As classical music struggles to attract a new generation of concertgoers, and as organizations continue to fight for solvency, pundits ceaselessly tout stuffy tradition and prohibitive cost as the reasons many people find classical music unattractive.
While these elements may indeed play a role in public perception of classical music, efforts to make the classical experience less formal ultimately fail to identify the crux of the issue: the music.There are simply not enough people excited about classical music. Yes, part of the problem may indeed be obscurity. And yes, a more modern approach to marketing may yet bring classical music into the public eye. But this is just treatment for the symptoms of complacency which ail the classical audience; it will not create a new generation of fans. No marketing campaign can make someone like classical music.
It is the music that must win the audience. Moving performances given by passionate musicians will inspire listeners, not subscriptions and rewards programs. Music can change lives, but only for those who open themselves to the opportunity.
Inaccessibility is not the problem. To what length will someone go to attend an event of his or her choosing? Every year, thousands of fans endure freezing temperatures for hours to see the ball drop in Times Square. Frequently, ticket prices at pop venues rival or surpass those of classical concerts. But before going to such lengths, a concertgoer must first have the intention to attend. While a more relaxed approach to performance etiquette may be a viable way to nudge ticket sales, modernizing the concert experience will only entice those who already have a relationship with classical music.
The problem at its core is apathy. In Venezuela, classical music has blossomed into a national phenomenon thanks to the statewide youth orchestra program El Sistema. The program is accessible due to government subsidy, but persists simply because generations of children who grew up with classical music can no longer imagine life without it.
More Americans must learn to find music invaluable. The first step is to help others form relationships with classical music, and the primary goal must remain to inspire. After all, if people are not moved by classical music, no amount of industry reform will help.
See also:Classical Music Aims to Evolve, Build Audiences Without Alienating Old GuardThe Awfulness of Classical Music Explained
Over ten years ago, University of Denver professor Lawrence Golan filed a legal case to restore the public domain status of a number of works that were privatized in 1994 under an act of Congress. Now, after a decade of legal battles, the Supreme Court has ruled in Golan v. Holder to uphold the act which re-privatized works that had previously been public domain.
The result is that a number of previously free-to-perform pieces--including fairly standard repertoire by foreign composers like Stravinsky and Prokofiev--now must be paid for. This impedes the ability of ensembles on a tight budget, like Golan’s, to program contemporary works.
But the implications reach further than the programming of university symphonies. The plaintiff’s case also argued that artists will now be hindered by fear of using pieces that are currently in public domain, knowing that the government reserves the right to remove access to them later. The government’s ability to remove works from public domain was also called into question, but the Supreme Court voted 6-2 that the ability to do so falls “comfortably within Congress’… authority.”
The decision came as a great disappointment to musicians around the country. Golan’s case was supported by IMSLP, the online public-domain sheet music library that was recently involved in its own legal controversy.
It’s hard not to examine this copyright news in relation to the recent hubbub surrounding SOPA and PIPA. The government seems presently to uphold copyright law in a manner that is acceptable both for artists and consumers, and with the most recent legislature unequivocally rejected by the public, a solution seems more distant than ever.
The Supreme Court’s Opinion, via supremecourt.gov
About eight months ago, the Pulitzer Prize for music was awarded to Chinese-American Zhou Long for his opera Madame White Snake. Sadly, two weeks ago came the surprising announcement that the Opera Boston, the ensemble that premiered Long’s opera, would be shut down due to a budget deficit in the “tough economic climate.” The news was delivered without warning on December 24th, shocking Bostonians and opera fans throughout the world.
It seems, however, that the story is not quite over. The Boston Globe reported this week that the decision, through a vote on December 23rd, was made without the presence of over a third of the board’s seventeen members, some of whom had been optimistic about the company’s ability to overcome its $0.5 million deficit--a fifth of its annual operating budget. Those absent included the company’s general director, Lesley Koenig, who was in California when she received a phone call indicating that her position would be eliminated by 2012.Many opera attendees were angry to have been kept unaware of Opera Boston’s financial straits. Still, Donald Vaughan, president of the Boston Early Music Festival, wrote in a letter to the Boston Globe that the Opera Boston had been soliciting donations by postcards, phone calls, and emails for the past few years, and that the company’s disbanding should serve as “a wake-up call to help those companies that are still trying to survive.”
