Monday, September 29, 2014

Andris Nelsons Takes the Helm

The Boston Symphony has a new flavor.  Latvian conductor, Andris Nelsons, takes the place of the much beloved, James Levine, whose recent health problems have forced him to resign.  It would seem these are hard shoes to fill, based on the overwhelming support and praise from his peers and and the classical collective.  Nelsons had much to prove on his opening night this past saturday, and the consensus is, he delivered.

Just 35 years old, Nelsons is the youngest conductor the Boston Symphony has had in over a century.  Born in Riga, Latvia, Nelson’s mother and father were multi-talented musicians and teachers.  At age five, his parents took him to a performance of Wagner’s,”Tannhauser”, which Nelsons refers to as a profoundly formative experience: " had a hypnotic effect on me. I was overwhelmed by the music. I cried when Tannhäuser died. I still think this was the biggest thing that happened in my childhood.”

Which is no surprise he started his opening night performance this past saturday with  the Overture to “Tannhauser”.  The performance has been said to be more like a gala to impress than an artistic impression, but Nelsons wrote is his program notes that in planning his first Boston season he wanted to listen to his heart and share works and artists he loves.  Respectable, and straightforward, he did just that.  

Not only did he open with the piece that changed his life, he also had the honor of conducting alongside his wife of three years, soprano, Kristine Opolais.  She, and the  tenor, Jonas Kauffman, added to the lovely repertoire with stirring performances of “Liebestod” from “Tristan and Isolde”, and “Mamma, Quel Vino è Generoso” from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.”  On top of the operatic numbers was more Wagner, Puccini, and more timeless classics.

The audience was on it’s feet the whole night, roaring applause and bravos streamed across the red velvet sea of very appreciative and moved listeners.  The opening night was a success, and based on what Nelsons accomplished, the musical community is excited to see what his exhuberant vigor will bring to the BSO.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Lively Female Composer – Unsuk Chin

     Unsuk Chin, from South Korea, is an active and vivid composer in 20th-century music. Ms. Chin won several international prizes of composition in her early 20s when she studied at Seoul National University. To continue her studies, she moved to Hamburg, where she worked with Gyorgy Ligeti in 1985. After finishing her studies, she becomes a freelance composer and has won remarkable prizes, including the Grawemeyer Award in 2004, the Arnold Schoenberg Prize in 2005 and the Music Composition Prize of the Prince Pierre Foundation in 2010.

        “I am attracted by virtuosity,” Ms. Chin said. As a composer, she admires performer’s enthusiasm and virtuosity and challenges their boundaries. “Pushing the limits of your possibilities, not knowing whether you can do it – and then somehow succeeding. I ask every bit as much from a soloist.” This can be identified by her instrumental concerto works. Take for example Ms. Chin’s Su for sheng and orchestra, which was recently published on the Deutsche Grammophon label. It shows the colorful variety of harmony, complicated performance skill, and avant-grade music. The premiere of this concerto was performed by Wu Wei, who plays the sheng, a Chinese mouth organ, and showcased a series of complex polyphonic melodies in the beginning.

The video of Su for Sheng and Orchestra, performed by Wu Wei and Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra:

        Even though Ms Chin has an Eastern background and studied in Berlin for a long time, she rejected to blend Eastern and Western traditions or take the ethnic and exotic element to write her music. “It was much easier to get ahead like that, but I did not want that,” she said. Apart from Su for Sheng and Orchestra, her celebrated works consist of her ludicrous and fantastic opera Alice in Wonderland, the Clarinet Concerto, the Violin Concerto, which won the Grawemeyer Award, the Piano Concerto, and the Cello Concerto.

For more information, please read:

