Saturday, April 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Leopold!

from Composers Datebook, American Public Media:

On today's date (April 18) in 1882, a child was born in London to a Polish father and Irish mother -- a baby christened Leopold Boleslawowicz Stanislaw Antoni Stokowski.

In 1882, Brahms completed his Second Piano Concerto and Wagner introduced his last opera, "Parsifal"; Gustav Mahler was a promising opera conductor aged 22; Richard Strauss was a young man of 18; Arnold Schoenberg a lad of seven; and Igor Stravinsky still a few months away from being born!

Leopold Stokowski would grow up to become a famous conductor of all those composers' works. For 25 years, Stokowski led the Philadelphia Orchestra in an astonishing variety of music, ranging from his own dramatic symphonic arrangements of works by J.S. Bach to cutting-edge, avant-garde works of Edgard Varese and dozens of other contemporary composers.

Stokowski cut a glamorous figure on stage and off, hung out with movie stars, and played himself in a 1937 movie, "100 Men and a Girl." He shook hands with Mickey Mouse in Disney 's animated classic "Fantasia," and Bugs Bunny did a devastating Stokowski imitation in a famous Warner Brothers cartoon.

For some, his flamboyance was hard to take, but the list of old and new music Stokowski performed before his death in 1977, at the age of 95, remains as impressive as his recorded legacy, which continues to live on via compact disc reissues.

April 21: Holocaust Remembrance Day

from Jay Hoffman & Associates:

Kaddish on Performance Today on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Tuesday, April 21)

On Tuesday, April 21 (Yom Ha Shoah), Performance Today, the nationally syndicated classical music radio program, will present selections from a major new choral work: Kaddish, written and composed by Lawrence Siegel.

Kaddish is an hour-long oratorio for chorus, soloists and chamber orchestra, whose libretto is fashioned from the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust. Kaddish tells their stories in their own words, providing a window into their lives, allowing us to share their experience directly. As the youngest of the survivors approach their eighties and nineties, this window is beginning to close. Kaddish will allow us to hear their voices forever.

The world premiere of Kaddish took place in Minneapolis, MN, on November 15th, 2008, given by VocalEssence, under Philip Brunelle. On November 18th, 2010, a full symphonic version will be premiered by the Houston Symphony and Houston Symphony Chorus. In the period leading up to that performance, a series of significant workshops and presentations will feature the composer and Holocaust survivors. These activities will be produced by Holocaust Museum Houston in partnership with the Houston Symphony.

Performance Today features live concerts by famous artists in concert halls around the globe, and is one of America's most popular classical music radio programs, with more than 1.2 million weekly listeners on 237 stations around the country. To find your local station and airtime, go to:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dreams of Paris

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Here's where I want to live and write some day.

Paris, the City of Lights; the most exquisite place on earth.

In my first visit, as a music student in 1967, I felt I was home, more at home than I ever felt in my home town. The sounds, sights, tastes were astonishing -- and I remembered for decades, perhaps too well.

So I returned to Paris in 1996. And yes, the myth is true. April is Paris is enchanting. I recognized that my memories hadn't been overly rosy, my initial impressions held. I was still in love with a city.

Now I need not only passion, but also a plan to turn dreams into a destination.

"We do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough - we want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." - C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New magazine on classical music

By Kyle MacMillan
Denver Post Fine Arts Critic
Posted: 04/12/2009 12:30:00 AM MDT

Listen: Life With Classical Music, a U.S.-based publication, will face tough competition from rivals Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. (The Denver Post)

A surprise arrived in the mail the other day — a new classical-music magazine.

Titled Listen: Life With Classical Music, it is the first general-interest classical magazine published in the United States since the 1992 demise of Musical America, which exists in a restructured form online.

Given the dreary economic climate, continuing fall in magazine advertising, and recent closings and cutbacks in the classical-music world, the timing could hardly be worse for such a venture.

But founder Eric Feidner is undeterred. He faced a similarly inopportune business environment in February 2002, when, just months after 9/11 and the dot-com crash, he established ArkivMusic, a successful online retailer of classical CDs and DVDs.

Will the creation of Listen turn out to be equally prescient or utterly foolhardy? Only time will tell. Either way, the arrival of this new publication, which is published by ArkivMusic but editorially independent, is exciting news for classical devotees who can't get enough about their favorite performers and composers.

But the magazine faces some tough competition. Dominating the field are the British-based Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine, both literate, well-edited publications that do a thorough job of covering the field internationally.