Opera Boston was known as the experimental sibling of the Boston Lyric Opera, which presents more mainstream works. The BLO is reportedly financially secure. Opera Boston’s final show, Mozart’s one-act opera Bastien und Bastienne, will be performed twice today at Emmanuel Church in Boston.
It looks like music may finally break across a famous border in the coming months. Chung Myung-whun, maestro of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, announced his intent to start a symphony equally comprised of members from North and South Korea. From a political standpoint, it is not yet known whether this will be possible, but even the potential for such an idea coming to fruition is exciting.
Chung recently met with music figures from North Korea and members of the North Korean State Symphony Orchestra, all of whom were in favor. Chung saw no signs of resistance from the South Korean government, which makes him hopeful about the future of the project. The project has moved into secondary negotiations between the two halves of the peninsula.
I was briefly in South Korea this past January, not long after 50 were killed in attacks between the two countries, and the animosity between them is still quite evident. It is unrealistic to believe that a move such as this can resolve the tensions that have been built over the better part of a century, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. Chung indicated that he doubts the collaboration could have serious potential for changing the cultural policies of North Korea, but it could be a valuable interchange nonetheless.
The cultural rift between North and South Korea has widened ever since their division in 1945. The cultural state of North Korea does indeed seem to be more dire; all “art,” under the eye of the government, must have an underlying didactic purpose, and cultural influences from outside the nation are widely criticized and rejected. In fact, on the few occasions when the North Korean regime has admitted external cultural groups, it is viewed internally as proof that the rest of the world respects North Korea.
This is a reassuring bit of news, particularly with the recent controversy around the BBC Proms. The Israel Philharmonic was performing a broadcast concert on September 1st which had to be shut down when 20 to 30 anti-Israel protesters began shouting and singing. They were booed by audience members and eventually removed by security, but the disturbance they produced was widely felt.
Maestro plans joint concert with NK, by Kwon Mee-yoo via The Korea Times
Protests disrupt Proms concert by Israel Philharmonic, via BBC News
For the past several months I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about the New York Philharmonic’s Digital Archives. This wonderful collection of concert programs, business correspondence, and conductor-marked scores focuses on the N.Y. Phil’s “International Years” between 1943 and 1970. This period represents a remarkable series of historical achievements for the orchestra: Leonard Bernstein was appointed assistant conductor in 1943 and rose to the position of Music Director in 1957, women were being granted tenure in the Philharmonic for the first time, the Long Playing record made its debut, and the government, realizing that New York was rapidly becoming a internationally-recognized cultural center, began funneling considerable funding into the arts.
The process of digitizing all archived material of the International Years is not yet over. All 1.3 million items are expected to be online by 2012, but there are already hundreds of thousands of items to sort through--each a historical gem. The archive is replete with nuggets (both educational and entertaining) that will surely satisfy the curiosity of classical music fans for many, many hours.For an example of both entertainment and educational value, look no further than the programs from the Stadium Concerts. From 1922 to 1964, the Lewisohn Stadium became the de facto summer home of the New York Philharmonic. Concerts occurred between five and seven nights a week and started promptly at 8:30pm. These shows would cater to a more casual crowd, using low ticket prices and “greatest hits” set lists to draw large audiences to the stadium. The programs in the Digital Archive illustrate quite vividly the scenes found at the stadium. Check out this great advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, from a Stadium Concert program in 1952:
Still, sandwiched between ads shouting “Buy Easy To Play Pianoforte Music At Macy’s!” and “Support Your Country With War Bonds!” are program notes and conductors’ comments that shed light on the evolution of symphonic perception. It is interesting to find a description of a Mahler symphony and compare that to another written one decade later, then two, and so on.
Hundreds of scores hand-marked by Bernstein are also worthy of special notice. They provide unprecedented insight into the working genius of the Philharmonic’s revered director. I am continually stunned by the depth of his preparation and technique. For example, he would mark two-bar phrases with a mark resembling a pyramid, whereas a three-bar phrase was denoted with a curve akin to a slur. Notes written in red pencil were for the staff copyist to disperse into the parts, while blue pencil marks were Bernstein’s reminders for himself. Pictured below is one such blue-pencil three-bar-phrase mark, found in Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra.
It is thrilling to see the literal marks of genius. These historical artifacts help us remember that even a man of Bernstein’s talent is not above, from time to time, a penciled-in reminder (often punctuated with exclamation points) of a dynamic change or a viola entrance. It also bears mentioning that along with this score is a delightful plethora of other tangential information. This score was used in concerts at the end of 1966 and the beginning of 1967. In December of 1966, Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra was flanked by Bernstein’s own Chichester Psalms and Mendelssohn’s Fifth Symphony. Just a week later, in January of 1967, it was preceded by Handel’s Organ Concerto in F Major and followed by the same Mendelssohn symphony.
