Monday, November 28, 2011

ABC Classic FM C20 Top 100

imageWhatever else the merits of the ABC Classic FM top 100 of the 20th century, it certainly generated a lot of chatter, both online and on the radio waves.  Bearing in mind that this was at its heart a popularity contest, it was always going to generate plenty of sniffing material for the music snobs, while the time period guaranteed there’d be some nice modern atonal stuff to outrage the crusty old traditionalists.  There was also a distinct danger that some computer nerd/sci-fi/hacker  types would hijack the whole thing, writing scripts to generate fake MAC addresses and then automatically posting thousands of votes in favour of the Imperial March or whatever takes their fancy.   It would appear that this didn’t happen, unless of course the hackers were pushing the Elgar Cello Concerto, the eventual #1 pick.

At any rate, vigorous discussion started early, with the inclusion at #91 of a piece by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and then some theme music from Lord of the Rings (#90), and whether this should be considered to be classical music at all.  A similar debate arose around the question of Messiaen’s Turangalila, which had a bunch of people whinging about how such a god-awful piece (and it truly is god-awful) could get voted in to the top 100, with others jumping to Mess’s defence, claiming that it was our loss that we couldn’t hear what he was saying.

As the week wore on it naturally became easier to predict what pieces were yet to be played, and therefore what pieces weren’t going to be played.  This led to a fairly predictable chorus of “I just can’t believe that X’s piece Y hasn’t been played”.  Generally speaking I had a limited understanding of who X was, and no idea at all about his or her* piece Y, so the only surprise to me was that people genuinely thought these pieces would be selected in a public poll.

* Elena Kats-Chernin ensured the gender balance in the top 100 wasn’t a complete whitewash.

The final 5 pieces were played live by the ASO with Ben Northey conducting.  Given that we were told that four of the five pieces needed a soloist, the identity of the five pieces was pretty much a given, although the  order was not.  The standout turn of the evening for my money was Simon Tedeschi’s effort with Rhapsody in Blue, which was both energetic and inventive.

There’s been a fair bit said about the preponderance of pieces from the first half of the century (80% were written prior to 1950), and the lack of pieces written by contemporary composers. For comparative purposes I’ve compared the list with the 2012 programs of the major Australian orchestras, to test for local content, live music factor , and of course the repertoire safety index.

  ABC C20 Top 100 ACO 2012 Orchestra Avg 2012
Repertoire Safety Index 7.6 8.8 6.5
Live Music Factor 20% 17%


Australian Music Content 9% 10%


And the top 100 was:

100   ADAMS    Nixon in China
99    RAMIREZ    Misa Criolla
98    PROKOFIEV    Lieutenant Kije Suite
97    ADDINSELL    Warsaw Concerto
96    SHOSTAKOVICH    Symphony No.10 in E minor Op.93
95    TAVENER    Song for Athene
94    SIBELIUS    Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op105
93    ELGAR    Violin Concerto in B minor, Op 61
92    BRITTEN    Serenade for Tenor Horn & Strings
91    LLOYD WEBBER    A Requiem: Pie Jesu
90    SHORE    Lord of the Rings
89    LEHAR    The Merry Widow
88    ELGAR    Dream of Gerontius
87    O'BOYLE    Concerto for Didgeridoo
86    VAUGHAN WILLIAMS    Fantasia on Greensleeves
85    WEILL    The Threepenny Opera: Prologue, Act 1
84    VILLA-LOBOS    Bachianas Brazileiras No.5
83    RAVEL    Daphnis and Chloe
82    GLASS    Akhnaten
81    MESSIAEN    Turangalila Symphonie
80    GRAINGER    Irish Tune from County Derry
79    BARBER    Violin Concerto Op.14
78    ELGAR    Symphony No.1 in A flat Op.55
77    GERSHWIN    Piano Concerto in F
76    BERNSTEIN    Candide
75    STRAUSS, R    An Alpine Symphony Op 64
74    KORNGOLD    Violin Concerto in D, Op 35
73    MAHLER    Symphony No 6 in A Minor
72    GERSHWIN    An American in Paris
71    BRITTEN    A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
70    BRITTEN    A Ceremony of Carols
69    RACHMANINOV    Vespers Op. 37 (All Night Vigil)
68    JENKINS, K    The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace
67    DEBUSSY    Preludes
66    MAHLER    Symphony No.9 in D
65    PARRY    Jerusalem
64    RESPIGHI    Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)
63    SCHOENBERG    Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op.4
62    RAVEL    Piano Concerto in G
61    MAHLER    Symphony No.4 in G
60    SHOSTAKOVICH    Symphony No.7 in C Op.60, 'Leningrad'
59    BRITTEN    War Requiem
58    MAHLER    Symphony No.8 in E flat
57    PROKOFIEV    Symphony No.1 in D Op.25, 'Classical'
56    PART    Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
55    CANTELOUBE    Chants d'Auvergne (Songs of the Auvergne)
54    RAVEL    Pavane pour une infante defunte
53    RESPIGHI    Ancient Airs and Dances
52    PUCCINI    Turandot
51    SCULTHORPE    Kakadu
50    BRITTEN    Peter Grimes
49    EDWARDS, R    Dawn Mantras
48    SHOSTAKOVICH    Gadfly Suite
47    STRAVINSKY    Petrushka
46    SCULTHORPE    Small Town
45    EDWARDS, R    Violin Concerto 'Maninyas'
44    RACHMANINOV    Symphony No.2 in e minor Op.27
43    GLASS    Violin Concerto No.1
42    BARTOK    Concerto for Orchestra
41    MESSIAEN    Quatuor Pour Le Fin Du Temps
40    STRAUSS, R    Der Rosenkavalier, Op 59
39    KATS-CHERNIN    Wild Swans
38    PROKOFIEV    Peter and the Wolf, Op 67
37    RAVEL    String Quartet in F
36    MORRICONE    The Mission
35    STRAVINSKY    L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird)
34    DEBUSSY    La Mer
33    MAHLER    Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth)
32    COPLAND    Fanfare for the Common Man
31    SHOSTAKOVICH    Symphony No.5 in d minor Op.47
30    SIBELIUS    Symphony No. 5
29    WESTLAKE    Antarctica Suite

28    PUCCINI    Tosca
27    SIBELIUS    Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op. 43
26    KHACHATURIAN    Spartacus
25    MAHLER    Symphony No.5 in c-sharp minor
24    GERSHWIN    Porgy and Bess
23    SIBELIUS    Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47
22    RACHMANINOV    Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43
21    ELGAR    Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in D
20    RAVEL    Bolero
19    RACHMANINOV    Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Op.30
18    COPLAND    Appalachian Spring
17    PUCCINI    Madama Butterfly
16    PART    Spiegel Im Spiegel
15    SIBELIUS    Finlandia
14    GORECKI    Symphony No.3 Op.36, 'Sorrowful Songs'
13    BERNSTEIN    West Side Story
12    VAUGHAN WILLIAMS    Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
11    STRAUSS, R    Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs)
10    PROKOFIEV    Romeo and Juliet Op.64
9    STRAVINSKY    Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)
8    ORFF    Carmina Burana
7    BARBER    Adagio For Strings
6    RODRIGO    Concierto de Aranjuez
5    RACHMANINOV    Piano Concerto No. 2
4    VAUGHAN WILLIAMS    The Lark Ascending
3    GERSHWIN    Rhapsody in Blue
2    HOLST    The Planets
1    ELGAR    Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85

Saturday, October 15, 2011


imageI was sitting at work on Friday, struggling to find the gist of a paper I was reading, when I realised that a big factor in my failure to comprehend it was down to Pat Benatar.  Someone had a radio on, and the 80’s pop process was belting out Love is a Battlefield*.

I could have shut my office door to preserve the silence, but that runs contrary to the oft-quoted need for an open-door policy with staff, so I didn’t.  I should have been able to shut it out, just like you do when working in a noisy office environment, but I couldn’t.  Why not?  I think it’s because there’s a sense of grim anticipation – the sure knowledge that another excruciating lyric is on its way, and once it’s gone, you know that the same line will be back time and time again, or another one equally worthless.

I eventually found the miscreant and got them to turn the radio off, but it got me wondering why people think it’s OK to foist their musical preferences on others.  Consequently it was something of a coincidence when I discovered, via some tweet or other, the Pipedown website.  This group, which numbers such luminaries as Stephen Fry, is committed to the abolition of piped music in public places such as department stores and restaurants.  I’d advocate adding offices to their list as well.