Fifth House Ensemble: Chamber Music for the Modern World

During my senior year at DePauw University, Dean Mark McCoy announced an addition to the new guest artist concert series that would include several visits from a group called Fifth House Ensemble. They were to host workshops, promote performances in the Greencastle community, and give a final concert at the end of the year.
The musicians from Fifth House fit right in with Dean McCoy's developing "21st Century Musician" curriculum. At their first on-campus talk, they discussed their ways of boosting concert attendance. One man asked us to think of a character, a typical 21st-century person, and how we would use our various resources to base a program and its promotion around that character. Different audience demographics - young and old, amateur and professional, etc. - would require different presentation. For example, he stressed the importance of social media literacy to advertise to young or inexperienced audiences. The ensemble members at the talk also showed their expertise in finding ways to keep audiences engaged during concerts. One of their popular programs is based around a graphic novel, Black Violet by Ezra Claytan Daniels, and uses visual media to tell the story while the musicians supplement it with various classical pieces.
"Music can tell a story" was one of the catch phrases of Fifth House Ensemble. In another one of their events, a group of musicians demonstrated their performance style when visiting schools and playing to children. They cleverly used a few pieces of classical music, which many of the college students and professors watching recognized, to accompany simple poems, interactive stories, and more. After dropping the schoolteacher act, they explained how these routines they performed were carefully created and refined to teach kids about classical music and give them the most fun experience possible while doing it, all while using music to tell stories. They even gave groups of students the challenge of creating their own "for kids" performance that used the same methods.
These were my first-hand experiences with Fifth House's fascinating methods of bringing classical music to modern audiences. When exploring their website, I found descriptions of all their different types of events. Their residency program, part of which was their visits to DePauw, might be the most relevant to the idea of music for the 21st century. For each residency, with any type of school, they pose clear questions and objectives based around a theme - Music and Poetry, Messages in Music, Educational Outreach - and propose a process and sometimes a final project to help achieve those goals. From the content of the site, it looks like they have had much success on every level.
Fifth House Ensemble is a non-profit organization and their website can be accessed here.

Maestro, it's Alive!

Less than a year ago Mark Vanhoenacker wrote the explosive article Is Classical Music Dead? The title proposes a fair question, one that I have often thought about, but once you begin to read,it becomes increasingly apparent that in Mr. Vamhoenacker's mind,this is not a question, but a fact.
He believes that if you look honestly at all the "grim facts" as he calls them, that classical music is dead. The opening image he selected of a Maestro conducting not an orchestra, but instead a gravestone also helps shine a spot light on his point of view.
Vanhoenacker's opinion is so opposite of the thoughts that I and many of my colleagues have on the subject, that I went in immediate search of the reactions to his bold statement. As I had expected, Mr. Vanhoenacker's personal opinion on the state of classical music in the United States was not widely appreciated.
William Robin published the article The Fat Lady is Still Singing in the New Yorker and it gives voice to what so many of us felt after reading Vamhoenacker's bleak eulogy to classical music. Vamoenacker stated in the first paragraph that "When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brünnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton." and Robin's title The Fat Lady is Still Singing is clearly in response to that.
If we are to believe Mr. Vanhoenacker, classical music has been in a zombie like state for the past 35 years, stumbling along despite the ever growing generational gap within the audience and declining ticket sales. Noble, persistence and yet the valiant creature is drawing its last feeble breath.
But this is not the reality, as Mr. Robins points out. "It was nothing we hadn’t read before, but the timing of the latest obituary was particularly strange. Yes, New York City Opera folded last fall. But, a week before the Slate piece appeared, the Minnesota Orchestra emerged from a fifteen-month lockout crisis, and the day after publication the New York Philharmonic and Seattle Symphony announced energetic 2014-15 seasons."
“The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition.” Charles Rosen, musicologist and pianist.
Robins goes on to show in his article a infographic, designed by Andy Doe, consultant in the classical recording industry and the author of the blog Proper Discord, who has also pointed out the errors in Mr.Vamoenacker's information. This graph shows how long classical music has been in what Vanhoenacker calls "a state of crisis" and shows that there is no evidence for the claim of 2014 as the year it passed away.
"There is a creepy bloodlust to the doom-mongering of classical music, as though an autopsy were being conducted on a still-breathing body."
Mr. Robin then asks what would happen if instead of taking a pessimistic view in their articles, what would happen if they interviewed the elderly patrons or wrote a profile about an adventurous new ensemble?
The various forms of media all have the ability to make the internet come alive with news of the death of classical music. What would happen if they used their power to promote and uplift the arts rather then hover over it like inheritance hungry relatives waiting for it to died at last?
Classical music is not dead. There are still conservatories,concert halls and patrons. Should we continue to strive to grow our audiences? Of course. But as someone who lives in this world, I can state with first hand experience, classical music has not yet met its demise.
For more informtion see both articles:

Beethoven in the supermarket?

