Tag Archives | Kevin Purcell

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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How To Conduct [Insert Title]?

Worry_WortIntermittently I return to the subject of whether assertions made in treatises on orchestra conducting and conducting technique are valid. I return to the subject again today.

Recognising that there are quite a number of younger conductors who follow this blog (albeit intermittent of late) I think there is a responsibility to engage in discussion about things to do with conducting that weren’t readily available when I started out in this business.

One of the recurring issues is, “Is what you read in the ever expanding subject matter of orchestral conducting reliable?” The answer is more often ‘yes’ than otherwise, but there is a growing body of literature; mostly emanating from American college and university academic conductors, that raise some concerns.

One of the nasty truisms of academia – and especially so in the performing and creative Arts disciplines – remains the concept of ‘publish or perish’. Alternative methodologies and frameworks of Performance as Research (PaR) as it is referred to in the USA or PARIP (Practice in Research as Performance) elsewhere, and other exemplars of practice-based academic enquiry regrettably remain problematic for many universities, their associated research funding mechanisms and processes of academic promotion.

Consequently, as opposed to seeing how conducting orchestras and Opera as creative production can constitute intellectual enquiry through performances, we have seen the publication of a plethora of texts on conducting technique as ‘how to’ books over the last 5 – 10 years.  These tomes tend to reflect more associations of experience from within the hallowed halls of learning than performances with professional orchestras.

And herein lies the problem: professional orchestra players learn an ‘inside the orchestra’ vocabulary of execution which negates the need to observe or follow the pedantic approaches to conducting espoused in these texts.  It’s true too, that the development of this player-group vocabulary has arisen over the last hundred years of orchestral performance practice to negate the often seen shortcomings of the person at the front of the orchestra waving the stick! It’s not a question of the validity of this reality, it just is.

It would be far more useful if the ‘academic’ conducting fraternity could, and would, use PaR or PARIP methodologies as enquiry into what conducting gestures (as they see them) actually mean to professional players in terms of what they collectively see and, as a consequence of this, what they interpret the meaning of these gestures to be. This would provide much needed feedback to determine whether what is actually being taught to conductors actually reflects what orchestral players need. Continue Reading →

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An Unusual Double: Puccini and Irish Music

TRI_New_Irish_TenorsSo, I am working away here in Italy doing research for conducting Tosca later in the year whilst I’ve been finishing off new orchestrations (with my colleague Troy Rogan) for symphony gigs by TRI: The New Irish Tenors in the U.S. starting in March.  It’s been a rather unusual double-act to say the least.

What I’ve noticed is this: a great melody is a great melody, but a great melody with great storytelling allied to a great tune is utterly compelling.  And funny enough, both trad. Irish music tunes and Puccini opera arias have both in spades.

So it’s very weird to be humming ‘Boolavogue’ (an Irish trad. tune) whilst walking about in Rome videoing and photographing the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the Farnese Palace and Castel Sant’ Angelo respectively as part of a new 3D-interactive experience about Puccini’s verismo opera masterpiece – TOSCA that we’re producing (and how I have always loved that this marvelous opera was for so many years derided as “..that shabby little shocker.”)

Anyway, if you’re in or around Orlando, FL on March 3 go see TRI with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and enjoy an early St. Patrick’s Day festivity.  Great Irish singers who’ll bring a tear to you eye I imagine.

Back soon,

Kevin

 

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Recordings in June and July

I have had remarkably little time in the last month, other than to keep my head above that euphemistically imaginary line labelled ‘Drowning’.  I have started to consider how much music can one conductor keep in his/her head at any one time.  Without doubt, I have discovered my limit!

This month sees the culmination of two recording projects, for release in 2017, that have been long in the planning and about to be short in the execution.

The first of these projects is the new CD of the music of contemporary American composer, Nan Schwartz to be recorded at the marvellous Synchron Stage facility in Vienna. The original Synchronhalle was built in the 1940s, adjacent to Rosenhügel-Filmstudios as part of “Film City Vienna”. In the 1960s, eminent classical artists such as Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin, Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich used the halle for some of their now-legendary recordings.