* note to Pat – it’s nothing like a battlefield.  Totally different things.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lost Art of Music Composition

imageI’m a big fan of our symphony orchestras including works by contemporary composers in their programs, in particular works by contemporary Australian composers.  We’ve heard plenty of good modern material as a result, such as Sculthorpe’s Sun Music III a few weeks ago, Edwards’ Veni, Creator Spiritus and Vine’s Microsymphony, to name a few.

However, one thing all these pieces have in common has been their brevity. Ten or twelve minutes generally sees them out, which seems to work for most people.

Brett Dean, whose four movement violin concerto “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” was played by the ASO at its French Beauty concert on 7 and 8 October, took us on a somewhat different tack.  A mere 38 minutes worth, and I have to admit I was struggling a bit after about 3 minutes.  The thing raised a few issues in my mind:

  1. Dean wrote the piece in 2006, but (aside from the ACO*) none of the major symphony orchestras played it until this year, when three (count ‘em, three! - ASO, MSO, SSO) have scheduled it.  I assume this was because the piece won a  major prize for composition in 2009, at which point everyone decided they ought to schedule it.
  2. The soloist (Sophie Rowell) did an excellent job with the piece.  In some ways the nature of the music made it easy to really appreciate her efforts, in other ways it made it difficult to keep concentrating on what she was doing.
  3. I would have thought that with any solo violinist the program really ought to have a few lines on the violin he or she is playing.  In this case I assume Rowell was playing the Guadagnini which was purchased (with considerable foresight) in 1955 for 1750 pounds by the SA Guadagnini Trust.
  4. I wonder what the reason was for the long pregnant pause between the orchestra tuning up and Rowell and Volmer walking on stage to start the Dean piece.  I have a mental picture of Rowell being dragged kicking and screaming onto the stage…and who could blame her!


“Anonymous” has questioned the premise that the ACO has played this piece at all, falling in to the trap of supposing that the ACO refers to the Australian Chamber Orchestra, as opposed to the Ardrossan Community Orchestra, which premiered this piece years ago.  Actually that’s a lie (although it remains a possibility!) and I’m not quite sure why I thought the ACO has played this – probably because it’s just the sort of piece they ought to play, or the sort of piece they would play.  See the comments for further observations about the timing of the multiple instances of this piece now appearing in various programs.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Volmer’s Law

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s some form of physical law governing the likelihood of a mobile phone firing off in the middle of a concert, and it’s essentially that the likelihood of this happening is inversely proportional to the volume of the music being played, thus:


I struck this a while ago during one of the relatively few quiet moments in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and again last Saturday.  The program consisted of Sculthorpe’s Sun Music III (during while the fire alarms could have sounded, and we’d simply have assumed that they were scripted), followed by Sibelius’ King Christian II Suite, a robust piece with few quiet spots, one of which was neatly filled with the trilling of a mobile phone.  The fact that the concert was being broadcast live on the ABC only added to the sense of inevitability.  As Arvo Volmer was on the podium on both occasions it seems fair the append his name to this momentous scientific breakthrough.

Mercifully the phones remained silent (as did the coughers and sneezers) during the star turn of the night, Beethoven’s Emperor concerto with Nikolai Demidenko as soloist.  It was a great performance, the ensuing applause bringing forth not one but two encores.  He didn’t announce what the encores were (at a guess I’d say they were both Chopin, with a nocturne followed by a mazurka) – the obvious solution was to hold up a Shazam enabled mobile phone, but given the earlier excitement this didn’t seem like such a great idea.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Snail Mail and the MSO


Go figure.  I jump online to get a copy of the MSO’s 2012 program.  It’s ready to go, but I get this message:

Request a 2012 Brochure

If you would like to find out more about our 2012 Season and you would like to receive a 2012 Season Brochure, please complete the brochure request form and one will be mailed to you.

To paraphrase Dilbert, this must come in very handy if someone from the 1980s is trying to get concert tickets.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Westralian Symphony Orchestra

imageIt looks like the folks out west are about ready for secession (again!).  Of the 64 pieces listed in their 2012 program, all of one piece was written by an Australian.  Count ‘em, one! Ross Edwards (whose piece it is: Full Moon Dances) must feel honoured indeed!

One wonders what the Australia Council thinks of this – you’d reckon they’d expect a bit more bang for their buck in terms of local content.