Music is all around us. This trite, commonly used phrase is trite and commonly used for a reason. There is music in the footsteps of pedestrians, the laughter of children, and the sounds of the many motor vehicles on the road in our heavily industrialized present. Music is also being piped through the speakers at my local Star Market, at just about every restaurant one could think of, spas, salons, chiropractors’ offices, clothing stores, coffee shops everywhere, and any number of other trafficked establishments just about anywhere and everywhere in the United States. To be frank, I never thought twice about this until until I read an article entitled The Dangers of Secondhand Music by Mikel Rouse on New Music Box, a publication from New Music USA. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s a lot of blame to spread around for our music appreciation downgrade: illegal downloads, corporate record companies missing the digital curve, overly compressed music resulting in fatigue and “digititus,” and the low-res quality of mp3 files, to name only a few factors. All of these things contribute to the devaluing of music as a distinct primary experience. But I think there’s a single phenomenon that’s working harder than all the others: The constant bombardment of music functioning as an aspect of an environment, in spaces from restaurants to government offices to bars to shopping malls, reducing music to just so much sonic wallpaper.

As I read that last sentence, the phrase sonic wallpaper seared in my consciousness. I never was offended that my local Star Market on Mt. Auburn Street occasionally plays the second movement of Beethoven’s “Ghost” Piano Trio over the loudspeakers. I thought it an odd choice, and unnecessarily creepy for my Sunday morning shopping experience. However, Rouse has caused me to think more. What about the people who don’t know this piece? What about the people who don’t know it’s Beethoven? To them, it’s just some eerie music playing over the loudspeaker at Star Market. Perhaps it’s arguable that shopping to the tune of the “Ghost” trio is better than not hearing it at all, but perhaps it’s just dangerous. It’s like hanging a copy of a Monet or Renoir painting in the dairy aisle. Some people might stop and admire the painting’s beauty. Perhaps a select few will know the painting, know its artist, and feel surprised or privileged to experience thoughtful art in an unexpected place. Some people, however, will start to just think of it as dairy aisle art. If this tradition continued over generations, then art galleries would be put out of business. And worse, the public would learn to take this art for granted. Perhaps they won’t even see it anymore, and not stop to realize that a fellow human being spent hours, days, or even months of his or her short life carefully making decisions for each brushstroke. If art can regularly be experienced in the supermarket, hardly anyone will value it anymore. In order for the public to take time out of their lives and money out of their pockets to see art, they must value it. The same applies to the art of music.

I am an enthusiastic advocate of music-making in the most unusual places and have been known to take part in chamber music at playgrounds around the Cambridge area. If asked to perform at my local Star Market, I would jump at the chance. In my eyes, there are a couple differences between hearing a recording of Beethoven at Star Market and seeing a performance at Star Market. The first difference is that word, seeing. Music, especially chamber music, is a partly visual medium. I think it’s important for audience members to see people physically playing instruments, because it confronts them with the reality that a person is making the music. People connect with other people. Seeing another person perform live gives the audience an opportunity to connect with the music through the performer. Secondly, a supermarket or playground concert is unusual and grabs people’s attention (whether positively or negatively). Even if some local musicians started playing weekly concerts at Star Market, perhaps some shoppers would start to make sure they come at that time every week to hear and see the music (perhaps would plan to avoid shopping at that time, but every success comes with a failure). Then, at least, someone is making an effort to experience the music. I think Rouse is right that allowing music to become part of the public’s everyday environment will cause interest in music to dwindle. It already is becoming true--many people are more likely to spend $20 on lattes during the week than to make coffee at home and spend that $20 on a concert ticket. Unfortunately, I must admit that I am a culprit as much as the next Cambridge resident. I hope both Rouse’s article and my outpouring of thoughts in this entry will cause someone else to think a little deeper about this issue.

Opening on the Met

On Monday September 22, The Metropolitan Opera House opened its new season with Le nozze di Figaro after what had been a stressful summer of negotiations with its singers, stage hands and crew.  There were a few months that the opening looked as if it would have to be pushed back or possibly cancelled do to these wage negotiations.  If you were to see the photos from the opening it looked like any other Met opening, famous personalities, big red carpet, expensive clothes and great fan fare.  According to James Jordan the opera critic at the New York Observer, the whole reason for the opening Mozart's Figaro ended up being rather dull.

