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April 2008 Archives

Richard Wagner's Family Legacy

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Katharina Wagner, Richard Wagner's Great Granddaughter

Wagner's grandson steps down as Bayreuth director

AFP

Richard Wagner's grandson is resigning after 57 years as director of the Bayreuth Festival, officials said Tuesday, but the long-running family feuds over who will succeed him are set to continue.

"Wolfgang Wagner has announced his resignation," Markus Gnad, spokesman for the Bavarian culture ministry, told AFP.

Officially, it was not yet known who will succeed Wagner as director of the prestigious annual festival nor when he would formally step down, Gnad said.

However, observers see it as a done-deal that his two daughters, Eva, 63, and Katharina, 29, will run Bayreuth jointly.

Wolfgang has always insisted that his appointment was for life, and stubbornly refused to step aside, despite pressure from the festival's decision-making body, the Stiftungsrat. But earlier this month he indicated that he might compromise and allow Eva and Katharina to take over.

Read more about this at the AFP website:

   http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5j9lG09KwMWhBh9zLKmDBD5EZyMwg

A Revolutionary Orchestra

|
Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra by Susan Carey

Bold approach breathes new life into classical music

There's nothing so off-the-wall that somebody hasn't thought of it

By Nigel Hannaford
Calgary Herald

Mitzi's Sister is a small club in the Parkdale area of Toronto. Home cooking, a stage, it holds 150 people. Small as these things go. But, it was there just over three years ago, that Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra first took the stage.

Big moment in the history of music? Too early to say.

However, a few weeks ago, this space dealt with the sort of music that can pay its own way, with no top-ups from the Canada Council. I jested that if classical music was to rescue itself from its socio-economic isolation – its audience shrinks, as it ages – it would have to rebrand itself as something risque, to be enjoyed in seedy little rock-clubs where it's best to sit near an exit, with one's back to the wall. Only when it could make it without a grant, could it once more be considered an expression of contemporary culture.

But, irony is hard these days. There's nothing so off-the-wall that somebody else hasn't thought of it, or done it.

Read more about this at the Calgary Herald website:

http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/theeditorialpage/story.html?id=73bb2c7e-5843-4d53-a99e-119ea7fd7546

The Role of the Arts Critic

|
Sebastian Smee

The mind of a critic

To judge, educate or entertain? In his final column for Review, Sebastian Smee reflects on the qualities and pleasures of good criticism
The Australian

Professional critics perform a role that, in most aspects, is impossible to defend. Where does one start? With the arrogance of setting oneself up as a public judge of other people's creative endeavours? With the inevitable superficiality of one's responses, as one lurches from one subject to the next? Or with one's repeated failure to get the tone right, to find the right combination of sympathy and discrimination, enthusiasm and intolerance?

The psychodynamics of criticism are easy enough to nail down. Just as children attracted to the police force are, naturally, weaklings desperate to wield power and exact revenge, critics are bookish nerds with bullying instincts.

"Just doing the job," we tell ourselves as we pontificate from the safety of small, book-lined studies in the suburbs where no one can disturb us, let alone take issue with us.

And, of course, we're hobbled by jealousy. Don't doubt it for a second: critics envy artists. Inside every critic is a painter, photographer or sculptor fantasising about the opening of their own sell-out show.

In light of this, no one should be surprised that critics are rumoured to be losing their clout. Entertainment has ousted serious writing about the arts in all but a handful of newspapers and magazines. Criticism has given way to profiles, interviews and all the vapid paraphernalia of publicity.

Read more about this at The Australian website:

   http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23580386-16947,00.html

I Puritani at the Met

A Big-Screen Test for Opera

Simulcasting Has Put A Song in the Hearts of Met Execs. Others Are Holding Their Applause.

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post

When "The Daughter of the Regiment," one of the Metropolitan Opera's most-anticipated premieres this season, comes live to a movie house near you on Saturday, it's a good bet that the theater will be mobbed. Met General Manager Peter Gelb's vision for high-definition cinema transmissions of operas has proved so successful after two seasons that the company is adding more of them every year: 11 have just been announced for 2008-09. And other opera companies are scrambling to catch up.

This spring, productions from the San Francisco Opera, La Scala in Milan and London's Royal Opera House began appearing in North American movie theaters. But the response has not been quite the same. On April 5, 170,000 people around the world saw the Met's "La Bohème." A week later, however, when a taped performance of the San Francisco Opera's "Don Giovanni" played in selected theaters around the country, the Pavilion Park Slope movie house in Brooklyn had all of 13 people in the audience.

Read more about this at the Washington Post website:

   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/23/AR2008042303689.html

Paul Hindemith's "Lost" Piano Concerto

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Local premiere, first recording of the elusive Hindemith

By David Patrick Stearns
Philadelphia Inquirer

Piano concertos by major composers don't disappear quietly and aren't easily hidden.

