Saturday, February 13, 2016

Fascinating views and other bits

For a cold (I live in the midwest) Saturday morning, here are some high and lowlights of the week past.

Check out these images of major opera houses as you've never seen them before. A sneak peek at the Margravial Opera House, Bayreuth. There are many more.

Wagner didn't want to play here.

The Long Island Philharmonic has died. Did anyone know that it was sick? The orchestra, which once boasted Marin Alsop as its conductor, just couldn't hold it together any longer.  R.I.P.

In 2011, Colorado Symphony musicians agreed to a 14% reduction in salary and services, this on the heels of a 24% slash two years earlier. At that time, the Denver Post editorialized a Requiem for the Symphony, and yet somehow they're still playing. A quick look at their website notes a proliferation of pops events, classical "lite" (like Beethoven and Brews), and much, much "more" (or less).

These kinds of videos have been making the rounds. My friend Will, in Berlin, calls them "music to cause motion sickness.

There's talk of an alternative to plans for another abominable concert hall in London. Ungodly amounts of money have been "invested" to "improve" on atrocious facilities in the Barbican and elsewhere. Read here (compliments of Norman Lebrecht) about Leon Krier's vision to "orchestrate a Renaissance." 

I have discovered that it's much easier to find examples of ugly halls than ones that could be called beautiful.

No it's not the saucer section of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701D
It's nickname is the "Egg" and it's waiting to hatch in Albany, NY.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Which is which?

One is a yet-completed concert hall; the other the home of a fictional alien race that appear as recurring antagonists in the Star Trek franchise.

Beware of Locutus. Resistance is futile.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Today's quick looks

Last year (January 20 to be exact) I began a visual exploration of many of the world's "great" concert halls. This was set in motion by the opening of the Philharmonie de Paris, that Starship Enterprise wannabe that seemed to have crash-landed on the edge of the city in the 19th arrondissement. Initial cost was slated at 170 million Euros; of course, the end cost was significantly higher at 386 million Euros. As a reminder, here's what it looks like:

For a comparison:

Not to be outdone, officials in Hamburg decided on a new concert hall, of which construction began in in 2007. Original cost? €241 million. Original completion date? 2010. Well, the hall isn't finished (that won't happen for another year), and the cost? €789 million--yep, you read that right. It's become one of the biggest laughingstocks of the architectural world.

But one thing can be said for it. The building is, in the vernacular, butt ugly. Is that why it cost so much?

Maybe a rising tide will put it out of its misery
And, by the way, it's replacing this (the Laeiszhalle):


Interior--isn't that a shoebox....

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trouble in a River City

Trouble that starts with "T," that rhymes with G.....

Growing up in Central Michigan and the backyard of Michigan State University, I was fortunate enough to be near the seat of government as well as the cultural amenities of both the town and the gown. Lansing had what was, I suppose, a decent orchestra (which I sang with on more than one occasion). It was at the university that I would encounter life-altering musical events, including my very first opera (Carmen) as well as live performances of both the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, both on tour in May 1976. Detroit (a much more attractive place despite the riots that plagued that city a decade before) wasn't that far away; its summer home--Meadowbook--on the Oakland University campus--was still active. It's concert hall at the time, Ford Auditorium, was horrible inside and out. But that organization has come full circle, returning to its original home at Orchestra Hall in 1989.

My travels west resulted mostly in visits to "the Lake" (Michigan, that is). The delights of lakeside communities of Holland and Grand Haven were too numerous to mention and the water finally becomes swimmable in the later summer. Every trip to the lake meant passing by Grand Rapids, and there rarely seemed a reason to stop.

For the longest time, GR (as the locals call it) was known as the "Furniture City". Since an 1876 international exhibition in Philadelphia, its renown as a center for fine furniture was cemented. Although those days aren't completely gone, the products manufactured in GR are mostly office products, as opposed to the wooden furniture for which the city gained its fame. In the 70s and 80s, GR always seemed to me to be a sleepy little town, with few reasons to visit, outside of a fabulous sheet music store (now a part of the J.W. Pepper chain) and a pizza joint replete with a working "Mighty Wurlitzer" (now long gone). That, to me, was Grand Rapids. Never did I venture downtown--there was no reason to, and as long as the expressway went around the city, little opportunity either.