It was disappointing to read Mr. Jordan's review of the new production because after a rough summer at the Met, I was hoping that they could catch a break and have a successful opening night.   It was also disheartening to hear that Mr. Levine's conducting seemed to be slowing down the action of the Opera.  Mr. Levine has suffered a lot of health issues over the past few years so it is understandable that his conducting might not be at the same level.  That being said though, as someone who has been fortunate enough to see him conduct live, it might be time for Mr. Levine to pass on the baton.  I am a huge fan of Mr. Levine and I hope that he can always stay on and help the Met with its artistic development, but maybe a new main conductor will revitalize the Met and help draw in newer audiences.

The biggest problem that Mr. Jordan seemed to have with the production was the new time period that Figaro was moved to.  The director Richard Eyre decided to move the time period from 18th century Spain to the 1930s depression era.  While Mr. Jordan doesn't seem to be a person who believes that you shouldn't move an operas original time period, he held a problem with the fact that they didn't seem to use this new time period to their advantage.  Mr. Jordan explained that the only shift from the 18th century to the 20th century was a change in costumes but little else.

Mozart at the Met always seems to run into problems do to the nature of Mozart Operas.  The Met is a vast space and the music is easily eaten up by the hall.  Hopefully, the season will move into a better place after Figaro and get them out of the rough patch they have seemed to gotten themselves into.  I am looking forward to hearing about The Death of Klinghoffer, a work by John Adams.  The work itself has already caused great controversy and called for Peter Gelb to pull it from being broadcast to movie theatres.  

Review found here at

Where are we going and Do we want to get there?

Being a percussionist is quite an interesting thing. There is some sort of mysterious aura around introducing yourself to people as a percussionist. 

I usually receive two basic responses:
A) People smile in wonder and say things like, “Oh my God. That is so fun. You must have so much fun! Good for you! Can you teach me to play sometime?!”
B)  …................ What?

In 2009, Allan Kozinn of The New York Times made the bold claim that “drums are the new violins.” I believe him to some extent. With the rise of percussion solo, chamber, and art music, percussionists have been given new opportunities and chances to evolve and grow. Many composers are exploring percussion and are finally treating percussion as an instrument in its own right instead of an accessory to compliment the orchestra. Steve Reich and Paul Lansky have composed a number of percussion quartets with the help of chamber group, So Percussion, Gabriel Prokofiev, (grandson of Sergei Prokofiev) has composed a bass drum concerto that was premiered at Princeton University, and solo percussion Guru Steve Schick has recently led a two-day marathon exploration of the evolution of percussion solo music at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.  

In the blog post, “Where Are We Going?” Adam Groh raises a few questions in response to Tom Burritt’s article, “Are We There Yet?” He wonders how percussionists will know if we’ve arrived if we don’t even know the location of our destination. He also wonders if by asking this question, if we are asking for acceptance from our “classical” peers.

Adam then asked another pertinent question, “Should we even care about being in the conservatory?” I received an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree in music at Salem State University. It was a small program with 60 music major and minors. The major is currently celebrating their 10th year anniversary. Although it is not an established school of music, and it probably won’t ever be, the facilities are gorgeous and brand new. The five octave Adams Artist Robert Van Sice marimba is only two years old. The recital hall is about 7 years old, and an additional building had been purchased and made into more rehearsal spaces about 3 years ago. Students had the chance to take private lessons in tabla and sitar, teach music at the school’s preschool, and were required to take a class called Physics of Music and Voice.  I think that the diversity had helped given me an open mind in regards to music. 

After completing my undergraduate degree, I was faced with the decision to attend graduate school or not. I felt that I wasn’t ready to finish my formal education, but I also felt that I wasn’t ready to prepare for graduate school auditions. However, as a percussionist, I felt trapped. If I wasn’t going to graduate school and if I didn’t have a really nice teaching gig lined up, where/how/what would I practice? Unfortunately, I knew I wouldn’t have access to a set of four timpani, a marimba, a xylophone, a pair of crash cymbals, etc. to prepare for these auditions in my proposed break year.
What I am trying to say is that I don’t mind not being in a conservatory, but as a percussionist, I need to be in a conservatory if I want to continue being a percussionist. 

I think that Adam was wondering how percussion will get to where it’s going if the rules of the game are changing. Perhaps it would be best if percussion didn’t arrive and, hopefully, not become accepted. If percussion is still growing and for the most part still evolving as a “new” instrument, how can anyone set rules to be followed, graded, criticized upon, or judged? How can someone teach what is still being learned?