Though Paul Hindemith's Klaviermusik mit Orchester was silenced for more than eight decades by the illustrious Austrian family that paid for its creation, it dangled just out of reach of those who knew of its existence, locked up in a Bucks County farmhouse, with access blocked intractably and repeatedly whenever anyone – whether Hindemith's estate or Philadelphia conductor Jonathan Sternberg – came close.

Finally discovered in 2002, Klaviermusik had an acclaimed 2004 world premiere in Berlin, and will be recorded for the first time, live in concert, at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Kimmel Center with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra.

Not just another Hindemith work, Klaviermusik quickly has become one of the composer's most-played concertos, performed by the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, and garnering musical satisfaction that almost justifies the exasperating Viennese intrigue surrounding it.

Read more about this at the Philadelphia Inquirer website:

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/magazine/20080424_Local_premiere__first_recording_of_the_elusive_Hindemith.html

Building an Audience at the Barbican

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Barbican Arts Centre, voted London's 'ugliest building'

'Ugly' Barbican Arts Center in London Gets Stripe-Clad New Boss

By Farah Nayeri
Bloomberg

Nicholas Kenyon brightens his wardrobe in unexpected ways.

The 57-year-old director of London's Barbican Centre – Europe's largest multidisciplinary arts complex – pairs a gray Paul Smith suit with socks bearing a red, green, blue and black grid design.

"I like a flash of color now and again," he says with a chuckle, flipping over his jacket sleeve to reveal similar lining. "I just like not to be totally drab."

Six months into the job, Kenyon is making sure the Barbican isn't totally drab, either. After 11 years running the BBC Proms – the world's largest classical-concert festival, where 272,000 tickets sold last year for as little as 5 pounds ($10) – he hopes to lure a similar broad-based audience to the cavernous Barbican, where conductor Valery Gergiev, musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson and sitar master Ravi Shankar are on the slate.

Read the Interview at the Bloomberg website:

   http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601088&sid=ahe5G6Jfq.dA

Music School Enrollment Soaring

|
The Colburn School by Dennis Keeley

Music schools seeing influx of funds

By Howard Reich
Chicago Tribune

The numbers alone are staggering:

$90 million
for Northwestern University's new music school building in Evanston;

$120 million
for the recently completed Colburn School conservatory in Los Angeles;

$193 million
for the physical expansion of the Juilliard School in New York.

And that's not all. Tens of millions of dollars more are pouring into other music schools across the country – in an era when professional symphony orchestras are struggling to survive and jazz clubs are an increasingly endangered species (outside urban centers such as Chicago, New York and New Orleans).

Which raises the question: Why is so much money from foundations, individuals and universities funneling into institutions that train ultra-sophisticated musicians? Performance opportunities for classical and jazz artists – primary beneficiaries of higher education in music – would seem limited in a pop culture world.

Read more about this at the Chicago Tribune website:

   http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chi-0420_musicapr20,1,6305410.story

Fiske Museum Collection Sold

|

A Departure Sadly Noted

Seldom shown for lack of funding, the Claremont Colleges' rare musical instrument collection is sold.

By Larry Gordon
Los Angeles Times

For lovers of rare musical instruments, the Fiske Museum at the Claremont Colleges long has been an astonishing if somewhat mysterious collection.

Its 1,200 instruments from around the world include an 18th-century Italian mandolin, unusual over-the-shoulder military brasses from the Civil War era, a gourd fiddle from Africa and a 9-foot-long temple trumpet from Tibet.

The museum had limited visiting hours at its home in the windowless basement of Bridges Auditorium for three decades, and then it closed altogether 16 months ago, partly because of a lack of upkeep funds. Now, almost the entire batch – harpsichords, pianos, clarinets, banjos and cymbals – will leave its home in Claremont and be sold for an undisclosed price to a music museum under construction in Arizona.

The move is triggering strong protests from some music faculty members, who say Claremont is losing a cultural treasure. But other officials are expressing relief that the collection will have a better-funded steward and a lot more public exposure at the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, an ambitious project financially backed by Robert Ulrich, chairman of Target Corp.

Read more about this at the Los Angeles Times website:

   http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fiske21apr21,0,4155195.story

Get Away With Classical Music

|
Piano Quartet from National University of Tainan

Let classical music take you on vacation

By Maren Kasulke
Guelph Mercury

In the doldrums? Overwhelmed by the daily grind? Same old, same old?

Many of us can't afford exotic vacations to get away from it all.

But the benefits of a quick trip that extracts you from your complicated web of work worries, family obligations and never-ending chores and appointments can be obtained on a smaller scale right here in our community.

Sometimes, all you need is some mental down time, something that will take you away, give you glimpses at a new perspective and provide you with true mental recreation.

