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Pink Martini, Thomas Lauderdale’s “little orchestra,” at 25

For pianist Thomas Lauderdale, founder of what he terms the “little orchestra” Pink Martini, “a song’s lyrics and melodies must be beautiful,” writes Paul Fried in Thursday’s (11/28) Monterey County Weekly (Seaside, CA). “That vision is the essence of what Lauderdale has accomplished since founding … Pink Martini 25 years ago.” Pink Martini performs often on orchestras’ pops series. “In 1994, he called a vocalist he had met at Harvard named China Forbes…. Forbes’ and Lauderdale’s first sojourn into songwriting yielded the 1995 single ‘Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler’(‘I Don’t Want To Work’) which … to this day … remains a mantra and rallying cry for striking French workers. Their writing partnership now contains a portfolio of some 200 songs penned in 25 different languages over nine studio albums…. This multi-generational, multi-lingual, multi-genre ensemble’s most profound influence lies in touring, not in its recordings. ‘Pink Martini is an American band, but because we spend a lot of time abroad we have an incredible bonafide diplomatic opportunity to represent a broader, more inclusive America,’ … Lauderdale says.”

Posted December 4, 2019

Refining how classical-music streaming services connect with listeners

“According to a new survey commissioned by [classical-music streaming service] Primephonic, 34% of the 1,000 Americans surveyed are interested in listening to classical music, but only 16% actually do so,” reads an unsigned article in Sunday’s (12/1) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Primephonic and Idagio … another classical music-only streaming service that launched in the U.S. in 2018—intend to take advantage of the gap in those numbers, to improve access to classical music by offering new-user-friendly software and guided listening…. ‘I think it’s almost a necessity to have a different experience if you want to do classical right,’ said Christoph Lange, co-founder of Idagio…. Primephonic offers educational podcasts with composers and conductors—including Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director Manfred Honeck—while Idagio seems to focus more on radio playlists and new albums…. The global CEO of Warner Music Group, Steve Cooper, told Rolling Stone earlier this month that he thinks there is plenty of room for growth in the streaming industry through diversification…. As most streaming services try to offer all music, he suggested that services may align by genre with consumers. Primephonic and Idagio are doing precisely that. Perhaps classical music is ahead of the curve.”

Posted December 4, 2019

For Baton Rouge Symphony, new directions as Eric Marshall settles in as executive director

“Following an eight-year stint at Austin Symphony Orchestra in Texas, Eric Marshall has come to the Capital Region to lead the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra as its executive director,” writes Holly Duchmann in Monday’s (12/2) Baton Rouge Business Report (LA). Marshall began his position in Baton Rouge in May. “Marshall plans to expand the appeal of the organization’s programs to a broader audience. In Texas, he previously worked to capture the millennial market and increase ticket sales. He takes the helm just as the organization is navigating two major changes: the renovation of the symphony’s home stage, the River Center Performing Arts Theater, and the anticipated departure of BRSO’s music director, Tim Muffitt. Until the home stage reopens in 2021, the symphony is performing in alternative locations…. Marshall says BRSO will connect with school-age children through 14 school-based music education programs [with] workshops [that] aim to bring music awareness to children through lessons that integrate math, science, English and other subjects…. Marshall says he is … ‘excited about classical music and where it’s going, and the level of musicianship we have here in Baton Rouge is incredible.’ ”

Posted December 4, 2019

Minnesota Orchestra’s fiscal 2019: $60m in fundraising, but $8.8m deficit

“At its annual meeting Tuesday, the Minnesota Orchestra had good, and bad, news to report about its finances,” writes Ross Raihala in Tuesday’s (12/3) St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minn.). “The orchestra raised $60 million in a $50 million major gifts campaign, but posted an $8.8 million deficit due to a decrease in operations-directed gifts. ‘It may seem counter-intuitive to report both an enormously successful fundraising campaign and an operational shortfall, but this year we face both of those realities,’ orchestra president and CEO Michelle Miller Burns said…. ‘While our campaign was very successful, more gifts were directed to the endowment rather than current operations, contributing to the shortfall. Our path forward is through a carefully defined revenue growth plan that increases both contributed and earned revenue.’ … Total expenses were $35.4 million compared to the previous year’s $36.4 million. Total contributed revenue was $14.5 million, compared to $22 million the previous year…. At the meeting, acting associate principal bass Kathryn Nettleman announced the musicians and staff have collaborated to create … ‘Hall Pass,’ [which] starts in January and offers students 18 and under the opportunity to attend any Minnesota Orchestra classical concert for free for the rest of the season.”

Posted December 4, 2019

Cellist on the rise: Sheku Kanneh-Mason

“The last time British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason was scheduled to play in Los Angeles, he had to cancel at the last minute,” writes Tom Jacobs in Tuesday’s (12/3) Los Angeles Times. Kanneh-Mason “had a gig back home playing at a wedding … the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle…. Not unlike the new Duchess of Sussex, he is a person of color newly navigating a high-profile, high-status, mostly white milieu. ‘My impression has always been that the U.S. is more ahead in terms of diversity in classical music than the U.K.,’ he said…. If that is shifting, he and his family are a major reason. The cellist, now 20, … and his sister, Isata, [gave] a recital [this week] at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall. The performance is a co-presentation of the school and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the ensemble whose invitation he was forced to decline in May 2018…. He and his six siblings … all … play musical instruments…. He is a fan of, and occasional soloist with, the Chineke! Orchestra…. Its mission, he said approvingly, is ‘to inspire young people of color to see classical music as something they, too, can get into.’ ”