Friday, September 2, 2011

ACO 2012 Season – a triumph for flannelette

Here’s a few observations about the ACO’s 2012 season brochure, which I received today:


          • The svelte Russell Crowe look on the cover is definitely eye-catching.    Could this be the very first time a man in a flannelette shirt has appeared on the front cover of a major orchestral ensemble’s new season program?  If so, why has it taken so long?
          • Ideally there’d be a Winnie Blue dangling from the corner of Tognetti’s mouth but we can’t have everything.
          • Has someone found God?  The program includes a lot of religious toe-tappers:
            • Ah, Gentle Jesu
            • Most Holy Mother of God
            • Veni Creator Spiritus (three times!)
            • Exsultate Jubilate
            • Prayer of Christ Ascending Towards His Father



          • The ACO appears to have significantly decreased its component of music written by living composers, but two of the composers only died quite recently: Meale (2009) and Gorecki (2010)
          • If these two were treated as living composers (although the technology is currently beyond us) the Live Music ratio jumps to 20%








          • After flirting last year with a few more pieces appearing on the composite “top 200 classical classics” lists, the ACO has again reverted to avoiding these works like the plague, mostly









          • The Repertoire Safety Index has dropped a bit, indicating that the ACO is playing more works by famous composers, but not necessarily their famous works
          • It remains to be seen whether one of the other orchestras will trump them on this score









          • For the record, works by Australian composers steady at 9%

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Terra Australis World Orchestra

You can sense the excitement over at the brand new “Australia World Orchestra” website:

One of the most exciting orchestral initiatives in Australia, the Australian World Orchestra’s (AWO) vision is simple: to bring together Australia’s finest classical musicians from around the world to form one of the country’s most electrifying orchestras.

I can hardly wait to see them, and there’s four concerts to choose from:

  • Sydney
  • Sydney
  • Sydney
  • Parramatta

Parramatta?  Why bother leaving the CBD at all?

Still, I guess it’s a big country, and a full orchestra can’t zip around like the ACO, so I’ll just have to content myself with the webcast.  The what-cast?  Chance would be a fine thing!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cellists in mini skirts

Yuja Wang’s appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, to play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 while simultaneously wearing this body hugging outfit and appropriate clubbing heels, has attracted more than its fair share of comment, a couple of which are worth repeating here.

First up, music critic Robert D. Thomas, writing in the Pasadena Star-News, explained that:

It also may (or may not) be worth mentioning that she came on stage last night wearing the shortest dress I’ve ever seen a female pianist wear, an orange sheath that elicited gasps from the audience.

I can only infer from this that Robert D. Thomas has in fact seen shorter skirts, but only on male pianists.  Is he prepared to name names?  What sort of town is Pasadena anyway?  Cue Monty Python…

Pasadena squire? Famous place! Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

As for the other quotable quote, this came from her indoors, who when confronted with the Yuja Wang photo, simply asked “Is she a cellist?”

I wonder what Robert D. would have made of that!


Postscript to this piece – someone has injected some nice solid science into the debate – see Visual Cues Impact Judgment of Piano Performances.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The SSO and Local Talent

imageThe Sydney Symphony Orchestra is the first out of the blocks with their 2012 program.  While it’s encouraging to see that they have upped their Repertoire Safety Index, it’s still well below average at 5.3.  What’s more concerning is that their Australian composed content has fallen to a dismal 5%.

It’s nice see that our premier orchestra – funded as they are by the Feds to the tune of a lazy $10 million or so – have been able to ensure that works composed by Australians edge out those composed by Hungarians (3%), Brazilians and Argentinians (both 2%), but it pales a bit in comparison with the volume of works composed by Russians (16%), French (19%) and Germans (24%).

Here are the results…could try harder!


Sunday, July 31, 2011


The Australian Major Performing Arts Group has released its 10th survey of arts group funding and the finding are much as you’d expect:


No surprise, given the staff numbers involved, that the music related major performing groups underperform the overall average:


One thing which did strike me as unusual was the results for major arts groups based in Victoria:


As I discussed here, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra had a significant jump in its grant related income to total income ratio, going from 52% in 2009 to 57% in 2010.  Given the size of the MSO grants ($13.7m in 2010) it’s hard to see how the average could be so low.  There must be a bunch of Victorian arts organisations operating on the proverbial shoe-string.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Moneyball–the musical

Greg Sandow started an interesting conversational thread when he raised – in an interview with The Australian (here), the prospect that orchestras composed of young musicians might make up for a lack of polish with extra pizzazz.  He’s expounded on this in various blogs (here, here and here) and elaborated on what he feels is a forgotten discipline, that of assessing the quality of an orchestra. 

