Orchestra Digest: January 11, 2013

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This week: Toronto loves Mozart, opera meets improv in Chicago, reviewing a tough year in the performing arts, and conductors' pop music favourites. Here are stories we're following, in the news and on the web...
  • The Toronto Symphony's Mozart Festival runs January 9-17, and the Toronto Star interviewed four TSO musicians about Mozart's unique and enduring qualities. 
  • Last week Chicago Lyric Opera and The Second City improv comedy troupe put together a collection of sketches and scenes called "The Second City Guide to Opera", and the Chicago Tribune gave it high marks for hilarity and audience-building. The Chicago Sun-Times reports the show will be reprised in June. 
  • The Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä, nominated for a Grammy for their recording of Sibelius 2nd and 5th Symphonies, will perform those works in a special concert on Feb. 1st, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. This will be the first time in months that the locked-out orchestra has performed with their Music Director.
  • Save Our SPCO, a community group seeking to end the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra lockout, this week delivered a petition to SPCO President Dobson West with nearly 3,000 signatures, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports. The petition calls on management to move towards resolving the impasse.
  • The Indianapolis Symphony ended its lockout in the fall, but the current contract hinges on a $5 million fundraising goal by Feb. 3rd - and the ISO is still $2.4 million short, the Indianapolis Star reports. If not met, the 5-year agreement reached in October will be null, and musicians and management will restart contract negotiations.
  • ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge and Stanford professor Robert J. Flanagan spoke to USA Today about difficulties facing orchestras: Performing arts face strikes, layoffs, bankruptcy. While the headline is bleak, the article notes that orchestras in Cincinnati and St. Louis have weathered the economic downturn quite well. 
  • The New York Times reports that Varèse Sarabande, a US label specializing in film soundtracks, has just merged with a larger British firm, the Cutting Edge Group. Executives involved plan to expand the use of soundtracks in live concert events. 
  • The Philharmonie, a new concert hall in Paris, has attracted controversy over its spiralling price, the Guardian reports. French Prime Minister François Hollande has supported the Jean Nouvel-designed building, but opposition parties and state auditors have criticized overruns that have pushed the cost to 387 million euros.
  • Sir Simon Rattle announced his term as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic will end in 2018, when his current contract expires, the Guardian reports. Rattle's tenure began in 2002, and will reach 16 seasons. 
  • The LA Times asked prominent conductors what non-classical music they enjoy, with some surprising results - Michael Tilson Thomas loves James Brown, Dudamel admires Aerosmith, and Riccardo Muti adores Cèline Dion. Bramwell Tovey declined to name any current pop stars, but listed Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter, among others. 
Compiled by Matt Heller, OCSM President. Sources include the discussion groups of ICSOM and ROPA, as well as NPR's Deceptive Cadence blog. Our new website is now up and running!: http://ocsm-omosc.org/index.php


  • 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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