Boston Symphony’s return to Symphony Hall: Beethoven, Bartók, Williams, Nelsons, Mutter

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra and Anne-Sophie Mutter perform music by John Williams, with the composer at the podium. Photo: Winslow Townson

“The most moving moment of the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert that marked its return after an absence of 18 months … to its great concert hall was the prolonged standing ovation the audience gave the players as they appeared onstage Thursday night, Sept. 30,” writes Lloyd Schwartz in Monday’s (10/4) WBUR (Boston). “Everyone seemed very happy to be in that hall. Music director Andris Nelsons … thanked the audience for ‘fostering an environment of acceptance and inclusivity.’ The program … began with [Beethoven’s] ‘The Consecration of the House,’ that launched the very first BSO concert in 1881. This was followed by an ambitious recent piece, Violin Concerto No. 2 by John Williams, the Boston Pops’ beloved conductor laureate [with] star soloist … Anne-Sophie Mutter…. The grand finale was … Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra…. The [sound] that hit me hardest was the reverberant opening chord of the Beethoven, that rare combination of breadth and warmth and depth enabled by the plush acoustics of Symphony Hall—a sound impossible to reproduce electronically…. Serge Koussevitzky, the legendary music director of the BSO from 1924 to 1949, commissioned Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra for the BSO in 1943…. And it still sounds fresh.”

October 8, 2021

San Diego Symphony: 88,000 concertgoers at new outdoor venue in first two months

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“The San Diego Symphony is off to a rousing start with its new $85 million bayside venue, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park,” writes George Varga in Wednesday’s (10/6) San Diego Union-Tribune. “Attendance at The Shell, as it is known for short, exceeded 88,000 people in its first two months of operation. Between the Aug. 6 gala opening concert and a Sept. 30 performance by jazz guitar great Pat Metheny, the venue has hosted 28 paid events and averaged 3,100 attendees per event, the symphony announced on Wednesday.… ‘Looking back at the first eight weeks of performances at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, I could not be more thrilled,’ San Diego Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer said in a statement…. That 88,000-plus total attendance exceeds the number of concertgoers during any two-month period in the symphony’s decades of previous outdoor summer concert seasons. Moreover, The Shell was built as a year-round venue. It has another 18 nights of music scheduled between Friday and Nov. 14….. The new venue enables the orchestra, led by music director Rafael Payare, to continue performing outdoors at a time when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made some audience members hesitant to attend indoor events.”

October 8, 2021

Biden Administration announces nominees to head NEA and NEH

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“The White House has announced who it would like to lead the arts and humanities endowments,” reports Elizabeth Blair on Wednesday’s (10/6) National Public Radio. “To Chair the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), President Biden’s nominee is Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, a longtime arts and humanities administrator and professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. For the National Endowment for the Humanities, Biden has selected Shelly Lowe, a citizen of the Navajo Nation who is currently the Executive Director of the Harvard University Native American Program. If confirmed, Lowe would become the first Native American to Chair the NEH. The NEA and NEH fund hundreds of thousands of arts and cultural programs throughout the U.S…. The Chairs of each federal agency need to be confirmed by congress and serve four-year terms. According to the White House, Dr. Jackson has spent the last 25 years ‘focused on understanding and elevating arts, culture and design as critical elements of healthy communities.’… Both Lowe and Jackson [had previously been] appointed to the National Councils that advise the arts and humanities endowments. If they are confirmed, they would vacate those seats.”

October 8, 2021

Concert Artists Guild adds emerging conductors to roster

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“Concert Artists Guild (CAG) has added a new category of young artists to its roster: conductors,” writes Susan Elliott in Wednesday’s (10/6) Musical America (subscription required). “The 70-year-old organization usually selects its artists, all instrumentalists, from an annual competition. But conductors, for practical reasons, are to be chosen on the basis of input from the field and a ‘Conductors Advisory Circle’ … of musicians and administrators…. The new conductors program is a collaboration with the U.K.’s Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT)…. The new CAG members are Argentine/Italian Michelle Di Russo, assistant conductor of the North Carolina Symphony and interim director of orchestras at Cornell University; Kyle Dickson, a Salonen conducting fellow at the Colburn Conservatory and as such an assistant conductor of the San Francisco Symphony; and Ben Manis, former cover conductor for the St. Louis and Dallas symphonies, current resident conductor of the Houston Grand Opera. ‘As we come out of the pandemic, we believe that it is more critical than ever to provide support for young conductors, which is something that has historically been lacking in our field,’ said [CAG President Tanya] Bannister in a statement.”

October 8, 2021

Reno Philharmonic commissions López Bellido score about the environment, launches multi-orchestra plan for performances

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“The best art … inspires, provokes, comforts and catalyzes,” writes Scott Faulkner in Monday’s (10/4) Reno Gazette Journal. “Composer Jimmy López Bellido’s new Symphony No. 3: Altered Landscape checks all of these boxes. Commissioned by the Reno Phil, the work is informed and inspired by the Nevada Museum of Art’s ‘Altered Landscape, Carol Franc Buck Collection’ of photography [and] engages themes of humanity’s accelerated consumption of the Earth’s resources, the pandemic-imposed pause we have withstood, and the quest for a future of harmony and sustainable balance on Earth…. Completed in 2020 during the COVID shutdown, López Bellido’s 34-minute piece … is written for full symphony orchestra … Led by music director Laura Jackson, the Reno Phil presents the world premiere of the work on May 7 and 8, 2022…. The Reno Phil is building a consortium of orchestras … that will perform the work and convene the important conversations around it…. Consortium orchestras will not be charged to play the piece, but they will be asked to take tangible action against climate change by making a contribution to The Nature Conservancy.” Scott Faulkner is principal bass of the Reno Phil and Reno Chamber Orchestra and project manager for the “Altered Landscape” commission.

October 8, 2021

Curtis Institute receives $20M for facility upgrades, organ program, financial assistance for students

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“The Curtis Institute of Music has landed a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor family,” writes Peter Dobrin in Thursday’s (10/7) Philadelphia Inquirer. “Curtis is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to raise $200 million for endowment, $30 million to upgrade facilities and infrastructure and $20 million for the annual fund…. The new gift, one of the largest in its history … will help Curtis expand aspects of its organ program. A new organ will be commissioned for Field Concert Hall. The summertime Philadelphia Young Artists Organ Camp, previously run independently by Curtis organ department head Alan Morrison, will be brought under the Curtis wing and expanded, and it will become tuition free…. In 2022-23, the school will expand a program that places students as organ scholars in Philadelphia area churches to explore organ liturgy and church repertoire.… Curtis will create a summer workshop for young string quartets to work with the school’s resident Cover Quartet. The new endowment money will also allow Curtis to expand the need-based financial assistance it offers students starting in 2022-23. Curtis is entirely tuition-free, but students still incur expenses and debt for living, travel and instrument purchases.”

October 8, 2021

Minnesota Orchestra named Gramophone’s Orchestra of the Year; Boston Modern Opera Project gets Special Achievement Award

Industry Buzz

The U.K.-based classical music magazine Gramophone has named two American orchestras among the winners of its 2021 international Gramophone Classical Music Awards. The Minnesota Orchestra was named 2021 Orchestra of the Year, a category decided by popular vote. Nominees for the Orchestra of the Year Award are chosen by Gramophone’s editors and reviewers looking at each ensemble’s artistic merit and body of work over the past year. Boston Modern Orchestra Project won the award for Special Achievement in recognition of its service to American music of the modern era. Awards were announced in a ceremony on October 5 livestreamed from London and co-hosted by Gramophone Editor-in-Chief James Jolly and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. Awards were also given for recording of the year (Bergen Philharmonic’s Peter Grimes), artist of the year (violinist James Ehnes), lifetime achievement (soprano Gundula Janowitz), and young artist (soprano Fatma Said). Awards were also given to recordings in specific categories: chamber, choral, concerto, contemporary, early music, instrumental, opera, orchestral, piano, voice and ensemble, and song. The awards ceremony can viewed until the end of the year at Gramophone’s website.

October 8, 2021

League releases latest findings from its Health and Safety Policies and Planning Survey

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The League of American Orchestras has released the results of its field-wide Health and Safety Policies and Planning Survey, which reports on the vaccination, testing, and masking requirements that orchestras have in place for musicians, staff, and audiences for this fall. More than two hundred U.S. adult and youth orchestras across a range of orchestra budget sizes participated in the survey, which was open from August 25 to September 10, 2021. Some top-line findings include: 82% of responding orchestras (excluding youth orchestras) reported either a mandatory vaccination policy or testing requirement for their musicians; 73% of responding orchestras have either a mandatory vaccination policy or testing requirement in place for their office staff; 41% of all responding orchestras, including youth orchestras, reported either a mandatory vaccination polity or testing requirement for their audiences. Read the complete Health and Safety Policies and Planning Survey here.

October 8, 2021