Thursday, December 13, 2012

ASO: Current Mission Statement

We heard that ASO Management was coming out with a new mission statement for the ASO ... can't wait to read it!  

Just for comparison's sake, here's the old one from the ASO web page:

Our Mission 
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its affiliated members are committed to build on our foundation of artistic excellence.
We unite in our desire to serve and to expand our audience through innovative programming, broader venues and increased educational opportunities while balancing artistic growth with financial soundness. We share a heritage of passion for the music. We embrace our responsibility to be a vigorous part of the cultural fabric of our community and to strive to reach national and international audiences.

Adopted by the Board of Directors September 14, 1998

ASO and ASO Chamber Chorus: Bach and Handel

The Christmas portion of 'Messiah', plus the 'Hallelujah Chorus' ... and the 'Gloria' from Bach's B Minor Mass.  These seasonal chamber chorus performances are always beautifully performed, with a lightness and skill that brings the music itself into sharper focus.

Ticket information here:

Protracted Labor Dispute Kills San Diego's Orchestra Nova

One of San Diego's premier chamber orchestras, Orchestra Nova, has declared bankruptcy ... sources say the cause was 'severe financial drain' from the long legal dispute with the Local 325 branch of the American Federation of Musicians. Jung-Ho Pak, the group's former artistic director, resigned earlier this fall; the opening concerts were cancelled ... and the season failed to materialize.

ASO's "Worst Orchestra" Nomination? Whom Do We Thank for That?

Great!  The ASO has been nominated in the ArtsJournal as one of the 'Worst Orchestras of 2012' ...  Norman Lebrecht is very clear in saying that orchestras nominated for 'best' or 'worst' -- by write-in votes and emails -- are 'judged not on playing quality but on whether they have risen or fallen in the tide of public perception.'  

Check it out here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Resurgam: Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

Ever since the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra declared bankruptcy in 2011, the city of Syracuse, its community leaders and residents have been tirelessly working to reform the orchestra -- under a new 'cooperative-style business model' -- and get the players back onstage.  

The loss of Central New York's major orchestra was not just a blow to the area's cultural community. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is quoted as saying, “When we lost the symphony, it left a hole in our cultural tapestry.  It hurt us economically and hurt our ability to retain and gain people in our community. It attracts businesses and tourism. It’s important that we have it here. We need a symphony and we won’t accept no for an answer.” 

Read the entire article published in the Syracuse New Times here:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Evan Few in Concert in Atlanta

Any relation to a tenor by the same name in the ASOC is not a coincidence.  This concert is part of the Musica Sacra Series.

Baroque Violin

Winship Chapel, First Presbyterian Church Atlanta, 1328 Peachtree Street, NE  Atlanta, GA  30309

Violinist Evan Few has established himself as a leader in his generation of historical performance specialists, having studied and performed repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to Gershwin on period instruments. He has performed with Anima Eterna Brugge, Bach Collegium Japan, Taverner Consort and Harmonie Universelle, and has led both New Trinity Baroque and Apollo's Fire. Evan is also a keen chamber musician and a dedicated cook. He received his principal training at Oberlin College Conservatory as a pupil of Marilyn McDonald, and pursued further training in string quartet performance at Rice University and in baroque violin at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Does the Road to a New Symphony Hall Run Through the Old Hall?

In addition to musical impressions at the ASO concert last week (see comments here), I had some unwelcome reminders of another aspect of the uphill battle to prove "art matters" here in ATL. I had not been "out front" in Symphony Hall for several months, and unfortunately, the overall impression made by the hall only continues to deteriorate. We – the frequent users and visitors – have become accustomed to it, but try to imagine how it seems to someone coming in for the first time, eagerly looking forward to attending "the Symphony", and having spent quite a bit of money to do so. I can only imagine the disappointment at entering such a utilitarian and unremarkable space, with its institutional-yellow (if that's the right word) walls; the color-coordinated, decrepit shell; the squeaky seats; and an industrial lighting scheme in the house that varies from drab to dank.

Symphony Hall stands in stark contrast to the Cobb Center, which is admittedly a shiny new product of 2000’s design philosophy. But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. As a structure, our 1960’s Symphony Hall is actually not bad. It was built to last, in an era when long service life was a standard design criterion. If the WAC is going to squander money, such as paying a non-existent company $1.4M on the installment plan, it might consider putting several million (or whatever budget is deemed viable) into upgrading this space with a new shell; or installing imitation wood-veneer over all or part of the pre-formed concrete interior (it could probably even be done so as to help the acoustic!); or some new seating, with - I know this is radical – re-configured aisles so that you could actually exit quickly enough to make it out to the restroom and back during intermission.