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Troubles

The month-long labor dispute between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians and their management has forced the cancellation of all ASO concerts through November 8th.  The musicians are currently locked out, and contract negotiations are at an impasse.

This labor dispute has its roots in long-standing budget issues.  Two years ago, the musicians agreed to sizable pay cuts and other concessions following a lockout.  They acquiesced with the understanding that those actions were not only necessary, but sufficient to ward off financial ruin.  Unfortunately, the ASO continued to operate at a deficit, which is expected to be $2 million in 2014 alone.

Having made sizable and recent sacrifices only to hear that the underlying financial issues were not resolved, the musicians are now demanding that the next round of budgetary cuts attack something other than their numbers or compensation.  The management feels that adjusting both orchestra size and compensation is inevitable given the ASO's financial outlook.

One can only hope that the situation is soon resolved to the satisfaction of both sides, should such a solution even be possible.

For those who are interested in state of American classical music, the ASO labor dispute feels uncomfortably familiar.  Arts organizations in cities across the country are struggling, with artists who demand to be compensated fairly on one side, and apparent economic realities on the other.  This ASO lockout comes on the heels of a Met Opera lockout and Minnesota symphony lockout. Something is clearly not working in a global sense, but despite many interested and invested parties, no obvious path forward exists. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Relationship Between Box Office and Repertoire: a Case Study of Opera, by Rosanne Martorella

Lawrence W. Levine's book Highbrow Lowbrow, published in 1988, tracks the standardization of "high" or "classic" culture, including opera, from the days of changing works for public or lower-class appeal to the contemporary artistic canonization that borders on snobbery. About a decade earlier, Rosanne Martorella examined the specifics of, and the process leading up to, the standardization of opera repertoire in her own era, the 1970s. In this article, she takes a close look at the tradition of opera performance in the United States and the statistics of repertoire choices and box office success.
Martorella starts the article by summarizing the history of the status of opera, and classical music in general, in society. She points out that in the nineteenth century, opera was part of popular culture rather than separate from it, and that the American opera tradition increasingly favored foreign singers and productions instead of local American or English language works. To introduce her economic analysis, she describes the changing music patronage from the clergy to the aristocracy to the middle class.
The meat of the article revolves around five tables, each analyzing a different facet of the four opera companies' repertoire choices. First, Martorella focuses on the Metropolitan Opera alone. The first table she includes shows the top ten operas in terms of box office percentage in 1972 and 1974. Verdi and the bel canto composers dominate the 1972 table, while two of Wagner's operas are on top in 1974. The second table shows the top five composers by number of productions in each season from 1971 to 1976. Verdi is always on top, Puccini being second in three seasons out of five. Neither chart contains any mention of an American or contemporary composer. Martorella quotes a previous manager of the Met as saying, "Opera depends for its prosperity on Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini."
The next two tables compare the number of standard (defined as "premiered before 1930") and contemporary operas in the United States using a number of variables. Martorella examines the number of performances, composers, productions, and reappearances of each type of opera, as well as the average number of performances by composer. In the case of performances and reappearances, the percentage balance favors the standard operas. In the case of composers and productions, however, it favors contemporary operas. This suggests, as Martorella points out, that although many opera companies wanted to premiere or perform works by contemporary composers, none of their productions lasted very long and they were overshadowed by the "change-resistant" permanence of the standard repertoire.
The last table considers the economic side as Martorella focuses on four American opera companies: the Met, the New York City Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the San Francisco Opera. At the time of the article, the Met and the Lyric, she notes, depend mostly on box office sales and donations, while the New York City and San Francisco operas receive more dependable funding from the government. This proves to be a big factor in the data she shows in the table, which charts the percentage of contemporary opera in each company's seasonal performances between 1971 and 1976. With the exception of one season at the Met, the big-budget opera houses put on far fewer contemporary operas than the subsidized ones. This has to do with public appeal. The big-budget companies must depend on the box office and their sponsors to bring in the money, so they produce operas they know the public is familiar with. On the other hand, the subsidized companies have stable enough funds from grants and the government that they can accomodate smaller box office sales for a more diverse and non-standard repertoire.
These principles carry over to today's American classical music scene, but as my previous post pointed out, the audiences are older and smaller, so the money has become more scarce. Some opera companies may still be able to use the "perform more standardized opera" tactic, in addition to promoting celebrity appearances such as Renee Fleming or Anna Netrebko. But opera companies are struggling and dying. Somehow, the opera business has to find new ways of attracting new audiences and patrons, but the question might now be if they have to sacrifice their supposed artistic integrity to do it.