Posted December 4, 2019

In photo: Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason shown at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he performed on December 3 with his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. Photo by Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times

North Carolina Symphony begins three-year educational residency in Jones County

The North Carolina Symphony has launched a three-year initiative in Jones County, North Carolina, designed to provide high-quality live orchestral music and music education experiences at schools and other community organizations. The first event in the initiative took place in November in Jones County’s new K-12 school, where more than 400 students were taught core musical concepts such as rhythm, melody, tempo, and dynamics, and included students singing “De Colores,” a song they had studied and prepared in their music classes. Over the three years of the Jones County residency, planned activities include twelve Ensembles in the Schools performances, interactive programs for elementary school students; twelve Music Discovery events combining music and literacy for preschoolers and their families; an instrument zoo where students can try out orchestral instruments, to support 6th grade band recruitment; master classes in which North Carolina Symphony musicians coach middle and high schoolers on technique and musicianship; a side-by-side community concert where students will perform together with North Carolina Symphony musicians; and a free community chamber music concert.

Posted December 3, 2019

Obituary: Jonathan Miller, opera and theater director, 85

“Jonathan Miller, the British theater and opera director known for his radical restagings of classic works, died on Wednesday at his home in London. He was 85,” writes Benedict Nightingale in Wednesday’s (11/27) New York Times. “Mr. Miller … first achieved fame as an actor in the anti-establishment revue ‘Beyond the Fringe.’ … He went on to win acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for his productions of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto,’ Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’ and other works. He also produced and hosted television shows. Most unusually, he was a medical doctor, with a special interest in neurology; he occasionally left the theater to practice medicine…. Mr. Miller’s theatrical career began at Cambridge University, where he studied science but was also, as he put it, ‘tripped up’ by comedy. [In the U.S. ] between performances at the Golden Theater on Broadway, he wrote movie reviews for The New Yorker, wrote and directed scripts for American television…. His production of Leoš Janáček’s opera ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ at Glyndebourne in 1975 [established] him as a serious director of opera in addition to drama.” Miller subsequently directed landmark productions at leading opera houses in the U.S. and Europe.

Posted December 3, 2019

Houston Symphony’s “Ad Astra” premiere, inspired by NASA’s Voyager program

“Earth’s celestial neighbors won’t feel quite so far away this weekend,” writes Lawrence Elizabeth Knox in Monday’s (12/2) Houston Chronicle. “Beginning Thursday, the Houston Symphony, led by music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, will take the city to the stars … with the world premiere of ‘Ad Astra’ by Jimmy López Bellido. In the five-movement work, the Peruvian composer provides an overview of the most iconic milestones that NASA has achieved in terms of space exploration.… López, who is in his third and final year as the Houston Symphony’s composer-in-residence, begins ‘Ad Astra’ with a musical interpretation of the Voyager program and its two space probes … launched in 1977…. The rhythm of ‘per aspera ad astra,’ meaning ‘through difficulties to the stars,’ became the building block of his entire symphony, which depicts the Apollo program with the inimitable sound of the rarely used glass harmonica before referencing the shaky beginnings of the Hubble Space Telescope [before tackling] one of NASA’s worst tragedies—the  loss of the space shuttle Challenger and all seven crew members on board, one of whom was a high school teacher, on Jan. 28, 1986.”

Posted December 3, 2019

Justus Zimmerman named as South Bend Symphony’s next executive director

“The South Bend Symphony Orchestra announced Monday that Justus Zimmerman has been named its new executive director,” reads an unsigned Monday (12/2) South Bend Tribune (IN) article. “He replaces Agnieszka Rakhmatullaev, who left in August after four years with the orchestra. Zimmerman most recently served as the director of marketing and communications with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, where he oversaw a digital transformation, a strategic rebrand and the launch of the critically-acclaimed SESSION series, which features LACO musicians performing works by contemporary composers in non-concert hall settings. Now in its 87th season and third with music director Maestro Alastair Willis, the SBSO won the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County’s 2019 Leighton Award for Non-profit Excellence. Zimmerman begins work Jan. 6.”

Posted December 3, 2019

Lei Liang wins $100K Grawemeyer award for work about nature, ecology, art highlighting Chinese landscapes

“A composer who immigrated to the United States as a teenager in the aftermath of social unrest in China has won the University of Louisville’s 2020 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition for A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams, a work for orchestra premiered in 2018,” writes Daniel Gilliam on Monday (12/2) at radio station WFPL (Louisville, KY). “Lei Liang, 47, …  is currently a professor of music at the University of California, San Diego; he’s also a research-artist-in-residence at Qualcomm Institute, an interdisciplinary research institute where Liang works with scientists to develop a ‘sonification’ of coral reefs. A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams is inspired by the landscapes of 20th century Chinese landscape artist Huang Binhong, but reaches deeper to explore ecological and spiritual destruction and our relationship with nature.… Liang’s next project, [a string quartet] already underway, is another collaboration with scientists who are studying the arctic…. A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams was premiered and recorded by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and conducted by Gil Rose on the BMOP Sound label. The annual $100,000 Grawemeyer prize rewards outstanding ideas in music, and also world order, psychology, education and religion.”

Posted December 3, 2019

Photo of Lei Liang by Alex Matthews