April 2014



A Few Bytes From The Big Apple

Nov 20, 2007

I recently spent a few days in New York combining business with pleasure.  On the business side I attended a meeting at the League of American Orchestras (formerly known as the American Symphony Orchestra League) with colleagues from across the country to discuss issues related to our field.  I also spent the better part of three days meeting with artist managers to get caught up on artist happenings and discuss upcoming projects for the Grant Park Music Festival.  These meetings are important because direct face to face contact always makes doing business so much easier the next time one finds himself haggling about fees over the phone or email. 


Over the weekend I caught the New York City Opera’s production of Samuel Barber’s rarely performed opera Vanessa.  I’ve heard the opera on disc and of course know the famous arias well, but never have heard it live, so I jumped at the chance.  The New York State Theater isn’t the best acoustic, but my friend and I had decent seats on the second balcony and enjoyed the performance.  The real stand out vocally was mezzo soprano Katharine  Goeldner as Vanessa’s young niece Erika.  Very cool was the fact that the original Erika  from the 1958 premiere, Rosalind Elias, was in the current cast, this time as the old  Baroness.  The conducting and orchestral playing left a lot to be desired, a fact I found  ironic as across the plaza performs one of the great orchestras of the world under one of our most famous  conductors – the Met Orchestra and James Levine. 


My friends dragged me to Christie’s at Rockefeller Center in advance of a contemporary art auction to check out the sale items - sale items that go for $40-60,000,000, that is.  It was a surreal experience, seeing the high rollers being themselves - so fabulous and oh so chic - while checking out the Rothkos.  A few days later the Times headline reviewing the auction read, “One Million Dollars is the New 10 Grand.”  I couldn’t fake being in that league in my Old Navy sweater and jeans, but hey, it was a fun diversion nonetheless. 


We left there for a more pointillistic experience at MOMA to see the Georges Seurat exhibit.  Known to many  as the creator of one of the Art Institute of Chicago's great treasures, La Grande Jatte, this exhibition  focused on the master’s more intimate drawings on hand made paper.  It’s on through the beginning of  January and a must see if you’re in the neighborhood. 


One of the trip highlights was dinner at Miriam’s in Brooklyn with my dear friend and former Chicago of  Department of Cultural Affairs colleague Peter McDowell, who is now director of programs at Opera America.  I miss Peter but am thrilled for him as he now holds an important position in New York helping to promote opera for all Americans.

Big Changes and Thanks

Nov 13, 2007

If you have visited before you have probably noticed that the site looks quite different.  We have made a number of changes that are now visible, and we are pre-testing the site as we speak prior to our “official” unveiling in a few weeks. 

Keep an eye us as we will be offering a number of new functions including discounted tickets and some incredible music free to registered users through the Hot Deals section.  The calendar is also evolving and we invite submissions from ALL classical music organizations.  Most of all, we want your feedback on these changes and on any sections of the site that aren’t working exactly right, so PLEASE tell us what you like or don’t like either in the comments section of this blog or through comments to our webmaster and Site Manager, Angela Golden.

How have we accomplished all of this?  First we must thank our principal sponsor, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, who just renewed funding of this site for the next three years.  We must also thank all our member organizations, our executive committee comprised of Kevin Giglinto, Jim Palermo, Amy Iwano, Brian Dickie, Matt DeStefano, Jim Ginsberg, yours truly and our in-kind sponsors, the Silverman Group and Patron Technology

As noted above, Angela Golden is our Webmaster/Site Manager and we thank her for her contributions to the redevelopment of the site. 

We hope you enjoy the new functions and the new look of the site.  Please do let us know what you think and how we can continue to improve this site to best serve your interests.

Be Moved

Oct 31, 2007

Last week Daniel J. Levitin wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times about how odd it is that classical music audiences are discouraged from expressing their enjoyment of music through movement.  Levitin asserts that moving to music is innate and that we would probably have more fun if we moved freely. 

I couldn’t agree more.  For me, it follows the “don’t clap in between movements” rule at classical music concerts that I sometimes find so counter-intuitive.  Would it be distracting if half of the people at a concert got up to dance or sway to the music?  In some instances, yes.  But there are times when the enjoyment of a piece is enhanced by moving to the beat, and if the entire audience joins in doing so, then it can ascend to a higher level altogether.

A great example of this takes place every January at the Chicago Sinfonietta’s Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Maestro Freeman closes this concert every year by inviting the audience to stand up, hold hands, sing, and sway to the pulse of “We Shall Overcome”.  The act of moving as a group, and singing together makes this one of the most emotional moments of the season, year after year.

Maybe there are other opportunities like this that would make our concerts more fun and fulfilling.  Can any of you share similar moments that you may have experienced in the concert hall?

The Perfect Classical Music Website

Oct 17, 2007

I was contacted a few weeks ago by Georgia Rivers, the Marketing Manager of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It turns out that Ms. Rivers was going to be on holiday in the United States and her itinerary had her spending a few days in Chicago checking out our classical music scene.  Apparently she found this website during her research for the trip and wanted to meet with someone to discuss how came to be, and how the classical music community in Sydney might create a similar partnership.

Angela Golden and I met with Georgia yesterday for almost an hour to share some of our experiences with and answer some of her questions.  It was also a great opportunity to hear about the challenges Australian orchestras are facing, many very similar to those that US orchestras are grappling with.

We did the best we could to answer Georgia’s questions, but perhaps you, our readers and contributors can help our colleagues down under.  If you were to advise the Sydney classical music organizations on how best to create a website that could serve the interests of the classical music community including audience members, musicians, etc., what would you advise them to include or exclude?  Should they have blogs?  Live chats?  A calendar section?  Forums?  Other functions?

Okay Chicago, this is your chance to design the perfect classical music website.  The floor is yours!

Making It Last

Oct 3, 2007

I just saw an interesting tidbit about the San Diego Symphony’s use of digital recordings.  Apparently audience members will be able to purchase a downloadable version of the concert they just attended, thereby creating the opportunity of turning every performance into a permanent keepsake.  Seems like a great way to keep audience members engaged and for keeping our orchestras top of mind. 

Technology offers those of us in the classical music biz other similar opportunities.  The Chicago Sinfonietta recently video-recorded Maestro Freeman talking about each concert on our 2007-2008 season and posted the mini-videos on our website.  Paul spoke about what to listen for in each concert, and in some cases, provided interesting insights into why he chose the works we will perform. 

It is clear that the ease of recording and distributing digital content will continue to provide opportunities for orchestras to interact with audiences well beyond the concert hall.  The questions this brings up include how rights fees are negotiated, how musicians and composers are compensated for their work, how organizations benefit, the role that the musician’s union and other mediators play, and countless others. 

Regardless of how these questions are answered, digital content is here to stay and is making a significant impact on how we all do business.  Here are some questions posed to musicians and administrators who may read this post:

How should musicians and composers be compensated for music downloads?  How should the producing organizations receive compensation, if any?  If a project has little or no chance of recouping rights usage fees, should the fees be negotiable?  Let’s hear your thoughts on this important and timely topic.