Info on the article:
Martorella, Rosanne. "The Relationship Between Box Office and Repertoire: a Case Study of Opera." The Sociological Quarterly 18, no. 3 (summer 1977): 354-366.

Why Musicians Do Not Have A Reliable Income?

As a musician, I am concerned not only about the music, but also how to shape the future of music. In addition to the great musicians, such as Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Martha Argerich, there are plenty of middle ground musicians or fresh graduates, on an individual level, who just joined the music market recently. How can these musicians make their living? At first, they might be asked to play some gigs for free to earn some reputation. At the live performance, the musician sells merchandise to let the audience know them and try to make a profit. Gradually, their music is put on the mediums, including Spotify, Pandora, and Youtube etc. However, the pay, from the mediums is counted by the rate based on the number of plays or downloads per month, is still not enough for some musicians to make a living. Because of the bigger exposure, the musician begin to play gigs without paying, continuing this vicious cycle.

      Isaac Schankler, a composer and electronic musician, takes two examples of medium application, which are Bandcamp and Spotify, contrasting their operations and effect. Both of them offer listeners unlimited free music to enjoy. Bandcamp focuses their market demand on the superfans, who desire the music, willing to purchase and download the piece. On Bandcamp, the listener pays for the music, so the artists obtain the benefits directly. On the other hand, Spotify pays the artists depending on the click rates, which means the artists need a great amount of exposure and build a high reputation. In other words, Bandcamp is friendlier to all artists.

     Musicians have a hard time to engage in the music career. Apart from playing gigs for free, some artists attract their own supporters by recording an amazing video on YouTube. Besides, the new artists can let the people know them more by creating a biography page on the website, consisting of the artist’s resume, compositions, contact information, and even schedule. In this net generation, we can increase and develop our music markets and fans more easily than before. Therefore, we should explore and produce the opportunities positively and efficiently.
For more information, please read:

The Four Keys to the Kingdom

Does the study of music enable us as a society as much as people claim? Beside the known similarities between math and music,what is it about the study of music that has such a profound effect on a person as a whole? In the New York Times, October 12th, 2013, Joanne Lipman's article Is Music the Key to Success? explores how the study of music has had an impact in the lives of non-professional musicians.
What do billionaire Bruce Kovne, Paul Allen, Condoleezza Rice, Woody Allen, and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell all have in common? They have all studied music & many of them worked at it seriously. Joanne interviewed them and other high achievers, as she refers to them, to see if they give music any of the credit for who they are today.
Her findings reveal that they are fully aware of the part that music played in shaping who they have become and they openly acknowledge that many of the skills they need to be at the top in their field, they learned through the study of music.
Steve Hayden, long time advertising executive gives his background in cello performance the credit for his collaboration skills. “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”
Paul Allen,billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, when reflecting back on his years studying the violin and then the guitar says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.”
“There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.” says NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd who played french horn and attended college on music scholarships.
Joanne breaks her findings down for us into four simple but powerful keys. "Collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas." Each of these strengths are empowering in and of themselves, to know how to collaborate with others, to have the ability to create your vision, etc. But put the four of them together and that's when you have the tools you need to make something extraordinary.
For more information visit the referenced article,

The Latest Scandal

I go to my friend’s house this past weekend for dinner. 
“Have you heard about the scandal?”

I am taken aback.  This guy is one of the most peaceful, non-dramatic souls I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  What kind of scandal would he be involved in?  He explains further.  

“Apparently, U2 stole my band’s song.”  

He laughs, and I echo the laugh.  We are both aware of the U2 scandals as of late.  About a week ago, U2 downloaded their new album on over 500 million Itunes libraries worldwide, without permission and without consent.  Itunes customers had no choice; when they woke up, there was U2’s new album listed in their library.  Needless to say, there was backlash, hilarious backlash.  There are some clever tweets on the subject.
Back to dinner where my friend explains the big drama.  A few years ago, his band, Battle House, wrote a song called “Wolves”, and released it independently on the music sharing site, Bandcamp.  U2 has a new song called “Raised by Wolves”.  The chorus to both songs is almost identical, raising the question, did U2 steal Battle House’s music?  