My favourite way to regroup mentally to clear all the buzz and clutter out of my head is to attend a classical concert – something that until a few years ago would have been a pretty alien concept to me. I have always enjoyed music, but found myself drawn toward contemporary music events promising carefree, noisy fun and a roaring good time. I will admit that they fulfilled this promise and I'm still up for that, too.

Read more about this at the Guelph Mercury website:

   http://news.guelphmercury.com/Opinions/article/319233

Music to Alien Ears

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Bach's music could be key to speaking with aliens

By Kim Skornogoski
Great Falls Tribune

No offense to John Williams, Chester composer Philip Aaberg has his own ideas for what Yoda's theme music would be.

Earlier this month, Aaberg shared his theory with scientists, anthropologists, computer illustrators and science fiction writers as the keynote speaker at three-day conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Bay Area.

Should a giant, glowing space ship create a real-life close encounter with a third kind, Aaberg thinks our best chances to communicate with aliens is to play Bach.

"It transcends what a human being can do in terms of the brilliance of it," he said.

Read more about this at the Great Falls Tribune website:

http://www.greatfallstribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080429/NEWS01/804290311/1002

The Demise of the Brick and Mortar

|
Tower - Everything music go...

Record Stores Fight to Be Long-Playing

By Ben Sisario
New York Times

Now added to the endangered species list in New York City, along with independent booksellers and shoe repair: the neighborhood record store.

The hole-in-the-wall specialty shops that have long made Lower Manhattan a destination for a particular kind of shopper have never made a great deal of money. But in recent years they have been hit hard by the usual music-industry woes – piracy, downloading – as well as rising real estate prices, leading to the sad but familiar scene of the emptied store with a note taped to the door.

Some 3,100 record stores around the country have closed since 2003, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a market research firm. And that's not just the big boxes like the 89 Tower Records outlets that closed at the end of 2006; nearly half were independent shops. In Manhattan and Brooklyn at least 80 stores have shut down in the last five years.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/arts/music/18reco.html

Best Concert in the Solar System

|
Planets fo the Solar System

Classical tribute to the planets

By Michael Cameron
Chicago Tribune

It is a conundrum often faced by passionate music lovers. How does one proselytize on behalf of a noble obsession without dumbing down the subject for the sake of the uninitiated?

Chicago Symphony Orchestra's "Beyond the Score" series has been an exemplar of musical outreach, moving past the eat-your-vegetables lectures that can leave a bitter aftertaste on the palate of would-be enthusiasts.

Sunday the series continued with Gustav Holst's "The Planets," a work of grand cinematic scope and arguably a better channel for aural-to-ocular sensation than the touchstones of French Impressionism.

Led by conductor Charles Dutoit, the multimedia spectacle included images from ancient astrological documents, Holst's handwritten score and photographs from the Hubble space telescope. Series director Gerard McBurney wove elements from a number of disciplines into his captivating narrative, with astronomical, astrological and historical references, served up with expert timing even a theater critic would admire.

Read more about this at the Chicago Tribune website:

   http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-ovn_0401csoapr01,1,631528.story

Moonlight & Milk

|
Chinese farmer plyaing Beethoven for his Watermelons

Milk-treated watermelon to quench thirst

China Internet Information Center

Ever think about eating a cool, refreshing slice of sweet watermelon with the delicious flavor of milk on a hot summer day?

Beijingers will be able to get their fill when milk-treated watermelons hit local markets in early summer, according to a report in the Beijing Morning Post.

Wang Hanliang, dubbed the "Melon King" of Panggezhuang village in the Daxing district of Beijing, has discovered a new way to grow watermelons by irrigating them with fresh milk and playing the music of Beethoven, the report said.

Read more about this at the China Internet Information Center website:

   http://www.china.org.cn/environment/news/2008-04/14/content_14948410.htm

The Sexy Side of Classical Music

|
Violinist Janine Jansen by Mitch Jenkins

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra: A Sex Appeal

By Eddie Silva
Playbill Arts

Let's talk about sex – and classical music.

A couple of years ago the writer Greg Sandow, who discusses the state and fate of classical music on artsjournal.com, alerted his readers to the emergence of an audacious new feature in MUSO, a magazine based in the UK that writes about the classical music world the way Spin writes about rock & roll. In MUSO's online version, Sandow heralded, is a section called "G Spot," which features a list of fans picks for sexiest soloists, with pictures and commentary.

For example, violinist Joshua Bell is described to be "As American as apple pie and just as tasty." Pianist Hélène Grimaud is praised for her "gamine gaze." Room is left for praise of the artists' musicianship, "supreme skills across an extraordinary range of repertoire" and "steely pianistic strength," but the message MUSO spreads is that having one gift does not belie the other. And, more importantly, classical can be hot.

