My Favorite Classical Christmas Music

As we charge toward Christmas, I wanted to send along my very best wishes to all my readers who are celebrating this magical time of year. As a musical Christmas Card to you all, here’s a quick list of my favorite classical Christmas music. I don’t claim this is an exhaustive list, or that these they are the best selections, but all are of personal meaning to me.

Enjoy the holiday, stay safe, and may you have many blessings in the year ahead! Continue reading

A Classical Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice!  It that time of year when we finally—and for those of us in Minnesota, usually far too slowly—start working our way back to summer’s light.  But winter has charms all its own, with fairy-tale frost, crisp air, and wonderful snowscapes everywhere.  So, let me welcome the new season with a playlist of winter-themed classical music.  Some of the following selections are delicate, some melancholy, some dramatic… but all take winter, ice, or snow as their point of departure.  Note that I have deliberately avoided Christmas or holiday music here… Christmas music deserves its own post.

Cheers! Continue reading

Music in a Time of War: Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem”

The Minnesota Orchestra asked me to provide program notes in Showcase magazine for the upcoming concert of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. Since I love both the composer and the work, I was all too happy to comply. You can see the pages here; but with the Orchestra’s support, I’m also providing my program notes below.

Please come out this concert if it is at all possible—it features powerful music that calls on us to remember our shared humanity and work for peace. Plus, the concert serves as a reunion with our artistic partners from South Africa! The work will be performed with the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers, and 29:11, along with soloists Goitsemang Lehobye and Dashon Burton. Tickets and further information are available at the Orchestra’s website, here.

And look for me among the singers… I’m thrilled to be performing in this concert, too!

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Classical Music to Welcome Autumn

Fall is here!

It’s a magical time of year when iced tea gives way to apple cider, and school buses start to nudge out ice cream trucks on neighborhood streets. With dusk coming on earlier and earlier, there’s a new crispness to the air (at least there should be… we’ve had a run of summer-like weather here in Minneapolis…).

In honor of the new season, let me provide a listening guide to some of my favorite autumn-themed works of classical music, listed alphabetically by composer. Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments. Enjoy! Continue reading

Must-See Musical Event: “La Pasión según San Marcos”

Minnesota Orchestra is finishing up its amazing Sommerfest summer season this weekend… and let me be blunt. I need you to stop reading this post—stop whatever you’re doing—and go immediately to get tickets to see the grand finale, La Pasión según San Marcos (“The Passion According to St. Mark”) being performed on August 2 and 3.  Go.  I’ll wait.

No, I’m serious. Go. Right now.

I don’t care that you think you’re “busy.” I don’t care that you’re actually out of town on vacation. I don’t care who is getting married. Just go get your tickets. You will thank me later.

Okay… back?  Great!  Now, let me say a few words about why I’m so excited. Continue reading

“Or Its Accredited Successor”

You know, in my many years as an arts administrator, I’ve seen my share of wrong-headed thinking about the arts. I’ve seen ideas that seemed good at the time turn out to be disastrous. I’ve seen great ideas languish because too little effort was done to make them work.

But the last couple of weeks watching the leadership of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) flail around has been truly awe-inspiring.

This week, the true extent of this galactically bad thinking was laid out in an article in the Baltimore Sun. An article where supposed leaders of the organization openly muse on folding up a 103-year old organization and (maybe) creating a replacement.

This isn’t a case of not being able to see past blind spots. This isn’t a case of being overly ambitious.

No, this is a case of willfully embracing a wrong-headed strategy solely on ideological grounds, and being willing to burn down an existing organization to possibly create a hypothetical new one more to their liking.

To be blunt, this is an example of astonishingly short-sighted thinking, warped by ideology, presented by way of a bad-faith argument, that shows profound ignorance of how the world works, and is setting up the organization for an epic failure.

Let me draw directly from the article to explain.

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Classical Music to Celebrate Summer

Summer is here!  Well, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere….  Summer is almost always portrayed as a life-affirming season, if an occasionally lazy one, where life is to be savored to its fullest.

“Midsummer Eve,” c.1908 by Edward Robert Hughes

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I’m tempted to hang up a “Gone Fishin’” sign myself and run off to the lake… but instead, let me share a few classical works from a variety of genres that perfectly embody summer in all its hedonistic glory.

Cheers! Continue reading

Weak Messaging from the BSO Management

Well… it’s déjà vu all over again. In fact, it’s so déjà vu all over again that there’s no point in trying to come up with a different cliché to describe what’s going on.

For those who had not heard, the management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has locked out its musicians, following a pattern of strong-arm tactics that has attempted by the leaders of several other classical music organizations all over the country.

At this juncture, it’s fair to wonder aloud why a management would attempt this same tactic. Famously, this bit of hard-ballism failed spectacularly in places like Minneapolis, Atlanta, and elsewhere.  But it was more than just some tactical failure—again and again, as other voices/actors in the community really started paying attention, and began digging into the justification for the strong arm tactics, these justifications fell apart. Deeper analyses revealed that the managements’ positions were frequently built on shady finances, bad-faith negotiations, short-term thinking, and groupthink, and primarily driven by simple hostility to unions. Again and again, the realization that these various managements were being less than candid about their tactics and grand strategies led to a ferocious backlash from the community. And again and again, this community backlash led to the forced removal of the managements that tried to play hardball in the first place.

Simple self-preservation would suggest that managements would drop strong-armism as a tool in their toolkits.

Alas, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this dispute as it unfolds—the eye of an interested outsider who has seen this play out way too many times before, and has lost all patience for this kind of nonsense.

On that note, a few comments about the self-serving message the BSO management sent out to the orchestra’s supporters. Continue reading

False Equivalencies in the BSO Dispute

Last week, an editorial came out in the Baltimore Sun that weighed in on the burgeoning labor dispute between the management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and its musicians.

And I feel a response is necessary.

Let me say off the bat that I do not pretend to have any insider information into this dispute, and I have no direct ties with any of the parties involved. And I hardly want to start a fight with the Sun’s editorial staff—I readily concede that the editorial goes out of its way to point fingers and keep a measured tone. Curiously for an editorial, it doesn’t… well, editorialize.

And for me, that’s a bit of a problem. Maybe this reticence is due to the fact that they don’t want to call out anyone unless there are clear indications of misbehavior. Maybe they want to give everyone the benefit of a doubt. This is a noble sentiment. But one of the key frustrations with the Minnesota Orchestra dispute (which was happily resolved years ago, thank goodness) was that again and again, reporters and other observers relentlessly tried to push some form of “well on one hand, but on the other hand” balance in their descriptions about what was happening. There was such a dedication to the principle of “balance” that they ended up creating hugely inappropriate false equivalencies.

In my own mind this is artificial… and ultimately dangerous. There is a massive imbalance in a situation where one side of dispute has the power to make unilateral decisions to weaken the other side. There is a massive imbalance in a situation where one side is arguing in bad faith. There is a massive imbalance in a situation where one side is acting out of bounds, and engaging in destructive activities as a negation strategy. So, the editorial’s attempt to smooth everything over into a “he said/she said” kind of piece feels… off.

Let me explain. Continue reading