sells With each passing year, the hand-wringing over the downturn in record sales becomes a little more desperate. But one genre continues to experience steady growth: gospel and Christian music. Boston Globe 12/03/06

Maestro On The Move (At 34) "Vladimir Jurowski is one of the youngest and most successful maestros around: he's been in charge of the opera house at Glyndebourne since 2001; next summer he takes up the reins of the London Philharmonic Orchestra as its principal conductor; and he's principal guest conductor of the Russian National Orchestra. All this and he's only 34." The Guardian (UK) 12/02/06

December 3, 2006

Capitalizing The Kimmel Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is five years old and still short on funds. The problem is that, while no expense was spared to build the center, organizers failed to see the need for a major endowment to keep it solvent. "The Kimmel and the Philadelphia Orchestra previously flirted with the idea of a merger, and have already combined some operations. A second study by Deloitte & Touche will look at various possible business models... The Kimmel would like to reach an endowment of $70 million and eliminate its $30 million debt, or have $100 million in endowment if retaining the debt." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/02/06

Traveling Musicians Play A Dangerous Game Of Chance This summer's terror scare in the UK resulted in some high-profile difficulties for musicians attempting to bring their instruments on airplanes in the country. But in point of fact, when there isn't a terrorist threat going on, it's always been far harder for musicians to travel with their instruments in North America than anywhere else in the world, and that hasn't changed. "The federal Transportation Security Administration and each airline have separate policies that can be confusing to musicians who wish to travel with their instruments. While airlines without specific musical instrument policies frequently welcome them aboard, some violin and viola cases may not meet strict size limits: limits that can be enforced at any time." Strings 01/07

More Red Ink In Minneapolis (But Not As Much) The Minnesota Orchestra finished the 2005-06 season nearly $600,000 in the red, but that deficit is less than half of last year's number, and keeps the organization on track for a planned return to balance next year. "Despite the deficit, the orchestra and its board reported a year of considerable achievement. Highlights included a critically successful tour of European festivals in August, the release of two Beethoven symphonies on CDs that earned rave reviews in both the U.S. and England, and a 5-percent increase over last year in ticket sales." Star Tribune (Minneapolis/St. Paul) 12/02/06

Florida Orch Finds Itself $1m Short The Florida Symphony, which is hoping to add a full corporate headquarters to St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater, hit a roadblock this week when the initial construction estimate came in $1 million over what had been budgeted. "Under current plans, the 10,000-square-foot headquarters would be housed in a new wing at the northeast corner of the Mahaffey, which was recently renovated. It is to include offices, a music library and space to store instruments." St. Petersburg Times 12/02/06

Are We Neglecting The Piano? Piano recitals used to be as common as coffee shops in cities around North America. But these days, opportunities for pianists (who often don't have the diverse career options afforded to other instrumentalists) are dwindling on this side of the Atlantic, and many young soloists are choosing to focus their careers in Europe. Toronto Star 12/02/06

$100m Overhaul For Denver Concert Hall The Colorado Symphony announced plans last week for a $100 million expansion and renovation of its concert hall, a project which will see the venue converted to a single-use facility after years of sharing between the symphony, opera, and ballet. "The project would reconfigure the shape and size of the 28-year-old building and address three main deficiencies highlighted in recent studies: inadequate public spaces, inferior backstage amenities and troubled acoustics." Denver Post 12/02/06

December 1, 2006

Does Portable Have To Mean Compressed? The iPod revolution has changed the music industry, but five years after the personal jukebox was debuted, no one has yet figured out how to bring high-quality sound to the portable players. "Listeners demand portability and a la carte song purchases. But at least some also want 'fidelity,' to experience a sound that's true to the full aural expression the artist poured out at the moment of a work's creation. Technology, artist advocacy, and buyer behavior will determine the degree to which listeners can have both, experts say." The Christian Science Monitor 12/01/06

Berlin Gets A Taste of American-Style Advocacy The new managing director of the Berlin Philharmonic says that she wants to give the atmosphere surrounding the orchestra a new energy, and to broaden the Phil's target audience. Pamela Rosenberg, who came to Berlin from the San Francisco Opera, says that it isn't about selling tickets (the Phil sells out most of its concerts, anyway) but about using what many consider to be the greatest orchestra in the world to promote classical music to the wide swath of the public to which it has no meaning. International Herald Tribune (AP) 12/01/06

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