Baltimore bounces back

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which last year looked to be on the verge of shutting down, has signed a new five-year contract with its musicians that maintains the orchestra’s year-round season and increases its complement of full-time players.

The musicians agreed to 26 percent pay cut in the first year of the contract, to account for scheduling and financial strains due to the coronavirus pandemic. In subsequent years, pay will rise gradually to base salaries of $90,100 in the 2024-25 season, about 10 percent more than players made in the last year of the previous contract.

The orchestra’s roster of musicians will increase from the current 75 to 84 in the 2024-25 season.

The Baltimore Sun’s Mary Carole McCauley reports on the pact and ecstatic reaction to its ratification:


Long-dominant artists’ agency shutting down

Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI), which for 90 years has been the leading agency representing classical musicians in the US, is shutting down on Aug. 31.

CAMI has represented a stellar roster of instrumentalists, singers, orchestras, conductors and other artists. Its current roster includes pianists Maurizio Pollini and Denis Matsuev, violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Gidon Kremer, conductors Valery Gergiev and Seiji Ozawa, and many leading US and European orchestras.

Also on its conductors’ roster is George Manahan, the former Richmond Symphony music director who has been serving as the orchestra’s music advisor and will conduct its Sept. 18-20 season-opening Masterworks concerts.

CAMI was founded in 1930 by Arthur Judson, initially in partnership with William S. Paley, the founder and chief executive of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Initially, the agency was known as Columbia Concerts Corp. Judson at the time also was manager of the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra. During his long tenure at CAMI, Judson was reputed to all but dictate the choice of music directors of many of the major US orchestras. Several conductors who had fallen out with him blamed Judson for hampering their careers.

CAMI also operated a community concerts subsidiary, which brought prominent classical artists to smaller towns and cities around the country.

From 1970 to 2015, CAMI was run by Ronald Wilford, and maintained its dominance among management agencies for classical artists.

A statement from the agency said its demise was hastened by “a prolonged pandemic environment,” during which live classical-music events have all but ceased.

Perlman at 75: the last old-school virtuoso?

The New York Times’ Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim profiles Itzhak Perlman as the violinist turns 75. In addition to being one of the few performers in classical music whose artistry and personality resonates with a wider public, Perlman, stricken by polio when he was 4, has been a driving force in making concert halls and other public spaces accessible to people with disabilities.

Fonseca-Wollheim examines Perlman’s role in performance and music education, but wonders whether his persona as a traditional classical virtuoso has diminishing impact in contemporary art and society:

Rue Britannia


The BBC is dropping sung versions of “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory,” the flag-waving anthems that have been among the most memorable parts of the Last Night of the Proms, one of the world’s most popular musical events.

The network has announced that this year’s Last Night will feature “Rule, Britannia!” played instrumentally as part of Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs,” along with arrangements of Hubert Parry’s “Jerusalem” and Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1, the latter without “Land of Hope and Glory” sung in its trio section, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Carousel.”

Social activists and others have denounced “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory” because of what BBC Music Magazine critic Richard Morrison calls “crudely jingoistic texts.”

“The lyrics [of ‘Rule, Britannia!’] are just so offensive, talking about the ‘haughty tyrants’ – people that we are invading on their land and calling them haughty tyrants – and Britons shall never be slaves, which implies that it’s OK for others to be slaves but not us,” Chi-chi Nwanoku, founder of the majority black orchestra Chineke! told The Guardian’s Caroline Davies:

The dangers of crowded events during the coronavirus pandemic already was likely to alter the format of the Proms finale, to be staged on Sept. 12. The concert normally is played to a packed house at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which has a capacity of more than 5,200, and to even larger outdoor crowds throughout Britain.

Davies notes in her article that a more subdued Last Night was staged following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, possibly setting a precedent for this year’s event.