He highlights four key issues:

        • technical excellence (balance, intonation, ensemble)
        • the strength of each section, and of each principal
        • how well the orchestra plays various musical styles
        • whether the orchestra plays with edge of the seat excitement, with melting passion, with visible and audible commitment

I thought it was interesting that Sandow has omitted to raise the issue of audience engagement. This in turn raises another interesting question…what is the point of an orchestra?  They have a number of important functions, from preserving our musical and cultural traditions, to educating us, to providing a vehicle for modern composers to show their stuff.  But when it’s all said and done, they are also here to entertain us , and there’s an objective that’s extremely easy to measure: ticket sales.

One of the problems of getting overly focussed on ticket sales and broad audience appeal is that its only a matter of time before you reach the point of skating rinks and light-classics-on-ice, the kind made famous by Voldemort.  However, surely audience numbers and audience engagement need to be factored into an audience assessment process.

Sandow uses plenty of baseball analogies in his pieces, and here’s another one.  Moneyball, a book by financial journalist and former Salomon Brothers trader Michael Lewis, is the story of a low-budget team (Oakland) building a winning record by buying cheap players who actually contribute to winning games (e.g. via a high on-base percentage) rather than expensive players who only appeared to be contributing to winning games (e.g. by home run production or stolen bases or golden glove defensive skills).  This was made possible by a very precise mathematical understanding of the things in baseball which are well correlated with winning, compared with things which appear to be important but aren’t in fact all that well correlated with winning.  So on this point perhaps Sandow is right – maybe we don’t really understand what makes a successful orchestra, and simply assume that artistic excellence, coupled with a few established international soloist, will do the trick.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Living Australian

The ASO ticked a couple of boxes this weekend by adding Carl Vine’s Microsymphony to a program including the Brahms Violin Concerto and Shostakovich Symphony No. 1. 

As I’ve noted here previously (also here), orchestras around the country don’t do enough to promote the work of a) living composers, and b) Australian composers, and Vine obviously satisfies both tests.  That said, the ASO doesn’t fare too badly on either score, with their 2011 program featuring 24% of pieces written by living composers, and 20% by Australian composers (contrast the Sydney SO – 8% and 6% respectively).

Microsymphony went over very well with the audience, as did the Shostakovich, but the star turn of the night was of course the Brahms Violin Concerto with Tasmin Little at the controls of her Stradivarius.  This was a tremendous performance, as you’d probably expect, but what I didn’t expect was that she’d take half an hour out prior to the start of the concert to give the pre-match address, along with violinist Lachlan Bramble.  I go along to these talks every chance I get, and have heard a range of

ASO musos, academics and teachers expounding on the music we’re about to hear, but I don’t think I can recall a single occasion when the soloist has taken part.  I’m sure they have a lot on their minds prior to a performance, and there’s an obvious language barrier in some cases, but surely more could follow this example and do a bit more to engage with their audiences.

In her talk Tasmin mentioned her Naked Violin project, which provides free downloads of a number of violin works (including Bach and Ysaye) along with some commentary.  It’s well worth a look.  This is her contribution to spreading classical music to the masses, using digital channels and not charging a cent for it.  As she said in her talk, she’s keen to prove that classical music doesn’t have to have such a narrow focus on people who are white, middle class and middle aged or older.  A bit ironic as her audience was entirely composed of that demographic, but you can understand what she’s driving at.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

2010 Annual Reporting Season

A bunch of 2010 Annual Reports have turned up on various orchestral websites.  Preliminary observations as follows:

  • Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
  • A reasonable pick up in ticket sales (8%) over 2009
  • Alas these gains dwarfed by a big loss of sponsorship/donation income (down over 30% on 2009) – this apparently relates largely to the cancellation (owing to weather) of one of their outdoor community events
  • Tight cost control ensured an operating surplus, with total income growing at 0.9% but total expenses at just 0.8%
  • Grant income as a % of total income edged up to 62% (from 60%)
  • Reserves to total expenses at 22%, compared with the target of 20%
  • Further (relatively small) losses on their portfolio of equities…more on this later
  • Queensland Symphony Orchestra
  • Massive drop in ticket revenue (25%) was just about offset by a big increase in sponsorships/donations, but it does beg the question as to why ticket sales fell so much
  • Overall income fell 1.2% but expenses rose 0.6%
  • Grant funding as a % of total funding rose to 77% (from 76%)
  • Like everyone else, a reserves to operating expense ratio of 20% is targeted, but QSO falls well short at 8% (up from 5% the previous year)
  • Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • 227,758 people attended 119 performances across 77 programs
  • a small loss for the year, up from a big loss in ‘09
  • a big boost (14%) in their revenue from ticket sales
  • sponsorships and donations were down a bit (12% of total funding, down from 14%) – an ominous sign in Australia’s financial markets heartland
  • a solid increase in total revenues (8.5%) relative to cost increases (5.7%)
  • decreased reliance on grant funding – now just 37% of total funding (see the chart below)   
  • reserves relative to operating costs (23%) well above the 20% Australia Council floor
  • Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
  • Ticket sales fell 11% on the year, while sponsorships and donations also saw a smallish (3%) decline
  • Overall income grew by 2% but expenses fell by 0.6%
  • Reliance on grant funding was up 1% to 76%
  • A healthy reserves position got even healthier – now 41% of operating expenses
  • West Australian Symphony Orchestra
  • Ticket sales up slightly (1%) but a big fall (10%) in sponsorships (what happened to the mining boom?) led to an overall decline in total income of 2.3%
  • A comparable (2%) cut in total expenses was engineered by slashing the marketing budget
  • Reliance on grant funding ticked up a little, but is still a relatively low 53%
  • Reserves remain (at 16%) under the target ratio of 20%

Sunday, April 10, 2011

ACO Funding – what’s the secret?

As this chart shows, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s funding model leaves every other orchestra in this part of the world in the shade:

As a small orchestra their costs are obviously much lower than many others (for example, in 2009 ACO’s total expenses were half Melbourne’s and a third of the SSO’s), so their need for grants is somewhat lower, but the real story is their success in generating ticket sales (2009: almost as much as Melbourne, and almost half of Sydney’s sales) and sponsorships.  In regard to the latter, 2009 saw the ACO raise an impressive $4.6m, which was more than Sydney managed ($4.4m) and three times Melbourne’s effort ($1.4m – a fairly indifferent effort considering the range of big corporates headquartered there, along with plenty of well-to-do Melbourne families).

How does the ACO pull all this together?  A great orchestra, a powerful board and a charismatic artistic director all contribute no doubt.  As I’ve noted before, this also needs to be put in the context of a significantly more adventurous repertoire than the other orchestras hereabouts.

image The ACO also boasts a healthy proportion of work written by living composers, although one area where they aren’t quite up to scratch is the Australian composer component of their repertoire, which is slightly below the average:


Monday, March 28, 2011

Repertoire results are in (again)

I’ve had another crack at the Repertoire Safety Index, this time taking as much of the orchestras’ repertoire as possible into account, not just the flagship series.  The results haven’t changed too much – strong showings from the ACO, ASO and NZSO, with Melbourne and (especially) Sydney underperforming the average by a wide berth:


I’ve also taken the opportunity to update the “Live Music factor” (proportion of repertoire composed by people who are still alive) and a “Local Composers” score showing what proportion of repertoire was composed by Australians (or Kiwis in the case of the NZSO):


Given the amount of grant money these orchestras get each year, you might be excused for thinking that these numbers aren’t good enough.  Surely the Sydney Orchestra can manage to schedule Australian works at a rate slightly above 1 in 20. 

Does the Arts Council bring any pressure to bear in this area, when it comes time to allocating their grant monies?  One of their strategic objectives is:

  • Supporting the presentation of distinctive Australian cultural work, nationally and internationally

How does the overwhelming quantity of old European masterpieces help to meet this objective?

Monday, March 14, 2011

“Live” Music

Alex Ross makes an interesting observation in Listen to This about the decline in the amount of music in orchestral repertoire which was composed by people still alive at the time they were played. Here’s how the numbers stack up for our local orchestras:


A bit dispiriting to see our “flagship” orchestras trailing the pack on this indicator.