The immediate reaction to some of these suggestions will be – it’s almost the cost of a new hall! And depending on the choices made, a renovation project certainly could grow into the cost of a new building. Or it could, through realistic design objectives, an appropriate trade-off study, and budgetary commitment provide a visually- and acoustically-enhanced space that not only creates an inviting atmosphere to perform and experience art, but also demonstrates that our organization can effectively plan and manage a project to completion, on time and on budget. That kind of demonstration would be exceedingly useful in convincing external money (individual, corporate, local, state, federal) to support the “new hall” and everything connected with it.

If there is a short-term investment that would provide some immediate audience-building return, this is it. The environmental experience for the average Symphony Hall concert-goer is not pleasant. It does not say "this is an occasion and this is a special place to which I will want to return". It does not say "this is the home of a world-class institution". It does not say "this is an art form that has a future that you can believe in". And in no way does it complement the aesthetic experience of the concert itself.  Acoustically, the hall stymies the growth of the orchestra (and chorus) because you can only get to a certain point musically and then the hall puts its immovable obstacle in your way. To cite one typical instance: during Sibelius No. 6 last week, the strings were playing with a wonderfully unified sonority and attempting to create the diaphanous effect the composer was seeking, but their efforts were undone by the muddying of the sound.

Are the hall and the acoustics really so terrible? Well, no, it can always be worse. The problem is, it needs to be better, and it can be better if the organization accepts that there won't magically be a new hall any time soon, (regardless of certain recent optimistic and strategically-disseminated PR), and in any case a "new hall" exists independently in time, space, and finance from the "old hall".

Upgrading Symphony Hall is not an admission of failure to build the “new hall”. It's simply appropriate upkeep and maintenance of an asset that is already in place. Even if there was an alternative performing space on the horizon, the type of improvements that need to be made to Symphony Hall would only increase its value as a subsidiary concert and event venue (i.e. revenue stream) once a new hall was built. However, like so much else, it appears we collectively have lost the will and the ability to envision this type of progress, let alone make it happen successfully. So the physical plant will continue to become ever more dilapidated  and first-time concert-goers will continue to enter the doors and think "this is what going to the Symphony is like?  I'd rather just sit at home, listen to a recording and save $70".

Ancient management saying: If you’re not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem. This is the type of potential project that begs for brain-storming – for creative and constructive ideas to seed the fallow land that currently supports only one withered shrub vaguely reminiscent of a wilting feather. 

So ... what do you think?

Laurie Cronin

Atlanta Press Club: "The Arts in Atlanta: Mediocre or World Class?"

Thanks to Kathleen P-R ... those of us not attending the ASO Chamber Chorus performance of Messiah next Thursday night have an invitation to attend a panel discussion on "The Arts in Atlanta:  Mediocre or World Class?" sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, featuring panelists Catherine Fox, Julie Ralston, Tom Key, and Dr. Stanley Romanstein.

Don't mind if I do ...

Feedback: Tell Us What You Really Think

If you have a general comment about the blog, its workings, or have a suggestion as to how we can improve the experience here, please give us your feedback by commenting below.

To make a suggestion by email, please contact Sally Kann

Update on Minnesota: Good Questions; No Answers

The lock-out situation in Minnesota is extremely bitter ... with some insiders believing that the Board's plan is to abolish the resident orchestra and continue to bring in guest pops orchestras, which they are currently doing to fill out the season.  The players are holding their own holiday concerts which, by all accounts, are sold out.

Minnesota Public Radio reports today that very little has changed:

From the MinnnPost

Several bloggers have decided not to mince words ... this one, for example, isn't happy with the communications she and other patrons are received from the orchestra's management:

Bill Eddins' remarkable blog "Sticks and Drones' does a more in-depth analysis of the contract details:

How is all this acrimony affecting regular concert-goers?  Minnesota residents Paula and Cy DeCosse, holding worthless season tickets, pose questions (eerily familiar to us in Atlanta) to Minnesota Orchestra management in an 11/21 MinnPost article.

"Why is management only now tackling the budget deficits that have been mounting for at least three years?  ... If the orchestra is in financial crisis, why did the management undertake a huge and costly building project?

All of us, through our taxes and our personal gifts, have contributed to the Minnesota Orchestra. We have opened our wallets, as well as our hearts. With the musicians organizing exciting concerts like the one planned in December, this might be a unique opportunity to forge a new collaborative model for the way the orchestra operates and the way it engages the community — not just a business model, but one in which all Minnesotans could feel renewed ownership of the orchestra —  our orchestra, which at least one critic called "the best in the world."
That kind of relationship can only be built on trust, which at this moment is sorely lacking — for the musicians and for us."

