Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

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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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 »

Open Goldberg Variations: Bach for Everyone

Links, Video Inside

by: Colin Oettle


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. View Full Article »

Album Review: Grá agus Bás

by: Jake DeBacher


It’s not often these days that I am grabbed immediately by modern classical works. But Donnacha Dennehy’s latest release, Grá agus Bás, stands as a firm exception. Of course, there are plenty of pieces I enjoy from an intellectual standpoint, like Steve Reich’s Four Organs. I find that as the piece evolves, so does my understanding of it. But unlike Dennehy’s work, there isn’t anything about it that really strikes me in the first few seconds.

Dennehy’s titular piece is a twenty-five minute odyssey that grabs the listener and maintains that grip right to the end. Its sonic landscapes are a barren depiction of Dennehy’s native Ireland, and they are reminiscent of the spectral works of Murail and Grisey particularly in orchestration. The piece opens with Irish folk singer Iarla Ó Lionáird and develops slowly but gorgeously. While the presence of minimalist traditions is undeniable, so is Dennehy’s transcendence of the genre’s limitations. The strings provide a rippling sound which allows Ó Lionáird’s voice, punctuated by the winds, percussion, and the perhaps unexpected electric guitar, to soar.
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A Stroll Through “The Old Burying Ground”

A Song Cycle by Evan Chambers

by: Colin Oettle

The Old Burying Ground
Evan Chambers’ The Old Burying Ground is a new orchestral song cycle inspired by epitaphs from an 18th century graveyard in New Hampshire. Scored for soloists and orchestra, The Old Burying Ground creates the spirit of each song through astute instrumentation and selective use of soprano (Anne-Carolyn Bird), tenor (Nicholas Phan), and folk singer (Tim Eriksen). The premier recording, made by The University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Kenneth Kiesler, provides an arresting first look at this neo-traditional American work. View Full Article »

Breaking: Orchestra Finance Woes Part II, Syracuse Symphony

by: Colin Oettle


The Syracuse Symphony Orchestra cut its upcoming season from 40 to 34 weeks today in an effort to endure dwindling funds. Meanwhile, the orchestra needs to raise $500,000 to cover the deficit in its $7.4 million budget, says The Watertown Daily Times. Faced with possibility of shutting down for the summer, the SSO managed to keep its doors open with help from an anonymous benefactor. View Full Article »

Basically All North American Arts Organizations Losing Money: Part I

Barely Counts as News Anymore

by: Colin Oettle


Editor’s note: The Sound Post generally avoids covering the recent downturn in arts funding as it does little to help the situation and simultaneously neglects the more important aspect of the industry—the art. But just as the headlines flow about organizations seeing red, there is a similar trickle of news about surfacing grants and endowments. So, this multi-part story will attempt to chronicle the down and up of the music industry; for now we lament the dwindling zeros, but look for updates on how everyone is not only keeping their heads above water, but climbing back into the boat.

As the cooling economy continues to do its number on the numbers of many North American arts organizations, orchestras and opera houses across the US are reevaluating their budgets in an effort to weather the dreary economic climate. View Full Article »

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