In the United States, there are also a range of niche classical publications, such as Opera News, Chamber Music Magazine and Symphony Magazine, as well as Fanfare and the American Record Guide, which focus exclusively on recordings.

Certainly, Listen's introductory subscription price of $14.85 for one year is an enticing deal. But how many readers of those older publications are going to be willing to drop one of them and/or add yet another magazine to their list of subscriptions?

Given the level of competition the new magazine faces, it is surprising how similar it is in look and focus to its two well-entrenched rivals — Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine.

The biggest differences are Listen's emphasis on features over news, considerably fewer but longer recording reviews, and added focus on the nonmusical aspects of artists' lives, such as pianist Helène Grimaud's favorite vacation spot.

All this got me thinking about my notions of what a new, 21st-century classical-music magazine, especially one published in the United States, should be like.

First off, it should address the American experience. What makes the American classical scene different from that in Britain and the rest of Europe? And what is happening not just on the two coasts but in the rest of the country?

The first issue of Listen contains a profile of Seattle's classical scene, titled "Scene and Heard in Seattle." Such city overviews are a great beginning, but there could be even more — perhaps looks at trendsetting people and projects in unexpected places.

Second, the magazine should focus on the now. While Beethoven and Brahms will always have their place, an exciting new group of musicians and composers are radically rethinking what classical music is and how it relates to other forms.

Musical pioneers

Who are these musical pioneers and what drives them? What is their music like, and is it any good? Why are 20- something indie-rock fans attracted to this adventuresome brand of classical artists? What roles do forward-looking venues like New York's Le Poisson Rouge play?

Finally, given the incredible changes in media and technology in recent years and the resulting changes in listening habits, a regular look at the business of classical music makes sense as well. Subjects could be everything from the future viability of traditional concert formats to radical changes in the recording industry.

But those are just the musings of a potential reader. It will be up to Listen's editors to define its identity and find a way to make it viable. Here's wishing them luck.

Kyle MacMillan: 303-954-1675 or

As Newspapers Downsize, Cities Lose Arts Critics

by Laura Sydell (National Arts Journalism Program Fellow)

Listen at:
[4 min 2 sec]

From: All Things Considered, April 14, 2009 ·

In the past, the place to find out what was happening in the clubs and theaters of your city was the local paper. But as cash-strapped newspapers lay off their local arts critics, the future of arts criticism is up in the air.

Although some people love to hate critics, Doug McClennan, the director of the National Arts Journalism Program, says that critics fulfill an important role in helping communities understand the arts and their role in society. He warns that culture doesn't happen in isolation — and that we need full-time professional critics devoted to getting to know those communities.

"The critic defines the territory, walks the perimeter of that territory and comes back and tells you, 'OK ... here's the interesting stuff I found,' " says McClennan, also the editor of

Critics can be instrumental in introducing an artist to a community. Seven years ago in Miami, local critics discovered a new choral group called Seraphic Fire and helped the group build a committed audience in the city.

[They] "made a real point to feature us for a number of our performances over the next couple of years, which drew attention to us as an ensemble before we really had any money to do any sort of significant advertising," says the group's founding director, Patrick Quigley.

But it may be harder for the next small new arts group to get that kind of attention, says Lawrence Johnson, the former classical music critic for The Miami Herald.

"In all of southeast Florida there is now no full-time classical music critic employed by any newspaper," says Johnson, who lost his job over a year ago. He has since created a Web site called, which features his criticism as well as the work of other laid-off critics. "I felt there was a real void. No paper was really covering the region's classical music organizations the way they deserved to be, so I started the Web site to fill the void," says Johnson.

All over the country, cash-strapped newspapers are cutting back on coverage of local museums, theaters and dance groups.

"There are dozens of journalists now starting their own Web sites, banding together [and] trying to create electronic publications, looking at for-profit models, nonprofit models, low-profit models," says McClennan. "Things aren't just falling apart. ... They're ... reordering themselves."

For some small arts groups, the move to the Web is an opportunity. Take the Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco. It focuses on the work of African-American playwrights, and for many years it didn't get much attention in the local papers.

"The newspapers and the powerful interests were using information as a power. ... That's when we talked about the historical legacy of exclusion and invisibility of people of color," says Executive Director Quinton Easter.

Easter believes that the Web offers him a way to reach out directly to audiences and speak to smaller groups. Still, he remembers the days when there were two major daily newspapers in San Francisco and each one had two critics. When the reviews came out, the phones at his theater would ring off the hook — and if it was a good review it would draw in people who had never been to his theater before.

Easter worries that on the Internet people only seek out what already interests them — and that both audiences and artists are losing out on an opportunity to discover each other.