Hong Kong Philharmonic performs Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, 2009

Sparkling Programs

This Fourth of July season, American orchestras are performing rousing patriotic favorites by composers like Gershwin, Bernstein, and Sousa. They’re playing foreign pieces that have ironically become part of the standard repertoire, like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. They’re performing homegrown Broadway hits (South Pacific, Funny Girl), Joplin classics, and Harold Arlen medleys. And they’re inviting music stars like Jennifer Hudson, who will perform with the Boston Pops on Wednesday. More

Knights lead

New-Music Balancing Act

As the year nears its grand finale, several critics have reflected on the place of contemporary music and living composers within our field’s ecosystem. Anthony Tommasini and Allan Kozinn, both of The New York Times, looked at recent new-music developments—at the major institutions and in alternate venues, respectively—while Rob Deemer of NewMusicBox offered a slightly different take. “Classical music audiences seem more curious than ever,” Tommasini observed in the Times on December 11, “and performers have been emboldened over the past decade or so to take more chances. More

Dudamel Bernstein Urbanski Karajan

Poll: Cult of the Conductor?

Discussions about an orchestra conductor’s importance and the role he or she should play never seem to go away. Part of that may be due the enduring mystery of what they do, the subtleties beneath those strange hand signals. But the debate may also stem from the way in which the conductor’s role is always changing.

The debate had a flare-up last month when Montreal Symphony Associate Trumpet Russell Devuyst took Montreal Gazette reviewer Lev Bratishenko to task over an October 27 review of the orchestra. More

The Florida Orchestra and Music Director Stefan Sanderling. Photo by J.M. Lennon

The Bard in Florida

If, as Shakespeare said, all the world’s a stage, then for one month this winter all of St. Petersburg was a Shakespeare stage, thanks to the Florida Orchestra. The orchestra had slated a number of Shakespeare-related works for its regular concert programming this season, but in a stroke of inspiration, it collaborated with a dizzying range of local arts organizations to forge a month-long, city-wide arts festival centered around the Bard of You-Know-Where. More

Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado. Photo by Zach Mahone

Gallery: Vail At 25

The Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado has just finished celebrating its 25th season, a quarter-century during which it transformed from its beginnings as a chamber music festival into one where three American orchestras now spend a chunk of each summer. The summer provided an additional milestone for Vail co-founder John Giovando, who celebrated his 25th and final season as executive director. Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott—in her second season as artistic director—presided over the festival from June 25 to August 4, welcoming the New York Philharmonic and Music Director Alan Gilbert; the Philadelphia Orchestra and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Seguin; and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Jaap van Zweden. More

One Woman in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Harpist in the Lions’ Den

“ ‘Today girls’ eyes glaze over when they hear about my being the first woman in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but they wouldn’t be so blasé if they knew what it was really like,’ Edna Phillips said with a wry laugh in 1990, when she asked me to work with her on the writing of her memoir.” So writes Mary Sue Welsh in her preface to One Woman in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra (University of Illinois Press, 241 pp., $35.) More

New York Philharmonic at the Park Avenue Armory. Photo by Chris Lee

Surround Sound

Sometimes in New York, a little extra space can go a long way. On June 29 and 30, the New York Philharmonic got a lot of extra space when Music Director Alan Gilbert took the orchestra across town to the Park Avenue Armory for the orchestra’s final program of the season, “Philharmonic 360.” The Armory takes up an entire city block, and the Philharmonic used the 55,000-square-foot Drill Hall for a program built upon the theme of “spatial music,” featuring as a centerpiece Karlheinz Stockhausen’s rarely performed Gruppen for Three Orchestras, with other spatially inflected works, More

Full orchestra rehearsal with Team Copland.

From Buckets to Strings

Alvaro Rodas is holding a cello-shaped object. Missing strings, a bridge, and f-holes, it’s a papier-mâché affair with a cardboard neck. It could be a musical piñata, but in fact this cello is a new addition to the Corona Youth Music Project’s paper orchestra. Paper instruments are an important stepping stone for children who are preparing to be part of a full orchestra in this Queens, NYC-based music-education program. With a paper violin, viola, or cello, kids can focus on the mechanics of holding an instrument, how to “play” together, and ensemble etiquette—without the distraction of noise. More

Musicians and staff from the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony at San Francisco's Jackson Playground on May 13, 2012. Photo by Chris Lee

San Francisco-New York Playoff

Maybe it wasn’t Major League Baseball, but the stakes were high when the San Francisco Symphomaniacs went up against the New York Philharmonic Penguins on May 13, while the New York Philharmonic was in San Francisco for two concerts at Davies Symphony Hall during the San Francisco Symphony’s centennial season. Musicians and staff from the two orchestras played nine innings of slow-pitch softball at San Francisco’s Jackson Playground, with the San Francisco hometown team taking home the prized Davies Cup after prevailing 34-4 against its longtime rivals. More

ACO coLABoratory

Composers Playground

There’s an old adage that creativity can’t be rushed. The American Composers Orchestra is testing that theory this season with “coLABoratory: Playing it Unsafe,” a series of five workshops from November to April that give five adventurous young composers free reign to experiment with new ideas. It’s a rare opportunity for composers not only to have works read by a professional orchestra, but also to develop those ideas with the same musicians over the course of an entire season. On December 11 at The New School’s Mannes College of Music, Raymond J. Lustig, Dan Visconti, and Du Yun each took turns testing—and re-testing—various ideas More

Music classes at Plaza Music Center in Brooklyn

Critic: How Not to Reach New Audiences

What’s the best way to find new audiences for classical music? Not through music-education programs, according to a June 27 column by Anne Midgette, classical-music critic of the Washington Post. More

