Category: Marcia Adair

Dispatch from Canada: Toronto Symphony Orchestra strikes gold with the kids

June 30, 2011 | 12:45 pm

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra with TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian, credit Cylla von Tiedemann

The 2010-11 season has been a tough one for classical music across the continent. In most cities, a sticking of heads in the sand in regard to how technology has changed our relationship with live performance and an insistence that the music itself was enough to fill the hall has left orchestral music standing in the corner wondering why people aren’t noticing how awesome it is anymore.

Add in shifting cultural priorities, major hits to endowments, bitter labor disputes and poor management, and many orchestras are naturally feeling more and more anxious about their future.

As dismal as the outlook may seem, some orchestras are doing it right. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra faced near bankruptcy in 1995 and 2001, a major labor dispute in 1999, half-full halls, crippling debt, and a CEO and conductor who jumped ship, yet it has come out the other side in great shape. This month, the orchestra reported that 35% of its audience is younger than 35 years old.

In 2001 the choice was make massive changes or fold. Choosing the former, and, frankly, with nothing left to lose, the TSO actively reached out to new audiences by fitting programming into their schedule instead of demanding the reverse. A new after-work concert series catered to commuters and a shorter Saturday night series was followed each time by a party in the lobby where musicians and the audience could mingle, drink and listen to local bands. The TSO’s biggest success, however, has been the “tsoundcheck” program (the “t” is silent), which offers $14 tickets to those from 18 to 35.

Offering cheap tickets to students is nothing new, but extending the privilege to young professionals and designing social events with them in mind is, even nine years later, still not the norm. Last year, 23,000 tickets were sold through tsoundcheck — four times more than the first year the program was offered.

The musicians have noticed.

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What's an anthem? Listen to our top 10

June 28, 2011 |  1:17 pm

Write an anthem, and if it's good enough, get it recorded by London Symphony Orchestra and some of the U.K.’s best singers. The competition is organized by Abbey Road Studios to mark its 80th anniversary.

What exactly is an anthem? Wednesday's Calendar article has your Anthem 101. Read it here.

The definition of anthem is rather elastic, so there’s no typical example. The only restriction is that it must be singable. To give you general parameters, we’ve broken down categories based on the four definitions of anthems that Abbey Road has posted in its rules. Click any video to listen. And turn up the volume.

Celebratory: As in a musical. Something great is happening, so we are going to sing about it.

Examples: "Zadok The Priest," a coronation anthem by Handel, and "We Are The Champions" by Queen.


 Sacred: Old-school anthems are some gems of the choral music canon.

Examples: "If Ye Love Me" by Thomas Tallis and "Os justi" by Bruckner.

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Watch 'Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg' from Glyndebourne [VIDEO]

June 27, 2011 |  4:15 pm

On Sunday, the Guardian newspaper in Britain hosted a live stream of the very well received David McVicar production of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" from Glyndebourne.

This privately owned opera house nestled in East Sussex, 40 miles south of London, regularly screens its summer productions in cinemas but this is the first time an opera house has collaborated with a newspaper.

Since the Guardian has generously enabled embedding, we've taken the opportunity to make our own Culture Monster presentation of the opera.

The video will be available until July 3, so feel free to dip in and out or fast-forward to the good parts as the spirit moves until then.

If you're going for complete immersion, clear your calendar for the next five hours, hook your computer up to your stereo and television and click the box next to the volume to enjoy full-screen goodness.

Act 1 (1 hour 30 minutes)


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'Dream With Me': A new album and TV special for Jackie Evancho

June 14, 2011 |  4:01 pm

Last summer, Culture Monster followed the story of then 10-year-old singer Jackie Evancho as she captured the nation's heart as the mid-season Youtube audition contestant on "America's Got Talent."

We chatted with experts to see if she was the real deal, mused about the changes in her voice, had a look at other children with adult voices and speculated on what she might sing to bag the million-dollar prize.

In the end, Evancho placed second to bluesman Michael Grimm, a result some commentators put down to the voters' desire to protect her from the dark side of a career in showbiz, in particular the Las Vegas show that was also part of the prize.

The inevitable Christmas record, a four-track EP, was certified platinum, but for the most part, Evancho has kept a reasonably low profile. Her parents appear to be wisely playing the long game, doing their best to keep her in school and at home with her three siblings and various animals.

In recent week, however, she's been all over the place promoting her full-length album "Dream With Me" (released Tuesday) and a PBS "Great Performances" special with David Foster, "Dream With Me in Concert"  (Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. on KOCE).

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A chat with composer David Lang

June 14, 2011 |  9:00 am

Lang A man walks across a field and disappears in full view of his wife, the neighbor and a group of slaves.  Each witness recounts their version of events in a series of seven scenes and by the end, we are left knowing less than we did at the beginning.

