Thanksgiving Wishes

Happy Thanksgiving!  It’s been a year of many changes, some struggles, and many blessings.  As I set out to share an appropriate feast with my family, I wanted to thank my readers for a year of camaraderie, friendship, great music and great music.  Warm wishes of health and happiness to you all!

To celebrate, let me share a particularly appropriate piece of music, Antonín Dvořák’s Te Deum—a short choral work based on the traditional Latin hymn of praise and thanksgiving.  The work was premiered on 21st October 1892 at the New York Hall, with a choir of 250 singers conducted by Dvořák himself.  Enjoy!

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Xochipilli

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An Odd Article Coming out of Philly

Here we go again… another bit of arts journalism that makes me want to punch my computer screen.

This time from Philadelphia.

What sets this particular story apart, however, is that this one particular story seems to incorporate all the various tropes that irritate me so much: over-the-top negativity, an inappropriate conflating of for-profit thinking onto a non-profit organization, facts without context, and nonsensical quotes from clueless leadership.

Man.

A few thoughts. Continue reading

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

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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.

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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