A LOT has happened in the classical music world since I was last active on this blog back in early January.  I’ll sum up some highlights from the past half of 2014… but first, a song.

Okay, let’s start with some good news out of the North Star State: after nearly 500 days of a fierce lockout and labor dispute, the Minnesota Orchestra board and Musicians came to an agreement on January 14 that, though necessitating some concessions, reduced the musicians’ salaries far less than was originally proposed and — more importantly — proved that the artistic and administrative sides of a professional musical organization can, despite seemingly insurmountable differences, work together towards compromise.  (See “Minnesota Orchestra lockout is over”, Anne Midgette, Washington Post.)

Things only went uphill from there.  On January 26, the Minnesota Orchestra was graced with a Grammy win for Best Orchestral Performance.  On March 21, it was announced that the orchestra’s CEO, Michael Henson, whom a group of Minnesota state legislators had called on to resign from his post way back in December 2013, would in fact be stepping down come August.  This led eight of the seventy-seven Minnesota Orchestral Association Board members to resign as well, paving the way for a fresh start for the orchestra.  In April, Osmo Vänskä — the Minnesota Orchestra’s renowned music director who had resigned back in October 2013 — was hired back on to help rebuild the orchestra following the preceding months of tumult.  (See “A Conductor, Rehired, Now Must Rebuild”, James R. Oestreich, New York Times.)

More recently, Kevin Smith, who used to head up the Minnesota Opera, was announced as interim president come Henson’s August departure.  And just this past week, it was confirmed that six of the orchestra’s top players who, like many, fled during the height of the lockout will be returning to join Minnesota in its upcoming season.  It’s really an extraordinary story: for over a year, it looked like the Minnesota Orchestra would simply cease to be — but now, it’s back to making music. 

Now, some bad news: at the beginning of May, the Green Bay Symphony announced that, due to “insufficient financial support,” “declining attendees,” and “the cost of concerts,” its upcoming season will be its last.  This comes after over 100 years of the orchestra’s music-making.  Perhaps they’ll take a page from Minnesota and find a way, no matter how difficult, to reconcile financial difficulties with artistic excellence.  Or perhaps the Green Bay community will rally to support the orchestra via increased concert attendance and renewed interest in classical music.  It would be really sad if the Green Bay community lost such a stellar cultural resource.

Renée Fleming sings the National Anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII. (source)

In sports news, Canadian pairs figure skater Eric Radford became the first to skate to his own composition at the Olympics, so that’s pretty cool.  (He is also a completely amazing and nice and talented human who talks about his love of classical music in this video.)  After Sochi, U.S. gold-medalist, ice dancer Charlie White, played violin on TODAY.  Then there was the Super Bowl — or, as far as anyone in the classical music world was concerned, the Renée Fleming concert followed by a few hours of men pointlessly throwing a ball around.  This was actually a pretty big deal: Fleming was the first opera singer ever chosen to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, resulting in a massive amount of visibility for a classical musician before an audience not particularly accustomed to the genre.  (Let’s be real: the Super Bowl is all about beer and guacamole, not opera.  But then, why should opera be, by definition, devoid of beer and guacamole?  Who ever decided that these two worlds must be mutually exclusive?  Perhaps, thanks to Renée Fleming, they no longer are…?)

Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) (source)

In January, we lost Orchestra Mozart, a youthful, innovative chamber orchestra under the baton of Claudio Abbado — then, a few days later, we lost the maestro himself.  (See “Claudio Abbado, an Italian Conductor With a Global Reach, Is Dead at 80”, Allan Kozinn, New York Times.)  The Chicago Symphony’s Riccardo Muti will be reviving Orchestra Mozart for a June 30 concert as part of Italy’s Ravenna Festival, in tribute to the late conductor.

Another loss, even more recent: just over a week ago, Spanish conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.  (See “Rafael Frühbeck, 80, Dies; Conductor Made the World a Podium”, Margalit Fox, New York Times.)

But as the classical music world loses these incredible artists, new, young faces continue to rise.  It was announced in January that thirty-four-year-old Rafael Payare, an alum of Venezuela’s El Sistema program, will be taking over North Ireland’s Ulster Orchestra beginning in the 2014-15 season.  And at the end of May, the London Symphony appointed eighteen-year-old Peter Moore as its new co-principal trombone, making him the LSO’s youngest member in its history.

Speaking of young people, how about that BBC initiative to give every single one of Britain’s primary school children the chance to experience ten must-hear classical pieces?  Soul singer Laura Mvula, one of the project’s ambassadors, explains: “Making sure that classical music is not only relevant but also accessible to young people is really important.”

And, speaking of the BBC, how about the station’s March announcement of an increased commitment to arts coverage?  BBC director-general Tony Hall explains: “The arts are for everyone, and from now on BBC Arts will be at the very heart of what we do.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen, iPad user, conductor, and overall beautiful human. (source)

Back in the U.S., some unexpected May headlines: “Get Stoned At The Symphony With Colorado’s ‘Bring Your Own Cannabis’ Concert Series” (Doran Miller-Rosenberg, Elite Daily); “Colorado’s Marijuana Industry Is Revolutionizing Classical Music” (Hallie Golden, PolicyMic); “Colorado Symphony, cannabis industry, find harmony with concert series” (Ray Mark Rinaldi, Denver Post).  I’ll probably write more about this later, as it represents a super-interesting intersection of social policy and arts outreach.  Talk about classical music reaching new audiences.

Lastly, there’s Esa-Pekka Salonen’s partnership with Apple, a completely excellent way of placing classical music in the public eye and adding relevance to the genre via popular technology.

All in all, an eventful six months.  Did I miss anything?  Let me know in the comments!


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