Today, many orchestras around America are experiencing extreme financial problems. Yet, as WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports, one ensemble is bucking the trend.
Strikes, lockouts and deficits. Throughout the past year in particular, tales of rancor between musicians and management, financial shortfalls, and dwindling audience numbers have been the dominant headlines about classical music.
Though agreements have been reached in Philadelphia, Detroit, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, locked out musicians at The Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have yet to begin their seasons.
There are some bright spots: The New York Philharmonic, now the world’s most industrious orchestra, is reporting a bumper year for fundraising while the National Symphony in DC quietly negotiated and signed a new four-year agreement with its musicians.
The most notable good news, though, comes from the Cleveland Orchestra. In the final months of 2012, it saw a remarkable 47% increase in attendance at Severance Hall, much of it made up of younger concert goers. In addition, the orchestra is reporting a year-on-year increase in revenue of 24%.
The Cleveland Orchestra’s chief marketing officer is Ross Binney. He says this upswing is not just about good marketing.
We’re certainly having some fun on the marketing side, but I think we’re seeing a slight pickup in the economy, perhaps, and our diversified programming is certainly at the forefront of that regeneration.
In addition the orchestra has made a concerted attempt to attract music students from local schools, colleges and conservatories
We’ve employed some student ambassadors who are promoting us heavily.
Meantime closer to home, classical audiences in the first state were relieved to be able to return to the concert hall as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra recently began its season after a three month delay.
German composer, performer, and conductor Felix Mendelssohn would have turned 204 on February 3rd. While he was acclaimed during his short life of 38 years, only a fraction of his works continued to be performed after his death. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at Mendelssohn and his musical impact.
Lewis: His violin concerto is one of the works that survived the centuries. Yet his contributions to music, says Mendelssohn biographer R. Larry Todd, were much more significant than many people realize:
Todd: He was, of course, one of the great pianists of his age, arguably the leading organist of the entire century. He was also – it’s not well known - a violinist and violist. He could pick up a part in his own octet and play that, and of course he was one of the seminal conductors of the 19th century. He was one of the first conductors to conduct using a baton.
Susan Lewis talks with R. Larry Todd about the genius of Mendelssohn.
Lewis: Mendelssohn’s performance of the St. Matthew Passion at its 100th anniversary in 1827 helped spark the 20th-century Bach revival, says Philadelphia Singers Music Director David Hayes.
Hayes: Most people thought Bach was a composer you studied – he was an intellectual composer. The idea of performing Bach, was, sort of, you know, crazy. Why would you perform Bach? But Mendelssohn was the first to really turn around and say, hey, these great works of Bach - the St. Matthew Passion –we should perform these works.
Lewis: Mendelssohn’s own compositions included symphonies, concert overtures, concertos, chamber music, choral works, piano and organ music, and songs. But Todd says that after Mendelssohn died, much of this music was not performed due to anti-Semitism and changing musical tastes.
Music lives on a leafy street in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, where a former Philadelphia Orchestra percussionist and longtime teacher continues to share his talents as a musician and craftsman. WRTI’s Susan Lewis visits percussionist Alan Abel:
Lewis: Abel’s basement was long ago transformed into a studio where he teaches current students, and coaches former students for orchestra auditions.
Abel: I bought a five octave marimba to accommodate the students and auditionees. This came in pieces... Now, the timpani, that’s another story...This is an old old xylophone ...that’s an interesting bass drum.. and my bass drum stand, which I invented in the early to mid '60s.
Lewis: Today, orchestras all over the world use Abel’s suspended drum stands – as well as the triangles he began manufacturing 50 years ago. In a backyard workshop, Abel teaches groups of students to create triangle HOOKs – from coat hangers, plastic tubing, and fishing line – that hold the instrument just so.
Abel: I’ll show you what happens when you suspend it...Now I can play faster rhythms...I can also play rolls.
Lewis: Three of the four members of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s current percussion section studied with Abel, including Principal Chris Deviney.
Deviney: Jan, his wife, offered you tea, and then you’d go down into the basement, or we’d call it the dungeon sometimes, and you’d have your lesson, and you felt really kind of like you were an extension of his family.
Lewis: Although he retired as a full time member in 1997, Abel continues to play with The Philadelphia Orchestra when it calls.
Dave Burrell talks with Susan Lewis about his jazz composition; how he got started composing, and how he approaches his commissions for the Rosenbach Museum and Library.
Internationally known jazz musician Dave Burrell is composer-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where he’s working on a multi-year project focused on the Rosenbach’s collection of civil war artifacts.
Each year has a theme: the first was Civil War Heroes, the second, Civilian Life. This year, Burrell’s compositions interpret turning points in the war. WRTI’s Susan Lewis explores Dave Burrell's journey in jazz composition.
You know it when you hear it. This week, WRTI pays special attention to the historic expansion, 323 years ago, of the woodwind family - the addition of the clarinet.
DUDDLESTON: The unmistakable sound of the cat from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf speaks to young and old. But without the inventiveness of a German instrument maker named Johann Christoph Denner back near the end of the 1600s, it would not have been heard.
Professor Emily Threinen of Temple's Boyer College of Music and Dance says there were reasons the sound of the clarinet was so novel.
THREINEN: What was different from other wind instruments at that time was that it had a single reed on a mouthpiece, unlike the oboe which has a double reed.
DUDDLESTON: In the next century it evolved from a single low-register instrument to one with two. But it took some time for the clarinet to move up in the musical world. Originally, the woodwinds didn't have the status of the strings.
THREINEN: Wind instruments and wind players in the early forms and early design of wind instruments themselves were really attributed to more of the common person, or someone who was just sort of an entertainer and would pull out their flute and play "folksy-type" music around the pit fire.
