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Classical Crib Sheet: Top 5 Stories This Week

Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä, whose pleas to his symphony's management and players just went public.
Todd Buchanan
courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra
Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä, whose pleas to his symphony's management and players just went public.
  • Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä has finally (and unusually for a conductor) spoken out about management's lockout of his players. In a letter to board members and musicians excerpted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, he pleads: "Please, do what it takes, find a way, talk together, listen to each other and come to a resolution of this dreadful situation." The paper also says that Vänskä wrote that "he might let go of remaining recording projects because he fears the band could be damaged by the loss of players and that ... minus a quick resolution, he may have to rethink overseas touring and bringing 'a diminished or compromised orchestra to Carnegie Hall' for dates in 2013-14."
  • By contrast, in an interview with the Associate Press this week in which conductor Riccardo Muti extolled the importance of culture, he gave a somewhat surprising response to a query about labor difficulties in American orchestras, including the brief lockout at his own Chicago Symphony Orchestra earlier this fall, and to the value placed on the arts in America more generally: "I do not make judgments on countries where I am a guest." (A guest? Isn't he the CSO's music director?)
  • How are a married pair of Twin Cities musicians faring right now? They're not impoverished, but far from swanning about in tuxedos and ballgowns. A Star-Tribune profile chronicles how they're dealing with the same economic worries as many other Americans. "Both are locked out, neither playing nor earning a paycheck ... They live in a middle-class Edina neighborhood of 1970s-era split-levels. Their kids attend public school (their 18-year-old son is a freshman at Brown University). They drive an 11-year-old Toyota van and a Hyundai Elantra with 135,000 miles on it." (And because two of their children have a rare genetic disorder, their family prescriptions run about $2500 per month.)
  • And do you recall that little factoid last week that median income for players in the Spokane (WA) Symphony Orchestra were recently offered a bit more than $15,000 for their efforts? More: "SSO's core musicians are now making $17,460 per year, and the board actually expects them to work for less?" asks Robert Herold in the city's Inlander newspaper. "The bright young lady who drove the beer cart last summer at Indian Canyon made more than that on just tips ... Our underpaid musicians at least need time to supplement their income. This means they need the freedom to substitute in other orchestras, to take on students, to play recitals, all in hopes of maybe doubling income — which still won't be much."
  • In other, entirely non-related news: Deutsche Grammophon has signed tenor Piotr Beczala, whose press photo taken at his signing shows him wearing a monocle. This fashion statement was apparently intended as an homage to the legendary tenor Richard Tauber (who died in 1948), but please tell me if it comes across as anything other than twee, obnoxious and confirming every imaginable stereotype about classical music and opera.
  • Classical geek? Keep going ...

  • Isaiah Sheffer, one of the founders of the influential venue Symphony Space, died last Friday in Manhattan from complications of a stroke at age 76. His first production there was a "Wall-to-Wall Bach" marathon concert.
  • In a profile that aired on CBS Sunday Morning last weekend, Metropolitan Opera chief Peter Gelb repeated his charge that critics who have maligned the Met's recent new productions just don't understand how he is "pushing an agenda that looks forward."
  • The interim president and CEO of the Van Cliburn Foundation, Alann Sampson, suddenly resigned this week, says the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sampson has been with the organization since 1962, starting as a volunteer before the very first Cliburn Competition. Neither Sampson nor the board would comment on the reason for her departure.
  • Much like premier athletes, classical musicians can be sidelined by injuries — and the Royal Opera House announced this past weekend that 52-year-old conductor Anthony Pappano has withdrawn for next month's run of the Harrison Birtwistle opera Minotaur, due to tendinitis in his right elbow.
  • New York City Opera's music library was indeed "totally ruined" by Hurricane Sandy, just as feared, but the archival material can be salvaged, a spokeswoman told the New York Times.
  • Can Boston Modern Opera Project pick up where the Opera Boston left off? Opera Boston's "ambitious plans were not entirely sent to the scrap heap of operatic history," says our colleague Brian Wise, writing for WQXR's Operavore. "Sir Michael Tippett's opera, The Midsummer Marriage — planned as the centerpiece of the company's 2012 season — was reconceived as a concert production Saturday at Jordan Hall by BMOP."
  • Remember the days when the Cleveland Orchestra was recorded by Columbia, Decca and Telarc? Members of this little Ohio bar band are now raising funds on Kickstarter.
  • Famed cellist Lynn Harrell has taken his miles war with Delta public via his website. He's been banned from the airline's rewards program entirely after years of accumulating miles for the full-fare tickets he must purchase for his cello: "Given all of the extra work airlines incur for tracking down criminally minded cellists, I can understand why a zealous leadership is always watching out for criminal acts with an eye toward reducing the financial burden of running an airline. I can see the motivational office posters now: 'They must be stopped' or 'Only You Can Prevent Cello Miles Theft.'"
  • The Daily Mail tells us about a successful police sting operation in London that trapped teacher trainee John Powles and his accomplice, Dean Barton, who stole a Guarnerius fiddle worth about $800,000 from violinist David Roth, who has owned the instrument for four decades.
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen on writing symphonies and concertos in the 21st century: "You can put an ensemble together of self-made instruments and electronics and three camels, but it doesn't guarantee that the music will be innovative or original. I use the orchestra because it's there," he told New York Magazine's Justin Davidson. "It's an instrument that is global, and these are highly specialized, well-trained people. Yes, structurally it's very close to what it was in the 1830s, but so are scissors. You can make a paper doll with scissors, but you can also commit murder, and everything in between."
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    Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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