Classical music is declared dead, usually with deep regret, by some astute and erudite critic on a regular basis. And just as it is declared dead, it is passionately declared alive and well by another astute and erudite critic – usually the next day. Death and resurrection is a great theme of religion and literature, but a steady dose of it can be emotionally depleting, especially if it happens to be your art form being compared to Lazarus. Within the chronicling of the death-life continuum of classical music, at least one fact is inarguable: classical music's presence near the center of popular culture has diminished considerably over (at least) the last two decades.

Read more about this at the Playbill Arts website:

   http://www.playbillarts.com/features/article/7621.html

Prokofieff Behind the Mask

|
Sergey Prokofiev - Diaries 1915-1923: Behind the Mask

The secret diaries of Sergey Prokofiev

Russia's revolution coincided with a blossoming of musical talent. Sergey Prokofiev's extraordinary diaries, to be published next week, show the composer at the centre of both

The Independent

It's 16 December 1922. Sergey Prokofiev receives a letter informing him that the trunk of precious papers and manuscripts he had packed up for safekeeping in the vaults of a publishing company upon his rushed departure from Russia in May 1918 has been lost. In it were the score of the Second Piano Concerto, a sheaf of childhood compositions, the notebook containing his diary between September 1916 and February 1917, photographs, letters to his father and records of his beloved chess tournaments. "But most of all I mourn the loss of the Diary," writes the composer. "The loss of the Diary is a tragedy, as there was so much of interest in it: it was my last winter in Petrograd which saw the production of The Gambler and a general flowering of my talent." He goes on to recall the professional tribulations, love affairs and squabbles contained in its pages, raging against the "scoundrels" who failed to ensure its safekeeping.

As it turns out, Prokofiev's rage was misplaced and, though he would not discover it until 1927 when he returned to the USSR, the diary had been preserved. And now it is published for the first time in English translation. The diaries were seized by the Soviet government on the composer's death and hidden in the state archives for years until Prokofiev's son Sviatoslav and grandson Serge were granted permission to transcribe them – no easy task, as the thousands of pages were almost all written in the composer's vowel-less shorthand.

Read the complete extract from from Sergey Prokofiev: Diaries 1915-1923: Behind the Mask, edited by Anthony Phillips at The Independent website:

   http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/804351.html

Growing Pains at the Joffrey

|
From inside Joffrey Tower, Chicago

Joffrey carries on steps of change

By Sid Smith
Chicago Tribune

The Joffrey Ballet of late seems simultaneously blessed and besieged, an organization in transition or trouble, depending on the day or the headline.

In September, the company moves into gleaming, new $23 million headquarters, with third- and fourth-floor studio glass walls overlooking the corner of State and Randolph Streets. Not only will this facility finally unite administrators and artists under one roof, but the skyscraper will trumpet the company's name – the Joffrey Tower – and offer daily views of the dancers at work.

The tricky hunt for a successor to octogenarian co-founder Gerald Arpino went off smoothly last fall, a process that ripped apart top dance troupes elsewhere. Ashley Wheater emerged as the board's unanimous choice, welcomed by Arpino with a warm public salute.

But in February came news that Maia Wilkins, 38, the fluid, soulful lead ballerina, won't be back next season, her contract not renewed, a move that struck some as abrupt.

Read more about this at the Chicago Tribune website:

   http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chi-0413_joffreyapr13,1,4799307.story

Top European Music Festivals

|
Ensemble L'Aura Soave performing at the Monteverdi Festival, Cremona 2001

Europe's top classical music festivals

By Alexandra Ferguson
The Telegraph

Time your holiday to tie in with one of Europe's classical music festivals. Alexandra Ferguson picks 10 of the best.

The final notes of a Bach partita reverberate in the still air of the Thomaskirche. A string quartet plays beneath flamboyant frescoes in an Austrian palace. And in Bayreuth, Brünnhilde charges once more into the flames.

Soon the summer music festival season will be upon us, and the world's top orchestras and conductors, soloists and chamber groups will converge on the towns and cities where the great composers lived and worked, to perform in palaces and churches, town halls and theatres.

From obscure suites played on period instruments to familiar orchestral works, there is music to suit the casual listener as well as the connoisseur. And with ticket offices open for advance bookings, if you are thinking of combining a holiday with some of the best classical concerts in Europe, you should be making plans already.

Read more about this at the The Telegraph website:

   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/artsandculture/1308162/Europe's-top-classical-music-festivals.html

Exploring Different Musical Traditions

|

Home from Japan

By Barry Davis
Jerusalem Post

Even in an era where cultural and ethnic boundaries are leapfrogged with ever increasing frequency, the idea of a Western classically trained Japanese woman immersing herself in Eastern Jewish liturgical texts and music takes some getting used to.