DUDDLESTON: Today, the modern clarinet in the hands of a jazz or classical musician is a completely different proposition.
THREINEN: Right now clarinets can play very bright and shrill quite easily, but to produce a really dark, resonant, beautiful quality of sound itself is, I think, the greatest challenge of the instrument.
Philadelphia Museum of Art Curator of American Art Kathleen Foster talks with Susan Lewis about artist Alexander "Sandy" Calder.
One family name spans three generations of Philadelphia’s artistic heritage; each with an artist who has left his own mark on the city. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at the impact of three Calders – all, incidentally, named Alexander.
Alexander Milne Calder crafted over 200 figures for City Hall, which is topped by his 23-ton, 37-foot tall statue of William Penn. During a cleaning in 2007, conservator David Cann took us to the very top of Penn’s hat:
CANN: And we can pop the top off so you can see how he’s built in sections...there are 47 sections of casting that are flange bolted together on the inside, so they could put him up here … they couldn’t put it up here in one piece...
From what was for years the tallest point in the city, one can look down at Logan Square’s Swann Fountain, whose figures were sculpted by Calder’s son, Alexander Stirling Calder. Looking up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the home of the large mobile Ghost, created by his grandson, Alexander "Sandy" Calder. Sandy Calder also created what are, in effect, tiny sculptures...jewelry:
FOSTER: He grew up in this legacy of sculpture...he couldn’t help it, he was making stuff out of everyday objects and scraps. All of them, in a way, are very interested in public art, and Calder grew into that, coming out of his background as an engineer and a kind of playful sense of art as part of daily life.
Jim Cotter speaks with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.
WRTI will broadcast Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda live from The Metropolitan Opera on January 19th. The performance will also be shown live in hundreds of movie theaters around the world.
In this tale of royal intrigue, set in 16th-century England, the title role of Mary, Queen of Scots is sung by Joyce DiDonato. WRTI’s Jim Cotter spoke with the superstar mezzo-soprano about her latest role, how she constructs her characters, and how her years at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts were more useful personally and professionally than artistically.
Today, Joyce DiDonato is firmly ensconced on opera’s "A" list. But when she was training at AVA in the 1990s, such a future outcome seemed very unlikely.
DIDONATO: I wasn’t a star singer there and it wasn’t clear that I would go on and have a career, I had to go deep inside myself and ask do I still want to stay with this?
COTTER: So why did stick with it?
DIDONATO: I had to.
After Philadelphia, she had spells in the young artist programs at Santa Fe Opera and Houston Grand Opera where she says it all began to come together for her vocally.
COTTER: The voice started getting free and I started too find my voice, and that needed to happen. And happily it did and I continuously work to find more freedom.
DiDonato believes that in order to fully explore roles she needs to understand what the composer wanted, the historical context of the story and bring her own life experiences to the process of creating a fully fleshed-out character.
DIDONATO: The pain that I’ve gone through, in various ways, it always comes out of nowhere and socks you over the head. Of course I use that. It informs who I am as a human being and therefore it informs who I am as an artist.
The hardest working people in show business, at least in the classical music world, can take a bow this week. As WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports, data on the busiest conductors and orchestras in 2012 shows The Philadelphia Orchestra maintaining its place in the top 10 ensembles, while the most active conductor began his professional career in the Philadelphia region.
The survey was undertaken by the website BachTrack.com, which found that for the third year in a row, Beethoven was the most performed of all composers with Arvo Part the most performed living composer.
Predictably, Mozart and Bach came in 2nd and 3rd, but it was not a good year for Mahler who slipped from 9th to 25th - and Liszt who fell from the 6th to the 24th. Their places in the top 10 were taken by Debussy and Schumann.
The busiest conductor in the world last year was Alan Gilbert whose first music directorship appointment was with Camden’s Symphony in C in the early 1990s. The orchestra he currently directs, the New York Philharmonic, was also, not surprisingly the busiest orchestra in the world, taking over the top spot from the San Francisco Symphony. The Philadelphia Orchestra came in at 9th; slipping one place from last year.
In repertoire, the top three most-performed operas were all by Mozart - two of which had librettos by the one-time Pennsylvania resident Lorenzo Da Ponte. The Magic Flute was at number one followed by Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro.
And finally, the most-performed works in 2012 were, in ascending order: 3) Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, 2) Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, and in the top spot, 1) Handel's Messiah.
Nicholas McGegan talks about his different conducting style with Jim Cotter.
The renowned British conductor and early music expert Nicholas McGegan's 63rd birthday is January 14th. As WRTI’s Jim Cotter discovered, he’s a musician with a special talent for talking about music.
Nicholas McGegan’s uncomplicated, witty discourses on the works of the great composers have made him an in-demand speaker at places such as Oxford, Cambridge, and London’s Royal College of Music. What does he say is his reason for mostly conducting without a baton? He’s a klutz. "The less things I have to drop, throw, or break, the better."
In truth, says McGegan, his focus on Baroque, and early romantic repertoire means that his communication with the musicians has a different goal to those doing later and modern works.
MCGEGAN: Generally, when I'm doing the kind of music I d,o which is essentially 17th, 18th and 19th century music, the beat is fairly stable. So I don't have to do those fancy beat patterns that (you) have to do if you're doing The Rite of Spring. We don't have to count in eleven, I'm not sure I can count to 11! What I am doing is trying to communicate the gestures in the music - and hopefully there's enough of a beat that the orchestra can play together.
COTTER: Often he leads not from the podium, but as an instrumentalist, which presents a different set of challenges.
MCGEGAN: When I'm working with, say, a period instrument orchestra, I'm very often playing the harpsichord as well. And so if I were to use a baton I'd have to put it between my teeth, and then I would probably look like Carmen with a rose.