* * *

“Rule, Britannia!” by James Thomson, set to music by Thomas Arne in his 1740 masque “Alfred,” is presented in Proms concerts with a soloist singing the verses and the audience joining in the refrain. Here’s the text:

When Britain first, at Heaven’s command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame:
All their attempts to bend thee down,
Will but arouse thy generous flame;
But work their woe, and thy renown.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine:
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crown’d,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

* * *

The lyrics of the chorus of “Land of Hope and Glory,” written in 1901 by A.C. Benson, typically performed at the Proms as an audience sing-along during Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1:

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

* * *

Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog runs the BBC statement:

Timid BBC retreats from Rule Britannia

* * *

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson weighs in: “I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture . . . . ”

Under the wire

On the Slipped Disc blog, Jo Buckley, chief executive of the the Dunedin Consort, a Scottish period-instruments ensemble, chronicles the adventure of finding its way home from a performance in Normandy. The British government had ordered a quarantine for all British visitors to France after 4 a.m. Aug. 15, and all the usual means of transport were booked to capacity. Buckley finally found a catamaran normally chartered to sport fishermen to bring the ensemble home. They made it back with 10 minutes to spare:

Julian Bream (1933-2020)

Julian Bream, the British guitarist and lutenist who led the reintroduction of early music for plucked strings to the classical repertory in the 1960s and ’70s, as well as inspiring a number of contemporary composers to write guitar concertos, has died at 87.

Bream, who retired in 2002 after a performing and recording career of more than 60 years, was the son of a jazz guitarist and admirer of Django Reinhardt. He often said that improvisation – inherent in jazz but a skill rarely practiced by classical instrumentalists – was an essential asset in his exploration of early music.

An obituary by Ben Beaumont-Thomas for The Guardian:

Review: Lano & Yefimova

Erin Lano, French horn
Maria Yefimova, piano
Aug. 13, Dominion Energy Center

The final program of the Richmond Symphony Summer Series, this year focusing on Beethoven during the composer’s 250th anniversary year, was a mixture of works by Beethoven; two of his most prominent contemporaries, Luigi Cherubini and Franz Schubert; and a composer of the next generation greatly influenced by Beethoven, Robert Schumann.

A mixture by necessity: As Erin Lano, a French horn player in the symphony, observed, Beethoven didn’t write a recital’s worth of music for her instrument. His only work for solo horn was the early Sonata in F major, Op. 17. Lano and pianist Maria Yefimova supplemented that piece with arrangements of two horn sonatas by Cherubini and of art-songs (a medium in which Beethoven didn’t excel) by Schubert and Schumann, topped off with Yefimova playing the first movement of one of Beethoven’s greatest piano sonatas, the C major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”).

The Beethoven horn sonata, not surprisingly, found Lano most audibly in her comfort zone – the piece, written in 1800 for the Bohemian virtuoso Giovanni Punto, is standard fare for all horn soloists. She played it with a gratifying combination of declarative aplomb and songfulness. She brought a similar balance of qualities to two songs from Schumann’s song cycle “Myrthen,” Op. 25, “Widmung” and “Die Lotosblume;” but delivered a more labored reading of Schubert’s familiar “An die Musik.”

Yefimova, a pianist on the faculty of the College of William and Mary, gave a fluent account of the “Waldstein” movement, playing from memory with fine technique and a sure sense of the music’s structure and expressive force.

Lano and Yefimova opened the program with two brief horn sonatas by Cherubini, as arranged in 1954 by Johannes Wojciechowski (originally for horn and strings), pieces that echo the vocal music for which the composer was best-known, played by this duo with suitable theatricality.

The recital marked the last public appearance by David Fisk as the symphony’s executive director. After 18 eventful and productive years in the post, Fisk leaves Richmond at the end of the month to become executive director of the Charlotte Symphony.

The video stream of the recital by Erin Lano and Maria Yefimova may be accessed through Aug. 19. Tickets: $12. Details: (804) 788-1212; (Single tickets may be purchased via links on that page.)

Robert Murray (1936-2020)

Robert Murray, the violinist and longtime teacher at Virginia Commonwealth University, has died at 83.

A native of South Bend, IN, who grew up in Janesville, WI, Murray was a US Navy veteran and a graduate of the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and Indiana University. Among his teachers were Rudolf Kolisch and Tadeusz Wronski.

He played in the Orlando and Nashville symphonies – during the latter stint, doubling as a recording studio musician – as well as the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and Amici della Musica Chamber Orchestra and Bach Festival Orchestra in California, before joining the VCU music faculty in 1978. He also had taught at the University of Northern Colorado, Baylor University and the Red Lodge Music Festival in Montana.

Murray made his New York debut at Town Hall in 1975. At VCU, he was a member of the Smetana Trio, one of modern Richmond’s pioneering chamber-music ensembles, with pianist Landon Bilyeu and cellist Frantisek Smetana, and performed with Ardyth Lohuis in a violin-and-organ duo, one of the few of its kind. He was an occasional substitute player in the Richmond Symphony.

