La Scena Musicale

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: July 19 (Neel, Braun, Glennie)

1905 - Boyd Neel, Blackheath, England; conductor, administrator, educator


1965 - Russell Braun, Frankfurt, Germany; opera and concert baritone


David Pomeroy and Russel Braun sing "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de perles (Ottawa Under the Stars, 2007)

1965 - Evelyn Glennie, Aberdeen, Scotland; percussionist


Segment from Evelyn Glennie documentary

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Friday, July 18, 2008

In a critical condition (3)

A friend in Charlotte, North Carolina, reports that their newspaper, the Observer, has shed two critics, music and movies. With the Los Angeles Times heaving bodies overboard and the Wall Street Journal on the verge of a cull, it looks like open season on the endangered critical species across the US print media.

And while I have no idea what Robert Thomson has in mind for Rupert Murdoch's WSJ, his editorship at the Times in London showed no understanding or personal sympathy for arts. If an editor doesn;t care about arts, the cost-cutters see a green light.

A surviving Charlotte staffer, Lawrence Toppman, says his paper will rely on 'wire-service reviews for movies', which is better than nothing - but not much. If a city paper cannot address events within its boundaries from a local angle, why should local people bother to read it?

What earthly point is there is agreeing or disagreeing with the artistic sensibility of an agency desk jockey who lives in another state, and maybe in another country? Newspapers that lose their resident critical faculty are effectively signing their own death certificate.

When the prolific Alan Brien died last month at the age of 83, it was reported that he was the first writer to be hired at the creation of the Sunday Telegraph, the editor taking the judicious view that once he had a theatre critic in place all else would sort itself out. And so it did.

Critics give a newspaper character. Sack 'em and you might as well publish press releases.

source: Artsjournal

In a critical condition (2)

Last night, I went to see Kurt Weill's Street Scene at the Young Vic, its first UK staging in 20 years which drew chief theatre critics from almost every national daily.

This morning, I addressed a dozen students, year 10-11, at corporate HQ on the prospects for arts careers in the media. Which would you think was the more excitable audience?

The students were terrific, sharp as buttons and receptive to early-morning stimulation (they laughed at my jokes). They were also media savvy, fully informed about the impact of internet usage on the print and record industries. They were not going to be fobbed off with bromides. What they wanted to hear was a range of fresh solutions to a familiar crisis. I did my best to give them hope.

The critics were in Thursday-night mood, worn out after too many late nights filing reviews for the last editions. But by the interval, the ones I chatted to were hopping and popping with the impact of the work. And by the end they (and I) were on a Weill high, totally blown away by the sensational mutations of 'Lonely House' leitmotiv with which the composer drives the piece.

Someone said this sort of excitement reminded him why he became a critic in the first place. I was struck more by the vital social function that performing arts critics perform, wading night after night through dullness and mire in the hope that something will light their fire, as Weill did ours last night.

That is why newspapers need critics - to protect readers from the routinely awful and the meretricious rubbish that masquerades as novelty, and to excite them with the blood-rush of the real thing. This is also why people read newspapers - to find a voice they can trust to lead them through the barren wilderness to a kind of promised land. Kurt Weill knew that, even as old man Kaplan ranted about 'the capitalist press'.

Every newspaper that sheds its critics, as so many are doing, loses a powerful reader magnet.

Source: Artsjournal

Today's Birthdays in Music: July 18 (Schafer, Viardot, Masur)

1933 - R. Murray Schafer, Sarnia, Canada; composer


1821 - Pauline Viardot, Paris, France; concert and opera mezzo-soprano; composer


Cecilia Bartoli sings Pauline Viardot's "Havanaise"

1927 - Kurt Masur, Brieg, Germany; conductor

Official website

Kurt Masur conducting the NY Philharmonic in Schumann's Rhenish Symphony, 4th mvt. (1995)

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

In a critical condition (1)

There are two reasons why newspapers are getting rid of established critics. The obvious one is that newspaper revenues are caught in a double arm-lock by the internet and the credit crunch, neither of which is likely to ease in the forseeable future.

Less obvious is the internal perception, right or wrong, that certain forms of commentary and opinion forming are no longer central to what editors want and readers expect. As a sometime editorial executive, I have been party to some these discussions and that leaves me more than a little puzzled at the hysteria aroused by the recent layoffs. Nobody likes to see job losses but newspapers are a dynamic industry, quick to adapt to changes in public demand.

Take the role of television critic. Ten years ago, it was a high-profile spot in most papers, the generator of many water-cooler moments in the workplace. But television is not what it was. With hundreds of channels, there is not much likelihood that four people around the cooler will have watched the same programme the night before and, if they did, that they will want to read intelligent comment in the morning about dumb reality shows and talent contests.

If television is a mindless thing on the wall, why bother to write about it? Newspapers that have abolished TV reviews suffered no backlash from readers. The function had become redundant, except in the case of a few doyens - Nancy Banks-Smith in the Guardian, for instance - who developed a voice over many years that loyal readers would miss.

Radio criticism is a different matter. Radio has a distinct community, or set of communities. It is listened to by long-distance drivers, nursing mothers, menial workers and the elderly, among others. Many of them listent intently since, on a great many stations, content has been upheld at high level.

Radio columnists such as Gillian Reynolds in the Daily Telegraph provide a stimulating collage of inside information, listener guidance and incisive artistic criticism that serves, in turn, to keep producers on their toes and maintain original output. A loss of the radio signal would provoke outrage among the readership.