David Lang's opera "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field" will have its Southern California premiere Wednesday night at Long Beach Opera.  (Mark Swed reviewed the 2002 world premiere in San Francisco.)

The overriding characteristic of the opera is ambiguity. With music scored for Broadway-style singers as well as opera singers, a string quartet for an orchestra and spoken dialogue the piece resists classification at even the most basic level.

"The opera opens up the possibility that the world is full of questions we can't answer," said Lang. "When there was a choice between being more or less ambiguous, we always chose more."

The "we" is Lang and playwright Mac Wellman, whom Lang met while serving as composer in residence at the American Conservatory in San Francisco.

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Royal wedding: William and Kate's music coming soon to a choir near you

May 1, 2011 |  7:00 am

Kiss Mere hours after William and Kate said "I will" on Friday morning, copies of Kate's wedding dress and flowers appeared in shop windows across the country. Although less immediate, the wedding music also has a knock-on effect.

Crimond, the obscure Scottish melody for "The Lord's My Shepherd" chosen by Queen Elizabeth for her wedding in 1947, has since become the hymn's standard tune. As such, the new anthem and motet sung at William and Kate's wedding most certainly will be appearing shortly in choir folios around the world.

John Rutter "This is the day which Lord hath made" (2011)

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Commissioned especially for the wedding by the Dean of Westminster (essentially Westminster Abbey's head priest), this piece is pure Rutter from the first notes. If you're a choral singer, this is great news. Rutter has a gift for melody and is enormously popular with singers, especially in the United States. Non-singers and Anglican church musicians are more ambivalent, tending to be less impressed by the stock gestures and the propensity for cheese typical of his work.

Listen asthe choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal at St. James' Palace give the premiere performance at the wedding.


Paul Mealor "Ubi Caritas et Amor" (2011)

Publisher: University of York Music Press

This refashioning of Mealor's 2010 composition "Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal"was commissioned by Prince William. The piece is lovely in itself, but there were extra-musical reasons to include it in the ceremony too. Mealor is Welsh (when Charles ascends the throne, William will become the Prince of Wales), has a home on Anglesey (the Welsh island where William and Kate will be living for the next few years) and the original song cycle was premiered at St. Andrews, the university where the couple met.

Largely unknown outside the Anglican church music world, Mealor will find his star rising considerably after this debut on the world stage. He teaches composition at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Mealor's aesthetic is similar to that of composer Eric Whitacre, featuring the same open tone clusters, extended chords, slow-moving harmonic changes and divisi voicing. These techniques minimize any sense of a home key, which creates a sort of ethereal dissonance that doesn't feel as if it needs resolving. In this idiom, the color of the sound is more important than the shape of it, meaning there is no big tune.

Nerd Note: The treble solo at the end seems to be a nod to the more famous setting of the Ubi caritas text by Maurice Duruflé.

Here again are the two choirs from the wedding:



Royal wedding: What the music says about William and Kate

-- Marcia Adair

Photo: The royal kiss. Credit: Associated Press.

Royal wedding: What the music says about William and Kate

April 29, 2011 |  7:55 am

After months of anticipation of the royal wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- as Prince William and Kate Middleton are now called -- tied the knot Friday morning at Westminster Abbey. The 75-minute service was exactly the mix of traditional and modern that bodes well for the future of the monarchy.

While the tall trees lining the aisle of the thousand-year-old Abbey were absolutely stunning, the music choices were rather uneven.

William and Kate's selection of Hubert Parry's anthem "I Was Glad" for the processional was inspired. Originally a coronation anthem, it represents all that is right and good about British pageantry. It is regal but never vulgar, attention-holding without ever hogging the spotlight from the main event -- in this case, a young bride on her way to marry her Prince Charming.

Photo gallery: Royal wedding coverage

The first hymn, "Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer" was a bit of an odd choice because it is most often sung at Welsh rugby matches these days, but perhaps that was part of the point. The lesson read by Kate's brother James and the prayer William and Kate wrote for the service emphasized their intention to serve the people. The hundreds of thousands of well-wishers singing along lustily outside to "Guide Me" as well as "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" and "Jerusalem" (also by Parry and most often sung at cricket matches) certainly felt that they were able to take part even outside the Abbey walls.

The two new commissions were "This Is the Day" by John Rutter and a setting of the "Ubi caritas" text by Welsh composer Paul Mealor. The Rutter was, well, Rutter. Pretty enough, easy for amateur choirs to sing, but immediately forgettable. There's nothing wrong with Rutter's compositions per se, it's just that once you've heard one, you've heard them all, so there's very little point to a new commission.

