Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Classical Music and Marketing

Here's an  article from the blog "Lies Like Truth" on a male a capella group which I admire very much, called Chanticleer.  The blogger comments that while the rivetingly superb performances which Chanticleer delivers are able to captivate a wide range of audience, their penguin suit dress code acts as a turn-off sign for attracting a younger crowd that may easily fall in love with Chanticleer's repertoire otherwise.  

This dilemma in marketing seems to hold true in my experience of bringing my non-classical-musically-inclined friends to concerts they would not have thought to go were I not there.  These friends of mine had often expressed that they enjoyed the music much more than they expected, but were surprised that they would have never found out the existence of the performers on their own.

Monday, September 29, 2008




Hello. For those of you interested, the above are websites of my high school's rock orchestra. One is their website, one is a youtube video of one of their performances, and there is a review of one of their performances at the House of Blues in downtown Cleveland.

Again, I am not particularly a fan of electric orchestras, but it is interesting. I think there is something to Cook's assertion that authenticity is important, at least as far as something's ability to be marketable. Cook brings up the fact innovation is often more highly reviewed than working within an already-set framework. I think that applies here.

To some extent, (and I don't want to put down this orchestra) the level of musicality/musicianship is probably not as important as the sensationalism of the production itself - the kids get to play rock-like instruments, dress cool, and play hits that people dance and sing to (as well as some classical works that are well-known). In addition to this, the kids really do practice. It's kind of like the cover of the 16-year old violinist's album - if you put it in a different dress, how much are people going to be listening to the subtleties of the playing?

I'm excited for this orchestra, and I think the fact that kids are genuinely excited to play music is great. The level to which the community is involved is also important and a positive side effect. However, I don't think the musicianship displayed is anywhere near the level of a symphony or a string quartet. I would never of course put a high school orchestra on that level, but I worry that the kids in the orchestra may never be able to hear or appreciate the difference. The audiences for that sort of performance are quite different, and you're not going to hear the Devil went down to Georgia. Should orchestras consider changing their attire, and occassionally throwing in an old pop favorite? I wonder.....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eschenbach to Lead National Symphony

Read the following announcement very carefully, my friends:  a great deal is said between the lines.

Eschenbach to Lead National Symphony

By Daniel J. Wakin; Compiled by Dave Itzkoff

Christoph Eschenbach who departed the Philadelphia Orchestra after a relatively brief and rocky relationship, has been named the next music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. His three-year tenure will begin in the 2010-11 season, after Ivan Fischer ends a two-year interim term with the title of principal conductor. Mr. Eschenbach, 68, was also named to a new position, music director of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the symphony’s home. Mr. Eschenbach spent five years at the Philadelphia Orchestra through last season, the shortest span for any of its music directors in nearly a century, and left amid reports that musicians were dissatisfied with him. He had not conducted the National Symphony for at least 15 years until a hastily arranged concert in February. The orchestra had been searching for a replacement for Leonard Slatkin, its longtime music director, whose term ended after last season.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/27/arts/music/27arts-ESCHENBACHTO_BRF.html?sq=eschenbach&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=print (accessed September 27, 2008)

Reassigning Don Rosenberg

When Don Rosenberg, the music critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was reassigned this month, many took note. Tim Smith first posted the news and the background on his blog: “The Plain Dealer has clearly caved into pressure from a faction representing the orchestra and the man on its podium. By silencing Don, those myopic folks must think they've achieved a great victory. They haven't. They've made a venerable newspaper look cheap and act cowardly. They've made a sterling orchestra look a little less so.”

Vociferous response from many quarters impelled the New York Times to report the story in its print edition of September 25, 2008.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Greg Sandow raises pertinent objections, and proposes honorable solutions.

A Sour Note
Not long ago I was asked if music critics have a code of conduct. They don't, as far as I know, but there are strict rules about conflicts of interest. If a critic appears to have some connection to a group he or she reviews, then those reviews aren't legitimate. And note the word "appears." As all critics know, the appearance of conflict of interest is what matters most. A critic might be objective, but if there appears to be some reason to think otherwise -- if, let's say, a critic has been paid to do something by the group being reviewed, or, in an extreme case, serves on its board -- then the reviews shouldn't be written.

Bear this in mind as we look at an explosion that happened in Cleveland. The Cleveland Plain Dealer had a classical-music critic, Donald Rosenberg, who served at the paper for 16 years. He's admired by colleagues at other publications, and respected by Cleveland musicians. But he ran into a problem. In 2003, a new music director, Franz Welser-Möst, came to the Cleveland Orchestra, and for the most part Mr. Rosenberg didn't like the way Mr. Welser-Möst conducts.