Somewhere around 1980, as I was nearing completion of my own degree studies and preparing (unknown to me at the time) a move west, GR began to change. The Amway Corporation, began to invest in the area, renovating the historic Pantlind Hotel. The Gerald R. Ford Museum was completed in 1981 in honor of GR's favorite son and 38th President. The 1980s also brought DeVos Performance Hall, a "real home" for the local orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony, an ensemble that, in my youth seemed as sleepy as the town.

DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids
(N.B. The Frederick Meijer Gardens, north of the city, are incredibly cool, especially the sculptures scattered throughout.)

Leonardo's horse at the Meijer Gardens

The GR Symphony was founded as a community orchestra in 1930. A number of renowned conductors have led the ensemble over the years, including Nicolai Malko (1942-1946), Desire Defauw (1954-1958), Semyon Bychkov (1980-1985), and Catherine Comet (1985-1998). Currently, the orchestra is engaged in a massive search to replace outgoing Music Director David Lockington; in fact, almost all of the press generated by the orchestra has concerned the guest conductors, with little offerings discussing some very important behind-the-scene issues.

GRS Music Director Laureate David Lockington, 1999-2015

Like many orchestras its size, the rise and fall of the organization's fortune have been in lockstep with the manufacturing base that is vital to the Wolverine state's economy. The 80s were a difficult time for the entire state and, of course, the crisis of 2008-09 adversely affected arts organizations, some of which have still to come to grips with the slash and burn tactics of executives and boards of directors. A two-year agreement was ratified in 2009, cutting musicians salaries 9 to 14 percent and reduced the orchestra's season from 42 to 40 weeks among other cost-cutting measures. The current four-year contract, reached in 2011, resulted in a one-year pay freeze, with approximately seven percent increases over the subsequent three seasons. Thus, all the musicians are will left behind what they were earning pre-2009.

And that's where things have stood since the contract expiration (August 31, 2015). Since that time a lone article has appeared even mentioning the issue. The Kent-Ionia Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO did report in September that While we cannot reveal specific details from our negotiation sessions, we can say that the Musicians seek for the GRS to grow along with the city that currently is experiencing a boom like never before, while the management seems to want to turn back the clock, shrinking the number of full-time players, and decreasing pay and benefits to its Musicians. 

Drew McManus, in Adaptistration, commented in September that this (Grand Rapids Symphony) is one of the more intriguing scenarios in that the orchestra’s musicians have been expanding long running, self-produced community engagement efforts in order to strengthen their potential support base if the orchestra enters a work stoppage. One recent effort included a free, hour long concert with the theme “paying tribute to how symphony musicians in Grand Rapids have served the community since 1930.” Sources close to negotiations indicate that the employer has been pushing hard for large cuts in the form of a truncated season that would amount to a 15 percent reduction in musician annual salary.

The newsletter of ICSOM, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, has been equally lacking in details about the on-going negotiations.

Something has to give. Like Fort Worth, Grand Rapids is experiencing an ever-expanding economy. But, without a leader at the helm, giving is going to take awhile to return as stakeholders examine the "new guy" (for the record, there is only one woman in the cadre of finalists). It's all about wait-and-see for musicians and audiences alike.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Like lemmings over the cliff

Yes, I realize that the film many of us watched in elementary school has been disproven, some of the contents of today's inbox reminded me of days lost past. Today's email from HigherEdJobs contained no fewer than four openings from the University of Hartford: one in woodwinds, two in brass (trumpet and trombone) and one in "the business". It's rather hard to imagine that this is a coincidence. Some of the musicians of the community are jumping ship before it goes down. Yes, the Hartford Symphony CBA debacle was a disaster of titanic proportions.

In Fort Worth, it's business as usual, at least until July 31. The Dallas Morning News had reported on Friday that Fort Worth Symphony, musicians reach ‘temporary’ one-year agreement. Of course it must be noted that the musicians have been playing without a new agreement since July 31, 2015, a CBA that was negotiated three years before that.

FWSO CEO Amy Adkins continues to note the projection for the current fiscal year, including a $650K deficit. Still no report on where that's coming from. For what it's worth, Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya clears nearly $400K in salary and benefits.

One thing is obvious. The FWSO Association backed down from their threat of a concessionary contract with an 8% cut in pay. To imply that this damages management's credibility would be an understatement.

There's also trouble in a river city, Trouble that starts with "T", that rhymes with "G", that stands for.... More on this one later.

Future posts also include "Walking the walk" with new music and more.  Stay tuned.