As a student, I am also acutely aware of the innumerable ways in which the Digital Archives can be utilized for study. I am working on an examination of the Russian Five (Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Borodin, and Cui) and was curious to see if American perception of Russian music was altered during the Cold War. So, I examined concert programs containing Russian music from the forties and compared the descriptions to those of the sixties and seventies. This is just one of many ways the Archives could be used for study. They also contain images (including some 5,000 slides drawn by Ernest Schelling for Bernstein’s Young Peoples’ Concerts) as well as some original manuscripts by composers such as Beethoven, Wagner, and Rimsky-Korsakov. There are plans to include video and sound clips, but these are not yet individually available for search. Instead, some documents included in the Archives are accompanied by sound or video excerpts.
Some of the more devoted historians might also be interested in the thousands of business documents saved and scanned by the New York Philharmonic historians. One thing which caught my eye while browsing were the minutes from the January 12, 1962 meeting of the Music Policy Committee. The notes included, among many other topics, the practice of selecting soloists to play with the New York Philharmonic. Here is an excerpt from that document:
“The number of great artists who can draw big house audiences being small, it has been the practice to buy each one of the artists, where practicable, for four concerts – a pair in one week and a Saturday and Sunday pair in a later week. Considerable savings have been effected by doing this and more people in different Series have been pleased. The only people who seem to object are critics [...] It is to be noted that during these last few years, practically everything Bruno Walter has conducted has been chosen because of recording requirements. In this way, the Society has accumulated a great group of recordings which are gradually being issued and which, when Dr. Walter ceases conducting, should be a source of profit to the Society for many years [...] There is a growing audience for contemporary works especially among the young attendants at the concerts. The fact that the single sales have been growing faster than the subscribers during the last few years is probably an indication of this desire for modern music. In this case, Mr. Mitropoulos has done a first class job. The society has received, especially from older subscribers, many objections to the inclusion of contemporary music and to the format of the programs [...] The Philharmonic-Symphony is compelled, because of the number of concerts in each season and because of the tremendous repertoire which it must play, to have two conductors who represent the major part of the season and to have a certain number of weeks allotted to guest conductors. Such guest conductors may be composer-conductors who do their own works, such as Strawinsky, Hindemith, Villa-Lobos, etc., or may be conductors of the great orchestras in Europe or America, such as Szell, Paray, Monteaux, Munch, Reiner, Krips or von Karajan, Markevitch, Cluytens, Martinon, Kletzki, Celibidache, Beecham, Barbirolli, etc.”
Those excerpts, penned by Bruno Zirato (an associate manager of the NY Phil), spread an astounding number of valuable facts over a mere two or three pages. It is unlikely that there are any easier ways to come by this much information; the archives allow us to succinctly uncover some of the most basic business rules of the New York Philharmonic.
I am sure that there is more in the Archives than I could ever learn. But having such a volume of information at my fingertips, with robust tools with which to trawl through that information, is really an incredible opportunity. Students and classical music fans alike should be ecstatic at the collection released to the public by the New York Philharmonic.
One of the world’s most incredible instruments was auctioned yesterday for a jaw-dropping (and record-breaking) $15.9 million, all of which will go to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fun.
The violin, known as the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius, was made in 1721 and is one of the two best-preserved instruments by 18th century luthier Antonio Stradivari. Because the winner of the auction has chosen to remain anonymous, it is uncertain whether the violin’s new home will be in a museum or the hands of a player. While such an artifact would be a worthy addition to a museum’s collection, it would be quite a shame for such an incredible instrument to gather dust.The Lady Blunt was donated by the not-for-profit Nippon Music Foundation, an organization which lends instruments from its collection of Stradivari violins to both renowned professional musicians and promising young musicians. The auction was run by Tarisio, a 3rd-party rare instrument auction website.
Nippon Music Foundation’s President, Kazuko Shiomi, acknowledged that the Lady Blunt was an important part of the Foundation’s collection, but that “the needs of our fellow Japanese people after the March 11 tragedy have proven that we all need to help… The donation will be put to immediate use.”
