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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea


And music by Bernard Herrmann...

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Here's something positive to enjoy: Violist Lawrence Power devises series of ten lockdown commissions. I am going to forego any viola jokes!
Violist Lawrence Power is commissioning ten short viola pieces and filming them in vacated London venues as a response to the coronavirus crisis. 
The first film, Power, by Huw Watkins, recorded on the roof of St John’s Smith Square, will be released on Instagram and YouTube at 5pm BST on 5 June and remain online.
Other commissions composers include Cassandra Miller, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Garth Knox and William Marsey.
Power says: ‘I’ve always been fascinated by how folk and jazz music have been presented on film in very interesting ways, and I think classical music can be presented like that too. With these miniatures, which have been written for me, I’m excited to explore the relationship between the silence of these venues and the music. These wonderful composers represent a wide spectrum of music and it will be exciting to explore their work within the silent spaces around London.’
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In this climate, digital content may be the only means for sustaining the sector in the medium-term. But a problematic precedent has been set.
In the initial panic of moving their artistic offerings online, companies have undervalued their own product. In this regard, we can see clear parallels with the newspaper industry’s shift to online platforms over the last decade. After initially offering online news for free, the industry is still struggling to shift consumer expectations, with major repercussions for both journalists and papers.
To survive, arts organisations must establish a monetised business strategy for online performances and presentations. But this shift must be navigated carefully, particularly by companies that began with an open-access model and now risk alienating audience members.
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Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Leipzig so of course I went to the Thomaskirche where Bach was cantor for many years. In fact he is buried beneath the altar and bouquets of roses are placed there daily. But the interior of the church has been completely changed since his day. So, attempts are being made to reconstruct the original acoustic: What Did Bach Sound Like to Bach?
Bach, admired in his day as a gifted organist, also freelanced as an organ installation consultant, notes Braxton Boren, an assistant professor of audio technology at American University. As a composer, Bach would have been highly attuned to the effects of a church’s acoustics on the performance of music. He was known, for example, to have preferred composing for the Thomaskirche over Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche because he deemed it superior for choral music. Supported by an NEH grant and state-of-the-art computational methods, an interdisciplinary team led by Boren is digitally reconstructing the soundscape of the eighteenth-century Thomaskirche to determine just how Bach’s music would have sounded to the composer when it was first performed.
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The problem for music performance, and classical music in particular, is that it needs to make money. Since streaming music is replacing CDs, musicians have largely lost that revenue stream. But the coronavirus has made live performance problematic. How problematic? La Scala would lose €50,000 a day if it reopened.
La Scala would lose €50,000 a day if it reopened, complying with the social distancing guidelines imposed by the law passed on 17 May.
The opera house’s new intendant, Dominique Meyer, will present the administration’s calculations to the theatre’s board meeting on Thursday. As of now, Meyer estimates that the coronavirus lockdown has cost the theatre €20 million since it was closed on 25 February.
“It will be difficult to find an equilibrium between costs and income,” said Meyer. “I think that next year will be even more difficult because the current welfare programmes will no longer exist, so our costs will return as they were with less money coming in.”
The government have announced that cinemas and theatres can reopen from 15 June, but with the requirements that the law imposes, La Scala’s 2,000-seat theatre could only hold 200 people, including the performers. Each person present would need an empty one-metre space around them.
Multiply this by all the concert halls in the world and you start to wonder if live music, and therefore most income for musicians, will simply disappear. Oh, and restaurants are in a similar position. If you have a 10% profit margin but are restricted to 50% capacity, how can you reopen?

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Over at the New Yorker, Alex Ross chronicles the new world of performance: Concerts in the Void.
Classical musicians, like their counterparts in the rest of the performing arts, have been trying to find a second life online during the pandemic shutdown. Pianists have streamed recitals from their homes; orchestras have used the Zoom app to create virtual ensembles; small groups have assembled in empty halls. Any discussion of this activity, encouraging as it is, must take into account that it unfolds against a backdrop of misery. The livelihood of thousands of musicians has been shattered overnight. People have been lost; grief runs deep. There should be no talk—I have seen some—of classical music “thriving” on the Internet. No one is thriving. No one is making money. No one is free from fear. 
How long classical music will be marooned in the ether remains unclear. Chatter from larger organizations suggests that full-scale performances may not resume until sometime in 2021. The primary challenge of online music-making will be to persuade audiences to pay for it; in order for that to happen, events must rise above the feel-good, we’re-still-here level and achieve real substance, not to mention a comfortable grasp of the medium.
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 Let's have some interesting music to round out our Miscellanea today. How about something offbeat? This is Luigi Boccherini's evocation of the street music of a night in Madrid:


Next film music by Bernard Herrmann conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen with the LA Philharmonic. This is the Scene d'Amour from Vertigo.


And finally the Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach played on the organ in the Thomaskirche (but not the one Bach played on) by Xaver Varnus:




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