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.