So Mr. Rosenberg and the orchestra were locked in an uncomfortable dance. Mr. Rosenberg of course wrote negative reviews (though not always; sometimes he liked what he heard). The orchestra had to put up with them. For six years this went on. And then, on Sept. 18, the Plain Dealer's editor, Susan Goldberg, told Mr. Rosenberg that he was no longer the paper's classical critic. He was now just an arts reporter, and while he still could write music reviews, the orchestra was off-limits. A new classical critic, Zachary Lewis, had been appointed, and he'd write the orchestra reviews.

An uproar followed. The Baltimore Sun's classical-music critic, Tim Smith, broke the news on his blog, and protests broke out. Other critics were scandalized. The heat got so great that the New York Times took note of it, in a long story that ran Thursday on the front page of its Arts section. A storm of comments appeared on Mr. Smith's blog, many coming from Cleveland, some even from members of the Cleveland Orchestra, who (without necessarily taking sides on their music director) supported Mr. Rosenberg's right to say whatever he liked.

And here we come to a conflict of interest, or at least the appearance of one. The Plain Dealer's publisher, Terrance Egger, serves on the orchestra's board. So did his predecessor, Alex Machaskee. Which has led people to ask -- on Tim Smith's blog and elsewhere -- if the paper really can cover the orchestra objectively.

Ms. Goldberg, the Plain Dealer's editor, said she won't comment -- properly, perhaps -- on what she calls an "internal personnel matter." And the orchestra denies all involvement. Its executive director, Gary Hanson, and the chairman of its board, Richard Bogomolny, both posted comments on Tim Smith's blog. "I have never met with [the newspaper's editors] to protest Donald Rosenberg's opinions," Mr. Hanson wrote. "To those who practice the fine art of 'ready, fire, aim,'" wrote Mr. Bogomolny, "it might be useful for you to contact us before making accusations. For the record: No one from the management and board leadership of the Cleveland Orchestra has ever asked the Plain Dealer management to remove Don Rosenberg as critic of The Cleveland Orchestra."
Both men said they admired Mr. Rosenberg, whether or not they agreed with his views. But wait! These dignitaries are commenting on a blog. Mr. Hanson also posted a comment -- the same one -- on a blog written by Steve Smith (no relation to Tim Smith), who writes classical-music reviews for the New York Times. Why do they seem so defensive?

The appearance of a conflict of interest, it seems, really does create problems. But before I go on, I should declare my own relationships. I'm friendly with Mr. Rosenberg, Mr. Hanson and Mr. Welser-Möst. I like and admire them. And I've interviewed Mr. Bogomolny, as well as Alex Machaskee, the Plain Dealer's former publisher, and liked and admired them, too. Plus, I've been hired to work on projects with the Cleveland Orchestra. So it's with sadness that I write what follows.

I think that the Plain Dealer and, above all, the orchestra are in a rocky position. Maybe all this will blow over. Maybe Mr. Lewis, as he reviews the orchestra, will be seen as objective, and no one will think that his paper demanded favorable reviews. His first piece, which ran Thursday, was a profile of Mr. Welser-Möst, which raised eyebrows from some observers. But the profile seemed balanced, and it acknowledged -- as certainly it should have -- that Mr. Welser-Möst has gotten negative reviews from critics who aren't Mr. Rosenberg, among them Anthony Tommasini, chief classical critic of the New York Times.

But remember the rule -- it's the appearance of conflict of interest that counts. The Plain Dealer's publisher, once again, sits on the orchestra's board.

As for the orchestra, how can anyone be absolutely sure that it didn't play some role in what happened? The mere fact that Mr. Hanson and Mr. Bogomolny felt that they had to deny this (on blogs!) shows that they're on the defensive. What happens if their denials aren't believed? Which, to judge from comments on Tim Smith's blog, is exactly what seems to be happening.

And what kind of newspaper coverage will the Cleveland Orchestra now get? In Cleveland, the coverage now might look tainted. If Mr. Lewis writes friendly reviews, he might have been told to write them. If he writes unfavorably, he might be bending that way to prove that he's independent. How can anyone know?

Nationally, things might look even worse. This whole affair highlights something the orchestra surely doesn't want widely publicized -- that Mr. Welser-Möst has detractors. Who now won't know that? And what will critics write? The orchestra tours every year. Won't critics listen with even more critical ears? They're primed, now, to listen for trouble. And, if only unconsciously, they might want to support Mr. Rosenberg.

