Archive for June, 2009

Germany’s “Echo Klassik” Awards

Posted in News on June 30, 2009 by figarosi

The German recording industry’s annual prizes, “Echo Klassik” were announced yesterday, June 29, and tenor Plácido Domingo was honored for his life’s work. Other winners were mezzo Elīna Garanča as “Female Singer of the Year” for her “Bel Canto” album. Baritone Christian Gerhaher was similarly honored for his “Melancholie” recording. French flautist Emmanuel Pahud, first chair at the Berlin Philharmonic, was a winner for his recording of the Flute Sonatas of J. S. Bach. Pianist David Frey was honored for his recording of Bach. Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter won honors for her “Bach Meets Gubaidulina” recording. Sylvain Cambreling was named “Conductor of the Year” for his recording of the orchestra works of Messiaen.

Winners also in various other categories were harpist Xavier De Maistre, trumpeter Wolfgang Bauer, the Staatskapelle Dresden, Alison Balsom, Daniel Hope, Lang Lang, Hervé Niquet and his Le Concert Spirituel and last, but not least, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón. The presentations will be made on October 18 at Dresden’s Semper Oper. The full list is at

Yet Another Mitterrand in Government

Posted in News on June 25, 2009 by figarosi

FredericMitterrandMedef23062009On Wednesday morning, he told his staff in Rome, where he headed the famed cultural and academic center, Villa Médicis. Later that day, he was attending his first Parisian cabinet meeting as the new Minister of Culture. 61 years old, Frédéric Mitterrand was named by Nicolas Sarkozy to general surprise. He was an ardent supporter of his uncle, the late Socialist former president, Francois Mitterrand but has moved rightwards recently. He is a popular writer, film director and television personality.

He succeeds Christine Albanel who made waves with an abortive law to control internet piracy which is now being reworked. His insider image and contact list, many believe, will give a boost to the arts. His movie, “Madame Butterfly,” was one of the more successful transfers of opera to screen.

20,000 Concerts Today!

Posted in News on June 21, 2009 by figarosi

Today is the day for France’s annual Fête de la Musique, a mind-boggling effort to celebrate music in all its forms with free concerts all over France. You have the impression that everyone who can play an instrument is playing somewhere – in a concert hall, factory, cafe, train station, outdoors in a park – and everyone else is in the audience. Started in 1982 and always on the 21st – the summer solstice – it seems to expand every year. They say there are 20,000 concerts all over France and around the world but, with everyone invited to participate, the count could be greater.

This year’s theme is the French chanson but, as usual, the full range of activities include opera, reggae, orchestras, marching bands, chamber music, jazz, hip hop, choirs, rock, ballet, etc.. Every music school puts on a show. All the major institutions are offering something. Pierre Boulez is conducting Stravinsky with the Orchestre de Paris under the glass pyramid of the Louvre and Yannik Noah, the tennis player turned rocker, is giving a concert with his band in New York. The Paris metro runs free and, exceptionally, all through the night to accommodate the crowds.

Nicolas Joel and the star system.

Posted in News on June 18, 2009 by figarosi

Nicolas Joel is finding that running the Opéra National de Paris is not as easy as planned and he has not yet sat in the chair. Marking a clear change from star-adverse Gerard Mortier, he graced his first season, 2009-10, with well-known names. Tenor Rolando Villazon was the Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore (the Laurent Pelly production) next October and, more significantly, he would sing the title role in Mozart’s Idomeneo in January-February opposite no less than Anna Netrebko as Elettra. These two, in roles outside their usual repertory and with a new production by Luc Bondy, would certainly have attracted the opera world’s undivided attention.

The surgery on the vocal cords of Villazon, and the cancellation of all engagements until the end of the year already had changed the lineup for the Elisir. However, a few days ago it was announced he was not singing in Carmen in Vienna in May of next year. Just today the other shoe dropped when the Opéra announced he would not appear in Idomeneo and, for unstated reasons (sympathy perhaps?) Netrebko has pulled out too. Last minute replacements have tenor Charles Workman promoted from his scheduled role of Arbace and Tamar Iveri singing Elettra. (She will be heard earlier as Mimi in the October-November La Bohème at Opéra Bastille opposite Natalie Dessay singing her first Musetta.)