Neither of these forms of criticism has a direct bearing on arts reviews, which is where many of the cuts have lately been falling. It is, of course, impossible to generalise about critics. There are good arts critics and bad, as well as once-good critics who run out of things to say or hate everything in sight. But what is happening at the moment is that the axe is falling indiscriminately on critics good and bad - Lawrence Johnson in Miami is one of the best - and the tendency is growing in newspapers to regard arts criticism as peripheral to their purpose.

That would be both a disaster for newspapers and a danger to a free society, matters which I will attempt to reflect upon in a future comment. Your responses are, as ever, essential to the process.

Source: Artsjournal

Today's Birthdays in Music: July 17 (Upshaw, Steber)

1960 - Dawn Upshaw, Nashville, U.S.A.; opera and concert soprano

Biography & pictures

Dawn Upshaw sings "Gently, Little Boat" from Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (with Gerry Hadley). Opéra de Lyon, 1996.

1914 - Eleanor Steber, Wheeling, U.S.A.; opera soprano

Biography & pictures

Elanor Steber sings "Ist mein Liebster dahin?" from Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten (Carnegie Hall, 1958)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: July 16 (Zukerman, Ysaÿe)

1948 - Pinchas Zukerman, Tel Aviv, Israel; violinist, violist, conductor

A Gift for Music (La Scene Musicale, March 2002)

Schubert's "Trout Quintet", 4th mvt., played by Itzhak Perlman (violin), Daniel Barenboim (piano), Jacqueline Du Pré (cello), Zubin Mehta (bass) and Pinchas Zukerman  (viola) (1969)

1858 - Eugène Ysaÿe, Liège, Belgium; violinist, composer, conductor


Ysaÿe plays "Mazurka" by Wieniawski (1912 recording)

Valeriy Sokolov plays Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 3 for solo violin (filmed by Bruno Monsaingeon at the Yehudi Menuhin School, 2003)

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Letter to the Editor - Classical 96


As a 15 year veteran of the radio station Classical 96.3, I read David Podgorski's article Classical Radio News (La Scena Musicale June 2008) with great interest. Yet at the same time, I take strong exception to the statement "the station was bleeding cash when Znaimer took over". The station was profitable long before Mr. Znaimer came along in 2006.

True enough, Classical 96 lost a lot of money during the early years in Cobourg, but with the arrival of Peter Webb as general manager in the mid '90s, all that changed. Not only did Webb alter the programming, but he also invested more heavily in advertising, and most importantly, moved the entire operation into Toronto where it became a major player in a very tough market. Almost from the beginning, we enjoyed far higher ratings then those of CBC Radio 2, and before long, we were solidly in the black.

Richard Haskell

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Today's Birthdays in Music: July 15 (Margison, Bream, Birtwistle)

1953 - Richard Margison, Victoria, Canada; opera tenor

Biography and pictures
Richard Margison - In Constant Motion (La Scena Musicale, 2002)

Richard Margison sings "Cielo e mar!" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda (Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 2005)

1933 - Julian Bream, London, England; guitarest and lutenist

Guitare Diffusion Biography

Julian Bream (self-duet) plays "Fandango" by Luigi Boccherini

1933 - Harrison Birtwistle, Accrington, England; composer

New York Times on Harrison Birtwistle

Scenes from Punch and Judy, Act I, by Harrison Birtwistle (Rupert Bergmann as Punch, Hamburg 2001)

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: July 14 (Finzi)

1901 - Gerald Finzi, London, England; composer

Biography and more

"Fear no more the heat o' the sun" - song by Gerald Finzi

Finzi's "Eclogue" for Piano and String Orchestra (Chamber Ensemble Muenster, conductor & piano: Gregor Oechtering.  Rheine, Germany, 1994)

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

New kids on the blog

The Observer, a British Sunday newspaper, set up one of those self-fullling propositions today by asking: Critic vs Blog - is the art of criticism under threat from the web?

The article that explores these tensions is, so far as I can judge, fair, balanced and, insofar as it quotes my views, pretty accurate and to the point.

What skews it are the photographs which show the critics to be bursting with middle-age, while the bloggers portrayed are uniformly young, hip and street-wise.

The pictures, I can reveal, were posed. The critics were specifically asked to dress up in suits, while the bloggers are seen in gear that is generically casual. The meaning conveyed is simple. Critics = old and square, bloggers = young and cool.

That 's the sort of thing that gives journalism a bad name, the more so when it is palpably untrue, as it is here. Many of the bloggers I come across on-line are of pensionable age and crusty disposition. Many of the critics I meet in pursuit of my trade are young, unwaged and astonishingly open-eared and minded.

Nor are the two worlds mutually exclusive. Most arts bloggers get their juices flowing by what they in newspapers, print or on-line. More and more professional critics are alert to what airs on-line and, from time to time, assimilate and respond to it.

There are no hard and fast borders. Some bloggers strive for an impartiality worthy of the New York Times at its dullest. Some critics make polemic their passion, the rage at bad art increasing with the passing of years. That makes essential reading.

Some - I am not alone in this - inhabit both sides of the tracks. We write in newspapers for a living and feed a blog like this one with material we either can't or don't want to put in print - stuff that, in our judgement, has its most appropriate place out here, sparking instant responses and cutting more quickly than a newspaper page can with its cumbersome furniture and - in the Observer article - occasionally distorted view of the world.

One of the first laws of journalism is never make the facts fit the story. In the Observer, the story looks as if it has been commissioned to fit a fake picture.

Source: Artsjournal