It’s All About The Musicians & The Music

ToscaSo the ADO and I finished up with Tosca yesterday.  We had three quite extraordinary Australian opera singers  join us who were superb (tell me again why we are importing non-Australian overseas opera singers to perform Opera in Australia with the major companies?) and the orchestra handled the material on just two calls quite magnificently.

All to the good.  But, this morning, bemoaning the soreness I now get after long days rehearsing and concertising as a consequence of my spinal surgery back in 2014 (sic.), I was aimlessly trawling through Orchestra Twitter feeds I follow whilst consuming the days’ first ‘heart-starter’ coffee, only to be lurched into mental activity by some appalling orchestra conducting video snippets.

These (always soundless) video bites of various ‘profile’ conductors doing their thing (it’s BBC Proms season right now, so there a lot of these to view) seem to inadvertently capture the unwary (or uninformed) conductor looking like a performing seal.

These ‘social media’ marketing activities – no doubt put together by millenial-age assistant producers or even more lowly artistic adminstrative assistants with minimal artistic judgement – working with whichever orchestra or Arts organisation, are a blight.

Nobody outside of the syncophantic echelons of orchestra management cares what conductors do – it’s only the quality of the music they assist orchestra players in making in which they have a role.  I quite realise that the aforementioned video snippets are nothing more than (mostly inane) marketing exercises, but surely it must eventually dawn on the administrative gurus of orchestras that it is the rank and file musicians whom audiences are fascinated by; not in imagining their personal lives and narratives therein, per se, but in observing the sound that emanates from their respective instruments; individually and, within an ensemble setting. Continue Reading →

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The End of Season Opera Company Projections of Doom

Metropolitan_OperaI read an interesting approach to the annual “Let’s predict the death of Opera” reviews we get about this time each year.  This is a good piece of journalism by Weston Williams from The Christian Science Monitor.  You can read it here.

However, when you read visual sound-bytes contained therein from Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager such as, “The struggle for opera has to do with the transition from an aging audience to a new one” (you think?) or, my absolute favourite, “This is a public art form … and as long as we have the public, the art form will survive and thrive,” (hmm?) says Gelb, you need to wonder whether there is any critical risk assessment going on inside that man’s head?

Notwithstanding, both he and Douglas Clayton, general director of Chicago Opera Theater (COT) concur that “… what is essential for any opera company, whether it’s small, medium, or large, is to find cultural relevance … and connections in the community to inspire audiences to want to participate.”

So the very simple question arises: why doesn’t the Met do exactly that? Continue Reading →

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Orchestra Musicians Never Fail To Amaze Me

Kevin PurcellThis is a duplicate post I wrote for the Australian Discovery Orchestra website about a recent experience.

I had the great pleasure last weekend of working with an essentially ‘scratch’ orchestra comprised predominantly of musicians teaching instrumental music in Schools in Melbourne and regional areas; including some musicians from the ADO roster, all of whom gave so generously of their time.

The ADO, through Managing Director, Janine Hanrahan, and Artistic Administrator, Briony Buys, was asked to curate this concert for the inaugural Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) Arts Learning Festival. I was delighted to return to Melbourne to work with the orchestra on a program of music specifically composed for Children.

We really need to celebrate the capacity of orchestra musicians who live in Australia: their willingness to tackle difficult music – with far too little rehearsal time; an undaunted enthusiasm for the task of finding their musical way through a barrage of notes, rhythms, dynamics and endlessly shifting tempi and, ultimately, their conviction that they can “pull it off” when the moment really counts – the concert!

We underestimate and under-appreciate orchestra musicians generally.  I believe this is true in most places in the world with very few exceptions. What is asked of them – in terms of the minutely exacting technical and artistic expectations  – is a continuing feat of human dexterity and skill-level that belies any general understanding of what they individually and collectively accomplish in the process of making music. Continue Reading →

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Why No Symphony Orchestras Make Money

An interesting article from April 4 on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) web site by Alex McClintock recently caught my attention.

McClintock cites Robert Flanagan, a professor of Economics at Stanford University from his in-depth analyses of the economics of symphony orchestras entitled, ‘The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras’.  The book has been in print for several years.

The problem, although admittedly oblique, is that the author’s assertion that “….no symphony orchestra in the world would be financially viable on its own” is deduced primarily from business models that have been the mainstay of Orchestra administrative and governance policies for over a century – and largely focussed on U.S. orchestras to boot.

That is not to say that Flanagan’s book does not do a serviceable job at distilling many of the primary problems facing orchestras around the world as not-for-profit entities. It does it, in fact, very well.

My suspicion is that the conclusions drawn, not only by Flanagan but by many other commentators interested in this field, are all a little too neat and cosy; too tidy in reducing the reasons for the financial peril facing many of orchestra ensembles around the world.

The unpalatable fact is that many of these organizations have been so badly governed for so many years that the horse has not just proverbially bolted, but has aged and died of natural causes long after the gate was left unbolted. Continue Reading →

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A Definition of Music To Fall In Love With

Bologna_Music_Museum_QuoteWhen I was in Italy during January earlier this year doing research for a production of Tosca, we visited Bologna where there is a very cute musical instrument museum. Opened in 2004, it’s called the International Museum and Library of Music.

In fact the museum is spread over two locations, one in the old town centre, and the other half of the collection housed in the convent of San Giacomo Maggiore, which is also home to the G.B. Martini music conservatory.

I went there to see the original manuscript of Rossini’s opera, The Barber of Seville.  As it turns out, it is just a fair copy and not the original composer’s m.s., but still pretty interesting to see.

So the point of this post is not in itself about this wonderful little museum – although I did see instruments there that I have only ever read about or seen images in books – as it is about this philological statement on the importance of music at the entrance to the first gallery in the museum.

I don’t know who wrote it – interestingly the quote is not attributed in the museum either – but it is a wholly compelling statement as to the fundamental nature of music collections, archives and curation of Arti Musicali from the distant and near past.

Read it and I think you’ll be in agreement.

More soon,

Kevin

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