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      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!

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Editorial: The Classical Misconception

Overcoming a Conundrum

by: Colin Oettle

Concert Hall

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.
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Supreme Court Upholds Right to Remove Works from Public Domain

by: Jake DeBacher

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. View Full Article »

Curtain to Fall on Opera Boston

by: Jake DeBacher

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.
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Hopes Surface for a Cross-Border Symphonic Collaboration

by: Jake DeBacher

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.

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The New York Philharmonic Archives: A musicological treasure

by: Jake DeBacher

Stravinsky Telegram
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.
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Stradivarius Sold for Tsunami Relief

by: Jake DeBacher


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.
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Who knew elderly musicians could heckle?

Riots not just for hockey fans

by: Jake DeBacher


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.

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Speculators Say Philly Forecast Dim

"bankruptcy court is no place to be to simply
ponder the future, or one's navel" (Mark Shwartz)

by: Colin Oettle


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? View Full Article »

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