World premiere at Augusta's Miller Theater of The Three Faces of Eve, 1957

Miller High Life

The Miller Theater in Augusta, Georgia has a storied history: since opening in 1940, it has featured first-run movies in a gleaming Art Moderne setting; legendary actors have trod its stage; the Oscar-winning film The Three Faces of Eve had its world premiere there in 1957; rock groups have raised a ruckus; and local theater, ballet, and opera troupes have performed. But as Augusta’s downtown succumbed to suburban flight and hard times, the Miller fell into disuse, and closed in the 1980s. Now the Miller may be poised for a comeback, thanks to a partnership between two local nonprofits: Symphony Orchestra Augusta and Augusta Landmarks. More

Jackson Heights Orchestra with Pat Glunt

In The Heights

Sometimes it’s hard to predict how hungry a community can be for great music. This summer, Patricia Glunt, a retired New York City Public Schools music educator and resident of the richly diverse Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, fulfilled a longtime dream by forming a new musical group, the Jackson Heights Orchestra. Six rehearsals later, on December 12, the volunteer ensemble made its debut, eighteen strong, at a packed Community United Methodist Church, performing music of Handel, Holst, and Respighi, as well as arrangements of two traditional Christmas carols with New York-based soprano Jayne Skoog as soloist. The community support for the endeavor was tremendous More

Oberlin Orchestra strings rehearse under Raphael Jimenez. Photo by Will Roane

Oberlin in The City

From the cornfields of Ohio to the East Coast’s bustling musical metropolis they come. The Oberlin Conservatory’s 2013 Illumination Tour takes place this week, with students and faculty from a variety of disciplines in residence in New York City, collaborating with a handful of renowned alumni on four concerts spanning January 15-19. The residency is set to kick off with the Oberlin Faculty Jazz Ensemble performing standards and originals at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on January 15. On January 18, the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, led by Timothy Weiss, heads to the DiMenna Center for Classical Music to give the world premiere of John Zorn’s The Tempest with Joshua Rubin (Oberlin class of ’00) on clarinet. Also on the program are three works by Oberlin alumni More

The Oberlin College Choir rehearses at Oberlin Conservatory. Photo by Will Roane

Oberlin in The City, Part 2

From the cornfields of Ohio to the East Coast’s bustling musical metropolis. The Oberlin Conservatory’s 2013 Illumination Tour took place January 15-19 with students and faculty a in residence in New York City, collaborating with a handful of renowned alumni on four concerts throughout the city. The residency kicked off with the Oberlin Faculty Jazz Ensemble performing standards and originals at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on January 15. On January 18, the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, led by Timothy Weiss, headed to the DiMenna Center for Classical Music to give the world premiere of John Zorn’s The Tempest with Joshua Rubin (Oberlin class of ’00) on clarinet. Also on the program were three works by Oberlin alumni More

Books in Brief header art

Maestro Demystified

It could be argued that no American-born conductor on the scene today has played a greater role in the nation’s orchestral life during the past 30 years than Leonard Slatkin, now in his fifth season as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a distinguished record of leadership at two other major organizations, the St. Louis and National symphony orchestras. All three music directorships, and a host of other experiences in music, inform his new book Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro (Amadeus Press, 311 pages, $27.99). As Slatkin writes in the “Praeludium” to this book More

The Erie Chamber Orchestra in action at concerts and educational events throughout the community in Erie, Pennsylvania

Erie Renewal

At the far northwestern corner of Pennsylvania lies Erie, a city of just over 100,000 roughly equidistant from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Those not from the area may be surprised to learn that Erie is home to not one but two orchestras: the Erie Philharmonic and the Erie Chamber Orchestra. Though Erie’s economy is significantly smaller than during its years as a major iron-and-steel manufacturing hub, it fully supports both groups: the Philharmonic, founded in 1913 and still going strong, and the smaller Erie Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1978 by Bruce Morton Wright. The Erie Chamber Orchestra has a very specific mission: to present high-quality classical music to the community for free. Since its founding the orchestra has stuck with that mission, performing nine concerts each season, mostly in local churches and schools. More

Chelsea Tipton conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra of Gran Canaria in Las Palmas, Spain, with Sting (right) and members of Sting’s touring band, July 2011. Photo by Quique Curbelo

Sting’s Behind-the-Scenes Conductor

Rehearsing and conducting concerts is the central activity for an orchestra conductor, and one that doesn’t vary much, the world over. But Chelsea Tipton II, music director of the Symphony of Southeast Texas, has been spending his summer in an unusual role: rehearsing but rarely performing with a series of local orchestras during the Symphonicity tour of Europe by rock musician Sting. More

Social-media collage

The Networked Orchestra

Experts run your marketing department. A CFO with post-graduate degrees handles your money. And your musicians are at the apogee of artistry. But when it comes to your orchestra’s digital-media initiatives, who does the work? Until recently, it might have been the intern. But things are changing—fast—and what was once relegated to the sidelines or handled ad hoc is now a central means for connecting with audiences, communities, and the larger world. More

Excerpt from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 5 entry on "criticism," pages 36-50.

Where Are Tomorrow’s Music Critics?

Everyone has an opinion. And when it comes to arts criticism, there are now more and more media outlets where those opinions can be expressed. But amidst all the quick-hit reviews and snarky witticisms, how do we give young people the training and skills to approach the arts from a more considered, complex perspective? Rather than watch by the sidelines as writing about classical music falls into what he describes an “appalling state,” Stephen Rubin decided to take action. Rubin—president and publisher of Henry Holt & Co. and a former magazine and newspaper journalist who profiled many classical musicians—became benefactor of the Stephen and Cynthia Rubin Institute for Music Criticism. More