Spectacular Spoleto

Every year about this time, Charleston, South Carolina, becomes a hot spot for performance of all kinds as the Spoleto Festival USA takes over the town. This year’s festival began this past Friday and continues through June 7th.

One of the festival’s principles is to give young artists the chance to work with more experienced ones. Among those whose careers got a boost from Spoleto are soprano RenĂ©e Fleming, pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Emerson String Quartet and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Who are this year’s future stars? Skim the festival’s official website or read one blogger’s reviews of particular performances to see if you can pick ’em.

Blogger Hough

The blog of pianist Stephen Hough has been mentioned here before, but it deserves another plug. Hough writes in very readable style about music, but also whatever is on his mind, from religion to pastry (he admits to a bit of a sweet tooth). And since he’s spending some time in Minnesota soon, for a series of concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra, who knows what might show up on the blog?

UPDATE, May 28: The Minnesota blog postings have begun to appear.

Progress of a Prodigy

I love it when musicians’ websites reveal something about their personalities, and I’m especially excited when these “high priests of art” are willing to show their baby pictures. (See samples here and here.)

But clarinetist Julian Bliss goes a step further–he’s young enough that his entire career is on video, and on his website he includes a progression of himself from precocious 4-year-old (!) clarinetist through to young adult virtuoso.

See him grow here (start at the bottom and work your way up).

Everbody's a winner

In sports, if you make the most goals or run the fastest or punch out the other guy, you win.

In music, it’s not so cut-and-dried. Winning a major music competition can often mean the difference between a career taking off or fizzling out. But choosing the one lucky “winner” from a highly-talented group can be tough. With the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition set to begin Friday, the Dallas Morning News explores the challenge for the judges to look into the future and decide which pianist has the right mix or skill, virtuosity, musicality, flair and promise to ensure a successful international career. One way the Van Cliburn distinguishes itself from other competitions is by giving the process enormous coverage, including a webcast, so even one of the “losers” will be seen and heard by an international community of press, managers and concert-promoters and that in itself may be enough to kick her career into overdrive. It should be an exciting event to watch, but since the judges are human too, don’t count on your favorite pianist winning!

note: coming up next month in the Twin Cities, it’s the Minnesota International Piano-e-Competition June 29 – July 10. Stay tuned for our coverage of the competition at Classical Minnesota Public Radio.

The AIG's of the music world – are orchestra conductors and musicians overpaid?

We usually only hear about how much orchestra musicians and their Music Directors are compensated when an orchestra is at odds with its management or the orchestra is operating in the red and in danger of cutting its season or closing its doors. With the downturn in the economy, a recent piece in the Chicago Tribune explores whether the time is ripe for a new business plan including aligning musician salaries with market rates and capping soloist and conductor fees to ensure the orchestra is investing wisely. Since orchestras receive public funds, it seems to me more transparency and accountability may be required during this recession. What do you think?

I should mention that just this weekend, the Chicago Tribune reported that the CSO musicians accepted a salary cut as part of an institution-wide budget cut.

Got opera?

A gig’s a gig–so when tenor Marcello Bedoni was booked to sing a concert for some English cows, he was very gracious. “They are a great audience,” he said.

Well, at least they don’t cough too much and rattle their programs, as you can see below. Read more about the occasion here.