What should the orchestra do? It needs, in my view, to restore its integrity, or rather the perception of it, which has been damaged, whatever the reality might be. Mr. Hanson and Mr. Bogomolny, joined, ideally, by Mr. Welser-Möst (hard as this could be for him), might consider publicly asking the paper to reinstate Mr. Rosenberg.

And they might ask Mr. Eggers, the Plain Dealer's publisher, to resign from their board. In his defense, I might note that serving on important community boards is natural for someone in his position. He's also on the board of the Cleveland Clinic, a world-famous hospital. And it's not unknown for newspaper publishers to serve on arts boards. To cite just one example: Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the former publisher of the New York Times (and father of the present one), was board chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which of course the Times covers.

Was that, in practice, a bad thing? Maybe not. But every veteran critic knows cases where, in similar situations, executives with arts connections have meddled, or tried to, with newspaper arts coverage. And -- to state the principle one last time -- the appearance is troubling. Top executives of newspapers appear to engage in conflicts of interest they'd forbid their critics to have.

Should they be doing this?

Mr. Sandow is a composer, critic and consultant who writes about classical music for the Journal.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122246758436180431.html?mod=todays_us_weekend_journal#printMode (accessed September 27, 2008)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"When there's no quiet, there can be no loud."

In today's Wall Street Journal, we read (link here) that even some of Metallica's fans feel that the band's latest CD, Death Magnetic, is too loud. You might find the ensuing discussion pertinent.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I thought it was interesting that Levine brought up the issue of the visual arts, specifically Andy Warhol, in order to illustrate 'popular' or 'low' art. Warhol was cited at the inception of his career as an artist who used mass-production techniques to paint mass-produced items of commodity culture (Campbell's soup cans, for instance). Decades before Warhol, Clement Greenberg, one of the most influential art critics, wrote an article titled "The Avant-Garde and Kitsch." In this article, he basically categorizes the avant-garde as good and kitsch as bad. Avant-garde art is one that expresses itself, is abstracted, always open-ended, and questions conventions (think a Jackson Pollock all-over drip painting) and kitsch expresses content, is born of mass culture, and is accessible to mass population. I'd also like to mention that Greenberg's article could and should be read through a totalitarian-conscious lens, but I think that was is said about kitsch is particularly relevant to our collective discussion.

Now, Warhol and Pollock are revered as some of the greatest American artists. Their works sell for millions of dollars at auction and appear in the collections of the most prestigious museums worldwide. Kitsch and the avant-garde, in the realm of the visual arts, have seem to find a way to co-exist on the same level of importance financially and historically. Two weeks ago, Versailles opened an exhibition by Jeff Koons, a contemporary American sculptor who is praised and hated for his ultimately kitsch works of art--shiny chrome sculptures of balloon animals, porcelain portraits of Michael Jackson. Koons' work is, without a doubt, the poster child of kitsch. But yet the Versailles palace, the MOST unlikely place to host works by Koons, is now exhibiting kitsch. Or is it high art?

I'm really sorry to take this long detour, but I was wondering if in music there is any equivalent to kitsch in the same vein of Warhol and Koons kitsch. Would it be popular music? If so, what genres? What about American musical theater? It is popular music that pleases the masses. On the same line, what would be considered avant-garde music? And if there are examples of avant-garde music, does it have the same cultural significance as avant-garde art does?

Levine and Facebook

While reading Levine talk about the rules being imposed on the arts in the 19th century, particularly the rule about clapping between movements of a piece, I couldn't help but think of the Facebook groups called something like "I don't clap between movements." The existence of such "groups" (it's not so much an organized group as a bunch of people attributing a quality to themselves) shows that these rules are both still securely in place and still quite often broken.

There is most certainly an elitist air about the profiles describing the groups, an assumption that those who are not members have no place attending concerts in the first place. On the surface it might seem like a way to educate the ignorant, but of course those people would never even think to look at such a site. Really, it's a way for an insular group to feel superior and broadcast that superiority. I would be very surprised if there isn't someone in the class who's a member. This is not an attack on you. In fact, I don't like it when people don't follow these rules either. These are just my observations.

And who hasn't been to a concert where this particular rule isn't broken? It especially happens at student concerts, when someone's non-musical friend or parent gets excited over seeing their friend/child do something interesting. So I ask, should we stop inviting our friends to our concerts if they haven't been acclimated to the rules?

The above is an article reviewing the Brooklyn Children's museum. I thought it was apropos of the reading, since Levine analyzes the clientele of museums of the 19th century.

