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Culture: March 2008 Archives

It's Tough to Like Good Sound


The Swift Boating of Audiophiles

By Michael Fremer

The "Want to make an easy $1,000,000?" e-mail wasn't a scam from Nigeria but an alert from Paul DiComo, late of Polk Audio and now of Definitive Technology, about a double-blind cable-identification challenge made by The Annoying Randi, a magician and debunker of paranormal events who goes by the name of "The Amazing Randi."

I should have hit Delete and resumed my vacation. But a few months earlier, Randi, without the slightest provocation, had attacked me on his website and the revenge fantasy of relieving him of a million of his bucks filled my head.


At deadline time, yet another anti-audiophile piece appeared, this time in The New York Times' Arts & Leisure section, written by opera critic Anthony Tommasini, titled "Hard Being an Audiophile in an iPod World." Here's an excerpt from yet another letter to the editor that I felt obligated to write:

"The iPod is no more responsible for 'thinning the ranks of audiophiles' over the last decade than cheap, fast food has depleted the ranks of gourmets, or cheap wine has 'thinned the ranks' of oenophiles....Consumers are demanding higher quality food and seeking out better wine. Why? Because gourmet food and fine wine continue to receive enthusiastic coverage in the mainstream press and people who appreciate them are respected, while quality sound gets ignored, or worse, gets the kind of treatment you've chosen to give it this week – a perverse, gleeful dismissal – and audiophiles are looked upon as either 'odd' or 'deluded' for paying the same attention to sound that others pay to food or wine, or clothes, or cars, or you name it, except for sound. ..."

Read the complete account at the Stereophile website:

Thunderbird Records

Cleveland label releases its first CD of classical music by an American Indian composer

by Donald Rosenberg
Cleveland Plain Dealer Music Critic

Cleveland recording producer Alan Bise stands amid boxes filled with the first compact disc on his new label, Thunderbird Records, which is devoted to music by American Indian composers. Like aspiring writers who dream of their first novel being published, composers submit music to orchestras in the hope that a performance will ensue. The usual response: silence.

But a project that Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, a native of the Chickasaw Nation and graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, proposed to the San Francisco Symphony was too intriguing to ignore.

Last week, a recording by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus of two Tate works with roots in American Indian soil became reality. The compact disc is the first release by Thunderbird Records, a Cleveland-based company founded by audio producer Alan Bise, who studied at CIM when Tate was taking baby steps as a composer.

The recording was made in June in the orchestra's home, Davies Symphony Hall, with former resident conductor Edwin Outwater on the podium. The flute soloists are Christine Bailey Davis, principal flute of New York's Buffalo Philharmonic and a CIM graduate, and Thomas Robertello, a former member of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Bise vowed to create a recording company devoted to classical music by American Indian composers in 2004 after hearing "Worth of the Soul," Tate's celebration of Indian warriors. Another year passed before circumstances leading to the first Thunderbird recording came up.

Read more about this and listen to audio samples at the Plain Dealer website:

National Classical-Music Summit

Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz

Education is the future of classical music

By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times

During the past decade, reports about the impending death of classical music have arrived with such regularity that doom-saying is practically a full-time activity for several arts journalists.

Today's pop culture, they say, with the idol-of-the-moment TV spectaculars and the cult of celebrity – combined with the serious decline of music education in many school districts – has built a society in which classical music is terra incognita to most people. Concert activity, buoyed up by a handful of aging donors, is confined mainly to blue-haired dowagers who make their increasingly decrepit way to the halls in order to hear the same stale pieces performed by the same bored musicians.

Or so they say.

Attendees at a national classical-music summit held at Seattle University last month, however, had a whole span of quite different views. Presented jointly by Seattle U. and Bellevue Philharmonic CEO Jennifer McCausland, the summit brought in representatives from coast to coast – Carnegie Hall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, The Washington Post, and several others – and described a classical-music industry that is doing considerably more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Most of them, in fact, took a line pretty close to that of moderator and Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz, whose introductory remarks included this observation: "This is the most positive time in my career for classical music. When I came to Seattle 25 years ago, the Symphony had 4,000 subscribers; now we have more than 35,000." And when you count education and community programs, the Symphony reaches 315,000 people a year.

Read more about this at the Seattle Times website:

Public Pianism

Piano Player

Pianos hit the streets

by Maev Kennedy
The Guardian

On the eve of his 19th birthday, Marvin Forbes did something which completely shocked his mates: he sat down at the piano which had appeared overnight on the corner of Orphanage and Mason roads, and played a few bars of Offenbach. "I never knew you could do that!" Thasawar Iqbal said, stunned.

"I knew," muttered another friend, Anthony Murrain. When the group had first walked past the piano on their lunch break, glancing at it out of the corners of their eyes with studied lack of interest, Forbes had insisted he could not play, never had played, and would not know what to do with a piano if it suddenly popped up outside the library with a spray-painted sign reading: "Play me, I'm yours."

This was not strictly true. Forbes is now a trainee mechanical engineer, but he got a C in music at GCSE. "Go on then," Iqbal said, incredulously, "play it!"

Forbes sat on the green plastic chair with reluctance, played a few random notes, a few chords, and finally, his fingers almost visibly remembering, a tune. Iqbal could not have been more astounded if his friend had sprouted wings and flown away over the war memorial.

The piano in the Erdington suburb of Birmingham is one of 15 which have just appeared, unguarded, across the city. There is one in the Rag Market, and one outside Cadbury World. There is another at Colmore junior school, where a teacher was persuaded into an impromptu recital dressed in white gown with veil fluttering in the icy wind. She had been on her way to her wedding.

Some of the pianos are under cover, others have been placed outside. All were professionally tuned, but some appear to already be suffering from exposure: Forbes brushed off praise for his playing, muttering that the keys of the piano were starting to stick.

