More on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra

•December 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The internet is probably sick of hearing about the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, but I’ve been reading some more responses and realized I have a little more to say. 

I was struck by this point made at Adaptistration:

“Think of it this way: Does anyone remember the first orchestra to be broadcast on television? How about the first orchestra to release a recording on CD or record directly to digital? Me neither; and that is exactly where I think this YouTube project will end up.”

True.  But what would classical music be if nobody ever thought to try broadcasting on television or releasing a recording on CD?

Is the idea of a “YouTube musical ensemble” the way of the future? Probably not. But finding ways to integrate new media into the traditional format of an orchestra probably is. And the fact that major organizations (LSO, Berlin Phil, Carnegie, NY Phil, BBC, Rotterdam…) and established musicians (Michael Tilson Thomas, Tan Dun, Lang Lang, Gergiev) are getting behind it is huge. Chances are that smaller, grass-roots organizations could do a better job thinking about this–but these giants are are the only ones with enough influence to make it happen. For now at least.

Yes it is an incredibly successful marketing stunt, but it’s also stirring up all sorts of healthy dialogue.

Give the YouTube Symphony Orchestra a break. Some day we might laugh at its flaws. More likely we won’t remember it. But most likely it will do more good than harm.

A Few Things

•December 8, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’m terrible at maintaining a blog. I’ve gone for (two?) weeks without a post and now today find myself with a chunk of time and a lot of things to catch up on. Well dear (two?) readers, you’re just going to have to deal with my irregular posting habits.

So I think I’ll just make a list of the things I’ve been meaning to post.

1. Thanks to Americans for the Arts’ ARTSBLOG for the heads up on Obama’s interview with Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press. Excerpting Obama:

“…historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that, that sense that better days are ahead.  I think that our art and our culture, our science, you know, that’s the essence of what makes America special, and, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White House.”

I love this even though it’s a little fluffy. In very simple terms it’s a reminder that America isn’t merely defined by a divide between East-coast/San Fransico elitists and middle-class Joe-six-packs.
2. I’m always a sucker for discussions on opera as it faces the new possibilities provided by technology and as struggles to connect with what seems like an entirely new breed of audience. Issues of language and libretto are inevitably tied up in all of this, and Mark Swed recently tackled these large scale issues with the example of opera DVDs and their lack of a printed libretto. The whole article is worth reading, but a couple points struck me.
First he notes the shift in opera toward a narrative experience instead of a poetic one.

“Contemporary operagoers expect from the lyric stage the same sort of immediate experience they have at the theater and cinema.”

And in response to the increased focus on staging:

“Opera, after all, is drama.”

Yes! But I think this is the most interesting point he makes:

“Without access to the original text, an audience must take everyone — composer, singers, stage director — at their word, and quite a lot of richness is lost. But the downside to this studious model is that by being so well prepared we can easily get so wrapped up with interpretations that we lose the urgency of the moment. We know what to expect, and we sink under the weight of those expectations.”

This pretty much leads to what has essentially become one of the greatest challenges of opera right now. With opera, it seems like the marketing narrative goes something like this: Don’t be afraid! Opera is easy. You’ll get an English translation every step of the way. There will be lots of flashy things happening on stage to keep your interest in case you get bored. We’ll even make it sexy every now and then. And when you add the movie theater factor in: You can even wear your PJs and eat popcorn! All of this essentially means: You don’t need to do a lick of work. Just sit there and we’ll keep you entertained.


I’m simplifying, obviously. But this method will never hold up. Movies will always be better at providing entertainment that you merely digest without any work. Plus, movies will probably always be cheaper.
Opera gets a bad reputation for being highbrow and inaccessible, but is it really so wrong to expect the audience to do some preparation of their own?

