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March 2009
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May 2009

Permission Tango

Since Frank Zappa's death in 1993 his widow Gail has been the custodian of his musical legacy, and his compositions themselves.  Basically, FZ's music is really difficult to play, and Gail (and one would presume Frank for that matter) doesn't want just anyone hacking through it.  The question, though, is are too few people granted permission to perform it?  This NPR story touches on the issue.

I have experience in this matter.  I was invited by Jack Delaney, one of my teachers at my alma mater Meadows, to conduct some Zappa with the Meadows Wind Ensemble.  Jack was hoping to rent several pieces, and beseiged Gail and her assistant with programs, testimonials, and recordings in an effort to convince her that the group could indeed play his music (which indeed it could).  In the end Be-Bop Tango was the only piece that arrived, and I had the pleasure of conducting it.  You can find an account of that experience, and a rough listening guide to the piece here.

Be-Bop Tango - Meadows Wind Ensemble

Good Idea: cheap, short, casual concerts

This is a good idea.

Two dollars and fifty cents will barely buy a latte these days, or a wash cycle at the local laundromat. But at the New World Symphony in South Beach, it will at least get you a clarinet quintet.  Seeking new audiences and mindful of crushing economic times, the orchestral academy has launched a new mini-concert series, for the mini price of 2.50 dollars.  Each concert runs 20 to 30 minutes, and dress is casual. You are welcome to walk in from the beach in Bermuda shorts and baseball cap, but skateboards must be checked.

Now, pair this with some engaging repertoire that a broad swath of people can relate to . . .

Each concert features one or two pieces by masters like Brahms, Mozart, Handel and Bartok.

We just can seem to let go of the dead guys, even if just for 20-30 minutes.  You couldn't program something funky like Jonathan Newman's OK Feel Good, or some Mason Bates, or Michael Gordon's Yo Shakespeare? (I could go on and on)  Baby steps, I guess.  

The concerts to appear to be a success, though, so kudos.

Boob tube

I don't think the YouTube Symphony Orchestra will have an impact on the role of concert music in American culture, or even a substantial impact on the concert music industry.  In a nutshell, the novelty of the project was how the orchestra was chosen, but the concert experience that resulted was quite traditional.  Yes, there were some nifty visuals, and some new music, but the audience was still expected to sit passively in America's musical temple (while the ushers fought a never-ending battle with those bold enough to take photographs of their loved ones on stage, apparently).

I can't help but feel that the project's organizers missed a golden opportunity to redefine the 21st-century concert experience.  If you're going to subvert the orchestra audition process, why not subvert the whole production from beginning to end?