The pianos are the brainchild of the artist Luke Jerram, and are a project for the Fierce arts organisation, a collaboration renowned for getting odd things into odder places. Jerram previously has floated an orchestra in hot air balloons to awaken the sleeping city, and created a ghostly installation in an abandoned railway tunnel.

The pianos have been installed in public places allowing anyone to sit down and play: some were already in enthusiastic use yesterday, others barely noticed. They will remain in situ until after Easter - if they survive that long - those outliving the experiment given a permanent home. Some of the instruments were bought, others were donated: one man rang from Glasgow pleading for a baby grand to be taken on.

Read more about this at the The Guardian website:,,2265308,00.html

Business Intelligence - Middle East

Arabic Don Giovanni Earns Standing Ovation

by Maria Karam

The region's first Arabic performance of Mozart's celebrated opera Don Giovanni closed with a standing ovation in the Garden City of the United Arab Emirates Thursday to raise the curtain on the eighth, and largest, annual Al Ain Classical Music Festival.

Having played to a near capacity audience in the Al Ain Municipality Theatre, the cast – of eight soloists from Egypt and Lebanon with a chorus from Lebanon Chorale de l'universite Antonine and superbly accompanied by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor and musical director Zbigniew Graca – drew tremendous applause as they emerged on stage to take their bows with the production's Polish director Ryszard Peryt.

It was an evening when Al Ain wrote itself into the classical music record books – the first Arabic performance in the region of the Mozart masterpiece with the libretto ably translated through 14 months of dedication by Egyptian opera lover, Dr. Aly Sadek.

It was also a night never to be forgotten for young Lebanese soprano Nadine Nassar who made her operatic debut in the production in the role of Zerlina.

Holding back tears at the end of the performance, Nadine said the evening had been "highly emotional" for her.

"I would like to thank the Al Ain Classical Music Festival Committee for this opportunity. The chance to perform with fellow professionals and under professional direction and accompaniment from such a great orchestra is something I will never forget. Al Ain will be a place I will always now remember."

With a simple, yet dramatic, stage set designed by Ryszard Peryt and rich, period costumes designed by Poland's Katarzyna Stolarczyk, the production was a triumph in combining the libretto, music and theatre talents of both Europe and the Middle East.

Read more about this at the Business Intelligence - Middle East website:

Staatskapelle Dresden

German Orchestra Takes Richard Wagner to Abu Dhabi

Deutsche Welle

The New York Philharmonic is hardly the only orchestra to have visited a "hostile" country. DW spoke to Jan Nast, orchestral director of Dresden's Staatskapelle, about whether music can build bridges between cultures.

The tradition of "classical diplomacy" in Germany runs long and deep. In the 1970s and 1980s, Romanian-born conductor Sergiu Celibidache and the Munich Philharmonic were very active in Communist Eastern Europe and often enlisted by the West German government as cultural ambassadors.

Since 1999, the Argentina-born musical director of Berlin's State Opera House, Daniel Barenboim, has led the East-Western Divan Orchestra, which united Israeli and Palestinian musicians. In 2005, the Berlin Philharmonic made an extensive trip to China, which is the subject of a film released this week.

On Saturday, March 8, the Saechsische Staatskapelle Dresden -- Saxony's state orchestra -- is scheduled to perform an all-Wagner concert in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. DW-WORLD.DE spoke to orchestra director Jan Nast about high culture and the everyday task of creating cultural understanding.

Read the complete interview by Jefferson Chase at the Deutsche Welle website:,2144,3167157,00.html

BBC Proms Not Inclusive Enough

British Culture Minister Margaret Hodge

Culture minister criticises Proms

by Peter Apps

Culture minister Margaret Hodge stirred up a storm on Tuesday by criticising the annual promenade classical music concerts in London's Albert Hall as not inclusive enough for a modern multi-ethnic society.

The Last Night of the Proms each September sees hundreds of concertgoers in the hall and across the road in Hyde Park waving flags to patriotic songs like "Land of Hope and Glory," "Jerusalem" and "Rule Britannia."

But challenging the arts sector to better reflect modern Britain, Hodge said they were reaching too narrow an audience.

"The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events -- I'm thinking particularly of the Proms -- is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel that they are a part of this," she said in a speech to a London think tank.

[See for yourself: Schedule for the 2007 BBC Proms]

Read more about this at the Reuters website:


Radio 2 plans less weekday classical music

Guy Dixon
Globe and Mail

For the final phase of its overhaul of Radio 2, the CBC plans to play less classical music weekday mornings and late afternoons and more pop, showcasing a wider variety of Canadian music and aiming to appeal to a broader audience.

The new weekday morning show from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. will be a mix of much less classical and much more pop, leaning toward established musicians such as Joni Mitchell and Diana Krall, with around 50-per-cent Canadian content. There's no decision yet on who the host will be.

The midday show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. will be entirely classical, playing both CDs and live performances, with around 40-per-cent Canadian content. But the drive-home afternoon show will be the biggest departure from current programming. That show from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. will ignore classical entirely and instead air a wide variety of genres from contemporary pop and world music to blues and roots, with an emphasis on newer songs and artists such as Feist and Serena Ryder.

In September, Radio 2 will also launch separate all-day all-classical, all-jazz and all-singer-songwriter stations on the Internet. Radio 3 will remain an Internet- and satellite-based service. However, one petitioner among a vocal group of listeners, musicians and composers who have criticized the overhaul argued yesterday that even an all-classical Web-based service wouldn't rectify the fact that Radio 2's on-air, non-classical programs are moving away from what had been the network's core listeners.

Read more about this at the Globe and Mail website: