Where should we put the violins?

A debate over how to place orchestras’ string sections heats up the classical music world, according to this article which I came across. It’s an issue I’ve often wondered about, sometimes coming to the fore when visiting orchestras make their appearance in the Concert Hall and sit differently to what we’re used to with the NSOI.

What’s the biggest issue facing classical music? It’s not what kind of music to play. It’s whether your orchestra conductor divides the violins.

Symphony orchestras have two separate violin sections, and there are two ways to seat them: all the violins on the conductor’s left, or “divided,” with the first violins on the left and second violins on the right. This is becoming a big issue for music fans and critics: after conductor Leonard Slatkin was appointed music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, he wrote a piece for the website classicalsource.com responding to “music journalists” who complain about his refusal to divide the violins, explaining that while he has used the setup elsewhere, forcing the Detroit violinists to sit apart from each other “would remove one of the strongest individual qualities of the group.” A simple seating arrangement has become one of the first things conductors think about — because this small choice can have a big effect on music.

Simon Rattle to get the Berlin chop?

The Independent begins a piece about Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic like this:

The Berlin Philharmonic could part company with its conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, over his programme for 2009, which includes a performance of Stockhausen in an airport hangar.

Rattle, 53, who once described his relationship with his players as “turbulent”, is in early talks to renew his contract, which runs out in 2012. The 128-strong orchestra is a democratic institution and retains a right of veto over who is chosen as conductor.

Rattle’s critics believe his programme has become too experimental and the orchestra, once known for its Brahms, has lost its talent for such work. A source at the BPO said a third of the orchestra were unconvinced by him, another third were said to be “floating voters”, and only a third were devoted to his methods.

Follow the link to read the full article. I found it interesting that the only person the writer mentions in terms of comment is James Jolly, editor-in-chief of Gramophone magazine: that doesn’t say much for his sources.

Refinement to web site

I’m repeating here what I’ve already notified by email, just so there’s somewhere permanent where the info can be accessed.

I’ve added a refinement to the Presentations section of the Music Group web site. What this does is isolate our Concert programmes from the normal presentations, so that they can be viewed separately.

To see this in action,

1. Open the web site at http://dublinmusicgroup.com
2. Select the ‘Presentations’ item
3. Select ‘Presenter’ from the ‘View by’ options on the right-hand side
4. Click on the dropdown menu (where it says ‘Most recent’)
5. Select the newly-added item ‘Concerts’ from the menu list

6. Sit back in amazement as the screen displays only the Concert programmes (most recent first).

Okay, it isn’t ideal, since it probably isn’t immediately obvious that you need to look under Presentations > View by Presenter in order to find Concert details, but this approach was the easiest to implement, and I’m afraid I settled for the easy option.

I still don’t much care for the narrowness of the Comment column which details who chose what, but improving that is another day’s work. For now, having this information conveniently at hand will hopefully prove to be a helpful reference for future Concert impresarios.

Chopin weekend on the BBC

There I was, minding my own business, browsing the various music and record-company I visit all too frequently, wondering if there are still any gaps which need to be filled in my downloads collection, when I came across this on the Chandos weblog:

BBC Radio 3 is to broadcast every note written by Frederic Chopin during a weekend dedicated to the Polish composer, who died in 1849 aged 39.

The Chopin Experience, which runs on 17-18 May, follows similiar tributes by the station to Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. The weekend will explore how Chopin revolutionised piano music, as well as his troubled personal life. The weekend will also include the most famous recordings of Chopin’s work.

His set of 24 Etudes will be aired in unbroken sequence featuring 24 different pianists.

Hmmmmmm. I’ve made a note in my diary anyway. The Beethoven weekend, which started all these musical marathons, was really good, and went on to provide a tremendous spin-off in terms of free downloads of the complete symphonies in excellent performances from the BBC Philharmonic and Jean Andrea Noseda and readings by John Hurt from Beethoven’s letters (which were used as interludes throughout the weekend). With the sad emasculation of the BBC which followed in the wake of the notorious Dr David Kelly affair and the numerous ridiculous decisions taken by the BBC Trust which replaced the Board of Governors, I fear nothing similar will be made available as a spin-off from the Chopin weekend … but still, it might be worth dipping into from time to time.

A mountain of music

Oslo Opera interior

Guardian Art & Architecture
The sloping marble roof of the Oslo opera house may be perfect for snowboarding. But, for Jonathan Glancey, the warm heart of this stunning building is just as thrilling. The Guardian. Monday April 21, 2008.

Follow the link for a fascinating description of the building and its relationship with the city. I note, incidentally, that ‘it was completed five months ahead of time and on budget’. If only that could happen here!

Yet another ridiculous operatic production

German staging of Verdi’s A Masked Ball on 9/11 with naked cast in Mickey Mouse masks

A self-consciously outrageous September 11th staging of Verdi’s ‘A Masked Ball’ has been dreamed up by Austrian director Johann Kresnik (another name to add to the ever-growing list of directors to be avoided at all costs). He has described the concoction as ‘a populist critique of modern American society, aimed at showing up the disparities between rich and poor’. The production features naked pensioners and Mickey Mouse masks, Hitler salutes and Elvis impersonators, and has just opened in Erfurt. Let’s not go there!

If you really, really must, you can feast your eyes on this (over-large) photo gallery of images from the production. Be warned: It isn’t a pleasant experience.


While updating a few things on our web site, I noticed that the last entry I’d made in our Weblog was at this time last year, so I thought maybe it was time to have a go at resurrecting it. To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to change the look as well, just to get the message across to anyone who might drop in: ‘Things have changed!’

I must admit that I lost interest last time because of the lack of feedback or participation by Group members. Maybe I’m just wasting my time attempting to revive it, and you’d prefer if it was left to suffer a natural demise. Let me know, please, if you want this to continue or not. In the mean time, I’ve added a few recent news items from the musical world.

Classical Lloyd Webber? I don’t think so!

Why Not Give One To Yanni While You’re At It?

Andrew Lloyd Webber is receiving a special award at this year’s Classical Brits, and Norman Lebrecht is appalled.

“It is not Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mission to challenge the ear and mind. He is not a classical composer by any known measure. He is a popular entertainer of inestimable attainments.” La Scena Musicale 16/04/08

Well said, Norman! Follow the link above for the full article (Norman Lebrecht is always worth a read).

Bayreuth succession

Wolfgang Wagner says he’ll step down, put Bayreuth in daughters’ hands

“Wolfgang has publicly declared himself prepared to hand over the reins to his two daughters, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 63, and Katharina Wagner, 29. Over the years, the half-sisters — daughters respectively of Wolfgang Wagner’s first and second wives — have made no secret of their enmity. This surprise solution was announced by the octogenarian in a personal letter to the Festival board last Tuesday.” Bloomberg 04/12/08

For no good reason, my hope for the new boss was Katharina. But then she came up with what looked like a ridiculous production of my beloved Meistersinger and I changed my mind instantly. The bickering and infighting is rather sad to see — a bit like what’s going on between the Democrat candidates in the US Presidential campaign.

Fireworks in Berlin

Musical America – Industry News Article

BERLIN – Open warfare has exploded in the hallowed halls of the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden. On April 14, Berlin newspapers reported a public session with the Intendanten of Berlin’s three opera houses summoned by this city-state’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit, when Staatsoper Intendant Peter Mussbach totally blew his steam-fittings and denounced both the Mayor and his own Generalmusikdirektor Daniel Barenboim for using mafia tactics against him. Immediately came the Staatsoper’s announcement that Barenboim — “for personal reasons” — would not conduct the approaching performance of Mussbach’s “Don Giovanni” production as billed; that added another to the four already assigned to Barenboim’s Israeli onetime assistant Asher Fisch.

This is the opening paragraph of an interesting article about the situation at the Berlin Staatsoper. Click the link for the full story. No doubt Dermot, our man on the spot, knows all about this already.