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Music Talk

WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape.

WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape.


New York, NY


WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape.




WQXR c/o New York Public Radio 160 Varick Street, 8th floor New York, NY 10013 (646) 829-4000


Is the 'Star-Spangled Banner' Out of Place at Orchestra Concerts?

The "Star-Spangled Banner" that kicks off opening night concerts across the U.S. is often believed to be a great patriotic tradition. But some people think it's out of place and out of mood. The Fort Worth Symphony recently drew criticism over its practice of playing the anthem before every concert. A Dallas musician sounded off on Facebook that orchestra concerts were not meant to be patriotic events, and that the anthem ruined the mood a conductor was trying to set. Many others agreed. In...


Why Russia Wants to Take Rachmaninoff From Westchester

An international dispute arose last month when Russia announced its intentions to reclaim Rachmaninoff's remains from a cemetery in Valhalla, NY. Russian cultural minister Vladimir Medinsky claimed that Americans have neglected the composer's grave (pictured above) while attempting to "shamelessly privatize" his name. But Rachmaninoff's descendants have balked at the idea of moving the body, pointing out that he died in the U.S. after spending decades outside of Russia in self-imposed...


Why Do Contemporary Operas Rarely Get Revivals?

Attending a new opera? Better take it all in because there's a good chance it may not be performed again. According to a 2015 study by Opera America, of the 589 operas that were premiered over the last 20 years, just 71 (or 11 percent) received subsequent revivals. For the second of two episodes dedicated to contemporary opera, we consider why the revival percentage is so low, and what gives a new opera staying power. Marc Scorca, president and CEO of Opera America, says that historically,...


Contemporary Opera: Pleasing Both Connoisseurs and the Masses?

When George Benjamin's Written on Skin had its American stage premiere at the Mostly Mozart Festival on August 11, it became an unlikely summer blockbuster: a complex, contemporary opera with an abstract storyline and a dense, modernist musical language. The work got standing ovations from audiences and rave reviews from critics – but not all of them. This summer also saw another big premiere: Cold Mountain, by American composer Jennifer Higdon, at Santa Fe Opera. That work features a more...


As Newspapers Cut Music Critics, a Dark Time for the Arts or Dawn of a New Age?

It's no secret that arts coverage has been slashed by many news media outlets looking to pare costs, and there are fewer writers and less space devoted to serious classical music criticism. This year has seen critics leave national newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News; last December brought the departure of long time New York Times critic Allan Kozinn. That's not to mention magazines; the age when Time and Newsweek had full rosters of arts critics have...


Disbelief Suspended? Met Opera Abandons 'Blackface' Makeup in 'Otello'

When Laurence Olivier played Othello in 1964, he would spend two hours a night coating his body with black grease, dying his tongue red and using drops to whiten his eyes. Such transformations have long since been banished from television and theater as racially insensitive, but some variations on this have doggedly continued in opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, up until this week. The Met has said that for its season-opening new production of Verdi's Otello the lead tenor,...


Music Festivals Increasingly Promote Their Value to Tourism and Economy

"Art for art's sake?" Not any more. A growing number of economic impact studies conducted by arts groups suggest that music festivals have a big impact on local economies. "If you do these studies and show them to government officials, they might be more willing to invest in the arts in their own communities," says Timothy Mangan, the classical music critic of the Orange County Register, who recently reported on the issue in Southern California. Mangan found that festivals and venues in...


As Soloists Aim For Glamour, Is Classical Music Going the Way of Pop?

Scan through the websites and social media feeds of many orchestras, music festivals and concert halls and you'll notice a common theme: youth and sex appeal, especially when it comes to soloists. But it's more specific than that: Alluring young female violinists are everywhere – and brooding male conductors (or guitarists) with artfully-groomed stubble aren't far behind. These musicians may well be talented and accomplished but their prominence also raises some questions: Is there room for...


Can Apple Music Find Harmony with Classical Music Fans?

"The whole concept of streaming doesn't fit with the way people listen to classical music," says Kirk McElhearn, a technology writer and senior contributor to Macworld, in this week's episode of Conducting Business. The launch of the online streaming service Apple Music has raised hopes and reinforced some of the persistent complaints about Apple when it comes to delivering symphonies, concertos and operas to listeners' computers and mobile devices. In test runs, McElhearn found that Apple...


After Ronald Wilford, Classical Music's Super-Agent, Who Calls the Shots?

Ronald A. Wilford, once classical music's biggest power broker, died on June 13 at age 87. Wilford was an artist manager of the old school, wielding major control over the business but keeping a very low profile. In 50 years at Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI), he was the power behind the thrones occupied by James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa and Herbert von Karajan, among other conductors. With his legendary client roster, Wilford was able to call the shots and secure...