This reading displays the pros and cons of trying to display objects of the world without the typical categorizations of era, place in time, and place of origin. Instead of displaying a piece from Nigeria as being from Nigeria, and of a certain time, it instead tries to say - isn't this neat? again, without classifying it.

Often museum displays say much about the clientele it is trying to attract. I just it was interesting reading a review for something that is targetting toddlers. :-)

Funny pieces

I want to comment on Ivan's blog about the "funny" piece on the concert Friday. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go, so perhaps this isn't the best thing for me to comment on. However, I do think that it's interesting to think about programming after the topics that we've read about in the past two weeks.
I too would usually think that the program order, or choice of that piece, might be inappropriate, especially being immediately before Schumann. But why would I think that? Is it only because my ears are used to "appropriately" programmed concerts that consist of only serious pieces written by Back, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann? Why are those "serious" pieces? I only say it because it reminds me of the change in programming and the idea that you cannot be well-behaved enough at a concert, or that you need to act in a certain way, and think a certain way. It seems as if earlier in the century (or the last century actually) people had a variety of choices in the concert hall. They were able to attend parodies, serious operas, vaudeville, but it doesn't seem that way now. We like to keep it all separate. But why? Maybe that is our problem. Perhaps we should add in something that could draw them in, let people see that classical musicians can be funny (and many of us are...). I know that we're always being told to think of something new to stand out and make our way in the world of music. When it comes down to it though, isn't this just another form of entertainment? Maybe we shouldn't be so serious about it after all.

September Fest Opening concert at Longy on Friday

I was going to say a few things about the concert on Friday and I was just reading the blog and saw that someone else had posted something about it already. And as I thought, and already heard from others, the main thing people are talking about is that "funny" piece by Teddy Bor. In my opinion it was funny because it was new for me and the other reason was the people that were performing it (I still find P. D. Q. Bach funnier). But the main thing that I was thinking about was not how funny the piece was but about the fact that they put this piece in the program right next to Roger Tapping's performance of Schumann. I personally didn't think that was very appropriate. Maybe (hopefully) Mr. Tapping didn't feel that way and didn't think that was disrespectful in any way.

Bearing It All In Opera

On Thursday, I read an article in the New York Times entitled: “Take It Off Brunnhilde: On Opera And Nudity” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/18/arts/music/18nude.html?ref=music . The article discusses the appropriateness of nudity in opera. It states the obvious thing by saying that if done in an artistically, there really shouldn’t be a problem. Now directors and singers too are “making opera as dramatically visceral an art form as theater, film and modern dance, traditional boundaries of decorum have been broken. Opera productions have increasingly showcased risk-taking and good-looking singers in bold, sexy and explicit productions.” I think this sentence from the article basically outlines a many major issues effecting opera today. Whether or not there is nudity is really a non-issue to me, it is the implications that it brings that I find more interesting. Perhaps the Tommasini should have replaced the word “visceral” with “visual” because I think that is the aspect of opera that is really gaining a lot of importance. It seems almost as though the music and the voice is secondary. For me the visceral quality of opera is the language of the music and the way in which the artists bring it to life is what creates that quality in this opera. But, I wonder if it is enough. I don’t really think that this focus on the visual is a marketing ploy because I don’t really think it would work. Perhaps it is a change in tastes or maybe it is just the next step in a greater continuum that I am not able to see. It could also be boredom with past productions. There was a time, however, not too long ago, when the visual aspect was not so important. Singers were not choreographed at all and it was really more about the singing. Finding a happy medium seems to be the challenge in an age where singers are sent away because they don’t fit into little black dresses or just don’t have the right “look” for the part. Is it a lack of imagination on the part of the audience? I still prefer a beautiful and compelling voice to tell me the story of an opera whose plot may be otherwise lacking (there are many exceptions, of course). The art of opera is story telling through the voice. In opera the voice is the sincerest form of expression everything else is just completes the full package of this art form.

I guess my point is it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not Brunnhilde literally bears it all. I just want to hear some good Wagner.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cultural Ecumenism

In the epilogue of Highbrow/Lowbrow, Levine wrote:

"Culture remains a dynamic process, a constant interchange between the past and the present.  Nevertheless, as significant as these recent developments have been, it would be premature to announce the arrival of the Age of Cultural Ecumenism."