Considering the popularity of the lovely "Ubi caritas" setting by Maurice Duruflé, Paul Mealor had big shoes to fill. His music is gently dissonant and reminiscent of Eric Whitacre's work.

While William and Kate were signing the register, the choir sang "Blest Pair of Sirens," a title screaming to be abused by naughty choirboys. This anthem is by ... you guessed it ... Hubert Parry, one of Prince Charles' favorite composers.

On the way out, it was William Walton's "Crown Imperial" march, as reported Thursday, following the recession we predicted earlier in the week: Widor's "Toccata."

There was a lot of speculation before the wedding as to the identity of the soloist, with many fearing it would be Katherine Jenkins. In the end there was no soloist at all, or any psalm setting.

Royal wedding RELATED

Photo gallery: Royal wedding coverage

Royal wedding: Recessional music revealed

Wedding music fit for a prince and his bride

-- Marcia Adair

Royal wedding: Recessional music revealed

April 28, 2011 | 11:36 am

Oxford University Press has confirmed that an abridged version of William Walton's "Crown Imperial" march will be the recessional music played when Prince William and Kate Middleton walk back down the aisle at Westminster Abbey after their wedding on Friday morning.

The piece was composed in 1937 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth's uncle Edward VIII, but he abdicated before the coronation ceremony in favor of marrying Wallis Simpson. The coronation went ahead as scheduled but with Elizabeth's father King George VI swearing to "cause law and justice, in mercy, to be executed in all of his judgments."

"Crown Imperial" is one of Walton's most popular pieces for orchestra and was played at Queen Elizabeth's coronation as well as the wedding of Prince William's uncle Prince Edward and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999. The Elgaresque style of march disappointed contemporaries of Walton (1902-1983), who regarded him as a much more avant-garde composer. His cantata "Balshazzar's Feast" and Viola Concerto are much more indicative of his natural style.

The AFP reported Thursday that the prelude music (seating the 1,900 guests will take nearly three hours) will include pieces for organ by Bach, Elgar, Walton and Hubert Parry, Gerald Finzi and Peter Maxwell Davies, the current Master of the Queen's Music.

Music from Prince Charles and Diana's wedding, Diana's funeral and Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles' wedding will be included. 

Although there hasn't been a choral processional since Princess Anne's wedding in 1973, there is some indication that Kate and her father will walk the 318 feet to the altar to the anthem "I Was Glad" by Parry.

Be sure to return to Culture Monster on Friday for a full report on the wedding music.


Wedding music fit for a prince and his bride

The story of King Edward VIII, who gave up the throne for American divorcee Wallis Simpson

-- Marcia Adair

Royal wedding: A music guide [Video]

April 26, 2011 |  8:11 pm

Everyone except those directly involved in the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton have been kept in the dark with regard to the dress, the cake, the music and the honeymoon. In this post we take an educated guess at what music the couple might have at their wedding on Friday.

Because the wedding is British and very formal, most of the music we suggest will be unfamiliar to many readers. All can be found by searching YouTube but here are four of our favorites.

The Psalm

Psalm singing is an important part of the Church of England musical tradition. The psalms are sung in a sort of harmonized plainchant, which is unmetered so as not to destroy the integrity of the original text. The results are a rather beguiling combination of unsteadiness and total calm.

Listen to the choir of Westminster Abbey singing Psalm 67, which we're confident will appear in some form in the service on Friday.

William and Kate will be standing in front of the stairs at this point.

The Anthem

An anthem is also a form peculiar to the Church of England. It is sung in regular service after Communion and in a wedding whenever there is a scene change not covered by a hymn.

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Got (Concert) Milk?

April 13, 2011 |  5:00 am

How do you grow your audience?

It's the million-dollar marketing question with a brand-new answer: milk.

This short film was the basis of the 2010-11 season marketing campaign by Konzerthaus Dortmund in Germany. There's no cursive writing, no roses and not a hint of romanza in sight. "We wanted to get young people interested in what we are doing, so we had to change our image,"  the concert hall's PR head, Jan Boecker, told Culture Monster.

The need to attract a younger audience is something North American marketers are obsessed with, but surely in Europe they don't have to worry about such things?

It turns out they do.

Dortmund is a classical music marketer's nightmare. Located in the middle of Germany's industrial heartland, this former coal and steel town is only just starting its transition into the education and IT sectors. While there has been an orchestra and opera house in town for about a hundred years, the concert hall was only built in 2002. Most of the 580,000 people living in Dortmund prefer watching soccer anyway. Even if they didn't, concert halls in Essen and Cologne are less than 60 miles away.

Konzerthaus Dortmund (KD) is a first-rate concert hall but, on top of everything else, has to struggle against being the new kid in town. Capital costs, energy bills and salaries are covered by money from the town of Dortmund but the programming budget depends on ticket sales.

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