Read more: The ‘Lady Blunt’ Stradivarius of 1721 via Tarisio Blog
I heard once that in the classical music world you get one good riot per century. I suppose it’s not all that surprising. Art is naturally progressive—forever moving towards the unknown and therefore the disturbing. Many audiences find themselves pigheadedly prescribed to the traditions with which they developed, to the point where deviations are met with wary unwelcome. Friction develops between traditionalists and innovators, and environments to alleviate it are few and far between. Thus, pressure builds until it can be suitably (and publicly) released. For example, take a gentleman on his way to a premiere at his favorite concert hall. He puts on his fine charcoal suit. He and his wife go to dinner beforehand and select a pricier wine. He arrives at the venue and takes his seat next to his friends, also veterans of the symphony’s many seasons. The lights dim and he settles in for the music. It begins, but something is off. These harmonies, the rhythms, the melodies, they’re all wrong. It just sounds bad. Where are the cadences? What happened to the march? Just a week ago, Beethoven’s 9th was played on this very same stage! This outrage, this meaningless noise, doesn’t deserve to share a stage with Beethoven! And it’s not just this piece. All these young “revolutionaries” are trying to upset a beautiful and noble tradition, one which can stand just fine on its own. It’s not hard to see how this could escalate if the entire audience feels this way, or (perhaps worse yet) if half the audience feels this way while the other half is enjoying innovation.
Earlier this month, a concert in San Francisco was disrupted when an elderly couple began shouting and sarcastically clapping during a “modern” work for viola in order to bring the performance to an end. The performer, JHNO (who claims to have been invited specifically to fulfill a “subversive” role, adding an experimental element to the evening), did in fact end his piece prematurely, smashing his viola and storming offstage. Elderly violist Bernard Zaslav, formerly of the Fine Arts Quartet, claimed retrospectively that a faulty hearing aid simply made the performance unbearably painful, however his shouts of “I’m a real violist and this isn’t music!” and “Bravo!” certainly don’t help his case.While the event in San Francisco didn’t escalate into a full riot, the incident, together with the anniversary of Igor Stravinsky’s birth yesterday, allows us a chance to reflect on musical riots of the past. The first such upset that I learned of occurred during a performance of Steve Reich’s Four Organs in 1973 under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. The piece is twenty-five minutes of a single chord, first punctuated and then drawn out. The 1973 concert received shouts and catcalls from the Carnegie Hall audience, and one woman famously beat the stage with her head (or her shoe, depending on which version you hear). Interestingly, the piece had been fairly well received at its premier three years prior, and though subsequent performances received a mix of applause and boos, nothing prepared Reich for the hostility he received at Carnegie Hall.Looking back, perhaps no musical riot has escalated quite as much as what followed a performance of Daniel Auber’s La Muette de Portici. The work itself is notable for being the first French grand opera, as well as for introducing influential concepts such as mime to the world of opera. Similar to Reich’s work, the biggest fuss was not at the premiere performance (which occurred in early 1828), but rather in 1830 when the politically-charged opera was performed in Brussels. That performance sparked the riots that lead to Belgium’s revolution for independence.Still, the most famous music riot is undoubtedly the one which followed the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in early 20th-century Paris. The combination of Stravinsky’s score—barbaric, primitive, complex, and decidedly genius—and Nijinsky’s sensual choreography sent the crowd into an uproar. The piece had hardly started when the audience was already shouting and whistling; this further devolved into arguments and fistfights in the aisles of the Theatre de Champs-Elysees. Saint-Saens himself is said to have stormed out of the theatre, infuriated at the misuse of the bassoon in the opening measures of the work. The Paris police arrived at intermission, but even they were unable to maintain order in the midst of rabid concert-goers. Stravinsky ran backstage to help Nijisnky lead the dancers, who were unable to hear the orchestra. Diaghilev, the famous arts patron who arranged for the commission of the work, flashed the lights of the theatre to try to bring order, but to no avail. Stravinsky was forced to flee the theatre.Coincidentally, following the viola debacle in San Francisco, Mr. Zaslov was asked if he would also have shouted down The Rite of Spring to which he responded “But that was real music!” Many have speculated that audiences have become desensitized to composers and artists trying to shock them into awe or disgust. They feel that riots will soon become fossils—mere remnants of the past. Perhaps too, the rift between “traditionalists” and “modernists” in the classical music world has grown so wide that we are never forced to confront the uncertain. That the Beethoven crowd and the Berg crowd are never forced to share a stage. This effect, this sanitizing of the music worlds, is ultimately neither positive or negative, but simply a fact however sour or grim. As we look forward, the question of aesthetics seems to fade as the delineation between music and noise becomes confused into oblivion.See also:ViolaGate! by Brian M. Rosen via Music vs. TheatreList of Classical Music Riots on Wikipedia
