What's in a name change?

More news coming out of the American Symphony Orchestra League’s annual conference: the organization has a new name. As of this fall, it’ll be known as the League of American Orchestras.

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra board chair Lowell Noteboom, who holds a similar position with the league, is quoted in the statement. He and others suggest several reasons for the name change but they avoid the one that Musical America puts in the first line of its story: the old name has “an unfortunate acronym.”

For orchestra biz insiders, it’s a welcome change. They use the league’s name a lot and the old one begged for shorthand. The new moniker is still a mouthful, but there’s a certain music to LOA.

Lights, Camera, Puccini

News comes that Woody Allen is to turn his directing talents to the world of opera, specifically Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.

It’s part of a long-held wish by the Los Angeles Opera to take advantage of some of the showbiz talent that’s right in their own back yard.

Any other pairings of operas and directors that you’d like to recommend to the L. A. folks? What’s the ideal match-up for a Martin Scorsese, a Steven Spielberg, or a Spike Lee?

Orchestral adventure in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls

The Minnesota Orchestra and the South Dakota Symphony were honored for their programming efforts at the annual American Symphony Orchestra League conference. Each year at the gathering, ASCAP–the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers–recognizes orchestras for their “adventurous programming” in various categories.

For the third year in a row, the Minnesota Orchestra earned the Leonard Bernstein Award for Educational Programming.

For Programming of Contemporary Music, the South Dakota Symphony took third place among orchestras with operating expenses between $470,000 and $1.8 million. Last year it placed second.

The full list is here.

Krulwich at the Oper(etta), encore

If your memory is long enough, you might recall NPR economics reporter Robert Krulwich producing a piece which explained interest rates in the form of an Italian opera spoof, Rato Interresso.

Today on Morning Edition, Krulwich returned to form with a story from his current spot at the NPR science desk, in which he plumbs the possibilities of lobster geriatrics, by way of Gilbert & Sullivan.

BTW: anyone know if Rato Interresso is online somewhere? I have a tape copyburied in a box somewhere, but I couldn’t find it online via npr.org or Google…

Concert Rage, Part II

Is it just me, or are people getting crankier at the theater? I posted a blog not too long ago about concert rage, which I think is now the official name for it since the Boston Pops Brawl last month. I had my own experience of a rage-filled concert-goer last night.

I went to see the Metropolitan Ballet perform new steps to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and reprise some old ones: the original Agnes de Mille’s, to Copland’s Rodeo. It was a splendid evening.

Sadly, the hall was only partly full, so the ushers “dressed the house” by moving the mass of us in the cheap seats into the center of the hall. They don’t do this to give us a better view; it’s so the performers have someone to dance and act to. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and successful comedies. If done well, whether played with his lines or in mime by talented dancers, it is marvelously funny, on the verge of slapstick. The audience acts as the performer’s mirror. Our responses can embolden a performer, making their evening a delight rather than a chore. Laughter in a comedy gives perfomers the courage to ham it up and even take dramatic and technical risks. Performers love a lively audience and will give all they have to feed that energy.

But for some audience members the give-and-take of live performance is distressing. There came a moment last night when Puck leapt directly onto Lysander, struggling to not wake him while delicately balancing his lithe body on Lysander’s upper thighs and shaking out his fairy dust. It was funny; I giggled; and I was blasted with a loud “SSSSHHHH!” from the young women seated behind me. I turned to her and said “It’s ok to laugh, they like the encouragement!” To that my newest enemy countered “Actually, they don’t.” While trying to calculate under which rock she had been living, I gently explained that we were watching comedy.

There wasn’t a brawl, but she must have realized an entire theater of people enjoying the comedy couldn’t be silenced, so she left. Too bad for her; it was an awesome (and very funny) evening.

Here’s my advice: go to lots and lots of live theater, dance, readings, concerts, recitals and performances of all kinds. There’s nothing like seeing accomplished artists at work directly in front of you. But arrive with an attitude that you are in a space shared by other people. You are not watching television or in the insular oblivion of your i-Pod. This is the real and lively world. Even at a serious event, there’s bound to be some extraneous noise.

My other piece of advice is this: if something strikes you as particularly funny or fantastic, let it be known. A responsive and in-synch audience can make the experience transcendent. And a dead audience will very likely earn you a dead performance.

Two views on music and arts coverage

In yesterday’s Star Tribune, Minneapolis teacher (and former actor) Michael Kennedy contributed an op-ed piece saying the Twin Cities face “a quiet artistic crisis.” He says the recent cuts in the Strib’s arts staff can mean only bad things for the health of the arts community in general.

At least in the realm of classical music, critic Greg Sandow sees it the other way around: If advocates were doing their job better, there would be more coverage.

“Classical music can look predictable to the outside world, and (to be honest) not very interesting,” Sandow writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Same old, same old. Great classical masterworks, played by acclaimed classical musicians.”

For just about anyone reading this blog, great music played by great musicians is more than enough. But Sandow is saying general-interest newspaper readers are looking for a different kind of incentive: “What does Brahms give us that Mozart, Feist, or Bruce Springsteen can’t?”

Kennedy seems especially concerned about a decline in the number of reviews. But I agree with Sandow: Do many people read them? Kennedy is right to say that a healthy arts community needs “clear, serious criticism,” but reviews aren’t the only way to deliver it. Any feature story aiming to explain Johannes Brahms to a Bruce Springsteen fan would have to invoke “clear, serious criticism” to find credible answers.

And if we need reviews, must they be in the newspaper? Why aren’t more of them showing up on the Web?