About Leonard Slatkin’s New Book…

Years back, I had the pleasure of singing Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with the Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. It was a pure delight.  Prokofiev’s music tells the story about crusading Teutonic Knights attacking Mother Russia, causing death and destruction until they are annihilated in the Battle on the Ice. One of the highlights is a choral scream, given when the Crusaders charge the Russian forces. Prokofiev doesn’t give the Knights real words (thus dehumanizing them); instead, their battle cry is just a jumble of nonsensical Latin words, belted out at top volume over the orchestra. The effect is staggering in the concert hall, and a bit ironic. It is a thundering sonic blast that sounds portentous, powerful, and authoritative, but for all that is ultimately a bunch of howling gibberish signifying nothing.

Which brings me to Mr. Slatkin’s new book. Continue reading

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Yet Another Feeble WSJ Article on the Met Opera

Goodness.  I don’t have the time to comment on every weak article to come out on the Metropolitan Opera.  By my count, I’ve missed two that have been published in the last six weeks or so.  But a new one has just appeared in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that absolutely demands a response.  While purporting to celebrate a great financial milestone, the piece goes on a rampage of negativity, punctuated by one jaw-dropping statement after another.

Really? Continue reading

Clichés Abound in WSJ’s Analysis of the Met Opera

And I have officially had it.

Yesterday Terry Teachout published a story in the Wall Street Journal that casts a long glance at the problems the Metropolitan Opera is currently facing.  And I’m fairly confident my scream of frustration could be heard all the way in Manhattan.

I don’t want to bash Mr. Teachout, whom I’ve never met.  I don’t wish to disparage his writing, his obvious experience, or even knowledge of the arts.  I should also point out that we’re in full agreement that Mr. Gelb has run out of ideas about how to run the Met, either artistically or organizationally.

But I must take issue with this article.  Unfortunately, it tosses around every wrong-headed cliché about the arts and arts management that I’ve been trying to put to rest since my blog’s inception, including Baumol’s cost disease, an outdated report from the NEA, and the use of paid capacity to measure financial success.

How is it that demonstratably false ideas can take such a powerful hold on our collective consciousness?

While I can’t take up this larger question, I can certainly rebuff the points of this specific article. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Met’s “Box Office Slide” and its Implications

Last week the New York Times’s published article on how to fill the empty seats over at the Metropolitan Opera—a piece that I responded to yesterday.  Shortly after the original article appeared, writer Michael Cooper published a companion article in the Times to give a bit of context to the situation, and provide a deeper analysis about why those seats were empty in the first place.  Based on the Met’s financial data, interviews with the Met’s General Manager Peter Gelb and Opera America’s Marc Scorca, and reports by the National Endowment for the Arts, he sees the Met’s drop in ticket sales as part of a larger decline in participation in the arts going on across the country.

I greatly respect his writing and his sourcing, and fully understand his point.  But based on my own experience, and my own dives into the data, I have a somewhat different take on the situation. Continue reading

On Filling the Met Opera’s Empty Seats

Last week, the New York Times featured a major piece looking at the ongoing challenges facing the Metropolitan Opera.  The key question it tackled—a question that perennially haunts the dreams of all performing arts organizations—was how the Met could fill all those empty seats, performance after performance?  Most of the Times’s top critics weighed in, offering a lightning round of suggestions on how to put “butts in seats.”

Sparked by the Times’s article, many others took up this question as well.  For example, La Cieca over at Parterre.com shared some additional recommendations of how to increase ticket sales.  The discussion has continued among groups online, via Twitter, and even here in Minnesota; one local news organization, MinnPost, actually put forward a hilarious parody video showing what happens when an orchestra follows the advice of consultants to boost ticket sales.  Days later Times itself published a follow-up article by Michael Cooper, purporting to look at the root causes of the Met’s box office woes.  Everyone seems to have an opinion on this topic.

Well, the Met Opera hasn’t asked for my thoughts (this isn’t entirely a surprise—due to my coverage of the Met’s contentious contract negotiations a few years back, I’m sure Peter Gelb thinks of me as The Harlot of Babylon), but since everyone else is chiming in, I feel like I should add my two cents too.  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

A Confounding Development in Philadelphia

I’ve seen a lot in my time as a classical music writer/blogger. I’ve covered a number of labor disputes involving orchestras and opera companies, and have seen a number of bone-headed, tone-deaf actions as a result. As this point, I assume I’ve pretty much seen it all.

And yet, I continue to be surprised.  It seems that there are still plenty of labor disputes plaguing the world of classical music, and they continue to generate breathtakingly bad ideas.

Let me share the most recent—one that unfortunately has transpired in Philadelphia, the home of one of the United States’ most celebrated, venerated orchestras. This one is a whopper. Continue reading