Today, Kumiko Yayama Bar-Yossef knows more than a thing or two about piyutim (liturgical poems) and, in fact, can enlighten most native Israelis about the subject.

Yayama – who is married to musicology professor Amatzia Bar-Yossef – first came to Jerusalem in 1992 to pursue a PhD in musicology, but her music education began much earlier. "I studied ballet from the age of four and I took up Western classical piano from the age of six," she explains in fluent Hebrew.

While Yayama didn't exactly come from a family of musicians, there was always something interesting to listen to at home. "My father was just a taxi driver. He didn't have a lot of money but he was crazy about stereo technology and we always had the best system going at home. We listened mostly to Western classical music and, at some stage, my father also taught himself to play guitar."

Read more about this at the Jerusalem Post website:

   http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1207649979802&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Redefining the Possibilities

|
Christopher O'Riley

Pianist-arranger Christopher O'Riley has redefined the possibilities of classical music

By Diane Peterson
The Press Democrat

It's been a dozen years since pianist Christopher O'Riley last performed with the Santa Rosa Symphony.

In the interim, the multitalented Midwesterner has continued to evolve, using his early experience in jazz and rock as a springboard to new heights as a classical artist.

From his high-profile role as the host of "From the Top" – a public radio show centered on young musicians – to his groundbreaking arrangements of songs by the Brit alt-rock band Radiohead, O'Riley, 51, has earned a reputation for innovation coupled with a refreshing lack of pretense.

This weekend, he will tackle Béla Bartók's Concerto No. 1 with the Santa Rosa Symphony. The concerto looks back to the Viennese School and to Brahms, whose Symphony No. 1 will round out the second half of the program conducted by Music Director Bruno Ferrandis.

O'Riley likes to perform pieces he feels passionate about. Under his nimble fingers and carefully crafted arrangements, an eclectic stream of pop music has migrated to the classical music stage over the years.

"It's really sort of a selfish enterprise," he said in a phone interview from northeast Ohio, where he spends most of his time. "It's always been about the song … a couple of Cocteau Twin songs, a Stephen Sondheim song. Things just take me over."

At the same time, the virtuoso has championed new music from within the classical world, premiering eclectic works by Richard Danielpour and Aaron Jay Kernis while recording well-known gems by Beethoven, Ravel and Scriabin.

Read more about this, including an interview, at the The Press Democrat website:

   http://www1.pressdemocrat.com/article/20080410/LIFESTYLE/804100308/

Stradivari Violin Sells for $1.2 Million

|
1700 'Penny' Stradivarius Violin

Instrument was owned by first woman to play in Royal Philharmonic strings

MSNBC

A Stradivari owned by the first woman to play in the strings section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has sold for $1.2 million.

Christie's auction house said Friday that the 1700s violin, known as The Penny, was purchased for $1,273,000 by a buyer who did not wish to be identified. It had been estimated to sell for up to $1.5 million.

The violin's owner, Barbara Penny, died last year. She was the first woman accepted in the strings section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. She performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout Europe.

Read more about this at the MSNBC website:

   http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23959579/

Defining Jewish Music

|
Milken Archive of American Jewish Music

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post

Just what is "Jewish music," anyway? In some cases the answer is clear: liturgical music and Yiddish operetta; klezmer and Israeli pop. But in this realm of classical or art music, you run into all kinds of semantic debates. Is "Jewish music" music written by Jewish composers, including Bernstein's "West Side Story"? What about pieces written by non-Jewish composers, such as Bruch's "Kol Nidrei" or Ravel's "Kaddisch" or Dave Brubeck's oratorio "The Gates of Justice," recorded and released as part of the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music's initial offering of 50 CDs?

Stop asking already and just put it on. Operating on this principle, the new concert series Pro Musica Hebraica is presenting its first performance at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater tomorrow night, with musicians from the Juilliard School and Itzhak Perlman as a special guest. The series's ambitious and loosely defined goal is to present "Jewish music" – until the first concert is over, the organizers are not going to commit definitely to anything more specific than that.

Read more about this at the Washington Post website:

   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/08/AR2008040802916.html

Death by Oboe

|
Oboe

How acoustic instruments torment their players

By Jan Swafford
Slate

Years ago, I heard a lovely evening of South Indian music that involved a double-headed drum called a mridangam. Afterward, somebody asked its player what the stuff he'd been smearing on one of his drum heads throughout the performance was.

"Cream of Rice," he replied.

"You mean, like in the supermarket?"

"Indeed, yes."

Turns out, breakfast cereal is just the thing to keep the head of your mridangam smooth and supple. While pop musicians and classical composers alike are always going on about computer software, acoustic instruments and the people who play them are a far more cultish affair. They're still doing things by hand in traditional, sometimes outlandish, sometimes messy ways.