Tim Minchin

Tim Minchen vs the ASO - hysterically funny and well worth seeing, but I couldn't help but wonder if the ASO could have made their warning about the content a bit more obvious. 
You'll notice in the fine print the following words:

"Adult themes" hardly did justice to it.  What they really needed was this:

Minchin's language was about as raw as anything I've struck before.  Not that this was a problem for the great majority of the audience (who were of course way younger than a typical ASO audience), but I couldn't help but notice a reasonable number of the typical 70 yo - 80 yo ASO crowd lining up to get in, including several around me.  Their stoney faces, lack of applause and non-appearance after the interval kind of added to the humour of the evening in a perverse way, but on sober reflection I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for them.  Clearly the ASO needs to be doing this kind of concert to widen their audience base, but in the process they could do a little more to look after their more "mature" fan base.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Listen to This

Some last minute scrambling produced a couple of excellent tickets to this show, one of a pair of shows (the other being “The Rest is Noise”) put together by the ACO and Alex Ross, the New Yorker magazine music critic and author of two books bearing the shows’ names as titles. The talk by Ross prior to the show set the scene quite nicely.  His theme, based on one of the essays in his books, sought to link the descending harmonies in various chaconnes and laments from Elizabethan and baroque music, via Beethoven to Ray Charles and The Beatles. The concert itself covered a wide range from Dowland (b. 1563) to Anna Clyne (b. 1980).  I thought (as indeed did Herself, despite admitting to being a bit baffled by the pre-concert talk) that the whole thing was quite brilliant, the high points being Tognetti’s solo effort on Bach’s Chaconne, Barber’s Adagio and Adams’ Shaker Loops.  I don’t know if we had particularly good seats, but the clarity of the performance was like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Anyway, I enjoyed this performance so much that it came as no surprise that my least favourite critic (Eamonn Kelly) writing in my least favourite rag (the Oz) gave it a bagging, throwing terms such as “flaccid”, “unruly” and “clumsy” around.  He clearly wasn’t at the same concert as me…and of course he wasn’t, he was at the Melbourne concerts a couple of days prior, but I can’t accept that two days and a change of venue can make that much difference.  Mind you, I do know that musos love playing at the Adelaide Town Hall purely for its acoustics – not sure what the Melbourne Town Hall is like. There was one thing, however, on which I could agree with Kelly.  His comment that “The viola section was astoundingly good, adding rare depth to the middle harmonies of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings…” was right on the money.  I don’t think I really appreciated what the viola could do until I heard that piece.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New, improved Repertoire Safety Index

After exhaustive testing we’ve upgraded the RSI to include “top 100” listings from the Instant Encore site (which, incidentally, is highly recommended) and Classics Today.

Other sources used in the calculation of the RSI are described here, as is the methodology and the reasons for its creation.  In short, the RSI attaches a point score to each composer based on their overall popularity, with the score being adjusted for the popularity of particular works.

The new composers are below. Updated orchestral program scores will follow in due course.



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Voldemort and the future of classical music

There’s been a number of excellent posts in recent times on the vexed subject of the future of classical music, from the Denver Post series I referenced here, a thoughtful piece on Elissa Milne’s site, and a related story (also well worth reading) on Proper Discord, to name just a few.

voldemortOne of the things that struck me reading these pieces is that no-one mentions “he who must not be named”,andre-rieu-100-anos-strauss and I’m not referring to Voldemort from the Harry Potter books, but his cultural equivalent, Andre Rieu.  He of the flying mullet.

I don’t claim to be Rieu’s greatest fan.  In fact, to borrow a phrase from Red Dwarf, given a choice between an evening at a Rieu concert and experimental pile surgery I think it would be a coin-flip situation.  However, there’s no denying the man’s popularity.  His DVDs dominate best seller lists everywhere, while Rieu documentaries are hard to get away from on Foxtel. People who couldn’t be dragged to a symphony orchestra performance by wild horses will happily stump up hundreds of dollars for a Rieu concert (or more….I see that during his forthcoming tour of Oz you can get a whole day with Andre for a mere $1500).

Now it may well be that amplified and simplified transcriptions of light classics on ice may not be the best way forward for the world of classical music, but is there nothing we can learn from Andre?

There isn’t? Oh, ok.

Perhaps Richard Tognetti (leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra) put it best:

People are so under-exposed to music that when they think of classical they think of Andre Rieu, which is a bit of a nightmare.

At least Tognetti is prepared to mention his name!