After doing some research on the subject, I found that this is not the first time U2 has been accused of stealing music.  It seems that small bands all over the world have been calling out U2 for blatantly stealing licks, verses, and hooks from their original songs.  Of course, this could all be coincidence, and probably most of it is, but after listening to the two versions of “Wolves”, I feel quite certain something shady is going on.

What I would like to imagine is a few guys in a dark room, pouring over the internet for some interesting musical tidbits they can write into their client’s new multi-million dollar record.  These men, drone over thousands, perhaps millions of small indie bands, looking to rip off their catchy song parts for big time Hollywood rock royalty.  These men could easily be robots, I mean, it is the age of technological replacement.  Oblivious U2 receives the song and adopts it as their own genius, because they are tired, and out of juice.  Obviously, I may have a bias.

My friend thinks the whole situation is ridiculous, and he could care less if U2 stole it or not.  In the end, it has produced more publicity for the band and hundreds of new fans who read the articles and happened to like what they heard from the band.  They have been approached by countless newspapers, websites, and some television shows for interviews and possible performances.  Not a bad deal I would say, and they would say so as well.  On a more serious note, there was talk of a lawsuit in some of these articles, but my friend assured me, they had  better things to do.  Yeah, like write more original music and take over U2’s touring bill.        

Another op'nin, another show

A NY Times article from September 18 details the march towards opening night at the Met.

The Met Prepares for Opening Night

In the wake of a much-publicized labor dispute, business at the Met is ostensibly back to normal.  Opening night for the Met's 131st season is Monday the 22nd of September, and this article offers an overview of the necessary work ahead of that day. 

As a collaborative pianist who would give her left kidney to be hired by the Met, it is fascinating to read about the logistics of this luminary organization.   Employing over 1,500 people on certain days, the Met currently has seven different operas are in various stages of production.  The article romantically details how bits of Parisian scenery are shoved up against Macbeth's bedchambers below the stage, and how the versatile Met Chorus alternates by the hour between being a crowd of Spaniards and a crowd of Palestinians.

Should one access the article online instead of in print, the former offers the advantage of a short video documentary.

Opening Night enthusiasm aside, the Met still faces serious budgetary issues.  Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, assured the NY Times that the budget cutbacks will not be perceptible with regard to artistic quality.   

“We’re cutting back in ways that will make each production slightly riskier,” Mr. Gelb said. “But we’re taking, as we always do, calculated risks.” As examples, he said that the Met might make fewer costumes for understudies, or there might be “an hour here or there of extra rehearsal time that we just aren’t going to allow.”
 While I am generally skeptical that one can cut a budget and get the same results using less money, I hope that my cynicism is misplaced in this case.  Were the Met to suffer a drop in quality, it would be a miserable loss for the opera world. 

Opera Not Catching A Break

If you take a look at the state of opera in the last few months, it seems that the opera world cannot catch a break.  From sour negotiations at the Met, the on going drama with San Francisco Opera and the political scandal at La Scala, it seems that no opera house is safe anymore.  Each time you go to open the paper on opera there is more bad press to read about.  That is why it was unfortunate to hear about the music director at Vienna State Opera stepping down before his contract was complete.  He was suppose to stay on at Vienna till August 2018, which is why his resignation has been such a shock to the opera world.  Along with the Met, Covent Garden, La Scala, Vienna State Opera is one of the premier opera houses in the world, who's orchestra is made up of members of the Vienna Philharmonic.  Franz Welzer-Möst, the music director who stepped down, has recently spoken about how he has found his dream job working for Vienna State Opera, and that this was a very hard decision to leave.  His reasoning for the sudden departure was "difference of opinion between Dominique Meyer" and himself. 

Mr. Meyer the artistic director is left to find substitute conductors for the 34 performances that Mr. Welzer-Möst was suppose to be leading.  It will also leave a huge hole in the musical direction of Vienna State Opera till a new musical director can be found.  What is even more interesting is that Mr. Meyer has said that 99 percent of this season's tickets have already been sold.  It begs to ask the question if an opera company seems to be doing so well, why would Mr. Welzer-Möst feel the need to leave the company on such short notice. 

We will never know the full story between the two men over what inevitably caused Mr. Welzer-Möst decision to leave Vienna, but it is a sad day for the opera world because of his absences.  Many other conductors from around the world will now have their eyes set on this renown position.  Hopefully, whoever they find to fill the gap that is now in Vienna's Opera house will help lead opera further into the future.