I spent some years of supposedly being a musician, but the beginning of my education in the low-tech and faintly mystical endeavor of creating acoustic instruments came when I interviewed a well-known stringed-instrument maker. When he told me his instruments were based on close study of Strads, I asked, Why not use modern technology to duplicate every millimeter of, say, a Stradivarius violin, chemically analyze the varnish and duplicate it, et voilà: great violin. He sighed, having heard that one before. "You know, every piece of wood is different," he said. Every piece of the six kinds of aged wood in a violin has to be shaped according to its particular resonance, elasticity, and function. And the varnish? "Don't get me started," he said.

Read more about this at the Slate website:

   http://www.slate.com/id/2188507/

2008 Pulitzer Prize in Music

|
David Lang by Klaus Rudolph

David Lang Wins Music Pulitzer

By Tom Huizenga
NPR

David Lang, a New York-based composer, has won the Pulitzer Prize for music with his piece, The Little Match Girl Passion, based on the children's story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Lang's music makes a big impact with small forces. The piece is scored for only four voices and a few percussion instruments, played by the singers. They sing the sad story of a little girl who freezes to death selling matches on the street during a cold winter's night.

In notes Lang wrote to accompany the Carnegie Hall premiere last October, he says he was drawn to Andersen's story because of how opposite aspects of the plot played off each other.

"The girl's bitter present is locked together with the sweetness of her past memories," Lang says. "Her poverty is always suffused with her hopefulness. There's a kind of naïve equilibrium between suffering and hope."

Lang was also intrigued by the religious allegory he saw beneath the surface of the story, and he found inspiration in the music of his favorite composer, J.S. Bach.

Read more about this, including an audio excerpt, at the NPR website:

   http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89442735

Recent Musical History of a City

|
New York City

The New York Canon: Classical Music

By Justin Davidson
New York Magazine

From Laurie Anderson's magnum opus to the definitive Beethoven marathon.

Classical music is global and ephemeral and often aspires to a state of universality: Tonight's Carnegie Hall recitalist may have just flown in from Germany and will be in Hong Kong next week. Even native New Yorkers hone their acts elsewhere before hoping to return. Which makes an awkward fit for a canon of works linked by their inherent New Yorkiness. I've had to wrestle this list into its frame, omitting many memorable musical experiences because they had no special connection to the city, and tying live events to recordings. The New York Philharmonic's performance of the Brahms Requiem in the days after 9/11 was far too magnificent an event to skip. But I left out Philip Glass's 1976 Einstein on the Beach; although the premiere seared itself into the memory of those who saw it, the recording tells only half a story. New York creates as much music as it imports, and some of it is imbued with local qualities that materialize only later. In the mid-nineties, Steve Reich walked around Manhattan recording sounds that he later wove into City Life. It's more explicitly urban than his other works, yet the sense of overlapping rhythms competing in a crowd – the essential sidewalk experience – is equally evident in Drumming, which he wrote more than 30 years earlier. In music, New York sometimes does something supremely un-New Yorky: It hides.

Read about the complete N.Y. canon at the New York Magazine website:

   http://nymag.com/anniversary/40th/culture/45764/

Gerhard Samuel Obituary

|
Gerhard Samuel

Conductor, composer Gerhard Samuel dies at 83

By Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle

Gerhard Samuel, an innovative conductor and composer who played a pre-eminent role in the musical life of the Bay Area throughout the 1960s, died Tuesday at his home in Seattle. He was 83.

During his 12-year sojourn in the Bay Area, Mr. Samuel served as music director of both the Oakland Symphony (1959-71) and the San Francisco Ballet (1961-71) and was the first music director of the Cabrillo Music Festival. He also founded and led the Oakland Chamber Orchestra and made a few guest appearances with the San Francisco Opera.

Although he was steeped in the traditional symphonic and ballet repertoire, Mr. Samuel was known chiefly for his deep engagement with contemporary music. Under his leadership, the Oakland Symphony increased its audience and acquired a national reputation for artistic daring.

Over the course of a decade, nearly one-third of the orchestra's repertoire consisted of music by 20th century composers, and in some seasons nearly every program included at least one premiere. The stylistic range was broad enough to encompass such European masters as Lutoslawski and Stockhausen and California composers like Terry Riley and Henry Brant.

Read the obituary at the SFGate website:

   http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/29/BA1LVSDJO.DTL

Modern Sources of Inspiration

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Osvaldo Golijov

Osvaldo Golijov: a mission of creative anarchy

By John Lewis
Times Online

Composer Osvaldo Golijov is bent on breaking the rules

The Argentine Osvaldo Golijov is a "classical" composer whose work embraces a fascination with world music and electronica in a way that is similar to the artier end of pop. For pop, he firmly believes, is the most influential music these days.

