Archive: September, 2012
Charmingly and forcefully, Astral Artists has finessed its way onto the local and national arts scene. Twenty years ago, nearly no one saw the need for an organization that would help young talent make the leap from conservatory to stage by giving sage career advice, booking concert dates and making the kind of connections for an emerging artist otherwise available only by landing a hard-to-get agent.
Now, like the New World Symphony in Miami and Concert Artists Guild in New York, this unlikely wildflower seems indispensable – to audiences as well as artists. In its concert series, the point isn’t necessarily musical polish, though there was plenty Saturday night at Astral’s 20th anniversary gala concert at the Perelman Theater. A video of interviews with Astral musicians, founder Vera Wilson and others revealed work away from the city’s prime venues with the elderly and disabled, and when clarinetist Benito Meza said no audience was more important than any other, you believed it. I’m not sure a board member of any group could have spoken more movingly about classical music than Debra Lew Harder, who, with a quietly powerful delivery, declared it as nothing less than the essence of life.
Astral alumni returned to perform. Pianist Andrius Zlabys showed his unusual insight in Bach, balancing elegant legato with near-pizzicato lightness, in the Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 904. Soprano Dísella Lárusdóttir delivered two Mozart concert arias with Andrew Hauze leading a small chamber orchestra, her voice pleasant and strong though not yielding deep meaning of the texts.
A tentative agreement has been reached between players and management of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a three-year deal. A vote is expected shortly. Details of the new contract have not yet been revealed.
Update: musicians have ratified the new contract; the CSO board has not yet approved the deal. A bit more here.
The news is grim in Orchestraland. The troubles of the Philadelphia Orchestra over the past two years were but the canary in the coal mine. Will Philadelphia also find its way to stability sooner than some others? Sunday's piece explores the future.
Elsewhere, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is on strike. Philadelphia musicians weighed this option during the bankruptcy/judicially supervised renegotiation of their labor contract. In the end, they saw that a strike would probably accelerate audience drain, and took a huge hit in wages and pension instead. Chicago players are determined to see that it doesn't happen to them.
Musicians and management of the wonderful Minnesota Orchestra are still talking. The administration's April 12 position proposed that players take an average pay cut to $89,000, from $135,000, the StarTribune reports. A lockout is a possibility, which is exactly what happened at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
If you want to know more about Play On, Philly!, the intensive after-school music program that has just landed another $1 million in funding, take a look at this video. Also, groove to Play On, Philly! students playing Brahms with Simon Rattle here.
POP! is modeled after Venezuela's El Sistema network, and programs like it across the U.S. are coming on line. Some U.S. music educators have argued that almost any music program that is getting the funding and attention now being given to El Sistema-like groups would succeed - especially one that gives children two or three hours of music instruction five days a week.
In a way, El Sistema has a chance to step in to do the kind of music training that was once routine in many public schools. It's only this kind of concentration of time that allows for instrumental lessons, ear training, theory and ensembles. A nice silver lining to the El Sistema structure is that it gives many children a much-needed productive atmosphere after school, a place to go that's a lot safer than an empty house or just hanging out.
The Opera Company of Philadelphia has popped up again - this time not with opera, but in a bit from Orff's Carmina Burana, at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
Final applications for payment have been submitted by the firms handling the Philadelphia Orchestra Association's bankruptcy. Fees claimed by the seven major professionals seem to support the estimate previously given by the orchestra: just below $10 million.
The fees listed in court papers over the past few days only go back as far as the bankruptcy filing itself in the spring of 2011, and the orchestra racked up bills well before then as it researched the option of chapter 11.
The top three billers (from 4/16/11 to 7/30/2012):