Much ado over Atlanta arts coverage

In his latest Arts Journal blog, Henry Fogel of the American Symphony Orchestra League encourages readers to join an online petition protesting planned changes in music and arts coverage at The Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Atlanta story parallels local developments at The Star Tribune, although there’s been comparatively little outcry here. (Some interesting comments in response to Tuesday’s blog, though.)

It appears Fogel doesn’t swallow AJC editor Julia Wallace’s explanation of what’s in the works, published Sunday.

As to what’s in store for the arts at the Strib, Marianne Combs has a story today on All Things Considered.

No one ever built a statue for a critic, until….

It’s not been widely reported, but classical music critic Michael Anthony appears to be one of the casualties in Star Tribune staff cutbacks. The paper gave Lani Willis of the Minnesota Opera space on yesterday’s op-ed page to complain about the move.

The Strib’s new editor Nancy Barnes writes that she considers the arts and entertainment important areas to cover. In that light, what are we to make of the changes in classical coverage? Who will review concerts? Will there be reviews at all? Will there be more (or fewer) feature stories about classical music?

Marianne Combs is looking into these and other questions for a story to air later this week on MPR News.

For the love of it

Alexander Borodin, who wrote the beautiful Polovtsian Dances, was a successful organic chemist and wrote music on the side. In fact he called himself a “Sunday Composer.” Tomaso Albinoni, known for his masterful Adagio in G minor, was the son of a wealthy paper merchant and never had to compose for money. He called himself a “dilettante,” a word that had a far less derogatory meaning in those days than it does today. Webster’s says non-professionals “take up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, especially in a desultory or superficial way.” They are merely dabblers.

Last week, John von Rhein, the Music Critic of the Chicago Tribune questioned the meaning in our day-and-age of an amateur or dilettante in classical music. He mourns the fact that an amateur is no longer seen as one who delights in the arts, but one who lacks skill. But he goes on to ask the hard question if those who’ve got the skills – the music professionals – have been able to preserve their delight in music-making. With some of the ugly stories coming out of the news, one can really begin to wonder if making music is making these musicians happy. Buffalo Philharmonic Oboist Sues Orchestra for Anti-Gay Bias, The Honeymoon is over for the Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director, or this shocker: A Case of Orchestral Terrorism at the Seattle Symphony.

I can say from my own experience it can be difficult to hang on to the original reason for becoming a professional musician – the sheer joy of making music – in the midst of politics, back-stabbing, seemingly endlessly repeated performances and the daily grind of always staying in top form. Chanticleer was in town this past week, and one of the members told me after the concert that any personal issues or irritations get checked at the stage door and great singing always comes first. Whether every moment is one of ecstatic bliss is depatable. Who can say they’re ecstatic every moment that they’re with their lover or traveling on an exotic vacation? But maybe the pro is able to tap into their reserve of joy and bring it to the fore as needed. At least as an audience member of professional ensembles, they’ve got me fooled!

All the Wright moves

Minnesota Orchestra trombonist Douglas Wright left a hole in Cleveland that’s not been easy to fill. A story in The Cleveland Plain Dealer says the Cleveland Orchestra is taking its time finding someone to replace Wright, who accepted the principal trombone job there in 2004 after nine years in Minnesota.

Wright came back here after only a year because, according to the story, “he had received conflicting signals about what [Cleveland Orchestra Music Director Franz] Welser-Most wanted from him and decided to return to his old job, which was still open, in a city where he and his family had been happy. ”

A conflict of sorts was built into Wright’s solo role last month with the Minnesota Orchestra. In composer Kalevi Aho’s Symphony No. 9, he was called upon to play both the trombone and its Renaissance-era predecessor, the sackbut. He talks about the challenge here in an interview with MPR’s Brian Newhouse.

Gleanings from the Web

The stuff you run across. . . .

Have you heard of “major” and “minor,” but never knew the difference? Here’s a (pop-oriented) demo. Heard that tune, but can’t put a name to it? Melodyhound lets you tap it out at the keyboard — or just trace its general contours. Need an archive of free printable sheet music? Try this one. Dwelling under the impression that the quirky, passionately personal music websites are all to be found in the pop music domain? Not so, as a glance at this Fritz Wunderlich site suggests.

Bassist prefers the Mississippi's low end

“When I evacuated after Katrina, I landed a great job with the Minnesota Orchestra, but Minneapolis closes up too early to play two gigs a night. I had to get back here as soon as I could. I was going crazy away from New Orleans.”

That’s Louisiana Philharmonic bassist Dave Anderson, from a profile today in The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

While he was in the Twin Cities, he was interviewed on MPR a couple of times, including this one.

Boorish, but not boring

They may be inconsequential, but these little dramas are fascinating for what they reveal–raw humanity erupting in the most civilized of surroundings.

In Boston they’ve been talking for two weeks about an exceptional example: a fight in the balcony at Symphony Hall. One guy was talking during a Boston Pops concert. Another guy asked him to stop. A wrestling match broke out.

In a follow-up, The Boston Globe collected some horror stories about rude audience behavior from various concert- and theater-goers.

In a similar vein, a writer for London’s Financial Times recounts his misadventures in the audience over the past season at The Metropolitan Opera.

Is it just an East Coast thing? Does Minnesota Nice make us immune?

A Bird in the Hand = Two Messiaens in the Bush

I have a friend who insists that birds are not musical. He loves music, and he loves birdsongs. He just doesn’t think birdsongs are musical. For centuries, musicians have imitated bird songs, but only one composer really tried to duplicate them, and that was Olivier Messiaen. Now there’s a website that takes samples of his musical bird imitations and puts them side-by-side with the actual bird sounds.

Meanwhile, today’s NYTimes had an irresistably odd story about about the 400 year-old Flemish sport of “finching,” in which captive birds compete for the best singing voice. Here’s a nice slide show. And be sure to read the article to find out how one competitor tried to cheat using a CD player!

Spose anyone has ever shown up at this competition with a kitty-cat?

Pieces of Spring No. 18

Welcome May, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s Pieces of Spring. The contest is closed to entries, and thanks to everyone who took part! Special thanks to Jennifer Anderson for contributing to these blog posts; she’s the curator of the Four Seasons video gallery below.

We saved the most famous spring piece for last: “Spring,” from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi.


Springtime is upon us.

The birds celebrate her return with festive song,

and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,

Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.


On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.


Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

This sonnet was written by Antonio Vivaldi to accompany the “Spring” concerto. It comes from his collection of violin concertos called the “Four Seasons,” arguably the most well-known and loved classical piece. For further proof, just check out a few of the mutations of “Spring” found on YouTube:

The original, for string orchestra, with violinist Nigel Kennedy

Performed by a computer scanner

A medley played by an orchestra of flutes

Ensemble of harmonicas

Three younger guitar players take a stab

Guitar shredder Uli Jon Roth and his Sky Orchestra, with their version

Jazz ensemble with harp soloist

Japanese jazz quartet Vanilla Mood

Glass bottle ensemble

Kamiak Marching Band, with an arranged medley

String orchestra, but superimposed on a time lapsed video of a “magic forest” chemical garden

Bear in mind, most of these videos deal only with the first concerto…guitarists really go nuts for “Summer.”