"These are sad times for classical music," he explains. "Once classical musicians influenced popular culture. Duke Ellington learnt from Debussy, Miles Davis learnt from Stravinsky, the Beatles learnt from Stockhausen. Nowadays we learn from them. The music of Radiohead, or Björk, or OutKast – it is so much more relevant and meaningful. And often it is so much more interesting than what goes under the name of 'serious music'. It affects the culture in a way we don't."

We are in Chicago, where a recent concert performance of his flamenco-themed, Grammy-winning opera Ainadamar (Fountain of Tears), which will be performed in the UK next week, has received a ten-minute standing ovation. American critics have been breathless in their praise. And this endearingly nerdy maverick has become a cult idol to many of the world's biggest pop stars. David Bowie has described him as "the greatest living composer"; Jonny Greenwood, of Radiohead, is a fan; Paul Simon and David Byrne turn up to his concerts.

Read more about this at the Times Online website:

   http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article3675992.ece

Too Tabloid for Opera?

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Anna Nicole Smith

Anna Nicole Smith: The Opera at the ROH

By Laura Clout
The Telegraph

The life of the late Playboy centrefold Anna Nicole Smith is to be turned into an opera by the co-creator of the cult musical Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Composer Richard Thomas is writing the libretto for a contemporary piece, to be staged at the Royal Opera House in 2010.

He said the tragic life story of Ms Smith, a former stripper who died from an overdose of prescription drugs a year ago, was "a classic American tale about celebrity" which was "intrinsically operatic".

The production, still in the early stages of development, is intended to be shown on the main stage at the Royal Opera House, accompanied by a 90-piece orchestra.

Mr Thomas admitted that he was fascinated by stories which might seem "trashy". He told The Independent newspaper: "It's an incredible story. It's very operatic and sad. "She was quite a smart lady with the tragic flaw that she could not seem to get through life without a vat of prescription painkillers."

However, his choice of subject, a woman labelled "the queen of trailer trash" by American tabloids, is unlikely to appeal to diehard fans of classical opera, some of whom have accused the Royal Opera House of dumbing down.

Read more about this at the Telegraph website:

   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/04/04/nsmith404.xml

Montreal in New York

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Kent Nagano by Hanya Chlala/Erato

Supercharged Solo Followed by a Cosmic Energy Riot

By Anthony Tommasini
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That the Montreal Symphony Orchestra sounded so terrific at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night should reassure longtime admirers of this top-tier ensemble. The orchestra has had a rough few years.

In 2002 Charles Dutoit, the music director who had taken the orchestra to new realms of excellence, abruptly resigned over what he asserted were challenges to his artistic authority. In response, many players went public with stories of longstanding animosity between Mr. Dutoit and orchestra members. In 2003 it was announced that Kent Nagano would become the new music director, but not until 2006. Then in 2005, for the second time in a decade, the players went on strike, staging a five-month work stoppage.

But the musicians seem very content with Mr. Nagano, who began Saturday's program with a glowing, refined yet urgent performance of symphonic fragments from Debussy's "Martyre de St. Sébastien." This 20-minute, four-movement suite was drawn by the composer André Caplet from an elaborate score, including choruses and dance music, that Debussy composed for a play by Gabriele d'Annunzio in 1911.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/arts/music/10naga.html

Royal Opera House Orchestra

The quiet revolution:
musicians' exposure to noise
New EU regulations aimed at protecting workers from noise will affect orchestras dramatically

By Debra Craine
Times Online

As a professional dance critic, and a self-confessed ballet nut, I have spent my life in thrall to Tchaikovsky. I love the sound of a big orchestra in a big lyric theatre blasting out one of his big ballet scores. The louder the better, and The Sleeping Beauty best of all. So when I had the chance to sit in the orchestra pit during a performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House it was a fantasy come true. How better to experience the lustrous wonder of that majestic music than to sit beside the musicians who play it?

I knew the sound was going to be fantastic, and it was – Valeriy Ovsyanikov and 75 musicians of the Royal Opera House Orchestra saw to that – and it was indeed thrilling to be down there in the middle of it. But as the Rose Adagio unfolded, and Tchaikovsky's writing grew ever grander, another sensation began to worm its way into my consciousness – pain. My ears started to hurt, thanks to the short sharp shrieks of the flutes, the crash of the cymbals and the blare of the French horns.

Imagine, therefore, how you would feel if you were a professional musician and you were playing Sleeping Beauty every night, or indeed Strauss's Salome or any part of Wagner's Ring cycle? A wall of sound may be exciting for audiences, but it can also mean exposure to damaging levels of noise for musicians trapped in a pit like goldfish in a bowl.

