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April 2014
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BackStage

Arts Issues

Blog entries on arts-related issues

Ego Driven Exuberance or Emotional Intensity?

Apr 5, 2006

Here is an interesting article at the Boston Globe about a group of scientists conducting an experiment with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at a family matinee this Saturday. The scientists in the study are trying to find out if the gesticulations of a conductor translate into emotional intensity for the orchestra and audience, or if it's mere showmanship.

If It Walks Like a Duck

Apr 5, 2006

I seem to be thinking a lot about technology right now. My last post covered some thoughts I have about downloads and the lack of vision in the recording industry that were inspired by an article in the New York Times from a few weeks ago. So along comes yet another New York Times article – this one about music composed on computers written by Michael Walker. The article talks about how you can “compose” a piece of music using Apple’s amazing program, GarageBand. For those of you who haven’t wandered into an Apple store and played around with this program, it allows the user to assemble a piece of music by mixing a number of instrument tracks together into a song, or dare I say it, a composition. Can you compose great classical (or any other kind) music using computer technology? Sure. In the right hands, composition programs are a great tool for talented composers. But do we cross a line with a program like GarageBand? Is it a good thing if literally anyone can assemble a piece of music using a clever program like this? I’m all for musical democracy, but let's not remove talent from the equation. Classical music has to embrace technological change where it makes sense. Just look at the evolution of the piano from a technological basis.So this week’s question is, what do you think is the best use of technology in our field? Or, what use of technology in classical music is making you sick to your stomach?

Spring Forward

Apr 1, 2006

Happy April!Tonight we move our clocks ahead an hour and I can’t tell you how symbolic this is for me. I feel like we are moving fast-forward-full-speed-ahead into another season at Ravinia Festival. That means one thing; winter is over! (Crossing my fingers it doesn’t snow at the end of April.)For those of you like me, Ravinia is synonymous with summer. It’s a tradition. It’s the light at the end of the dark, winter tunnel. I remember getting so excited to see the announcement of the season in the paper before I became a part of the Ravinia staff. Memories of sitting on the lawn and listening to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or Celia Cruz or Bonnie Raitt always reminded me why I love summer at Ravinia.Now it’s weird being on the other end of the schedule and being a part of the team that actually gets the information out to the public. I don’t get the surprise element of seeing the calendar as a whole along with everyone else. I guess that does take away part of the excitement. However, I still think about how nice it is to drink wine and picnic outside while listening to great music. Plus, I get the inside scoop before anyone.I feel like I’m getting performance jitters, even though I’m not performing. Does anyone else get that “rush” before the start of a season? I think part of those jitters is just hoping that everything goes off without a hitch. I’m sure we all dream of wonderful performances, high ticket sales, rave reviews and big success stories. In reality, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes of any arts organization. The challenge we all face (and the reason this site even exists) is getting people just as excited for classical music as they do popular music. What else can we do to get the younger audience in to fill the seats? We started the “Full House” initiative last year, which was very successful. The surveys we conducted all showed positive reactions from first-time patrons. While seeing a classical concert might not be at the top of a young person’s “To Do” list, I think that a lot of people would enjoy it more than they would expect. The problem is getting them out to experience it and discover that for themselves. From the thunder of the full orchestra or the softness of a soloist, the experience is really magical. Then again, you know that. How do we convince others?

What

Mar 29, 2006

My inbox has been filled the last few days with emails about an article published in the Sunday New York Times arts section by Barbara Jepson.

The article talks about some recent and exciting developments in the use of digital downloads for some of our major record labels and orchestras.  Yes, the ubiquitous ipod and itunes have finally begun to register with the decision-makers in the classical music world. My question is, “What took you so long?” 

Here’s what I don’t understand.  When television was widely introduced in the 40s and 50s, people wondered if it would supplant radio.  It soon did.  When cable television entered the scene in the 1970s, people again wondered if it would catch on.  By 1990 over 50 million homes had cable. 

Remember when people questioned if the Internet would become pervasive?  The widespread use of the net is just a little over 10 years old now and the rate of adoption of this technology is nothing short of breathtaking.  So what’s all the fuss about?

The fact is, the classical music field is coming late (though better late than never) to the use of digital technology.  Does anyone share my amazement (and amusement) that it took a computer company, Apple, and a renegade website, Napster, to lead the recording industry into a new mode of operating?

Seriously, what were the leaders of the recording industry thinking as they fought against the most efficient music distribution technology ever devised? And what are the leaders of the classical music world thinking when it takes them years to figure out what should have become apparent four to five years ago? 

This technology enables us to sell and distribute the music we love to almost anyone, anywhere, in real time. Let’s try leading the way in the future instead of coming so late to the dance.

So here is this week’s question: What other technology can we use to help promote the music we love?

Concert Formats: Is the Music Enough?

Mar 2, 2006
In the live classical music industry, there is a lot of discussion about using alternative concert formats as a way to attract and retain new audiences. These alternatives include anything from offering free martinis, to collaborating with actors or dancers, to projecting images or film footage above the stage, to hand held PDAs that provide measure by measure commentary, and the list can go on. One such performance I recently attended was one of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new Beyond the Score performances, in which the first half of the concert consists of a theatrical, multimedia, excerpt-filled tour of the background, historical context and anatomy of a piece (in this case, Shostakovich’s 4th Symphony), and the second half is a straight performance of the piece. Not only was I riveted through the whole concert (which doesn’t mean much because I can be such a nerd when it comes to music and history), but the whole audience was packed and they loved it! On the other hand, there is nothing easier than simply performing Beethoven’s 9th to fill the whole hall with excited patrons, as we have sold-out three consecutive nights for this weekend at the Elgin Symphony. Quite frankly, a great orchestra presenting a great work makes a great concert, doesn’t it? This presents a dilemma. What should we, the orchestra, be doing with our concert formats? Is the traditional overture-concerto-symphony structure with seated audience and musicians in black and white good enough? Or, has it lost its relevance in a time of multi-tasking our entertainment? What types of alternatives should we be experimenting with? Should all orchestras be trying new things? When have we gone too far and forgotten about the music itself? I would love to know your thoughts …