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz comes from a family musical pedigree that is astounding, yet simultaneously defining in the emergence of her own unique musical voice in Amercian Music. Contrary to the availability of her Jazz arrangements, television and film music on records and CDs, the lack of available commercial recordings of Nan’s concert music is a major oversight – one that is about to be corrected.

Her family legacy includes a father who played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and performed on nearly every Frank Sinatra recording, and a mother who performed such chart-topping hits as “Chicago” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for musical legend Tommy Dorsey before going on to work as a studio singer for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Henry Mancini, and Sonny and Cher, among others.

With a record 7 Emmy nominations, a Grammy win for her elegant and sophisticated arrangement of “Here’s That Rainy Day” for Natalie Cole, two 2014 Grammy nominations (Gianmarco & Amy Dickson), and a 2013 Grammy nomination (The London Symphony Orchestra) Nan’s melodic, harmonically-rich music, is a perfect vehicle for symphony orchestras to peform.  No doubt you will start to see her name on orchestra concert programs in the near future.

The second project is the recording of Brenton Broadstock’s concerto for orchestra, Made in Heaven, that I premiered with the Australian Discovery Orchestra two weeks ago in one of their live-streamed Internet concerts.  This is a marvellous piece and a wonderful homage to ‘Kind of Blue’, the iconic Jazz album of 1959 from Miles Davis.  It is incredible how this large-scale work (for a very large orchestra) captures the heart and soul of this Jazz masterpiece without ever using a single melody from any tune on the record – it’s like a classical music counterpart to the five tunes that make up the album.

Made in Heaven will be recorded in Bratislava in early July.

More soon,

Kevin

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If You Listen Very Carefully….

In this informative discussion about ‘Music Director Searches’ for orchestras organised by the Conductors Guild (of which I am a Board member for purposes of disclosure) I was most impressed by comments offered by Henry Fogel.  Mr. Fogel is Dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Between 2003-2008, Mr. Fogel was President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras.  In fact his list of professional accomplishments is extensive.

Mr. Fogel (and his son Karl) also run a website called HenrysRecords.org which is one of the most wonderful resources for classical music recordings available anywhere on the Internet.

The disclosure statement is important as the Conductors Guild is currently developing a new handbook on this specific topic – and one that presents quite contrary views to an extant document published by the League of American Orchestras.

This little Google Hangout online seminar has particulary good information for younger orchestral conductors trying to make the first big leap to a music director role – an issue specifically addressed by Mr. Fogel on several occasions.  The information from all participants in this seminar, including both Diane Wittry and Gabriel Lefkowitz, is honest and generally well-considered.

My only concern in this presentation is the rather limited understanding of the place and inclusion of contemporary composers in the orchestral repertoire and the somewhat unhelpful antagonism toward some types of contemporary orchestral music as expressed by several of the participants.  This topic might have better been avoided frankly, if only for the reason that the sentiments expressed tend to reinforce the outmoded and ill-informed attitudes commonly heard by many orchestra artistic administrative personnel.  It’s the classic chicken or the egg scenario.  Since I have written extensively on this in the past, I won’t mount my soapbox again here.

Also, pre-announcement to conclude today’s post:  Mark your calendars for the Australian Discovery Orchestra’s opening 2017-17 season concert on May 29, streamed live from the ADO website.

From late April also check out our 3D interactive environment where you can explore the world of the music we are presenting in this concert event.

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OK, OK…The Rumour Is True: We Are Doing A New Online Music Theatre Thriller

Loch_Skerrow_TrainOK, we’re forced to come clean if only to allay the mounting rumours.  I swear I don’t know how they start!

Yes, it’s true. Victor Kazan and I are working on a ground-breaking transmedia musical theatre work. Designed in conjunction with Ortelia Interactive Spaces: an Australian company exceptional for its development in creating 3D interactive environments using client content, the project is probably the most challenging thing we have ever done.

So what’s it all about then you ask? Well the description below is what we are releasing for general consumption just at this point. More information will become available as we get closer to a release. Are we worried that someone might appropriate our idea? Not at all.  No-one is ever going to work out what we’ve designed and how it’s executed. What I can tell you is that the design and interaction concepts have never been previously done.  Yep, it actually is unique! Continue Reading →

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