12. July 2011 · Comments Off on Yes. · Categories: Other People's Words

Louisville, as I write, is emerging from bankruptcy protection. Syracuse, which I visited in deep doldrums last winter, is trying to form a new part-time orchestra. The sacked musicians of Rio have regrouped as an independent ensemble. You can shut a theatre but you cannot keep a good orchestra down. There will always be an audience for what it has to offer.

And why is that? Because in a lifestyle of wall-to-wall wi-fi and instant tweets, the concert hall is one of the few places where we become reachable, where we can switch off our lifelines and surrender to a form that will not let us go for an hour or more. The symphony orchestra is our relief from the communicative addiction. It forces us, willy-nilly, to resist the responsive urge. It is a cold-turkey cure for our reactive insanity, our self-destroying restlessness.The more concerts I attend, the more I see how they restore balance to over-busy lives. It may well be that we, as a society, need the symphony orchestra now more than ever before. How we pay for it will have to be reconfigured over the next two or three difficult years, amid challenges from rival art forms and digital distractions. There has never been such heated competition for every nanosecond of our supposed leisure time.

But after 30 years’ close observation of orchestral ups and downs and half a century after the Arts Council pronounced that London needed just one super-orchestra, I have reached the irreversible conclusion that the symphony orchestra will always survive — not on the weary old argument that it is somehow “good for you” to listen to “good music”, nor on any cod theories that classical music breeds clever kids and better citizens, but simply because there is a cogent human need for what an orchestra adds to the relief of city life. That need becomes ever clearer as the world speeds up.

-Norman Lebrecht

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Update … okay, sometimes I do funny typos. I just corrected “Norman”, as I had typed it “Normal”! Yes, that made me laugh. At myself.

23. June 2011 · Comments Off on Concerts On Vacation · Categories: Other People's Words

Read online:

I’m not here to go to concerts. This is my vacation. When I am here I am not working. Although I may be preparing for an upcoming performance, I’m here to enjoy the beach and time with my wife and family.

-David Zinman

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I suppose if I were a well known conductor and I did music as much as Zinman probably does I might not want to go to concerts while on a holiday, but I actually love to go to concerts. It’s really a joy, and I look forward to the day when I’m no longer performing at all, but just enjoying.

Well. Sort of anyway!

Here’s another part of the interview with the conductor:

Making classical music appeal to the masses without compromising artistic integrity is a challenge of which Zinman is well aware.

“It all begins with education,” Zinman said. “As a young person, if you play baseball, you’ll tend to want to go see a professional baseball game. And if you play in a school orchestra or band you’ll want to go hear the professionals play. We all want to emulate our heroes. Sadly, if a school budget has to be cut and you have a football team and an arts program, guess which program gets cut.”

With many recent crossover artists such as tenor Andrea Bocelli, whose wide appeal has clouded the line between classical and popular music, Zinman once again cites the lack of education as the problem.

“Making classical music popular really works against it,” Zinman said. “Classical music has to do with the emotions and the soul.”

Tim Mangan’s discussion about us performerfolk™ and reviewers continues (so far in a very polite manner, which makes me quite happy; this is how conversations — even disagreements — should take place, don’t you think?). But really now, I know there are readers here, and while many remain silent (Tim, I get VERY few comments here as well!), I know some of you could at least show up on his blog so he would get musicians’ responses. Please? Because I don’t count! 😉 (Just kidding with Tim. Really! But I’ll have you know I count VERY well; rhythm is something I have in me. I think.) Okay … done with the bad jokes … but honestly … maybe THIS will get you to go over there for a visit?:

Professional musicians don’t care two hoots (ha) about music criticism. We have yet to receive a comment from one on this post other than our old friend MarK (patty doesn’t count — she’s a blogger), despite hundreds of readers and an open invitation to do so.

11. June 2011 · Comments Off on Joyce DiDonato Has Something To Say · Categories: Other People's Words

I always enjoy Ms. DiDonato’s blog. She takes good photos. She has a lot of interesting posts. This one, though, is especially important.

I am no stranger to strong emotions. I suppose having the exposed outlet of a gigantic stage with blaring lights and a wailing orchestra every so often temporarily soothes my savage beast. “It’s the best form of therapy”, you’ll hear numerous singers declare. Great truth lies in that statement. But every so often, I lack the appropriate outlet for my heated emotions that could easily be considered (shudder) “controversial”. We’re taught to avoid such hullabaloo, and generally I obediently abide.

But then this happened:

“Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took the major step of privatizing the arts in Kansas, turning back the clock to a pre-1960s era. The governor erased state funding for arts programs, leaving the Kansas Arts Commission with no budget, no staff and no offices.”

Yep. One slash of the pen, and every single penny for the Arts in the State of Kansas is gone. (Mind you, this also magically slashes all the matching Federal Funds that vanish instantaneously with that bold stroke.)

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I never go to the opera. I can admit this now. Seeing as I’m on a desert island I can actually say that I never go to the opera. I go there and I feel very uncomfy. I just feel like it’s not my world.

The singer, who has appeared with English National Opera, also describes how he used to take a pillow so he could sleep through performances he was told to watch as part of his training at the Royal Opera House.

In a further explanation of why he performs but never watches the genre, he says: “When I’m up there doing it that’s my world, that’s what I really enjoy, but sitting in the audience and watching it I’m bored stiff; I have to say I really am. I can sit at home and listen to it on record and really appreciate the classic singers, but when I go there it’s just not my world.

