Osmo Vanska v. Minnesota Orchestra brass, the very definition of workplace politics

Inside the sanctum: the Minnesota Orchestra's hall in Minneapolis. http://www.flickr.com/photos/allisonhare/
Inside the sanctum: the Minnesota Orchestra’s hall in Minneapolis. http://www.flickr.com/photos/allisonhare/

Former Minnesota Orchestra conductor Osmo Vanska left his leadership position with the orchestra one year into the embattled group’s lockout. It was a blow to an organization that desperately needed guidance.

Now that the lockout is over — musicians are back, and a newly rehabbed hall was re-opened — Vanska is dropping strong hints that he’d like to be back.

If an orchestra is the sum of its parts, some kind of giant musical golem, then the conductor is like Voltron’s head. Having Vanska back would mean a return-to-form of sorts, a readiness for the battles ahead.

But it’s not that simple. Vanska is conditioning his return on another leader within the Minnesota Orchestra stepping down. He told Minnesota Public Radio over the weekend that president Michael Henson must resign in order for him to return.

Audience members hollered “Bring back Osmo!” during the Minnesota Orchestra’s reopening last Friday.

Ball’s in the court of orchestra management. Nerves are still raw from the lockout.

Stay tuned.

‘Mozart in the Jungle’ may become a TV steamfest

Does this pilot deserve to get blown out into a full TV series?

Based on Blair Tindall’s book by the same title. Gael García Bernal, Malcolm McDowell and Bernadette Peters as leads. Here’s another look.

Word is Gael García Bernal’s Rodrigo is a not-so-subtle parody of LA Phil conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 11.33.12 AM
The thinly-disguised maestro.

Kid ‘n Play present: a classical music house party

Groupmusers Christopher 'Kid' Reid and Christopher 'Play' Martin.
Groupmusers Christopher ‘Kid’ Reid and Christopher ‘Play’ Martin.

Saturday night I attended a classical house show in Brighton, MA. The event was put on by Groupmuse, a service that pairs classical performances with  audiences keen to hear good music in a low-pressure situation (e.g. somebody’s house).

Groupmuse organized the event. Hosts volunteer their house or workspace for a performance. Musicians sign up to play, and once a program is agreed upon an event is created.

The enticement.
The enticement.

Groupmuse users (Groupmusers?) can then agree to attend, although nothing is confirmed until you get this guy:


Setting aside how we feel about emoticons, this email is sure to send a frisson of excitement up your spine. You’re in the club.

After procuring alcoholic beverages and snacks, we drove to Brighton, parked semi-legally, and were greeted at the door by this sign.

Last chance to turn back.
Last chance to turn back.

We navigated a perilously icy driveway, got inside and mingled a bit before the show.

Classical fans in their natural habitat.
Classical fans in their natural habitat.

The two musicians on the evening were violist Mathilde Geismar and bass player Kevin Garcon.

Geismar and Garcon setting up.
Geismar and Garcon setting up.

They were unafraid of having their photos taken.

Violist Mathilde Geismar.
No Fear.

Host Ben Ginsburg offered a few words of introduction, as beers were cracked and phones silenced.

Ben Ginsburg.
Ben Ginsburg.

Then we were off. The program started with some Bach from his Fifth Cello Suite. It was a deep, brooding c minor situation. Garcon started it off before it morphed into a duo.

Kevin Garcon kicking off with some Bach.
Kevin Garcon kicking off with some Bach.

We were also treated to J.M. Sperger’s “Romanze” for viola and doublebass, Sándor Veress’s “Memento,” György Kurtág’s “Signs, Games and Messages” transcribed for bass, and a movement of György Ligeti’s “Sonata for viola” played exclusively on the C string.

The audience dug it.

A cacophony of noise as the hallway erupts in applause.
A cacophony of noise as the hallway erupts in applause.

And the performers seemed pleased themselves.

Sweet victory.
Sweet victory. Notice roomba lurking nearby.

Groupmuse is a non-threatening dose of classical best enjoyed with a (double-)cup of cheer. Right now, the service is only available in Boston and New York. I have a feeling it will expand rapidly as the many imitators crop up.

Faking it: how to come clean to your audience

Until Thursday, Mamoru Samuragochi was a decorated classical composer and a tunesmith whose pen game and personal triumph placed him among the most celebrated of living Japanese composers.

Samuragochi initially made waves writing the scores to a couple of video games: “Resident Evil: Dual Shock Ver” and “Animusha: Warlords.” With the landmark “Hiroshima,” his first symphony, he gained widespread acclaim. Samuragochi moved 100,000 units out the stores — an impressive number for a classical release.

“Hiroshima” also drew attention to Samuragochi’s family’s tragic past. He hails from the Hiroshima Prefecture, and when the US dropped the atomic bomb there in 1945, his parents, according to Samuragochi, were both irradiated.

Did we mention he was deaf?  Media outlets billed Samuragochi as the “Japanese Beethoven.” A deaf composer defying the odds, crafting all this in his head! He was a man for all centuries, maybe the next classical music heavyweight.

Except, he wasn’t. Turns out that Samuragochi may have beenprobably was …….. definitely was a fraud, through and through. A complete huckster.

