Monday, August 27, 2012

The jewel of St. Paul loses its luster

America's only full-time chamber orchestra joins the seemingly-unending list of ensembles teetering on the brink of disaster.  This from a member of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  I live in a community that has outsourced for its musicians, resulting--interestingly enough--in huge increases in musician costs primarily due to mileage (it's a long way to Tipperary, or Chicago for that matter).  On the other hand, the salary cuts proposed by management will surely end the SPCO as anyone knows it.

And here is the latest new from Atlanta.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Not again, Mitt

Artists support these guys?  Tell me you're kidding.
Whenever I read of a colleague supporting the Romney/Ryan candidacies, I honestly have to shudder.  Mr. Romney, who once urged Washington to let Detroit (the largest city in his home state) "go bankrupt," has recently indicated that, among his first initiatives, he would dissolve the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, and other governmental-supported cultural entities.  Of course, this is from the guy who tied his dog to the top of the car and just recently, shared a poorly timed "birther" joke with a crowd in Michigan.

The miniscule amount dedicated to the NEA (somewhere in the neighborhood of $155 million--compare that to our defense budget of $711 BILLION) would have no impact on the budget deficit.  None.  In the world of trillion-dollar budgets, $155 million is chump change.  It may not seem that way to people living on, say, $50 thousand, but everything is relative.

However, the negative impact of these cuts would be dire:  kiss good-bye to all but the most well-heeled symphonies (and there is no guarantee there), opera companies, museums, state arts councils, etc.  All would vanish, and our nation would be much poorer for it.

A most interesting commentary on the nature of our democracy was penned by H. L. Mencken in his Notes on Democrary, published in 1926.  A contemporary review appears here.  A most interesting examination of Mencken's time and a reflection upon ours.

As for support for the arts, I'll still go with the guy who can belt out a mean Sweet Home Chicago as opposed to the other guy who attempts to croon an off-key America the Beautiful.

Trouble down south

No one seems to know what is happening with pending contract negotiations with the Atlanta Symphony, which is in the throes of a $20 million accumulated deficit.  Of course the management is asking near-Draconian concessions from the musicians, who have responded in kind with a conciliatory counter-proposal.  Management spoke of a potential lock-out if no agreement was reached by today.  And still no news in the local press.  More from Drew McManus here.

It has also been reported that the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have been attempting to negotiate their agreement, which expired in 2011.  The musicians made a contract offer in April and have heard nothing from management about the matter.  The current agreement, which was just an extension of the 2007-11 contract, expires August 31.  While it seems as though the musicians have acted in extreme good faith, they've been offered at best, double-talk and at worst, silence.  One has to hope that the silence does not extend into their concert season, which begins October 2.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A forgotten birthday?

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy.  Surprised?  Most of the musical world is, or else is simply ignoring it.  One has to wonder why; he is certainly among my favorite composers, given his innovations in rhythm, harmony, and--in particular--his amazing pallet of sound.

But, as Anthony Tommasini notes, he is difficult to categorize, probably because his own sound world (and lifetime) includes, at times, influences of Wagner, Satie, and even Stravinsky.  But was he an impressionist?  (His New Grove article insists not.)  Is he a symbolist?  That argument could be made, but not necessarily of his entire output.  I find such arguments moot; judge the music on the basis of its inherent merit, not on some pigeonholing category, i.e. (the age-old question) was Beethoven a Classicist or a Romantic?  Easy answer:  "Yes!"

For more reading, check out Tommasini's entire article here, and then pop La Mer into your CD player (yes, I still have one of those), sit back, and be awestruck at the sound.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Some good news for a change

The Delaware Symhony
The Delaware Symphony, which had earlier cancelled its entire 2012-13 season, is apparently climbing back from the abyss.  Through a massive re-shuffling of the Board of Directors and the efforts of its conductor and a new executive director, there may be music in America's first state after all.  Read more here.

Meanwhile, I was talking with Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony conductor and CEO, Jason Weinberger--who is also the former resident conductor of the Louisville Orchestra--during the past few weeks.  The LO and the musicians' union finally reached an agreement in early July, ending a lock-out that commenced in May 2011.  The orchestra, which has been on the brink off and on for decades, has also been among the most progressive in the nation in terms of programing.  The orchestra's website notes that, "In 1953, the Orchestra received a Rockefeller grant of $500,000 to commission, record and premiere 20th century music by living composers, effectively placing the Louisville Orchestra on the international circuit and securing an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall."  The community must be grateful to have its orchestra return for its 75th Anniversary Season (and Maestro Weinberger will return to lead several performances).

Symphonic music returned to America's newest state in the form of the Hawaii Symphony, which picked up after the 2010 demise of the Honolulu Symphony.  With JoAnn Falletta heading up as artistic advisor, great things will be happening on the island of Oahu.  For more information on the orchestra's Spring 2012 highlights, see here.

And yet, these bright spots still fail to make up for the endemic problem facing symphonic music as well as the entire world of "classical" music.  I can only point to Greg Sandow's blog, which has been examining this situation for quite some time and recently has been focusing on classical music's need to find a new audience.  (See Greg's blog here.)  The old models are definitely not working anymore, due to a variety of factors, not the least of which has been the elimination of school music programs.  That being said, we need to create a new dynamic--a new brand if you will--to bring this new audience into our concert halls (or maybe throw convention to the wind and bring the concert halls to the new audience!)