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Analysis, Criticism & Commentary: July 2008 Archives

Taking Criticism Seriously

Keith Burstein

Panned by reviewer, then told to go bankrupt

By Amol Rajan

A British composer was told to go bankrupt yesterday after he unsuccessfully tried to sue the London Evening Standard for libel. Keith Burstein ran up legal costs of £67,000 defending a test-case libel action against Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Standard, over a critical review of one of his operas.

He told Chief Registrar Stephen Baister in the Royal Courts of Justice that he was taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The registrar said Mr Burstein was entitled to take the case in Europe but he was required to pay the legal costs already run up. This would entail complying with a court order against him by paying the £67,000.

When Mr Burstein told the registrar he could not pay, Mr Baister replied: "Then you go bankrupt." He added that, in balancing the rights of Associated Newspapers against the speculative nature of what Mr Burstein was hoping to do, it was proper to rule on the side of the newspaper group, which also publishes the Daily Mail, in forcing him to pay legal costs.

Mr Burstein, 51, confirmed that he would not be able to pay. He is working on a new symphony for the South Bank Symphonia and on an opera with Ben Okri, the Booker Prize winner. "I lead a rather simple life and don't have many material possessions," he said later.

Read more about this at the Independent website:

Chinese Ban Foreign Artists

Free Tibet

China says it will ban performers

Steven Spielberg, Bjork among offending artists

By Alex S. Dai
The Hollywood Reporter

Shanghai – China is tightening the screws on political expression, saying it will ban foreign artists and entertainers who have ever engaged in activities deemed to "threaten national sovereignty."

The notice, posted Thursday on the Ministry of Culture's Web site, follows a March incident in which Icelandic singer Bjork yelled, "Tibet, Tibet, Tibet" after performing her song "Declare Independence" live in Shanghai.

Under the new mandate, Chinese event organizers will be expected to scrutinize acts and material and ban any performance that might threaten national unity, stir ethnic hatred or violate Beijing's strict policy on state-approved religions and "cultural norms."

[ Editors note: It is quite likely that by simply carrying this story and providing these links this article, and possibly all of Classical Net, will be blocked by Chinese censors. ]

Read more about this at The Hollywood Reporter website:

Classical Music is for Babies

Babies listening to classical music

Can't get it out of my head

A father's yearlong quest to grasp the infant musical mind

By Jeremy Eichler
The Boston Globe

I've never felt so paralyzed standing before my CD collection as the day I brought my newborn son home from the hospital and decided to play him his very first music. So much was at stake. Should it be modern or Baroque? Orchestral or opera? Would Mozart make him smarter? Would Schoenberg instill in him revolutionary tendencies? Would Wagner make him loathe his Jewish roots?

I settled on Bach's "Art of Fugue" in an arrangement for string quartet. Why not begin at the summit, and what's more, I imagined, all that searching counterpoint would be like honey for the infant brain. He responded with aplomb, conveying his wise, wordless mastery of the material by slipping into an eyes-closed, meditative state. OK, he fell asleep.

But my yearlong quest to understand the infant musical mind had begun. As it turns out, my timing was good, as the cognitive and neuroscience research on music has been exploding these days, driven by techno logical breakthroughs in brain imaging and a newly widespread openness toward music as a legitimate field of scientific study. It's hard to miss the reverberations. Keith Lockhart has been outfitted with sensors on the podium of Symphony Hall; Oliver Sacks's "Musicophilia" has brought strange tales of musical obsession to the bestseller list; the journal Nature has been running a nine-part essay series on the science of music; and a conference this weekend at Tufts University is convening more than 100 researchers from 13 countries to discuss the subject of "Music, Language, and the Mind." The art form that Claude Lévi-Strauss once dubbed "the supreme mystery of the science of man" is, one note at a time, becoming less mysterious.

Read more about this at The Boston Globe website:

Not All Bad News, Journalistically

Anne Midgette

Washington Post Hires Full-time Music Critic

By Susan Elliott
Musical America

Amid the current trend to the contrary among newspapers, The Washington Post last week hired a permanent staff music critic to succeed Tim Page. Anne Midgette, who has been in the job on an interim basis since January, when Page took a leave of absence, has been hired officially as The Post's classical music critic.

"In light of all the lay-offs around the country, they're really bucking the trend in committing to serious arts journalism," said a delighted Midgette in a brief telephone conversation.

Read more about this at the Musical America website:

An Organization Reinvented

Symphony Silicon Valley

Symphony Orchestra 2.0

By David Bratman
San Francisco Classical Voice

San José, as its boosters like to point out, is now the largest city in Northern California. But if it's the leader in population, it has a ways to go to catch up to San Francisco in cultural influence. Still, San José is far from the cultural desert that its flat sprawling landscape might suggest to residents of hillier, more congested parts of the Bay Area. The lively downtown has a flavor to it that you could find, perhaps to your equal surprise, in places like Sacramento and Santa Rosa. And there are musical performances well worth hearing here, enough to enthuse the locals and perhaps even draw audiences from outside the city and its suburbs.

San José's leading concert ensemble is Symphony Silicon Valley. Born in 2002 out of the ashes of the old San José Symphony (see a story recounted by SFCV here), it has grown cautiously over the years, with surprising and gratifying success. The orchestra was artistically mature from the beginning, drawing most of its personnel from its predecessor. Where SSV has really grown is in scheduling.

Read more about this at the San Francisco Classical Voice website: