Thank you Classical 2011! You've Been Grand!

Happy New Year!

I sat down at work today and realized the quiet. Of course, there remained an uncanny hustle and bustle throughout the city with professionals in their daily activities and duties – the city never sleeps no matter how calm the façade. Enclosing that motion was a silence that intrigued my ears and I soon realized that the silence’s fountainhead came from reflection.

And how could it have taken me so long to realize that the holidays were staring me in the face, wrapping themselves around me? The juxtaposition of deeply religious rituals and the severally secular Western celebration of a New Year (ironically, a celebration from a calendar instigated by the papal authority in the 16th century, but I digress).

So, in honor of the end of 2011 we will dedicate this post to the reflection on the classical music world of this past year.

We will circle ourselves around several themes: the wonderful tradition of summer festivals, the financial woe epidemic amongst musical organizations, the growth of virtual distribution and widespread access to performances and within we will touch on some of the Minnesota regional highlights.

Let’s celebrate the New Year by reflecting and paying homage to this last one. So, will you join me in saying, “Thank you 2011! Your classical music was grand!”

Summer Celebrations

Arguably the largest music festival to grace human history is the BBC Proms in London at the Royal Albert Hall. The cream of the crop are invited to perform in this practically two-month long festival.

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This year hosted an array of creative programming including the largest symphonic work, Symphony No. 1 in D minor “The Gothic” written by Havergal Brian, several works written by transcendent French composer Olivier Messiaen, opening the festival with the rarely heard Glagolitic Mass by Leos Janacek, an entire Steve Reich concert with the composer himself performing, appearances by American ensemble Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and an obscure piece written by the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev, Gabriel Prokofiev, his Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra (DJ Switch is perhaps the only t-shirt wearing musician to grace the Royal Albert Hall stage). Overall, an extremely successful event!

In America we host a vast amount of summer festivals as well; the Tanglewood Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School, Marlboro Music Festival, the Grand Canyon Music Festival, Interlochen Center for the Arts and the list goes on and on…

A favorite amongst the prior list would be the Aspen Summer Festival and School. In 2011 conductor Robert Spano was named Music Director-Designate and led a fabulous summer festival where professionals and up-and-coming musicians are able to mingle and collaborate.

Marlboro Artistic Directors Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida lead a truly collaborative effort, marking this year as Marlboro’s 60th anniversary!

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The Twin Cities hosts many summer celebrations as well, but the cherished Minnesota Orchestra Sommerfest is a Minnesota favorite. This past summer they performed many great works throughout classical history: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Petrushka, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, an all Gershwin program, an all Mozart program and some very interesting guest artists; the Beatles tribute band “1964” and pop-indie band Cloud Cult.

A very successful, entertaining and meaningful summer music scene. Thank you 2011, your summer music was fabulous!

Financial Woe

Though the financial woe has been surfacing ever since the 2008 economic crash, this year seemed evermore potent and laden filled than usual.

A short recap…

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

In an already struggling and seemingly desolate economy, the once thriving automotive city of Detroit clung to their artistic hope and supported an orchestra. This was true up until October of 2010 when unsatisfied musicians went on strike, which lasted through the following year of 2011.

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Striking to the brink, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was able to pull itself up from the bootstraps and come to an agreement on April 3, 2011, concerts resuming on April 9. Close call…

Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphia Orchestra broke records being the very first major orchestra to file for bankruptcy. In poetic fashion the newly appointed music director-designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin offered to work a whole week without pay to symbolize not only his commitment to music but his willingness to personally assist in the financial crisis. Because the Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 they are still allowed to continue their operations, but this will certainly put a stunt in the ensemble’s future growth.

Opera Boston

The Christmas present nobody wants to hear or have… On December 23rd, 2011 Opera Boston’s board of directors issued a press release announcing that the curtains on the Opera Boston stage will be drawn for good. The city has had a history with financial hardship within the opera world going back to 1915 when Boston Opera Co. filed for bankruptcy and in 1990 with the Opera Company of Boston folding after 31 years of fine programming.

Local Impacts

Here in Minnesota our orchestras and choirs seem to be staying upright and have even, in some respects, been thriving, namely with the new Orchestra Hall construction and the proposal of a new performance space for the SPCO.

However, look into any school district’s budget and you will see that the arts are struggling more than ever.

The financial woe epidemic touches every aspect of human culture and society. Now, more than ever, in our financial dire straits we as a society need to embrace the hopeful and meaningful gifts that art can bring.

Thank you 2011 for opening our eyes and ears!

Virtually There

It’s been here for a while, the theatre streaming of the Metropolitan Opera Company, but will this great idea be IN our future scope or BE our future scope of classical music exposure?

Among the productions streamed were: Rossini’s Le Comty Ory, Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, Adams’ Nixon in China, Verdi’s Il Trovatore and many others.

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I have been to these productions and they are pretty neat! I saw Richard Strauss’ Capriccio and I got lost on stage. In fact, I felt as though I was missing my cues or something because all I was doing was watching instead of interacting with the performers.

Check these out in 2012! Some great productions coming up: Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Handel’s Rodelinda, Gounod’s Faust and a new production of Massanet’s Manon.

There are many locations throughout the Twin Cities that these theatre experiences are available: AMC Rosedale 14, Oakdale Cinema, Brooklyn Center 20, Eagan 16, AMC Eden Prairie 18 to just name a few. Check out Fathom Events at their website.

Thank you 2011 for continuing to bring us onstage!

Attractive Liberties

If you think about it, in some way or another sexual appeal has been a part of the classical music scene for, well probably since its beginnings. It could be as reactionary as Lisztomania to being deeply imbedded in the message of the music itself, just listen to any Wagner opera…

However, this year brought some new and interesting liberties in way of classical attire.

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This past fall 24 year old pianist Yuja Wang was regarded as though she were some pop star celebrity. Basically, she wore this very short and quite tight orange dress to play a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The proceeding conversations hardly focused on her actual playing, of which she did a most outstanding job. Rather, these conversations were side to side bantering about the morally correct thing to wear on stage at a classical performance.

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The winner of a 2011 Echo award, 31 year old violinist David Garrett, who might be confused as Kurt Cobain, has pushed us to the brink of ambiguity as to what a “typical” classical musician looks and dresses like.

In this case I will allow the pictures to speak my 1,000 words.

Final Thank You!

We want to thank you classical world of 2011 for bringing joy, for bringing us sorrow, for being sexy, for being poor, for being profound, fun, engaging and for filling our ears and hearts with music that we love! Thank you 2011. But, we must bid you adieu as we welcome 2012!