The use of the term "Cultural Ecumenism" intrigues me greatly.  This is because of my personal interest in "ecumenism" in the more usual sense of the word-- namely, in the religious context.  Moreover, Levine brought up not only this religiously-charged word, but earlier in the book, he also had described the advocates of the "high arts" as though they felt the same divine calling to serve as that of religious missionaries.  The uncanny parallels between the fervor of the arts advocates and the religiously devout fascinate me greatly, since I happen to care greatly about both.

I have had a few years of experience in an ecumenical religious community which fosters "goodwill and understanding among students of different Christian traditions".  This group aims to promote Christian unity by providing a space to recognize and deepen the common beliefs held between all Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, while respecting the integrity of the drastic differences between these groups.  For example, a Catholic would be welcomed into the group as a fellow Christian, and would hopefully be encouraged to become a better Catholic-Christian through the experience--as opposed a Christian of a less well-defined sort.  In order to achieve this, this group discusses about and tries hard to practice the courtesy of "ecumenical sensitivity" for the sake of the common goal of unity.  That is, in view of that goal, while members are highly encouraged to grow deeper into their respective traditions on their own, each is expected, during the common gatherings, to refrain from performing or discussing personal religious rituals and/or beliefs in manners which may be perceived as questionable through the lenses of other Christian sects, so as to avoid unwanted (though not unimportant) tensions. To practice this sensitivity effectively, members must be seek to somewhat understand--though not necessarily master--the basics of both the traditions of others, and that of one's own through many different outsiders' points of view.  This is not to say that nurturing the uniqueness of one's own tradition is not important; rather, members are asked to practice that in their own churches, and to use this particular community as a venue to share and contribute to the commonly held values, now enhanced by the rich influences of different "flavors" of faith.

I venture to digress this much from the discussion of music, because I think this model of religious ecumenism seems very analogous to the spirit toward cultural understanding the arts which Levine may be advocating.  We live in a pluralistic global society today in terms of our diverse musical activities-- just like the varied conditions of our world's religious landscape.  While we certainly do not agree that all musical knowledge is of equal value, it is sophomoric to arbitrarily dismiss some musical traditions as worthless altogether and elevate others as the "only way" to musical nirvana.  Certainly, there are values of "good" and "bad" within the context of each musical tradition which are important to learn and master for its professed practitioners.  But in order to contribute to an edifying commonly shared musical experience, participants must be musically or culturally ecumenical sensitivity:  to gracefully cooperate with others from different musical backgrounds, knowledge, and tastes, by a willingness and openness to examine different musical practices via channels other than one's own.

Classical Music: Stuff White People Like

I found this post on "Stuff White People Like" another blog I read from time to time. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Stuff White People Like is pure satire, poking fun at liberal, upper-middle class white culture. Each post lists a new item white people supposedly like- Barak Obama, diversity, apple products, etc.- and goes on to explain it as if writing to an outsider trying to understand white culture.

Anyway, entry #108 is "Appearing to enjoy Classical Music". It describes how white people don't actually like classical music, but like to see themselves as "the type of people who would enjoy it" in order to impress other white people. Thus, they go to one or two concerts in a given season and maintain a very limited knowledge of a few key composers while living in fear of "being called out for a lack of familiarity with the early works of Antonin Dvorak."

The whole post reminded me of Levine's discussion of the elites who set classical music up as "high culture" in order to maintain their own social status. He also explains how they propagated the idea that one must possess a huge knowledge base in order to really enjoy classical. Clearly, these stereotypes are still alive and well!

Classical explosion on Netflix.com

In an attempt to cheat the system, I signed up for a netflix.com account last summer, hoping to find a budget-friendly, hassle-free way to watch some of the more popular recordings of important concerts, operas, and documentaries (at least the ones that made it to dvd). What I found on netflix was disappointing. An handful of operas mostly filmed in the 80’s and a scattered array of Mozart and Bach’s “life and works”-type specials, all put in a “will release” category that didn’t seem encouraging. I decided then to give up on netflix.com as a research medium and focus my attention on audio recordings.

On a fleeting whim, I decided to give netflix another try, and I’m glad I gave them some time to catch up. Ballet, opera, great symphonic concerts, even an entire series devoted to the late and great Pavarotti, is now available through this exploding medium. My queue has doubled with the sheer volume of available concerts, and if you are not a Macintosh snob like me, you can watch some of these as an instant download (apparently, the price I pay for not dealing with viruses!).

