Around The Classical Internet: December 23, 2011

One of the great unknown Russian composers?: Tsar Alexander II of Russia, in a portrait from c. 1875. i i

One of the great unknown Russian composers?: Tsar Alexander II of Russia, in a portrait from c. 1875. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Getty Images
One of the great unknown Russian composers?: Tsar Alexander II of Russia, in a portrait from c. 1875.

One of the great unknown Russian composers?: Tsar Alexander II of Russia, in a portrait from c. 1875.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • A surprising revival of music written by Russia's Tsar Alexander II and other members of the Romanov family: "When I played bits and pieces of various works to music reviewers and historians, they would come out with the wildest guesses, from Hector Berlioz to Pyotr Tchaikovsky, but not a single person even suspected that we could be talking about a musical piece written by a Russian aristocrat."
  • They just premiered the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Madame White Snake this past April, but it wasn't enough to save Opera Boston. In a surprise announcement on the Friday before Christmas, the company said that it is closing its doors on Jan. 1, 2012.
  • Critic Lloyd Schwarz weighed in on this late-December surprise on Boston's WGBH today: "It [had] sounded as things were going well!"
  • The financially beleaguered Colorado Symphony Orchestra has announced a new "consumer-first" business model, putting aside a modus operandi in which "the notion of relevance was defined by the institution, not by the community it served." Additionally, "the plan changes the way the CSO does business, putting more emphasis on earned income rather than donations, working closely with educational groups and corporations to demonstrate its value beyond music-making and using newer technologies, such as video screens during concerts and social networking sites, to help it connect with contemporary audiences."
  • Mezzo-soprano Wendy White fell from a platform while performing Gounod's Faust at the Metropolitan Opera Saturday night. She is now recuperating at home.
  • The recent House spending bill that will prevent a government shutdown trimmed another 5.6% from the budget for fiscal year 2012 for both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. However, the Smithsonian Institution's budget is going up a bit: "The NEA and NEH spread the wealth to the provinces, so to speak. Meanwhile, the arts agencies that Washingtonians (such as members of Congress) are best positioned to enjoy won't be absorbing cuts under the proposal."
  • According to police, the manager of Pennsylvania's York Symphony Orchestra has admitted to stealing more than $200,000 from the ensemble, apparently to feed her gambling addiction.
  • Rupert Christiansen ruminates over British opera in 2011: "I fear we must anticipate an era of cost-cutting, with more 'safe' revivals of pop classics in nice traditional productions. A lot of people who are understandably sick of the pretensions and gimmicks purveyed by fancy-pants directors may welcome this, but I only hope that the beacon of risk, youth and imagination doesn't get extinguished in the process."
  • Meanwhile – and after some vociferous protests – BP has announced that it will give $15.5 million total to the Royal Opera House, Tate Britain, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in the UK.
  • The Park Avenue Armory is amping up its presence as a major New York arts presenter. With their second Tune-In Music Festival and a New York Philharmonic performance of Stockhausen's Gruppen on the way, the Armory has just named the appointment of its first artistic director, Alex Poots.
  • Do you know who Count Harry Kessler was? You probably don't know him — but you definitely know his friends and acquaintances, who included Strauss, Ravel, Stravinsky and Schoenberg (along with Monet, Degas, Matisse, Picasso, Isadora Duncan, Diaghilev and Nijinsky).
  • Charlotte Church's new dream? To be an opera star – someday: "'I'd love to come back to that a bit later, I'd love to do it properly and do an opera when I'm a bit older."
  • Sure, Siri is your pocket companion (as long as you have a new iPhone), but do you know that she can play any song in your phone's music library (as long as you have access to a Yamaha Disklavier piano)?
  • Human pianist Jonathan Biss, who is starting to record a full cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas, offers a frank and perceptive analysis on the process of recording: "The experience [of recording] can feel terribly lonely and isolating. The relationship one has with an audience may not always be positive or even healthy, but it is a relationship, and thus extremely conspicuous by its absence."
  • And speaking of Beethoven: a group of scientists from the University of Amsterdam claim that as Beethoven's hearing worsened, he used fewer and fewer high notes until he became totally deaf. They based their work on his string quartets.
  • And yet more on Beethoven: a look at the evolution of perception of him – and classical music generally – in American pop culture: "America [was fascinated] with Beethoven in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when classical music was regarded as an uplifting moral force, and Beethoven as the zenith of its power... [but] World War II essentially shattered the notion of classical music as inherently moral. It's hard to watch film of an orchestra playing Beethoven for an audience of uniformed Nazis and continue to believe that the music has some special moral power. The Beethoven as an Ethical Force industry collapsed after the war."
  • Where Sibelius fell silent: "Most artists' houses have had previous and subsequent owners. In some you feel only a vestige of the artist's presence; others have had their spirit crushed by museumification, by curatorial intervention and the accretion of study centers. The Sibelius house is one of those rare places where no other presence interferes with the genius loci: it is a house of, for, by, with and about Sibelius."
  • Author and composer Jan Swafford on life at artist colonies like Yaddo and MacDowell: "So how deranged, sodden, lascivious, egomaniacal, and so on, are the colonies? Actually the level of excess disappointed me. I found the bulk of artists to be, on average, no crazier than anybody else. After all, a substantial percentage of the human race is nuts, and most of those people don't have art as an excuse. The percentage of drunks and loonies I encountered at the colonies is not significantly higher than the percentage to be found among my own friends and family."

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