"You're not an opera composer without being a little bit insane."

American composer John Adams is getting a lot of press lately: the new production of his opera Doctor Atomic opened at the Metropolitan Opera this month, and his autobiography Hallelujah Junction: An American Life was just released, too.

Click here for a recent interview with Adams on salon.com, in which he talks about the importance of emotion in music, among other things:

Music is above and beyond all else the art of feeling. A great composer can bring you to a level where you are emotionally exposed. If you have a great composer like Mozart or Wagner, and introduce deep subject matter, as Mozart does with “Don Giovanni” with rape and sexual assault, or class warfare in “The Marriage of Figaro,” or spiritual transformation in “The Magic Flute,” and unite great feeling to the music, then you can have an overwhelming and at times life-changing experience in opera.

Look for Doctor Atomic in a movie theater near you on November 8th, as part of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series.

Read more about the opera here. Read reviews for it and against it.

Music to Vote By

election.jpgJust in time for election day, the Library of Congress has delved into its archives and put a selection of sheet music from old presidential campaigns on their website.

What you’ll notice first are the covers, but the music is there too, so you could print them out and have a sing-along of such oldies as “Vote for the Right Man” and “Dad’s Old Silver Dollar Is Good Enough for Me.”

For a further description, I can’t do better than the accompanying language from the Library itself:

“These songs extol the worthiness of those who became president, such as Ulyesses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, and Woodrow Wilson, as well as those who lost the elections, such as William Jennings Bryan and Horace Greely. Third parties also are featured in these songs, including the Greenback Party, the Labor Party and the Bull Moose Party.

“Remember to vote!”

Video in the Concert Hall?

I often find video screens at live events distancing–why go to a performance or athletic event live if you’re still watching it on TV? But music critic Andrew Adler thinks they work pretty well for the Louisville (that’s LOO-uh-vll) Symphony, and thinks that a new development called “Bird’s Eye Technology” could really enhance the audience’s experience:

While [pianist Lang Lang] was performing with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County in California, he employed what’s dubbed “Bird’s Eye Technology” — in which a camera mounted on the ceiling gives the audience a close-up, overhead view of Lang’s fingers as they dash up and down the keyboard.

Consider how this particular video application might change the habits of listeners in the hall. Rather than jockeying for seats on the left side of the auditorium — the better to see a pianist’s hands — they could sit anywhere they’d like and still have a perfect view of those fabulous fingers.

Read more here.

Music and The Economy

It’s no surprise that the state of the economy is hitting arts organizations hard, too. Reduced ticket sales, lower donations, and declining endowments all take their tolls. This article from today’s New York Times (registration required) describes how some orchestras and opera companies plan to cut back without reducing musical quality.

For example, here’s what the Detroit-based Michigan Opera is doing:

In addition to canceling “Pagliacci” next spring, the company is letting three employees go, giving up on a big Wagner production next year in favor of the less financially taxing “Don Giovanni” and doing without the final performance in an April run of Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love.” That performance had been scheduled to take place at the same time as a Final Four game of the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament, at nearby Ford Field. Management thinks it can make more money renting out its parking lot to fans.

What about Minnesota music and arts organizations? According to a Star Tribune article a few weeks ago, the Minnesota Orchestra will preserve its artistic goals, while slowing down on things like renovations to Orchestra Hall:

The orchestra is not paring back its recording schedule or touring plans — both fully funded for three years — because [Minnesota Orchestra chief executive Michael] Henson believes they’re key to the group’s growth and reputation. Violin superstar Joshua Bell will accompany the 2009 tour, evidence that the orchestra is not shirking on expensive box-office sizzle.

“We’ve been very careful to maintain the high artistic quality of what we’re doing,” Henson said.

Read more here.

A Video Game for the Classical Music Crowd

My interest in video games pretty much ended circa 1979 when I realized just how many quarters it would take before I got good at Asteroids. But a new music game has just come out that sounds like a whole lot of fun.

It’s a collaborative game that lets you and a group of friends improvise around preprogrammed tunes. You get a choice of 60 different instruments, from trumpets to barking dogs. It even lets you record a music video of your results.

Plus, it contains “mini-games” that let you conduct, or even test your listening skills. Read more about it here. (And no, no sponsorship dollars were received for this plug.)

Thanks to Performance Today intern Shuohan Fu for the tip!

I've Got One Word For You: Violins

It goes without saying that I am completely unqualified to offer investment advice, but this little tidbit at the intersection of art and commerce caught my eye.

With the stock market so volatile, what’s a savvy investor to do? According to one advisor, rare violins are the way to go.

Instruments made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu (1698-1744) are much sought after, but many of them are owned by museums and other institutional investors, so the number of them on the open market is small, according to Steffan Borseman, owner of a company called Stradivari Invest. This scarcity pushes up the price, he says. His argument is so poetic, I’ll let him speak for himself:

Investing in rare stringed instruments is an alternative asset class that provides superior long-term returns and diversification benefits for investors due to its low correlation with other investments.

Read the whole thing here.

That's DOCTOR Osmo

Congratulations to Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä!

Tonight during their annual Collage Concert, the School of Music at the University of Minnesota will confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. “I am simply grateful and humbled by this news,” says Maestro Vänskä.

Read the whole press release here.