Mark Schwartz is a lawyer who believes The Philadelphia Orchestra’s “plodding” bankruptcy court proceedings don’t bode well for the organization. In an article for philly.com, he compares the orchestra’s situation to that of the Barnes Foundation—a case in which he blames a misguided board of directors for prematurely forcing its organization into court. Barnes is an educational art and horticultural institution that sought court approval to move from a suburb of Philadelphia to a more city-accessible site under the pretense of financial hardship. The move would directly violate the organization’s “indenture of trust,” which stipulates its art holdings are not to be relocated.Schwartz’s criticism is that Barnes claimed an inability to raise $1.5 million for annual costs, but mustered $150 million once the relocation of the gallery was approved. Fearing the Philly Orchestra may be guilty of something similar, Schwartz points out that bankruptcy court is not somewhere organizations should seek to be. Short of a quick in-and-out to “shed obligations and return to business,” prolonged litigation could threaten the orchestra’s stability as well as its reputation. Players are rumored to be coursing the job market for more stable positions, and subscribers share in the frustration of their orchestra’s turmoil. Who is really benefiting when a near-bankrupt orchestra spends hundreds of thousands on legal fees?Peter Dobrin, Inquirer Music Critic, outlines the issue in black and white. The administration claims the orchestra cannot afford its current financial obligations, which include commitments to the musicians, their pensions, and the Kimmel Center. The board then filed for chapter 11 protection in an attempt to eliminate these obligations, despite holding $140 million in endowments. The court will decide whether any or all of that money can be used to pay off the obligations, or if being “donor-restricted” truly puts the money off limits as the board argues.Meanwhile, the musicians who make up the world-class orchestra feel scorned. Cellist John Koen wrote an op-ed detailing the players’ contempt for the board’s bankruptcy filing. He says that the players are not responsible for marketing or fundraising—though they help with both—and that they should not suffer for the unaffordable leases signed by the board. Given the high costs associated with the filing, orchestra members wonder if the board isn’t simply attempting to abdicate from contractual obligations it doesn’t like—including pensions. Either way, a looming question still remains, and that is whether the move will cost the orchestra more in its tarnished reputation than it will save in dollars.See also:For the Orchestra, Bankruptcy Symphony is a Downer, by Mark D. ShwartzBankruptcy Court hears opening statements on Philadelphia Orchestra’s Chapter 11 petition, by Peter DobrinCan bankruptcy fix orchestra? No: It damages its reputation, by John Koen
Please welcome our newest writer, Jake DeBacher. Jake is a composer hailing from the Midwest who will be providing The Sound Post with an insider’s view on contemporary music and the people who write it. We look forward to reading more of his work!
In what will hopefully become a trend in the industry, a team of musicians has recently undertaken a project to create a new, free edition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The project, called Open Goldberg Variations, hopes to make Bach’s masterwork available to the public by releasing both a score and recording in the public domain--that is, without copyright. The name “Open Goldberg Variations” comes from the “open source” ideology of the tech world. Just as open-source software makes the code for its programs available to the public, Open Goldberg Variations plans to create an edition of the Goldbergs that will be available for anyone to download, view, or edit without the copyright restrictions enforced by conventional publishers.While creating a copyright-free release of both a score and recording is already exciting, the philosophy behind the project encompasses a bigger issue than simply “free Bach.” It represents a movement away from expensive, designer editions of works which amateur, or even some professional musicians, might be less inclined to purchase. This could potentially curb the frequently discouraging discovery that a desired work is either scarce, unaffordable, or both. However, like many benevolent efforts, the project must first raise enough funds to pay expenses prior to the release.
It's really hard to find truly good scores and recordings of the Goldbergs that are just free; free to download, listen to, perform, share, arrange, or mash up. And almost none of them are gratis.The Open Goldberg Project is solving this problem, at least in the case of the Goldberg Variations, while exploring the intersection between open source software, public domain, crowd sourced funding, and emergent web technologies for music. The primary goal of the project is to create a new edition of the score of the Goldbergs, as well as a new studio recording, played on the piano by Kimiko Ishizaka. Both the score and the recording will use the Creative Commons Zero tool to place them into the public domain, assuring that they'll both be free (gratis and libre) forevermore.
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