So … who wrote “Hiroshima” then? What about his “Sonatina for violin?” The video game music?

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce: Takashi Niigaki.

Samuragochi’s story started to unravel when a music critic, Takeo Naguchi, started poking into Samuragochi’s biography. Mr. Niigaki came forward Thursday with the truth after hearing about Naguchi’s inquest. Turns out all that music that had audiences abuzz was written by a part-time professor (with a full range of hearing).

So what part of Mamoru Samuragochi’s biography is true — is he deaf? Has he written even a note of music? Did critical fervor for Samuragochi’s stuff — really, Niigaki’s stuff — drown out logical questions that follow a seemingly unbelievable backstory? In order: we don’t know; we don’t know; and … probably, yes.

But before you grab the pitchforks and torches, take a hit from this L.

We’ve still got a no-name composer out there (now you know his name! All together: “Takashi Niigaki!”) who tapped into pain and poignancy, wrote a heady piece that won over audiences, and did a tidy 100,000 units. People are paying money to hear this thing. Maybe the fraud leads to bigger sales, bigger performances, more accolades. Everybody loves a good redemption story.

If this really bugs us then that’s on us. We need to stop searching for that tearjerker Hollywood-ready backstory and just start listening. It’s an art and a craft, so pay homage to the real ones. Forget the fakes.

Not to worry for Mr. Samuragochi. I’m sure they’ll let him lace up for a celebrity boxing match.

UPDATE: Stolen Strad may have been recovered; 3 criminal geniuses in custody

Photo not representative of actual events surrounding case. flickr.com/naturalturn
Photo not representative of actual events surrounding case. flickr.com/naturalturn

(ABC 7) — Three people have been arrested in connection with the theft of a valuable Stradivarius violin.

It was stolen from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster last month. Police say the nearly 300-year-old violin was on loan to Frank Almond. Investigators say someone used a stun gun on him in a parking lot and took the instrument.

The violin has been appraised at $5 million. It was recovered in Milwaukee, reportedly on the city’s east side, after one of the suspects told investigators where to find it. Charges are pending.

The future seems to be legs and hair: a classic Ricardo Muti press conference

Hi. How are you.
Hi. How are you.

Riccardo Muti recently inked a deal to remain music director of the Chicago Symphony until 2020. Apparently, the occasion brought out Muti’s quotatiousness (to swipe a term coined by Shaq). Here are a few gems from his Monday presser.

Talking about classical marketing schemes:

Today all you see are violinist’s legs and a conductor with hair like a forest. The future seems to be legs and hair.

On Beethoven’s 9th Symphony:

I didn’t conduct this music until I was 46, in Philadelphia. The third movement is maybe written by God. I felt too humble to conduct this metaphysical and spiritual music. I was so nervous, I was shaking. The concertmaster said to me, ‘Coraggio!’

On his home country:

Italy is a country based on culture. If you take away the culture, what do you have? Berlusconi.

On the youthful exuberance required to conduct the mighty CSO:

I will not be 80 yet. My great grandfather remarried at 76.

Read the whole thing over at Chicago Classical Review.

How often do rappers name-check classical music?

Rap Genius’s Rap Stats page tracks references in hip hop. For example, if you’re wondering how often MCs name-check Cristal, Dom Perignon and d’Ussé, now you know.

Frequency of use of three refreshing beverages in rap music.
Frequency of use of three refreshing beverages in rap music.

Funnily enough, classical music gets mentioned more often than you might think. Here’s the breakdown.

How often to MCs mention classical music? More often than you think.
How often do MCs mention classical music? More often than you think.

For whatever reason, “orchestra” floats in and out of existence. “Classical” has been a bit more steady over the years, and “symphony” enjoys robust usage.

If those overall percentages look low, take heart in the fact that Rap Genius’s inventory of rap is extensive, and even some of the favorite tropes chart pretty low.

Three popular tropes — by no means the only ones — in hip hop.
Three popular tropes — by no means the only ones — in hip hop.

Death and classical music, round three

The Washington Post’s classical critic Anne Midgette is none too pleased about Mark Voenhacker’s Slate piece declaring classical music dead. The first graph:

A few days ago, Slate ran an article announcing the death of classical music. It was a badly written article. It opened with some sensationalist statements written in a kind of faux-cool journalese that’s calculated to provoke and turn off most classical-music lovers, and it continued with a whole bunch of facts and anecdotes strung together without any attempt to link them or bring them to an actual conclusion.

Like Midgette, I don’t agree with Voenhacker’s death pronouncement. Midgette calls him out on the carpet for being sensationalist, for writing click-baiting headlines, and for generally not being the solution to the problem he’s so eager to identify. Fair enough.

All of the feelings.
All of the feelings.

do think it’s a subject worthy of serious exploration. We’re dealing with people’s livelihoods so it’s good to tread carefully, to use a reasoned and considered approach.

don’t think this is an argument to be won or lost on op-ed pages of newspapers. The battlefield is at street level. It’s at box offices and performance halls. This is about hand-to-hand combat, the winning over of the classical music audience, once again.

We need better marketing, better outreach, and a common touch that’s proven very elusive for the music as a whole.

Now accepting ideas.