Street Symphony

Mission statements are a special brand of sadism arts organizations inflict on audiences. They’re as captivating as legalese in a hastily-clicked User Agreement, with all the feeling of a pharmaceutical side effects disclosure. It’s surprising and refreshing, then, when you find a group with a mission that actually means something. Like this:

Street Symphony places social justice at the heart of music making by creating authentic, powerful engagements between professional and emerging artists and communities disenfranchised by homelessness and incarceration in Los Angeles County. Street Symphony operates with the core principle that all people deserve access to a creative and expressive life.

Street Symphony is a group founded by former LA Phil violinist Vijay Gupta. They play shows in jails and shelters, ministering to Los Angelenos who are poor, homeless, or suffering from mental illness. In other words, they bring classical music to people it usually doesn’t reach. If you’re thinking “What a great idea!” you’re not the only one: this year the MacArthur Foundation chose Vijay Gupta as one of its 2018 Fellows.

The point isn’t to show how nice of a concept Street Symphony is, because that’s self-evident. The point is to highlight an “artistic” premise that is replicable and modifiable in any city, at any scale. Head here to read an interview with Gupta, and then start thinking about how this could work in your city.

How the ‘Big Five’ American Orchestras Crawled onto the World Wide Web


The early nineties were a magical time to be online. You could never predict what you’d come across: dancing text, indecipherable fonts, busted links, page elements all the colors of the rainbow, and grainy photos loading pixel by painstaking pixel. That is, if you were able to get there at all. After the agonizing desktop start-up ritual — a procession of clicks and whirs, the labored whining of vent fans and spinning disk drives, mysterious bloops and beeps — you’d mash the internet icon with too many clicks, await the inimitable sound of a dial-up modem as it called down the line, and then, no small miracle, you’d be online.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 as a way to formalize gathering places, websites, on the internet. But what began as a charming haven for coders and explorers morphed into a commercial feeding frenzy for brands and hucksters. The web was particularly well-suited for classical music fans, but like other pursuits it worked even better for marketing and sales. While diehard collectors traded bits of classical ephemera on message boards, every big classical music outfit jumped online to flog tickets, subscriptions, and CDs.

Below you’ll see the first forays onto the web for the so-called “Big Five” US orchestras: the first websites for the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. These are maybe not the very first images of their sites — the majority come from 1996 onward, and certainly none exist from the web’s inception in 1989. However, they are the oldest remaining snapshots available on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. They are artifacts that remind us, at least from the commercial side, how this all began.

Let’s roll the tape. Continue reading “How the ‘Big Five’ American Orchestras Crawled onto the World Wide Web”

Women composers, from Anahita Abbasi to Ellen Taafe Zwilich

Rob Deemer is an assistant professor and head of composition at SUNY-Fredonia. Deemer is also creator of the Women Composers Database, an impressive project whose stated purpose is to provide a one-stop resource for the types of composers who often (truthfully: always) get short shrift in the great concert halls of the world: women.

I traded emails with Deemer to ask him about the project. His goals for it are modest and sensible:

It is my hope that this database will allow for each programmer to discover their own pool of favored composers rather than relying on journalists or friends or “experts”. I also hope that organizations will use the database to find composers in their area that they might not be aware of; the more their programming reflects their audiences, the more successful their interactions with their communities will be.

Deemer said he’s been surprised at the volume of submissions he’s received, “hundreds and hundreds” so far to bring the running total to 3,100. If you’d like to do the same head to the Women Composer Database submission page to submit your favorites. You can add in biographical info like genres each composed for, ethnicity, and city of residence. I asked him about other under-represented groups in classical music, and Deemer said he’s already thinking about it:

I have actually already begun work on a Composers of Color Database to fill that void. Since the Women Composers Database already had a great number of composers of color in it, I’ve started with that and will be working with my team of students at the State University of New York at Fredonia to bring that second database up to speed by the summer of 2018.

All right! Add your favorite women composers to the list, and follow him on Twitter for updates.

The degenerate gambler’s guide to handicapping the 2018 classical GRAMMY Awards

Remedios Varo Uranga. (Wikipedia)

Seasoned gamblers know that this marvelous thing we call the internet allows one to wager money on almost any event in the world for which the outcome is not guaranteed. You can bet on the next Pope, the winner of The Voice, the length of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, and many more things.

You can also gamble on the GRAMMYs. Continue reading “The degenerate gambler’s guide to handicapping the 2018 classical GRAMMY Awards”

If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem, pt. 79

Image by William Kentridge, courtesy Guggenheim Museum.

Mohammed Fairouz wrote an essay for NPR’s Deceptive Cadence called “Don’t Hire Me. Hire a Female Composer Instead.” While his request is self-explanatory, Fairouz also digs into the data underlying big orchestras’ performances of women composers, and it is depressing. To wit: only 1.8% of pieces played in 2014-15 season were penned by women. Continue reading “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem, pt. 79”

Out in orbit


The newest installment in our ongoing playlist series is here, and it’s called Out in Orbit. It’s chockablock with good-ass releases mostly from this year or last. It features throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Schoenberg, Bartók, Caroline Shaw, Brian Eno, and many more.

Here are not one but two previous installments in the series in case you want more. We all want more.

Chasing Paganini through Genova


Classical Dark Arts recently embarked on a junket that swung through Genova, Italy in pursuit of rare and singular sites. The following photos show our particularly impressive finds.

Cristoforo Colombo was born in Genova. For a time the city-state counted among its inhabitants some of the world’s wealthiest merchants. These days tourists dodge scooters and amble down labyrinthine pathways to peek inside the mansions that remain as monuments to bygone glory days. These palazzi double as museums for art and curious artifacts left behind.


We went searching for a gilded set of artifacts housed at the Palazzo Doria Tursi: the personal effects of violinist, sorcerer and Genova native son Niccolò Paganini. Somehow the museum has managed to corral two unbelievable treasures among their collection, Paganini’s Guarneri del Gesù Cannon violin from 1743, and the 1834 copy of the Cannon by Jean-Baptiste Vuillame, called the Sivori. Continue reading “Chasing Paganini through Genova”

CDA’s top classical releases of 2016


2016 will go down as the year Mozart improbably beat out Adele, Beyoncé and Drake in CD sales. If that doesn’t explain the wonky twelve months we’ve had then very little will. We saw the Cubs win the World Series, Trump beat Clinton, and the UK vote to leave the EU. Vine was shut down. Prince, Bowie and Muhammad Ali all passed away. Who would’ve predicted any of those at the year’s outset? Not you, Nate Silver. Continue reading “CDA’s top classical releases of 2016”