Archive for November, 2008

McGegan does madness

November 29, 2008

We’re doing a program with Nick McGegan this week. Nick conducts us twice a season and the orchestra has always enjoyed seeing come him back.

This time the program was a little outside his “normal” range with us: Mendelssohn Hebrides overture and the Reformation symphony, followed by Symphonie fantastique. I’m told the program was originally intended for a former music director of ours and that Nick generously took it over when that didn’t work out. (more…)


Failing upwards?

November 21, 2008

The Cincinnati Symphony has made an… interesting choice in hiring a new executive director:

Trey Devey, 37, a Chicago businessman, was approved at a special board meeting this morning at Music Hall.

Devey will assume his new post on Jan. 20. He succeeds Steven Monder, who retired in June after holding the job for 31 years.

“His strategic thinking and problem solving skills truly differentiated him from other candidates,” said board chair Marvin Quin, retired chief financial officer of Ashland.

Devey is a strategy consultant for Boston Consulting Group, a global consulting firm with 66 offices in 38 countries. He holds an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, but orchestras are his passion, he says. ..

From 1997 to 2002, Devey was with the Syracuse Symphony, which has a $5.3 million operating budget, serving first as its development director and then its executive director. He is credited with balancing the budget, increasing the endowment and spearheading the orchestra’s return performance in Carnegie Hall after a 15-year hiatus.

As president of the now-defunct Florida Philharmonic Orchestra (2002-03), he launched an internal audit and identified a structural operating deficit. During his tenure, the organization sought Chapter 11 protection and he oversaw its eventual shutdown.

He was also briefly executive director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

I hope that the CSO board regarded his tenure with the Florida Phil as a bug and not a feature.

To be fair, there’s lots of blame to spread around for what happened to that orchestra, and most of it pre-dated his tenure. But if my orchestra was looking for an executive director, I’d need a lot of really high-quality selling before I’d buy someone who folded up his last orchestra.

When the irredeemably stupid meets the inherently unmeasurable

November 20, 2008

The December issue of the British magazine Gramophone reportedly has an article ranking the world’s top 20 orchestras, and it looks like this:

Gramophone’s Top 20:

1.     Concertgebouw-Orkest, Amsterdam
2.     Berliner Philharmoniker
3.     Wiener Philharmoniker
4.     London Symphony Orchestra
5.     Chicago Symphony Orchestra
6.     Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
7.     Cleveland Orchestra
8.     Los Angeles Philharmonic
9.     Budapest Festival Orchestra
10.   Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
11.    Boston Symphony Orchestra
12.   New York Philharmonic
13.   San Francisco Symphony
14.   Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
15.   Russian National Orchestra
16.   St. Petersburg Phillharmonic
17.   Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
18.   Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
19.   Saito Kinen Symphony Orchestra
20.  Tschechische Philharmonie

It’s impossible to overstate just how stupid is the idea of ranking orchestras. But I’ll try (and I’ll fail, at least in terms of overstatement.) (more…)

Silicon Valley came to my house?!

November 20, 2008

Nathan Kahn sent me a link to a possible successor to the iPhone:

Western Digital – My Passport Essential 250GB External USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive – Deep Viola
I guess they could have meant “deep violet.” But I like the concept of a viola that can synch with my computer, make phone calls, and do email as well.

Strads and shrooms

November 16, 2008

Yet another researcher has found the secret of the Stradivarius sound:

Francis Schwarze of the Zurich-based Federal Materials, Science and Technology Institute (EMPA), made a replica of a violin by the Italian master Antonio Stradivari from the year 1698, which was presented this week at the “Swiss Innovation Forum” in Basel.

Schwarze found that treating the maple wood used for the violin with “Xylaria longipes” mushrooms — which grow on the bark of trees — meant the sound quality was akin to an original Strad.

This mushroom lightly “nibbles” away at the wood’s surface, thus reducing its density and improving the sound of the violin as a result.

I love this line of research. It’s like positing that Pinky Zukerman really must be an alien. Evidently the alternative explanation – that Stradivari (like Zukerman) was simply a genius at what he did, and, as a result of talent and dedication,  did it better than anyone else, without the use of magic, space DNA, or whatever the latest hot chemical might be – is simply not interesting enough to satisfy some folks.

I’d settle for mushrooms that, when ingested, make me believe that I’m Zukerman playing a Strad.

You’re great; get lost

November 15, 2008

It was inevitable that what’s left of the Columbus Symphony board was going to fire their music director. It happened yesterday:

Hirokami, a native of Japan, took over the baton in June 2006 and had one year remaining on his contract. He was openly critical of the symphony board during labor negotiations with musicians in the last year. The contract dispute led the symphony to suspend operations for almost five months before reaching an agreement in September.

“We acknowledge the wonderful artistry and talent Mr. Hirokami possesses and that was reflected in his concerts over the last two seasons,” said Martin Inglis, chair of the Columbus Symphony board. “However, as we move forward into the new season, we have agreed with Mr. Hirokami that we will do so under the leadership of a new music director.”

Inglis, whose term as chairman began last month, said the symphony is searching for a replacement.

In a letter received by the board and musicians today, Hirokami said he was dismissed by the symphony.

“It is with sadness and with the best wishes to the orchestra that I hereby accept my dismissal request,” Hirokami wrote.

Inglis said he wouldn’t characterize Hirokami’s departure as a firing.

“Junichi managed to polarize a lot of people in the community,” Inglis said. “He was a fantastic talent but the board felt perhaps it would be better if we started fresh.”

Given the board’s rather casual attitude towards its contract with the orchestra, it’s hardly surprising that they would neither honor their contract with the music director nor be honest about doing so.

So I’ll be honest for them. They fired him because he spoke out against their plans to alter the orchestra out of all recognition and against the board’s abrogation of its implicit agreement with him to maintain a quality orchestra in Columbus. He certainly didn’t come to Columbus to conduct the kind of orchestra that would have been left had the board’s plan been implemented. They fired him because he came out on the side of artistic quality – a position that he could excusably have thought that they’d hired him to uphold.

If the board wants to “start fresh” (and I agree that they need to), they might look at removing the guy that actually runs the orchestra on a day-to-day basis, Tony Beadle. If the criteria for termination is having “managed to polarize a lot of people in the community,” that’s a threshold that he crossed a lot earlier, and far more often, than the music director.

After having very publicly fired their music director for having protested against trying to gut the orchestra, I wonder who the board thinks will agree to take his place? The world is full of conductors looking for music director jobs, of course. But ones on the level of Hirokami are few and far between. Good luck in convincing someone to work for a board that just fired the last guy for being as honest as he was competent.

Obama bad for classical music?

November 8, 2008

No, assuming that Leon Wieseltier is an outlier:

I woke up the next morning still under the spell of solidarity and love. I decided to make the spell last. I gave away my tickets to a performance of some late Shostakovich quartets, because for once I was not interested in the despair. Instead I spent the day listening to the Ebonys and the Chi-Lites and the Isley Brothers.

Couldn’t he have given his tickets to someone on the Right who had spent the past few months moaning about how Obama was going to be the reincarnation of Stalin? They might have really enjoyed hearing some gloomy music about totalitarianism.

For my part, I’m glad that we will have a president who can credibly narrate Copland’s Lincoln Portrait (and apparently has done so with the Chicago Symphony). I could imagine Obama coming close to the classic performance by Adlai Stevenson (also a presidential candidate from Illinois) and Philly under Ormandy. Not the reason I voted for him, of course – but a nice bonus.