Miscellaeneous Musings: the NY Phil, Howard Theatre, WYPR, No Depression, Pete Seeger…

Any resemblance to Mike “I Was Just Thinking….” Barnicle is purely coincidental….

  • Kind of amazing to hear the wall-to-wall media coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea….startling and gratifying to hear snippets of the New World Symphony in the middle of network newscasts. Worth reading:  Anne Midgette’s column in the WaPo on this not being a case of bringing Great. Western. Art. to poor benighted souls behind the Bamboo Curtain….

But in Vienna, Austria, there is another image of them: as conducting students. The elite conducting class at the University of Music and Performing Arts there has trained no fewer than 17 North Korean students in the past decade.

  • Which reminds me of a similar history-making venture I helped to orchestra for NPR in 1999: The Milwaukee Symphony’s trip to Cuba, which was the first time a US orchestra had performed on the island since the Philadelphia Orchestra had been there in 1959.  ‘Course, it was a little easier for our NPR crew to move around the country than it was for the delegation traveling to North Korea this week…I remember that producer Laura Bertran even managed to lend some technical and logistical help to the struggling public radio station in Havana to broadcast the concert live on the island. (Oh yeah, they played Gershwin, too….the Cuban Overture, natch)  Click here to hear some of the music from similar symphonic excursions in the past,  and here for a similar Washington Post story on other “Diplomacy Concerts” of that past half-century.
  • On the other hand, for the same station to air during afternoon drive a six-month-old repeat of a Mario Armstrong “Digital Cafe”  feature?  About an Internet startup being Beta tested?   With a casual disclaimer that “some information may be out of date?”  Incredibly. Lame.
  • Pete SeegerIt’s nice to see Pete Seeger getting his props from PBS this week, with an American Masters portrait airing tonight on most PBS stations around the country. Except, that is, in DC, where despite Pete being on the cover of the Post’s TV Week,  the local pubtv powerhouse WETA inexplicably is running a show a three-year old show on Judy Garland.    Huh?   I’ll have more to say on Pete in a later post.

Living Beethovens


The consistently interesting conductor Marin Alsop‘s debut season as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s new Music Director promises to be one of the most interesting seasons in Bawlmur in years. Tim Smith in today’s Baltimore Sun has all the details. Sample grab:
“With cheap seats, conversations with high-profile composers and programming that includes a CSI-style forensics exploration of Beethoven next season, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will challenge two of the most common complaints about classical music – that it’s too expensive and too old-fashioned. As part of a strategy unveiled yesterday to bolster attendance, the BSO will reduce the average subscription cost to classical and pops programs by 40 percent. New and current subscribers to the BSO’s 2007-2008 season, the inaugural season of music director Marin Alsop, will pay only $25 per concert for seats anywhere in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, including the usually pricey box seats.”

CSI business aside (which may be a little gimmicky), what caught my eye was Alsop’s “Living Beethovens” initiative – putting some of today’s most accomplished contemporary composers on programs cheek-by-jowl with ol’ Ludwig himself – and even inviting the composers to conduct! So, for 25 bucks a pop, you’ll be able to see John Adams conduct both his own works, as well as Beethoven’s 7th Symphony – a terrific idea. 17 contemporary compositions in all, by the likes of Adams, Tan Dun, and Aaron Jay Kernis. I like what Marin said to the Sun:

For Alsop, the aim of mixing “standard repertoire with something new is to hear the old in a different light. It’s like seeing a Rembrandt next to a Jackson Pollock.”