But Mark Swed wasn’t talking about opera marketing. It just made me start to think about the disconnect between opera marketing and, well, opera. Huge issues.
3. As with all things viral, the news of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra is probably already old news. People everywhere have been talking about it. I haven’t really developed much more of a response yet other than: this is really cool. But two of my initial reactions, though, seemed to mirror those of Amanda Ameer’s. (And I’m not just saying this because I secretly want to be her friend.)

  • The master classes and personal conductor videos are fantastic. Musicians everywhere should be doing this. Obviously one way one way communication isn’t the ideal format for education, but it certainly is an exciting and not terribly difficult way to connect to young musicians and future supporters.
  • Quoting Amanda directly: “The fact that the selected orchestra is going to perform live at Carnegie Hall cracks me up a little. The web was good for auditions, but we need a “real” concert at the end of it all to legitimize the project? I mean, I get it, I just hope the end result will also be live on YouTube.”

Her entire post is here.

Goin’ Green

•November 25, 2008 • 1 Comment

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (and green make-up covered Marcie Dodd) announced a new initiative to shrink the “carbon footprint of the Great White Way.”

The New York Times has the whole story. (Subscription required, I think)

BUT DON’T PANIC! Broadway will still be as excessive and flashy as always.

“The idea is not to turn off the lights and sit in the dark,” said Rohit T. Aggarwala, director of the mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

Oh thank god.

Apparently Wicked has already been uber-eco-friendly. According to producer David Stone…

“Cast and staff members of “Wicked” productions use e-mail messages instead of paper whenever possible, and even use bags of frozen peas instead of chemical ice packs for body aches.”

It’s so tempting to just make fun of these people for thinking that frozen peas and emails are enough to save our world from the current environmental crisis. But I suppose that even the smallest steps from such a visible and commercial institution like Broadway can be very influential.

And kudos to Stone for admitting the not-always-so-obvious:

“The theater community has always been at the forefront of social change, and we have been left behind on this one a little bit.”

Do We Really Care?

•November 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’m so skeptical of Gramophone’s list of the twenty best orchestras of the world. Not for any reason other than its inability to answer the question, “Do we really care?”

The fact that anyone claims the authority to make that decision is simply absurd.

According to NPR, the city of Chicago is almost as excited about it as they are about Obama. Chicago Tribune critic John von Rhein couldn’t resist:

“Not to be too Chicago chauvinistic,” he says, “but the rankings confirm what those of us here in Chicago have felt for some time.”

But bravo to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra President Deborah Rutter for this classy response (I’m literally using the same exact quote from Sticks and Drones which led me to this article in the Chicago Sun-Times):

“I think it is safe to say that we are not advocates or necessarily firm believers in lists of this sort, given the subjective nature of these types of rankings….”

“As everyone should know,” Rutter continued in an e-mail, “on any given evening anywhere and everywhere in the world there are ‘best concerts’ taking place by many great orchestras. Music is always a subjective experience, and that’s why there isn’t and can’t be a World Series in our world to firmly, regularly rank orchestras…”

Eat Your Heart Out, Joe the Plumber

•November 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I certainly wasn’t the only person to be drawn in by the person who tried to vote for Lizard people AND Al Franken. But I don’t really know if anyone was expecting him to speak out.

MPR reports:

“I don’t know if you’ve heard the conspiracy theory about the Lizard Men,” said Davenport. “A friend of mine, we didn’t like the candidates, so we were at first going to write in revolution, because we thought that was good and to the point. And then, we thought the Lizard People would be even funnier, and there was kind of a running inside gag between some friends and I.”

Another fine moment in broadcast journalism…

•November 21, 2008 • 1 Comment

…that doesn’t really need any commentary (other than acknowledging that I’m probably the 1,200,395th person to post this on a blog).

Oh, WCCO…

•November 21, 2008 • Leave a Comment

To be honest, I was really hoping for a video when I read this post from The Blotter over at City Pages.

But this photo was good enough on its own:

I guess I don’t have much else to say, other than a big thank you to The Blotter for their consistently quality reporting.