Netflix is a cheap investment, I only pay 7.99 a month, and I’m sure that copycat companies charge less. Anyone else living on a budget who isn’t looking for the rarest recordings should check it out. My next great adventure is a new release of a 1973 Arthur Rubenstein concert at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. Rubenstein (in addition to being my hero when I first began playing piano in middle school) gives a revealing interview from his home in Paris called “Rubenstein at 90”. Hopefully, this venture will pay off with some wholesome musical exposure.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Opening Concert at Longy last night

How’s this for food for thought? For those of you who were there, you recall that the first half of Longy’s opening night concert last night ended with Teddy Bor’s piece “Bach at the Double”. Funny to think that this decidedly merciless parody on the sacredness of “classical music” is a joke we are all privy to. If we go with the assumption that what can be parodied is what is widely known in the general populace, then what is common in our culture is the idea of classical music as serious business. This idea or image, then, is what classical music is to the general public: the affectation and pretension surrounding classical music has become its defining characteristic, not the great, “sacred” music itself.

This is just a musing of mine. What do you think? Does this ring true? Is there more to it?

Daniel Barenboim's new book and my grandmother

I received the following article (http://www.economist.com/books/PrinterFriendly.cfm?story_id=11959117) in the mail from my grandmother today. In her accompanying letter she wrote:

"If music is so influential in our lives and society, then in the classroom it should be as important as English or Math. Do you know of any organized effort in the musical world whose goal is to pursue this idea? I believe with Plato that music is anchored in moral and political reality or 'that music-making are forces for social and political good' and most importantly that "everything is connected". Of course, there is no one as ignorant as I am about music!!!"

She then asked me if people were making more music and art, would we have less of a war-like society?

Two interesting things here:
1. Does anyone have a response to these questions?
2. The fact that ‘non-musician’ feel compelled to qualify their statements about music with a sentence like the above. (Much like the critics Levine complains of!) Do you encounter this in conversations with others? Does it make you wonder how we define ‘musician’ and what the prevailing beliefs are about this definition?

Check out the article in its entirety, but here’s the first paragraph to peak your interest!

"For Plato the art of music was so firmly anchored in moral and political reality that any alteration to the musical system would necessarily require a corresponding political shift. Two and a half millennia later, when classical music is generally seen as a high-class lifestyle accessory, Plato’s conception seems outlandish, even absurd. To be sure, most people involved in classical music today consider their art to be of profound cultural importance, but there are very few who are able to articulate this convincingly."

Friday, September 19, 2008

from Covent Garden, free opera on the Web

This past summer, the Bayreuth Festival offered a full-length performance on the Web at a price that some considered extortionate (49 euros--$77). Today, the New York Times reported the following: "The Royal Opera House in London will present a full-length opera online for the first time beginning Oct. 5, when audiences will be able to log on to the company’s Web site and watch a performance of Mozart’s 'Don Giovanni.'” Click here for more.

One can but contemplate the implications.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Internet is a paradise for geeks

Having never posted to a blog before (oh the humanity!) I found myself drawn to one of Alex Ross’s older essays published in the New Yorker, published in their October 22 issue in 2007. This essay, entitled “The Well-Tempered Web” expressed Ross’s reflection of the impact his and other music lover’s blogs have had on the output of public discussion, as well as emerging trends in the distribution of music online. Although it was published last year, I feel that much of the observations are relevant to the music trends we discussed in class. Certainly the accessibility of ideas alone is a great contribution. I feel a surge of hope when I read that “no demographically driven executive could suppress, say, a musicology student’s ruminations on György Ligeti’s Requiem on the ground that it had no appeal for twenty-seven-year-old males, even if the blogger in question—Tim Rutherford-Johnson, of The Rambler —was himself twenty-seven.”

This article held a particular relevance to the Napster and file-sharing discussion we had in class. I continue to struggle with the paradox of music on the Internet, caught between the desire to listen to as much as possible without the limitations of buying expensive recordings, and supporting the majority of musicians who make an alarmingly small fraction of their living in CD sales. Klauss Heymann, the founder of Naxos Records and the forerunner of classical music on the Internet, put his entire catalogue online for free in 1996, though later jumping on the strategy of charging a cheap annual fee ($19,95 for a year subscription is still much better than any offers I’ve seen on the internet even today).

What I think is most encouraging about this article is an emergence of a new strategy in the struggle to change the world of music. Classical labels are making more money now by cheaply posting larger volumes of music and selling them in smaller quantities. Explained in the business book “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, this “selling less of more gives big music sellers like Amazon and Naxos a chance to make more money on a wider variety of their offered material, even though they may only sell one particular album a few times a month. Anderson says, “about a quarter of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 100,000 titles.” This means that people who may be intimidated by the daunting amount of classical literature available can explore at their own pace, buy music exposure without a committed investment, and become a bolder advocate for live performance, as buying tickets on the web is as easy as singing up for netflix. I see music geeks all over the world growing more and more daring in the quest for musical knowledge, and maybe even the Internet community setting the youtube aside for an hour or two to go to a real concert.