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Minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass at the Next Wave Festival

A prolific concert in and of itself, master minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass shared the stage for the first time in over 30 years to pay homage to Nonesuch Records’ 50th anniversary. Hosted by Brooklyn Academy of Music since 1981 is the Next Wave Festival, a festival that is dedicated to modern music.

Steve Reich and Philip Glass marked the opening night of the festival. The two minimalistic composers hadn’t shared a concert bill together in over 30 years let alone perform together due to a speculated disagreement.  The journalist of this article made a note that this concert left an emotional mark on Steve Reich, not concerning his reunion with Glass, but of the other performers. During this three-day concert series, Reich and Glass were joined by musicians that had been playing with Reich since the 70’s, as well as composer-performers Timo Andres and Nico Muhly, and percussionist David Cossin. David Cossin had studied under the late James Preiss, an original member of Reich’s group that passed away almost a year ago.

The program included Reich's Four Organs, a piece known for its complexity. There was no sign of true friendship between Reich and Glass after the performance was over. The journalist had said that if anything, they still seemed very tense and reserved with an accompanying sense of coldness.  It seems as though the reunion between Reich and Glass was not everything that the audience had hoped for, but the collaboration on Music for 18 Musicians with Reich, many of his original musicians, and his welcomed younger generation of performers exuded a feeling of comradery and happiness.

Casting away artificial barriers: the meeting of art music and popular music

Many people have become unintended victims in classical music’s sacralization over the past century. This might seem like a sensationalist statement, but perhaps it’s one worth considering. Every time someone says about a piece of classical music, I wouldn’t understand that kind of music, that’s just too fancy for me, that person is a victim of sacralization. Every time someone says, you’re so lucky to have that kind of music in you, that person is a victim of sacralization. These people are victims in the sense that society’s ideas have convinced them at the outset that they are ill-equipped to understand classical music.

Audiences, however, are not the only members of society who have been convinced they are not good enough. Our own musicians and creators of music also suffer the consequences of this movement. For decades, mainstream popular music and classical art music have been rigidly separated by an invisible status barrier. Though people who write songs are indeed creators of music, they are not considered composers. Instead, they are stubbornly handed the label, “songwriter.” This term in and of itself carries no negative meaning; however, the social implications do. Someone who writes songs is not commonly thought to have the intellectual or spiritual worth of a composer. When popular music icon Paul McCartney decided to dabble in art music in the early 90s, his Liverpool Oratorio was met with cool critical reception. The Guardian (UK) suggested that the piece has "little awareness of the need for recurrent ideas that will bind the work into a whole." (Though I did go the Guardian’s website to search for more detailed information, use of their search engine only yielded articles on Paul McCartney back to 2001. This quote comes from a Wikipedia article.)

Lately, however, creators of music have been challenging societal barriers. One notable example is Richard Reed Parry of the Montreal-based indie band, Arcade Fire. His new album, Music for Heart and Breath, features meterless music whose tempo is determined by the beating hearts of the people performing it. Thus, his work could be classified as indeterminate music, a genre frequented by notable composer John Cage. Parry even convinced the Kronos quartet to record with him on this album, which was released in June of this year on Deutsche Grammaphon (whose website bears the phrase “Deutsche Grammaphon is classical music.”) For more details, please read Brad Wheeler’s recent article from The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON, Canada).

Another artist creating self-described “classically informed pop music” is Longy’s own Damen Liebling. After years of hard work, Damen has released his first album, Tonic. The title track is a purely instrumental art music work, and the primary musical medium of the album is a nontraditional ensemble featuring vocals, a string quartet, drums, bass, and piano. Damen’s website can be found here, and downloading or free streaming of individual tracks from Tonic can be found here.

In the Wheeler article linked above, Parry is quoted as saying, most of the feedback I’ve received has been positive. It’s real music. It has a quality to it, and I think people respond genuinely to genuine music. I’m glad Parry listened to his intuition, and think he has a point. In my opinion, a large part of what makes music moving is its genuineness. There will always be creators of music who have studied their craft extensively and some who create on instinct. However, I think there’s no sense in allowing genuine music to be discounted because of its pedigree. Thankfully, it seems that there’s hope for future musicians who are interested in crossing boundaries.