Read the full article here.

The Transformative Power of Music: Alaska's Prison Orchestra

This amazing article in the Huffington Post was sent in by Laurie Cronin, who writes:

'Programs like this, including a variation of El Sistema, are finding their way into prisons and correctional facilities. Why? Because it provides what the inmates lack and have probably lacked most of their lives: structure, mental and emotional discipline, a sense of community, recognizable goals, and a feeling of accomplishment when those goals are met. Can it permanently change these people, some of whom are convicted murderers? Perhaps not – I don’t know that I would want to try to take a violin away from any of them! But the more important question is, if they had been exposed to this art earlier, could their crimes and subsequent wasted lives have been avoided? Probably not in all cases – but I have to believe that in many, it would have provided a stabilizing and civilizing force absent from the rest of their life. And that would make all the difference in the world.'

Arts on the Edge website has information on how to sponsor this group.

Also, check out their Facebook page, which also features links to other article sources:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Minnesota and St. Paul: Three Conductors Cross the Line

Robert Levine's essay in examines why conductors Edo de Waart, Jorja Fleezanis, and Pinkas Zukerman are conducting during a work stoppage.  (Spoiler:  they think it's the right thing to do ...)

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: Lock Out Continues

A disturbing piece from SPCO musicians reveals how their governing Society has done an end run around the musicians, forming special music series and presenting concerts ... their Liquid Music series, for example ... which do not include SPCO musicians.  So much to occupy management's time and resources that they can't speak to their own orchestra?

In their 6th week of being locked out of their performance space, the SPCO Center, musicians are holding concerts elsewhere.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sibelius and Brahms Peacefully Co-Exist at Symphony Hall

This week's classical series concert featured a pairing of Sibelius Symphonies (Nos. 6 and 7) and the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. The programming of the two Sibelius works was also done in 2005 - together they add up time-wise to one standard-length symphony. Friday night the playing was exemplary, although for me, Sibelius is an acquired taste, and I readily admit my own deficiency in not having adequately absorbed his unique musical language. There are long, lush passages, but just as many inexplicable discontinuities. The path is not always well-marked or even identifiable. But there is no denying Robert Spano's command of this idiom, and you could not wish for a better guide if you have to take the journey.

For various readily-discernible reasons, the traditional program order which sets the concerto in the first half of the show was reversed, with the long and demanding Brahms concerto performed after half-time. Emanual Ax played brilliantly with a spare, unsentimental reading. His long experience with not only this work, but also Brahms' chamber repertoire, makes him a soloist who views his role as an outgrowth of what is happening in the orchestral accompaniment and not a standalone virtuoso statement. Whenever he was not playing, he was turned toward the orchestra and concentrating intently on what they were doing. And you couldn't ask for a better example of ensemble than the intertwining of the piano and clarinet that occurs near the end of the magnificent third movement, surely one of the most sublime moments in all Brahms' output.

That third movement starts and ends with a dialogue between the piano and cello. In a gesture of grace, one also indicative of his long relationship with the ASO, he brought Chris Rex forward to share the standing ovation that immediately greeted the conclusion of the concerto.

Mr. Ax generates plenty of power and knows how to pace the performance so there is still some in reserve for the big finish. The audience called him back three times, hopeful of an encore - but perhaps not realizing that performing this work three nights in succession is the pianistic equivalent of a marathon. No encore, but based on previous experience, I'm sure Mr. Ax gave generously of his time to sign autographs and CDs, especially for the many students in the large (but not nearly capacity) audience.

Despite the usual acoustic problems with Symphony Hall -- which I address in a separate post -- I was glad I went Friday, and it was a great concert in spite of so much adversity, thanks to the determination of the folks onstage: orchestra, guest artist, and conductor all. On to Christmas with the ASO!

ArtsATL Review: ASO performs Sibelius and Brahms

Why Artistic Directors Mostly Stay Stumm: RPO's Arild Remmereit Dismissed

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Board of Directors is being sued -- by a member of RPO,Inc. -- for dismissing Remmereit.  Kudos to anybody who can make heads or tails of the legal process at work here:

Ingrid Bock, cellist for Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, speaks candidly to Slipped Disc in support of Arild Remmereit.

Arild Remmereit breaks his own silence about the situation

Apparently Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's CEO Charles Owens and Artistic Director Remmereit had such a poor working relationship, the two were forced to attend counseling in an attempt to break the hostilities.  The Board, in the end, sided with management ... Remmereit is to be sent packing two years before his contract expires.  A significant donor has withdrawn support in protest, the community is hopping mad, and Remmereit is challenging the Board's decision in court.