Classical Music: 2005 and Beyond The classical music world had its share of high and low notes in 2005. The new year promises grand celebrations of Mozart's 250th birthday. What more is on the horizon? New Yorker music critic Alex Ross offers his insights.
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Classical Music: 2005 and Beyond

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Classical Music: 2005 and Beyond

Classical Music: 2005 and Beyond

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The melodic air of the classical music world had its lows and highs in 2005. Former professional musician Blair Tindall's book, "Mozart in the Jungle," parted the curtains on the philharmonic work environment, complete with boudoir auditions. On stage, the past year also brought composer Nico Muhly's "The Elements of Style," a musical based on William Strunk and E.B. White's guide to English grammar and composition.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Be obscure clearly, be wild of tongue in a way we can't understand.

HANSEN: 2006 will be dominated by observances of Mozart's 250th birthday. There's no doubt about that. But there will be more. For a look back at 2005, and a glance ahead at the coming year, Alex Ross, a music critic for The New Yorker, joins us from our New York bureau.

Happy new year, Alex.

Mr. ALEX ROSS (Music Critic, The New Yorker): To you, too. It's nice to be here.

HANSEN: It's good to have you. Aside from the titillation of Blair Tindall's memoir, what do you consider to be the high points of the past year in the classical music world for you?

Mr. ROSS: Well, at the top of the list would be the world premiere of John Adams' opera "Doctor Atomic" in San Francisco on October 1st, which was just a tremendous event. A great piece of music, in my opinion, although the critical reactions were all over the map; an amazing production by Peter Sellars, extraordinary singing by Gerald Finley and others; and a very haunting look back in time that was also a work very much about the fears of our present moment.

(Soundbite of "Doctor Atomic")

HANSEN: What were some of the other works on your list that got your attention?

Mr. ROSS: Some other pieces that really caught my attention were Mark Adamo's opera "Lysistrata," based on the classic Aristophanes' play, that play that the Houston Grand Opera--and it will be coming to New York City Opera this spring. And that's just a deeply charming lyrical piece that had a lot of dimensions to it and he's a composer to watch out for. There's also a sensational CD release of Osvaldo Golijov's cycle "Ayre" with Dawn Upshaw singing.

(Soundbite of "Ayre")

Ms. DAWN UPSHAW: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. ROSS: A multicultural piece incorporating music from folk traditions all over the world and that New York audiences will have a chance to hear in February at Lincoln Center.

HANSEN: Of course, Mozart is the big celebration this coming year, 2006. What do you consider some of the major Mozart-related performances and festivals that you're looking forward to?

Mr. ROSS: Well, obviously, the--if you have money to burn, you can go to Salzburg and hear all 22 of Mozart's operas in July and August, starting with "Apollo & Hyacinthus" which he wrote when he was 11. I have no idea how much money it would cost to stay in Salzburg for the whole month, but if you have it, you should do it. And it--you know, anywhere you can think of, any musical institution in your area is probably mounting more than a bit of Mozart--it's probably easier to say who won't be performing Mozart than who will, and actually the Austrian city of Graz, which recently got in the news because it removed Schwarzenegger's name from its local stadium, has banned Mozart. The entire province of Styria in Austria has declared a Mozart-free zone. So if you're overdosing on Mozart chocolates, you can go there.

HANSEN: Is opera in big demand? I mean--and is it sort of a cycle, supply and demand?

Mr. ROSS: Yeah, well, opera has always been--it seems like the healthiest art form right now while orchestras struggle to maintain their established audiences. It always seems as though new audiences can be found to get excited about opera and it just seems to be growing bit by bit as the years go by and then there's exciting premieres coming up this year of Stephen Hartke's new opera "Glimmerglass" in July, and also a new opera by Ned Rorem, and it's a great thing that opera companies are not just putting on these new operas out of sense of duty, you know, help out the poor contemporary composer every once in a while, but it's really becoming central to their mission helping opera to stay current and find new audiences.

HANSEN: How about the whole world of classical music recording? Is it thriving?

Mr. ROSS: It seems to be somewhere in the middle. I mean, we've had all these prophecies of doom that classical recording is coming to an end. When EMI put out a recording of "Tristan und Isolde" at the beginning of this past year, we were told in a big article in The New York Times that this was absolutely the end of the line of opera recording, that there would be no more. And then a couple months later, a big Renee Fleming recording of Richard Strauss' "Daphne" came out, spoiling that apocalyptic prophecy. And a couple of dozen new opera recordings have crossed my desk. And then I was looking at forthcoming announcements and saw that not one but two competing brand-new recordings of Vivaldi's opera "Tito Manlio" were coming out, and this was an opera I honestly never heard of. So no one really knows what's going on.

I mean, the biggest CD companies have had some troubles, but the independent labels--Nonesuch and Naxos and many others--are going strong, and I don't think anyone can really count anymore sales and consumption of recordings because there's so many avenues for the delivery of the content in podcasting, satellite radio, MP3s, on the Internet, iTunes. Composers have blogs where you can listen to their music and read them--have arguments with each other. So it's hard to compile statistics on who's listening to how much. I think all this decentralization has to be a good thing for an art form which has had such a hard time finding a place in the mainstream media, which these days is interested mostly in the tastes of 18-year-old boys who are not the main target for classical music, obviously, and all these alternative avenues have to be a good thing for spreading the word about the music.

HANSEN: Alex Ross is a music critic for The New Yorker. He joined us from our New York bureau.

Thanks, Alex.

Mr. ROSS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: A collection of NPR's coverage of noteworthy developments on the classical music scene is at our Web site,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of music)

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