Orchestra Digest: December 15, 2012

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This week: Symphoria in Syracuse, a blow for unions in Michigan, and remembering Ravi Shankar and Galina Vishnevskaya. Here are stories we're following, in the news and on the web....
  • The orchestra formerly known as Symphony Syracuse got a new name yesterday: Symphoria. The Syracuse Post-Standard reports on the much-awaited announcement at a Holiday Pops concert last night, which featured a newly commissioned piece by composer/conductor Sean O'Loughlin, also titled Symphoria. 
  • The Milwaukee Symphony agreed to a contract extension through 2014-15, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, including a reduction of musicians' planned salary raise for the present season. The orchestra's new President and CEO, Mark Niehaus, was previously the orchestra's principal trumpeter and chair of its players' council. 
  • The US labour movement faces a major setback with new legislation passed in Michigan, the New York Times reports. Passed by the Republican-dominated state legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, the new laws limit unions' right to collect dues and require union membership. 
  • Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports on widening pay disparities at large US corporations - including McDonalds, where the lowest-paid employees ($8.25 / hour) would need over a million hours to earn the salary that former CEO Jim Skinner earned last year ($8.75 million). 
  • A new music director was appointed this week for the Qatar Philharmonic: Han-Na Chang, a highly regarded cello soloist who is also 29, Korean, and a woman. The National, an English-language paper in the Arab Emirates, reports the surprising announcement and interviews Ms. Chang. 
  • Ravi Shankar, the celebrated sitarist who introduced and popularized Indian classical music in the West, passed away this week at 92, the New York Times reports. Shankar was a long-term friend, collaborator, and influence on musicians including George Harrison, John Coltrane, Yehudi Menuhin, and Philip Glass. 
  • Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, whose voice inspired works by Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten, passed away this week at age 86, NPR reports. Her husband for over 50 years, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, died in 2007. 
Compiled by Matt Heller, OCSM President. Sources include the discussion groups of ICSOM and ROPA, as well as NPR's Deceptive Cadence blog. 


  • Orchestra Digest: Holiday reckonings edition

    On tour, and in the ether

    The NAC Orchestra finished a series of Canada 150 tours with a visit to the North, with stops in Iqaluit and Yellowknife, the Ottawa Citizen reports. The trip brought 9 musicians, several staff members, and music director Alexander Shelley to the Nunavut capital, where they worked with music students, performed a fundraiser for a new performing arts centre, and saw a breathtaking display of the Northern Lights. 

    Orchestre Métropolitain just concluded a 7-concert European tour, with stops in Paris and Amsterdam. Several journalists accompanied the tour and filed reports: Christophe Huss posted an essay for Le Devoir (in French) and Arthur Kaptainis previewed the tour for the Montreal Gazette (in English). Christophe Huss also wrote a piece for Le Devoir following the tour, arguing that OM has outgrown its profile as Montreal's "second" orchestra.
    The Calgary Philharmonic is celebrating the sesquicentennial by giving all Canadians a gift: a free subscription to Meludia, a Paris-based online ear-training platform. CBC News reports that anyone with a Canadian IP address can log in and use the service for free for one year, courtesy of the CPO. 
    For all occasions
    As we're all awash in Christmas music, Rob Kapilow reminds Toronto Star readers how and why many favourites were written by Jewish songwriters, from Irving Berlin to Mel Tormé. It's a fascinating story that starts with an exodus of Jewish refugees from Russia in the late 19th century, many of whose children became fixtures of Tin Pan Alley. 

    The Vancouver Sun proposes several classical music concerts that aren't holiday-specific, including chamber music performances by members of the Vancouver Symphony.
    For the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion (Dec. 6, 1917), Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke teamed up with Symphony Nova Scotia for an original work, the Chronicle Herald reported. Titled Achieving Disaster, Dreaming Resurrection, the work was premiered last Wednesday. 
    The New York Times recently previewed arts events around the world, singling out one Montreal Symphony weekend for special mention: a premiere of a double bass concerto by Iranian-born composer Behzad Ranjbaran in a programme also featuring Mahler, Wagner, and the OSM's octobass. 
    Conductors and the current moment
    Midway through his first season as Edmonton Symphony music director, Alexander Prior is winning over audiences with a combination of enthusiasm, passion, and an "impish" sense of humour, Edmonton Journal critic Mark Morris writes. Morris caught up with Prior to talk about orchestra traditions that could use revising, his own music, and how to capture the hearts and minds of Oilers fans. 
    Regina Symphony music director Gordon Gerrard is earning similarly rave reviews, in just his second season at the helm. The Regina Post's Jeff Dedekker interviewedGerrard and others, reviewing his tenure so far. 
    Following widely reported allegations against former Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine, who was suspended last week from further appearances with the company, the Met Orchestra musicians released a statement expressing support for the accusers, and calling on management to share results of the investigation as transparently as possible. 
    It's the "year of the conductor" at the Winnipeg Symphony, with 11 maestros taking a turn on the podium, the Free Press reports -- all of which led Holly Harris to ask why women have been so underrepresented as conductors. Just one of the 11 conductors (Canadian Keri-Lynn Wilson) is a woman. 
    Do cultural works, including classics of the ballet and opera repertoire, re-enact harmful gender stereotypes on stage? Looking at the current Toronto arts season, Globe and Mail journalist Martha Schabas argues that the ways we justify violent, misogynist works can be disingenuous. 
    Got a correction, or an orchestra news story I missed? Please email me at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or post to the list yourself! (Remember to include your name and orchestra in your post.) Thank you! - Matt Heller

    Compiled by Matt Heller, with editorial assistance from Francine Schutzman. Sources include the discussion groups of ICSOM and ROPA. Visit OCSM online at: http://ocsm-omosc.org/index.php. Visit OCSM on Facebook, or tweet us @ocsm-omosc.
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