The two megastars, having just gutted the centerpiece of next season, left Joel’s first season more than a little compromised. Proving, yet again, that the star system can be a double-edged sword.

America’s Arts in Crisis?

Posted in Random Comment on June 17, 2009 by figarosi

There has been much talk in America about newspapers sacking their classical music critics and other arts journalists. A study released June 15 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) identifies a far more serious, long term and systemic problem: a declining audience for the arts in nearly all disciplines. The worse audience loss: opera, classical concerts and ballet. Almost all of this data was collected before the current economic crisis hit full force and it tracks trends since the start of the survey in 1982. The study is at the following URL:

Click to access NEA-SPPA-brochure.pdf

In an internet group a few months ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Martin Bernheimer made a simple observation. Looking at the web-available archives of Time Magazine’s covers, he found opera and classical music stars occasionally on the cover up until about 25 years ago. Since then there were none. In times past, names like Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein, Rudolph Nureyev and Maria Callas were familiar among the general population. Now most classical music and opera is seen on American cable channels and music and arts-related stories no longer appear, as they occasionally did, in news magazines like Time, Newsweek or People. There is no major US magazine covering classical music. Other countries have proportionally many more related publications and dedicated websites that does the U. S. It is not a world problem; the arts and serious music in European and Asian media have continued good coverage and the audiences are, by all reports, growing.

The critic Norman Lebrecht this week wrote a piece which praises the vitality of the classical scene in France but headlines that the average age for a classical concert is 32. My observations for the past twenty years or so in Paris and around France is that, while there is always a variety of ages at operas and concerts that I have attended, the 32 figure is simply not credible. Nevertheless, the average audience age is certainly far younger than in America and, according to the NEA report, the American audience is now significantly older than it was two decades earlier. Lebrecht also notes that “classical record sales in France amount, as I have reported elsewhere, to nine percent of the total market. In the US they are barely one percent.” That is certainly a valid observation and further gloomy news.

To top this off, another new report, issued the day before, gives a failing grade to the nation’s education system for its declining arts education program. See: America is clearly in crisis regarding the place of arts in their society and the dwindling audiences seem more and more conservative. Worse, there is no apparent recognition of this nor is there any evidence of concern among the country’s leadership.

Posted in Random Comment on June 9, 2009 by figarosi

What a stunning photo of Manuel Legris being saluted by the audience at the Palais Garnier! It becomes a symbol of the magic we always want in the theater. 756-30

Hardest Working Man in Show Business!

Posted in Random Comment on June 7, 2009 by figarosi

Didier de Cottignies hasn’t quit his day job… he’s doubled it! An old Decca boss, he came over the channel to Paris in May of 2002 with the appointment of Kurt Masur at the head of the premiere French radio orchestra, the Orchestre National de France. As the artistic head of the orchestra, he (with a little help from the towering maestro) made the ONF one of the hottest tickets in town and left the supposed leader, the Orchestre de Paris, in the shadows. He helped snag hot property Daniele Gatti who took over from Masur in September of last year.

With their artistic standards slipping, the musicians of the Orchestre de Paris tried to figure out whether or not they liked their maestro, Christoph Eschenbach. Finally, the answer was no and Eschenbach’s last season will start in September. The designated successor, Paavo Järvi waits in the wings for the 2010-11 season. What’s more, the long time and respected GM of that orchestra, Georges-François Hirsch, was given a major post – responsible for all the performing arts – in the French Ministry of Culture in April of last year and has not been seen or heard from since.

The Orchestre de Paris had no official manager from April to November when de Cottignies was given the post of artistic director. Trouble is, since that time, he has not been replaced at the ONF so he’s working both jobs. He tells me he is supposed to share the day “four hours here, four hours there.” But is is very much like 8 hours each (with few weekends off). The French press does not seem to be bothered by the failure of Radio France to find his replacement at the ONF or the fact that the same guy is making artistic decisions for competing orchestras. It would be hard to imagine something like this happening in another major city. De Cottignies tells me there is now some hope in the horizon but there has been hope before which never materialized.

You can hear this tireless and remarkable man talk about his work with Stanley Kubrick in the movie, “2001, A Space Odyssey”