Lack of funding brings bad tidings

One thing that struck me in Levine's reading was the importance of funding, and the various means through which some of our more prominent orchestras were able to find solid footing. However, what about our smaller, regional orchestras?

I am a native of Cleveland, whose orchestra is of course well and prospering, in part part due to its endowment. However, I lived in Columbus for five years before coming to Boston, and the same unfortunately cannot be said for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Having been to Columbus recently, I heard that the orchestra had completely shut down. I looked into this, and found it to be incorrect, but was alarmed to find that it had cancelled its summer pops season, in addition to its October and November calendar events. It is still trying to continue its season in December, but these cancellations are a product of severe monetary issues.

I looked into this, and found that part of the issue is the inability to meet the demands of musicians' union. The orchestra is also, of course at the whim of the economy, and has had other periods through which it struggled, some of which even began in the early 90s. None unforunately compare to what it now faces. I was also surprised to find out about all of the other orchestras who are currently struggling, some of which have had to shut down completely. For example, Honolulu's orchestra was unable to cover payroll last year, and Seattle's orchestra (this was a surprise to me, because Seattle is such a fast-growing city right now) is having substantial problems with its deficit.

I forget how much endowments can secure an orchestra's future. With the economy the way it is right now, (and knowing what audiences numbers are like in the midwest :-) ) I fear for these smaller orchestras. Really, where are they going to find the money?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Reading

As I was reading the Prologue to H/L, I was reminded of a dream I once had while taking World Music as an undergrad. Everyone who ever takes this class is particularly struck by a certain "peasant wayno" recording, where the girl makes noises that could be described as screeching, horrific, and painful to the Western ear.

Now, in my dream, I came across this girl at no place other than Karaoke. Everyone was booing her and throwing things, but despite the fact that I hated the sound as well, I stepped in yelling "No, but this is really good in her culture!"

The purpose of this anecdote is to reveal the feelings on the issue of highbrow v. lowbrow I didn't even know I had, that everything should be given its own fair chance even though maybe its terrible.

The American culture scene of the first part of the 19th century sounds sort of fun, with all the mishmashing going on, but being a product of a later time, I also find it sort of appalling. I think this duality is where we are today. Also as an undergrad, I was part of a show of a sort of "Beethoven's 9th Medley" done by the marching band. It was fantastic to play in, but I also felt guilty because I thought, as a "serious" musician, I should side with the professor who ranted and raved that it was a sacrilege. Americans today often think of themselves as living in sin, simultaneously playing around with music and culture without intent of stopping but thinking of the practice as somehow wrong.

One Giant Leap for the Dallas Opera?

An article in the New York Times discusses the appointment of George R. Steel as general director: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/13/arts/music/13stee.html . George R. Steel who was an executive director of the Miller Theatre at Columbia University has been hired as General Director at the Dallas Opera. The move to the Dallas Opera may have been surprising for a few reasons. The company is known for more traditional performances. Mr. Steel is not a traditionalist. Also, he does not have a lot of experience directing opera. Apparently, the Dallas Opera is in need of a real change. No one really knows what this means. At the Miller Theater, Mr. Steel, for the most part, tended to leave out the more popular composers. Although he did have series’ such as “Brahms the Progressive,” where he had Brahms’ chamber works played along side early twentieth century works of composers who where influenced by Brahms.

I am curious to see what Mr. Steel will bring to the Dallas Opera. His programs all included a great deal of contemporary music and some early music. The Dallas Opera gives him a lot more to work with than his previous post. He will even have the opportunity to conduct 3 performances. It will be interesting to see what innovations he will bring and what the audience reactions will be. The Dallas Opera is already commissioning the new opera “Moby Dick” by Jake Heggie. Mr. Steel wants the Dallas Opera to be a cultural leader. He thinks that if it is marketed as “hip,” it is very possible for this to happen. I don’t know anything about marketing (which is probably why I spend so much) but I do think it is important to commission new music and keep the art fresh and alive. There is a lot of interesting twentieth century opera out there that, I personally don’t think will ever be considered “standard repertoire.” Some of it is really old enough to be considered classic by now but for many of us, it still sounds too strange to sit through. It would be amazing indeed if a company as influential as the Dallas Opera dedicated itself to new music. This may be a stretch but imagine a major opera company that only presents contemporary works: Berio’s “Un re in ascolto,” Ligeti’s “Le Grand Macabre,” throw in “Bluebeard’s Castle” with just one or two standard-ish operas, such as say, “Pelleas et Melisande” and Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” as well as a newly commissioned work and there’s a whole season. I think I could get behind that. Perhaps if it were “hip” enough to suit me, I would even get a subscription. Sarah, a Harry Potter opera could be just the thing to entice me!

