Classical Music Round-Up: January through March 2016

I’ve been on blogging hiatus for almost two months.  Here’s the low-down.

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Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (photo via)

It was announced that Gianandrea Noseda will take over the helm of the National Symphony Orchestra next season, while Jaap van Zweden will join the New York Philharmonic at the podium.  Two more white men in charge of major American orchestras?  No big surprise there, but Marin Alsop might have something to say.  Meanwhile, in Britain, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be the City of Birmingham Symphony’s new leading lady, at only 29 years old.  *applause*  And another young conductor on the rise: 25-year-old Jordan de Souza will be heading up Komische Oper Berlin.

We lost some greats in recent months: business mogul turned self-taught conductor Gilbert Kaplan; pioneering composer Pierre Boulez; Pulitzer-winning composers Leslie Bassett and Steven Stucky; Dallas Symphony leader Louis Lane; conducting pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller; and — just today — maestro Nikolas Harnoncourt.

Now some feel-good stories: a Berlin horn player reflects on collaborating with Simon Rattle before the conductor relocates to London; Tafelmusik’s rendition of Beethoven 9 left one Toronto critic with nothing to criticize; bassist Jane Little just became the longest-serving orchestral musician ever, after 71 years with the Atlanta Symphony; and Ennio Morricone just won his first Oscar after working on the scores for over 500 films.

Mahan Esfahani’s harpsichord recital was interrupted by Baroque-head “rioters,” while scholars have discovered that the taxi horns in Gershwin’s An American in Paris might be pitched in the wrong key, and the Yale School of Music launched its first ever MOOC on Coursera.

As 2016 got off to an alarming start (Donald Trump, anyone?), diverse voices shone — from a powerful performance in a Harlem crypt in solidarity with Black Lives Matter; to violinist Rosemary Johnson and the UK’s Paramusical Ensemble making music through disability; to Julia Wolfe’s big-deal commission — a piece about American women in the workforce — for the New York Philharmonic’s 2018-19 season; to composer Georg Friedrich Haas’ open sexuality.

In U.S. politics, WQXR explored classical music on the campaign trail, while Bernie is, apparently, a gifted maestro.  And in the classical crime beat, an opera singer’s “screams” alerted Amsterdam police, a former St. Paul cellist was caught in a massive drug bust, and a rare French horn stolen six years ago was reunited with its owner.

In Iran, the women of the Tehran Symphony face oppression.  In Germany, an emergency refugee camp is filled with the music of a children’s choir.

Gustavo Dudamel led the Youth Orchestra L.A. at Superbowl halftime.  Grammy-winning violist Kim Kashkashian shares the woes of her name.  The Telegraph had a really interesting conversation with Renée Fleming, Anne Midgette profiled musicians who take time off from performing, and drama continues to unfold in the Buffalo Philharmonic oboe section.

A new Mozart opera was discovered and performed, while for the rest of the opera world, it’s same-old, same-old.

And finally, to end this round-up with a smile: watch a Bach duet played by a 90-year-old husband and wife.

Here We Go Again…

[Note: I began writing this post a couple weeks ago, so some of this information may be a bit out of date.  I encourage you to follow the ATL Symphony Musicians on Facebook to keep up with the latest news.]

Just as the tumult at the Met draws to a close, new drama unfolds, this time in the South.  The Atlanta Symphony, having reached the end of the fragile contract agreement forged back during its 2012 labor dispute, again faces a bitter musician lockout.  You can read a summary of the situation, as well as statements from both sides, here.  I also want to share a few articles from really valuable perspectives:

Banner from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's website, as of Oct. 5, 2014
Banner from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s website, as of Oct. 5, 2014

Things seem pretty hopeless, with management staunch in its refusal to negotiate with the musicians’ best interests in mind.  But then, things seemed pretty hopeless with the Met, yet in the end, compromise proved possible.  Despite having to layoff twenty-two non-union workers, the Met emerged from the whole debacle with a vow to “bring about a new era of artistic vitality and fiscal responsibility.”  And how about the Spokane Symphony?  In 2012, the Spokane musicians’ strike ended with their accepting 11% in pay cuts; now, they’ve just announced a 7.5% raise in musicians’ salary.  We’ve seen it again and again — in Minnesota, in San Francisco, in Chicago, in Detroit — compromise (often at significant expense, financial and otherwise, to the musicians) and, eventually, recovery.

Despite the promise of recovery, this torrent of financial woes for American symphony orchestras over the past couple years really begs the question — why?  What’s the cause of money troubles so deep that an orchestra’s management deems it necessary to lock out the orchestra’s world-class musicians?

As several of the above links point out, many of the troubled orchestras faced irresponsible spending, overpaid management, and declining ticket sales resulting in a reliance on endowments.  But these aren’t the sources of the problem, merely symptoms.

I was struck by a comment my friend made recently about the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Los Angeles — more specifically, Hollywood — needed a professional orchestra to fulfill the musical demands of the film industry.  The result?  The LA Phil is one of the most successful and fiscally stable orchestras in America today.  Orchestras succeed in places where the community needs them, my friend explained: you can’t just foist a symphony upon a community and expect the community to support it.

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