The quote is by Alfie Boe. I performed with him when we did bohème, and at the time he was Alf Boe. I hadn’t a clue he felt that way about opera, but then I rarely talked to him. I just remember him being a pretty nice guy, and I remember his frustration in the studio when his voice wasn’t behaving (he had to return later to redo his portion of the recording). Who knew he hated opera, eh?

Yeah, I’m just a tad disappointed. But oh well. Not everyone likes his or her job, right? Some even dislike the job yet still do good work. I think. So why should an opera singer have to like his? I guess.

12. May 2011 · Comments Off on Classical Music & Baseball · Categories: Baseball, Classical, Other People's Words, Quotes

Classical music is also about the keeping of an intense set of records and statistics. It is about a reverence for the giants of the past, and a constant measurement of what is happening now against what has come before. We hear a Beethoven symphony at the New York Philharmonic and it is in instant contact with all the other live performances of it we have ever heard, with all the things we have ever thought about it, with the legendary recordings of Toscanini, von Karajan and Kleiber. My German grandmother compared every musical experience she had — unfavorably, in fact — to what she remembered hearing Hans Knappertsbusch conduct back in the old country when she was young.

The past is always present.

It turns out that classical music fans do a lot of the same remembering and measuring as baseball fans. Both baseball and classical music have a great sense of history, a tremendous respect for the past, and a slew of nerdy people like me who want to know all the details. Both are made of people who argue passionately with each other about who was the greatest. We handicap our favorite composers and performers, we buy 20 recordings of the same piece just to be able to argue about interpretations. We want to know as much about where we have been as we can.

-David Lang

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04. May 2011 · Comments Off on Typical Musician Response! · Categories: Other People's Words

… I am so hard on myself. In fact, it was very hard for me to accept compliments for a very long time. I sort of learned to do it. Because I wanted to say, “Are you kidding? That sucked!” I always feel like I could have been better. You have to have that, because if you think you’re great you’re not going to get better. But I once had a guy stop me on the street who said something really over the top, but kind of sincere: “I saw your concert, it was the best night of my life” or something like that. And I was so uncomfortable with it, I said, “Well, you need to get out more!” He seemed horrified, and I felt so bad afterwards. I thought I was being self-deprecating, and I realized that that’s not what someone like that wants to hear. So I’ve had to learn how to just say thank you.

This is part of a Mother Jones Joshua Bell interview. (Warning: f-bomb)

31. March 2011 · Comments Off on Pay for Play? · Categories: Other People's Words, Ramble

Putting the law aside for a moment (which actually isn’t so novel these days), the internet has taught us that it’s very difficult to monetize what you cannot ‘exclusivitize’. Any content that can be fixed in digital media (music, video, article, photo, software, etc.) is easily replicated and swapped and is therefore difficult to monetize. If Range Rovers could be cut & pasted or dragged & dropped they too would lose their value.

What isn’t replicable and what our fans do value is our time. And theirs. Our fans are schoolteachers, bank tellers and doctors. They fold t-shirts at the GAP, bag groceries and drive tractors. They make $8/hr, $20/hr, $500/hr and beyond. To them, time is money.

The notion of doing something once and then cutting and pasting it (like a record) isn’t easily analogized by our fans. They can’t fold one shirt or fill one bag of groceries and then cut and paste it. They can’t do one spinal surgery and cut and paste it. Every task requires them to be present in the moment and each has its own inherent risks. Our fans recognize the value of our time and appreciate our individual efforts.

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I appreciate Evan Lowenstein’s thoughts. Do read the whole thing!

I think the one problem, though, is that so many people (usually not in any arts field) think any art should be free or at least cheap. Many think we should get “real jobs” ‐ fold shirts, bag groceries or whatnot — and do our art for free in our free time. Those that think that way don’t realize that we spend hours preparing: practicing, studying the part and/or score, listening to works, making reeds, and of course we have extremely expensive equipment we provide. Or they know this and think that’s the way it is with any “hobby”.

Sometimes those folks and others also think that what we do is “fun” and “fun” isn’t worth money and many hate their own jobs ‐ be they minimum wage jobs or six figure jobs — and the fact that we find our job fulfilling and, yes, sometimes even fun seems wrong. I am blessed to have this job I have. I sometimes do marvel at the fact that I get paid to do something I truly enjoy (most of the time). But enjoyment of a job doesn’t mean it’s worth less. At least I hope not.

… you know I stay away from controversial subjects as much as possible. I just don’t like to go there. I hate confrontation. I hate arguing. And I really hate it when I anger someone else. So I’m going to let someone else bring up something that might bother some of you. I will admit, though, that I think we union members, along with the top dogs of the unions, may need to rethink things. (Uh-oh … please don’t send me hate mail! I did, after all, write may need to rethink things! I’m wishy-washy that way!)

Each union branch must assess local circumstances to choose its plan of action and its recommendations to its players.

Unions have served us well over the years, no doubt. However, it seems to me that the time has come to reassess the purpose of the union.

I read that, and much more, here.

But wait, there’s more!…

I just read a wonderful quote from the principal bassist of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, where an agreement for a 2 year contract has been reached:

“In this time when people relentlessly pursue self-serving agendas and compromise is seen as a form of weakness, both management and labor have shown that the better way is to work together to secure a dynamic and solid future for all. However, our work is not done. The arts are under attack in our country. Our job will be to continue to show the public the necessity of keeping the arts in our lives. A thriving community includes the arts and educational opportunities.”

Read more here.

I just love this 2006 (?) video. According to the note below the video he says “practice” 20 times!

It’s good that he can laugh at himself, too:

I’ve recently had some lessons that have been a bit rough … I’m so hoping my students will PRACTICE. That really is what I’m talking about.