He was a recording engineer and producer, and made a number of recordings for Raven, Musical Heritage Society and other labels. Among them were Telemann’s 12 fantasias for solo violin, the violin sonatas of Saint-Saëns, the first recordings of Anton Rubinstein’s four violin sonatas, the Fifth Violin Sonata of Leo Sowerby (which Murray had premiered) and a series of discs of violin-and-organ works with Lohuis.

Symphony announces revised fall schedule, adding online concert streams

The Richmond Symphony has announced revised programming and ticketing for its fall 2020 Masterworks concerts, and added online live streams of the performances.

Programs lasting about 80 minutes without intermissions will be staged on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets.

George Manahan, the former symphony music director who has been serving as its music advisor, will conduct the September season-opener, “A Century of American Sound.” Valentina Peleggi, the symphony’s newly appointed music director, will conduct the next two programs, “Hymn to New Beginning” in October and “Metamorphosen” in November.

Admission to the concerts will be limited to fewer than 400 patrons, with distanced seating and what the orchestra describes as “stringent health and safety protocols,” including temperature checks and a requirement to wear masks. Tickets will go on sale on Sept. 1, with ticket prices to be announced.

Saturday concerts will be live-streamed, and will be available for viewing for 30 days after the performances. Access to streams cost $55 for all three programs, or $21.50 for each concert. Only one ticket per household is required.

Here’s the schedule:

Sept. 18 (7p.m.)
Sept. 19 (8 p.m.)
Sept. 20 (3 p.m.)
George Manahan conducting
Adolphus Hailstork: “American Fanfare”
Joseph Turrin: “Jazzalogue” No. 1
Jessie Montgomery: “Banner”
Gershwin: “Rhapsody in Blue” (chamber-orchestra arrangement by Iain Farrington)
Aaron Diehl, piano
Copland: “Appalachian Spring” (complete ballet score for 13 instruments)

Oct. 16 (7 p.m.)
Oct. 17 (8 p.m.)
Oct. 18 (3 p.m.)
Valentina Peleggi conducting
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219 (“Turkish”)
Melissa White, violin
Vaughan Williams: “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”

Nov. 13 (7 p.m.)
Nov. 14 (8 p.m.)
Nov. 15 (3 p.m.)
Valentina Peleggi conducting
works TBA by Schubert, Wagner, Richard Strauss

Play to those who pay

The New York Times’ Anthony Tommasini addresses the “dismaying ageism” of a cultural commentariat that sees the death spiral of classical music in statistics showing the average ages of audiences for symphony concerts and opera in their 50s and 60s. “Classical music should do its best to cultivate new listeners – to be accessible to anyone who might want to participate,” he writes. “But having an aging audience is not necessarily dire.”

Tommasini points to what he suspects is the real issue: “For some time now, I’ve seen the main challenge of engaging new classical music audiences – of all ages – as related to diminishing attention spans in an era of nonstop connectivity. . . . [A]n audience at a concert has to settle in and really pay attention to a performance that, for all the dynamic involvement of the musicians, offers only so much visual stimulation. Classical music should embrace this reality and promote performances as rare opportunities to disconnect, at least for a while, from the digital life outside.”

There’s another angle to this discussion – an issue I kept trying to raise in the waning years of my newspaper career. Editors had grown obsessed with cultivating a younger readership, often at the cost of alienating older, longtime readers. They ran head-on into reality: Most people under 30 didn’t, don’t and won’t read newspapers – a reality compounded by the rise of digital media. At the same time, they turned off many older readers who, not incidentally, command an outsized share of disposable income and whose interests aren’t addressed by most commercial television and other non-print media. They kissed off the affluent audience that they had in order to court a less affluent audience that they weren’t going to get, and plunged into a competition for advertising that they weren’t going to win. The consequences land on your doorstep (or not) every morning.

Few entities in the entertainment and leisure sphere have been hit harder in the coronavirus pandemic than classical-music organizations and presenters. Some major ones have effectively put themselves out of business for the duration. Others are staging concerts with sharply reduced live attendance and/or presenting performances online. (The Richmond Symphony plans to try both approaches this fall.) All are urging patrons to contribute whether or not they get any music for their money.

Who’ll keep them going, and buy tickets when “normal” life resumes? Old folks.