Thoughts and questions on H/L...

Well, once again, I am reminded that computers and the internet cannot be trusted. May I suggest to all of you to write your comments in a word document before posting to the blog...

The Sacralization of Culture or, Cultural Taxidermy. As I was reading, I began to imagine a taxidermist performing his operations on a still living being. His feverish obsession with preserving his beloved always as a perfect object overshadows the truth of the living being before him. This is the sacralization of culture and it is well exemplified in the cases of the Chicago Public Library, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the NY Lennox library, among others. The temple – idealization, preservation – took the place of content – utilization, dissemination. The whole idea of “sacred culture” such as this is illusory. It is as if art’s inherent divinity was not sufficient; man had to give it physical confines in the form of tiered exclusiveness to confirm the fact.

Were Europeans as Eurocentric as Americans at this time? Judging from Mahler’s statements, I think not. It seems America suffered from an inferiority complex and became obsessed with what could never be realized, only idealized (Berlioz, anyone?). It is interesting to note that the most evangelical voices for the sacralization of music (at least the ones cited here) were not musicians but would-be musicians and critics. Poor Ives and the throngs of American artists whose artistic endeavors fell outside the confines of “culture” because they were real people working with real tools of the time. Real is never as appealing as the ideal, eh?

The story of paternal commercialism and the modern symphony in America is an interesting one. With independent financial backing, the orchestra was no longer dependent on the patronage of the community at large. It could sever all common ties with the community in which it lived and focus only on fulfilling its own whims and fancies. Is this art for arts sake? If not, who is it for? Who is it good for?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Theodore Thomas

I'm intrigued by the story Levine relates of Thomas' career in the reading. I found it a bit depressing that he concluded that the "working class" simply can't enjoy classical music. I think- or at least hope- this elitist attitude that one must be educated properly to enjoy classical is a fallacy, and probably contributes quite a bit to the sense of intimidation people feel about going to the symphony or the opera.
On the other hand, Thomas was forced to resort to a lot of gimmicks to get a wide audience at his Central Park concerts. What do you guys think? Is it possible to combine high-quality music with a wider appeal? What can we do to help expose more people to classical?

New Opera

Hi everyone,
For any of you that are Amy Tan fans (she is the author of The Joy Luck Club), there is a review in the Times of the new opera "The Bonesetter's Daughter" of which she wrote the libretto. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/arts/music/15bone.html?_r=1&ref=arts&oref=slogin
It's pretty interesting. I have to admit that when I first read that an opera was made from this great book, I was alittle disappointed. This could be just because I'm often disappointed by many of the movies made from some other good books. Often, the movie is never as good as the book, or it changes parts, or characters are not as loveable. Either way, the images projected on the screen are never as enjoyable as the ones my own imagination can conjure up. So even before I read the review, I expected that it wasn't going to be good. It just seems especially strange that it's been made into an opera. Why not just a movie? But then again, now movies are being made into Broadway musicals, in case you didn't know, "Legally Blonde" is now a full fledged stage show, and so is "The Little Mermaid".
Is there no one out there who can come up with an original story? I mean I'm all for writing "Harry Potter, the musical", anyone in?

Speaking of Alex Ross...

In a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine, Alex Ross examined the trajectory of the classical concert from 19th century to present day (as well as plugging two new books about the transformation of concert culture). The article is called"Why So Serious?" and really compliments the Levine reading which explores the emergence of the distinctions between high and low culture (which is cited in the article).


Hi everyone,

I wanted to let you know about a newsletter I subscribe to online from www.artsjournal.com.  This site provides news feed about the arts, culture and ideas from various newspapers and blogs.  There are articles on music, theater, dance, and more-- plus there is a daily pick of a random but interesting video of the day from YouTube.  Please check it out!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welcome, Colleagues!

Welcome, colleagues from Longy School Future of Classical Music '08!

As soon as you can, please make your way to Alex Ross's blog, www.therestisnoise.com.  He keeps his ear close to the ground; he even has a feed!

Looking forward to reading your posts and to seeing you Tuesday!