Read more about this at the Times Online website:

   http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article3676238.ece

End of the CBC Radio Orchestra

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CBC Radio Orchestra

CBC needs to be saved from its supporters

By Kelly McParland
National Post

The CBC is going through one of its regular bouts of self-induced angst as it struggles to rationalize the money it spends with its inability to attract an audience significant enough to justify those expenditures.

This time the argument is taking place on two fronts, one the decision to shuffle the programming on Radio 2 to reduce the emphasis on classical music, the other to kill off the CBC radio orchestra, the last radio orchestra in North America.

The resistance to both moves has been both predictable and fierce. True believers in the CBC may be few in numbers – and becoming fewer, it seems, with each passing year – but they're passionate. And they don't keep their opinions to themselves.

Read the complete article at the National Post website:

   http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/posted/archive/2008/03/31/cbc-needs-to-be-saved-from-its-supporters.aspx

Overcoming Early Success

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Conrad Tao

The Tao of Early Musical Success

By Barbara Jepson
Wall Street Journal

The stereotypical musical prodigy has remarkable musical memory, brilliant technique, and a prematurely shortened career. Pianist Conrad Tao, who gave a winning performance with the Russian National Orchestra here recently at the Festival of the Arts BOCA, possesses the first two characteristics in good measure. One hopes he will avoid the third, joining the ranks of such successful former prodigies as the 52-year-old cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the 65-year-old conductor-pianist Daniel Barenboim.

But who knows? The 13-year-old Mr. Tao, a student at the Pre-College Division of The Juilliard School in New York, may decide to chuck music altogether. Or he may become overexposed by the age of 25 – one of the risks of turning "pro" earlier than most. By that time, later-blooming peers will have come into their own artistically, providing new faces for concert presenters to book, and the next wave of precocious youngsters will be nipping at his heels.

So why expose young musical phenoms to the marketplace just as they enter the more vulnerable adolescent years? In a field overcrowded with keyboard players, says his teacher, Yoheved ("Veda") Kaplinsky, head of the piano department at Juilliard, there are two ways for artists to stand out. "One is to win an international competition," she says. "It doesn't guarantee anything, but it gives you an entrée. The other is to start out as a prodigy and make your name that way."

Read more about this at the Wall Street Journal website:

   http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120700353888078451.html

Have Stick, Will Travel

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William Barton

A breath of fresh air for the classical tradition

By Harriet Cunningham
Sydney Morning Herald

The Sydney Symphony is learning a new work. The rhythms are complex, and notes fly out in all directions. Conductor Richard Gill, in his best headmaster voice, stops the musicians, points out the key underlying beats, barks out a bar number and raises his baton. And there, almost miraculously, the music starts to emerge from the morass, the opposing riffs meshing into a fascinating wall of sound.

Alongside the conductor, looking remarkably unflappable, sits soloist and joint composer William Barton. The work, Kalkadungu, was commissioned for the orchestra by Maggie Gray and Roger Allen; scored for orchestra with didgeridoo, electric guitar and vocals (all three performed by Barton).

Most significantly, Kalkadungu is a collaboration between two musicians, the Mount Isa-born Barton and the white Australian composer Matthew Hindson, bringing ancient Australian culture face to face with the Western classical tradition.

Hindson, who lectures in composition at the University of Sydney, is an old hand at writing for orchestra, which is why this project presented such a tantalising challenge.

Read more about this at the Sydney Morning Herald website:

   http://www.smh.com.au/news/arts/a-breath-of-fresh-air-for-the-classical-tradition/

Dancing the Neapolitan Way

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Ballet in Naples

By Jeff Matthews
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The season program always reads "Opera and Ballet at San Carlo (year)," which reflects the fact that in Naples, as in most places in Italy, the ballet company is part of the same organization that provides opera – in this case, the San Varlo Theater. As elsewhere, dancers in Naples serve two ends: (1) to provide incidental dancing called for in many operas, and (2) to perform independent ballet. In Naples, there is both a ballet school and a ballet company. You start as a child in the former and hope to get good enough to move up to the latter.

Dance has always had a place at San Carlo. On opening night, November 4th, 1737, together with Achille in Sciro by Domenico Sarro, the first-ever opera at the splendid new theater, there were three short ballets (one before, one between acts one and two, and one after the opera) composed and choreographed by Gaetano Grossatesta. He worked at San Carlo for 30 years and was replaced by one of the most important names in the history of classical ballet: Salvatore Vigano (1769-1821), a Neapolitan dancer and choreographer who also studied and worked in France and Germany and who even collaborated with Beethoven on the ballet, Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus. (And wouldn't that look good on your résumé!) Vigano is considered the father of a new kind of performance called "coreodrama" about which I know nothing except that dance tells a story and is not simply moving around to music.

Read more about this at the Napoli.com website:

   http://www.napoli.com/viewarticolo.php?articolo=20982

Trumpet