What Are They Thinking in Hartford?

I’ve just come across an extraordinary press release, put out by the musicians of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO). The HSO musicians and its management have been locked in contentious contract negotiations all year, with management demanding the musicians accept draconian pay cuts in save the organization from dire financial woes.

This press release, however, puts management’s position in a terrible new light.  Reading through it, all I can do is shake my head in disgust.

Let me explain. Continue reading

A Message to my Friends and Readers in France


A Message to my friends and readers in France:

Like all of us here in the United States, I am horrified by the attacks in Paris last night. It is hard to comprehend such violence, such hatred.

My own words seem inadequate to the situation, but let me offer words once spoken by our own Leonard Bernstein, which seem particularly fitting today:

We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime… our music will never again be quite the same. But this will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

You have lost much, but please no you are not alone. All of us stand with you in this dark time, sending our prayers and hopes for healing.



Unfair Criticism of the Lyric Opera

So the Lyric Opera of Chicago released its financials from fiscal year 2015, along with a brief statement explaining what the numbers mean.  In essence, the story is this:  The Lyric Opera balanced its budget last year, with $74.8 million in operating revenue and $74.8 million in operating expenses.  It did this in part by raising $37.2 million in contributed income (up from $31 million last year) and $29.7 million in ticket sales (down from $32.6 million last year).

Some commentators saw this as good news, and reported it as such.

Sadly, others took a less sanguine approach, and reported this same story like this:

The Lyric Opera [balanced its budget last year, with $74.8 million in operating revenue and $74.8 million in operating expenses.  It did this in part by raising $37.2 million in contributed income (up from $31 million last year) and] $29.7 million in ticket sales (DOWN FROM $32.6 MILLION LAST YEAR).!!!!!11!!!!1! Continue reading

Really Bad Arts Marketing

I’ve seen a lot of arts marketing in my time.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve served as the marketing director of one arts organization, and as a staff member on several others. Over my career I’ve had the privilege of working on some absolutely fantastic pieces, some that were okay, and some that sounded great at the time but ended up missing their mark. And of course, I’ve worked on several clunkers that make me shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. That’s the nature of the beast—not every idea is great, or as great as you think it is.

But I have to say… I’ve just run across a couple of marketing pieces that were really bad. I mean, shockingly bad.

The marketing materials are from the Binghamton Philharmonic, and every aspect of them is a complete disaster. It is all the more horrifying to see these coming so shortly after the release of catastrophic promotional video, which I critiqued here. It isn’t just that the individual pieces are laughable… they completely miss the point of the art.

Not only that—collectively, they reveal a serious problem at the heart of the organization. Continue reading

Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony: A Craggy Masterpiece

Ralph Vaughan Williams is a fascinating composer—one of those brilliant musical voices I wish was heard more often.  Well, heard more often on this side of the Atlantic.  In his native Britain, he holds a much more prominent place in the musical firmament and in the public’s affections; his lyrical Lark Ascending routinely tops the charts of Britain’s favorite piece of classical music.

“Lyrical” seems to be the quality most people associate with this quintessentially English composer.  The word perfectly encapsulates the musical language of the Lark Ascending, and also describes such works as his early symphonies, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the Oboe Concerto, and one of my absolute favorite works of music, the Serenade to Music.

This is not, however, the musical language of his Fourth Symphony.

While previous works were beguiling, the Fourth is aggressive.  Earlier works were often painted in pastels, but the Fourth is a work of primary colors.  It is craggy with dissonance and sharp angles.  And for those who love Vaughan Williams’s romanticism, this powerful work comes as a bit of a shock.

That said, it is a masterpiece of the highest order—a work that shows Vaughan Williams’ versatility as a composer, as well as his ability to create drama and musical tension. Continue reading

A Texas Brawl Is Brewing

Another day, another orchestra labor dispute.

I have to say, this continues to astonish me. Here we are, yet again, with the classical music ensemble of a major metropolitan area facing yet another labor battle with its management. Once again, the same tired arguments are dragged out, based on the same murky numbers and the same sloppy appeals to conventional wisdom—classical music is dead and there’s no money for the arts.  Once again, we’re told that only by imposing sacrificial cuts on unionized musicians and workers right this very minute can management save the organization from bankruptcy.

It wasn’t enough that we saw this exact same pattern happen with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, San Diego Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Binghamton Philharmonic…

…now we’re seeing it happen in Texas, with the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO).

I’m losing patience. And my willingness to be polite.

A news story in the Ft. Worth Weekly has a useful account of what’s happening now. Allow me to share a few thoughts. Continue reading

150 Sibelius Jubilee: The Six Humoresques


It’s a jubilee!  2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth.  As part of the festivities, the Minnesota Orchestra is presenting 150 Sibelius, which honors the composer with Sibelius performances throughout the season. Not one to miss a party, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the masterworks being performed over the course of these concerts.  Enjoy!


Sibelius’s Six Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra are quite likely the most magical work you’ve never heard.  Nearly everyone who has ever heard them falls completely under their spell; alas, these miniature masterpieces have been unjustly neglected in both the concert hall and the recording studio.

This is unfortunate, as they are not just fantastic in and of themselves, but they reveal an entirely different side of Sibelius’s genius. Continue reading