How Music School Grads Can Beat a Tough Job Market

As this year's college graduates frame their diplomas, the job market is the strongest it has been in nearly a decade. The economy is improving and salaries are up in many fields. But how these developments impact classically trained musicians is a more complicated picture. In this week's episode, we explore career prospects for the class of 2015. First, we look at their earnings potential. A new study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce used U.S. census data...


Reynold Levy Delivers Frank Assessment of Lincoln Center and Its Leaders

When Reynold Levy became president of Lincoln Center in 2002, the organization was “a community in deep distress, riven by conflict,” according to New York magazine. No surprise that the title of Levy’s new memoir is They Told Me Not to Take That Job: Tumult, Betrayal, Heroics, and the Transformation of Lincoln Center. While much of Levy’s book offers an upbeat look at Lincoln Center's $1.2 billion redevelopment and its years of balanced budgets, he also surprised many with his scathing...


Tchaikovsky: Does His Sex Life Matter to His Music?

It's hard to talk about Tchaikovsky these days without getting into, well, sex. That probably says less about the Russian composer, who was born 175 years ago Thursday, than it does about us, according to Simon Morrison, a professor of Slavic Studies at Princeton University. Tchaikovsky's letters and journal entries leave little doubt that he was gay. But Morrison cautions against reducing his operas, ballets and symphonies to coded expressions of his private life. "Generally these works...


Tubas for Girls, Harps for Boys: Shaking Gender Roles Among Instrumentalists

According to several recent studies, young musicians are still following traditional gender stereotypes when they choose an instrument. Girls at a young age go for what they perceive as "feminine" instruments, such as the flute, piccolo, violin, and clarinet; boys gravitate towards trumpets, tubas and percussion. Kids’ views of masculinity and femininity can lead to other problems; for instance, boys who take up the flute are more susceptible to social isolation and bullying. Hal Abeles,...


Michael Kaiser To Ailing Arts Groups: 'Don't Play It Safe'

If you've ever looked out on an orchestra audience and marveled at all of the gray hair and empty seats, the next question that may enter your mind is, how will this picture look in 10, 20 or 30 years? And should I be alarmed? In this week's episode, Michael Kaiser, known as the arts world's "Mr. Fix-It," gives some less-than-rosy answers – as well as some advice for orchestras and opera companies. For 14 years, Kaiser was president of Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, and before that, he...


Do Broadway Musicals Have a Place on the Opera Stage?

Chicago Tribune chief theater critic Chris Jones tells Naomi Lewin that nothing lights up his e-mail inbox like an opera company staging a Broadway musical using full amplification. "It's full of disgruntled patrons," he said. "You get the natural hall acoustics working – and then you get a miked performer." The controversies go beyond acoustics and amplification – there's also the question of how to blend performers from the worlds of opera and Broadway in a single cast. On the other hand,...


Valentina Lisitsa Episode: Lessons in Damage Control

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's decision to drop its piano soloist Valentina Lisitsa this week because of her Twitter comments about Ukrainians and other ethnic groups raises a crucial point: orchestras and arts organizations find themselves walking a fine line with protecting their brand when they engage an artist with controversial views. In this episode, Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette argues that the Toronto Symphony handled the Lisitsa situation poorly by not...


Toronto Symphony President Defends Decision to Drop Controversial Pianist

Toronto Symphony president Jeff Melanson tells WQXR's Conducting Business that pianist Valentina Lisitsa's politics had nothing to do with the orchestra's decision to drop her from its program this week. "The concerns raised were not about a political perspective but were about directly offensive and intolerant comments directed at other human beings," he told host Naomi Lewin. Melanson disputed Lisitsa's contention that the orchestra had made the decision in December after a donor...


Forget the iPod. Was the Sony Walkman the Real Game-Changer?

If you're a music fan of a certain age you’ll remember your first Walkman: likely a cassette player with a belt clip and possibly a built-in radio. Long before the smartphone and the iPod, Sony’s player defined portable audio. And it actually never completely disappeared: Last month Sony introduced a new model – a digital music player that promises high-res audio and costs a cool $1200. But how groundbreaking was that original Walkman? In this week's episode, we ask Robert Klara, a senior...


Can a Performance Simulator Train Musicians for High-Stress Gigs?

Virtual reality technology has revolutionized the way pilots train for flight, soldiers prepare for battle and surgeons learn delicate procedures. So it might be inevitable that musicians entering the cutthroat classical music world would turn to high-tech virtual reality equipment. A team at the Royal College of Music in London and the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland has developed a performance simulator that's intended to mimic concert hall and audition...