One of my favorite bloggers, the publicist Amanda Ameer, recently made these comments on her Artsjournal blog Life’s a Pitch:
I have found that the Grammies are a point of reference for the “outside world” about classical artists, that is, a way to let people who haven’t heard of a certain artist know he or she [...]

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“To have the freedom to decide what kind of repertory to record is a most exhilarating feeling a musician can experience. The establishment of the Idil Biret Archive label with worldwide distribution by Naxos is simply the realization of a wish, a dream coming true for me.”
-Idil Biret

The Idil Biret Archive contains all of the [...]

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Let’s face it, we haven’t been hearing a lot of good news about the economy lately. These tough times have also pushed the already strapped classical music industry into making some very tough decisions. Eleven layoffs at the City Opera, followed by workers asked to stay home for two days because there wasn’t enough money [...]

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Danish label Dacapo never fails to impress me with its superb recordings. Last month, they released a stunning performance of choral works by Hanne Ørvad, a composer who began her career as a professional singer (Dacapo 8226534).  
This month (on October 28, to be precise) they are releasing Kronos Plays Holmgreen (Dacapo 6220548), featuring works by renowned Danish composer [...]

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One of the terrific things about Naxos is the number of ways in which I can have my cake and eat it too … musically speaking, that is. If we don’t distribute a label physically, I mostly likely can stream it on Naxos Music Library or download it on ClassicsOnline. Of course, there are labels [...]

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As many Sequenza21 readers know, Opus Arte (distributed by Naxos of America in the U.S. and in Canada) is releasing a DVD performance of John Adams Doctor Atomic on September 30 (OA0998D).

Needless to say, everyone is very excited about this release and my inbox has been flooded with requests. For all of us who have been following the press and productions since the opera’s premiere in San Francisco in 2005, this DVD performance is a must-have.

This particular production is from the Het Musietheater in Amsterdam in June 2007 and is directed for television by its librettist/director and Erasmus Prize-winner Peter Sellars. The cast features the superb Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, who created the role and has made it his signature. Soprano Jessica Rivera–who is superb–performs the role of Kitty Oppenheimer, a part originally conceived for the late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. As most of you know, John Adams rewrote the role for soprano for the Chicago Lyric production, adding additional music. Other cast members include Eric Owens, Richard Paul Fink, James Maddalena, Thomas Glenn, Jay Hunter Morris, and Ellen Rabiner.

With the MET mounting a new production of the Adams opera, (which opens on Tuesday, October 13, 2008), this release is particularly timely. Additionally, there are performances of Doctor Atomic scheduled for the Atlanta Symphony in November.

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Yes I usually reserve these blogs for talk about music – new releases from Naxos and Naxos-distributed labels. Next week I’ll return to my usual postings, whetting everyone’s appetite with a new DVD coming out on Opus Arte in September of John Adams’ Dr. Atomic”¦.But I kind of needed to vent this week, so here goes:

Recently, I’ve read a number of articles and blog entries about the awful behavior of concertgoers. I agree with most all of the complaints leveled by music critics and bloggers alike”¦ in principle.

However, allow me to address a couple of issues. First of all, some of the criticism seems to be leveled at seniors. While I am not quite a senior yet, I’m uncomfortably middle-aged. I can see that attending the concert of my choice once I enter my “golden years” (ha!) may going to be a problem. Maybe I won’t be as sharp when I’m 75, and I’ll have trouble seeing where my seat is. Heck, I do now, though fortunately, I haven’t sat in the wrong seat recently. (And, BTW, isn’t anyone else annoyed at the way seats are labeled in airplanes? I’ve seen people of all ages and ethnic groups sit in the wrong seats on planes, and I don’t find concert seats all that different ”¦ or more comfortable for that matter. I digress ”¦) I certainly hope I won’t have a hearing aid when I get to that special age-or, if I do, I expect I’ll know enough to turn it down so that it doesn’t make that horrendous sci-fi-like screaming sound during a performance.

Now, I’d like to address the complicated problem of coughing, which I think is a tough one and most certainly isn’t confined to any age group. It also seems to be the biggest complaint of concertgoers-both music critics and bloggers.

Most of us buy concert tickets because we are very eager to hear specific performances. And, unless we are confined to bed, usually we try to attend these performances. Is this always a good thing? Probably not. I attended a concert last Wednesday evening, and I had a cold. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t cough; I didn’t want to disturb the music or make my fellow concertgoers ill and/or angry, believe me. I’ve seen decades of appalling behavior in concert halls. But forgive me, members of the press get their tickets for free and have the best seats in the house (and they are often on the aisle), as well they should. But I would like to know what one of them does when he has a major assignment for a concert review and is coughing up a lung or two? Maybe he cancels and gets another critic to attend in his place. But there’s always another big event the following night or week. I don’t buy many concert tickets, so I want to use the ones I do buy, even if I’m not in tip-top shape.

The week before that concert, I attended another performance (same venue) with a colleague and, out of nowhere, something started to tickle my throat (someone’s perfume, I believe; don’t even get me started on concertgoers who douse themselves in fragrance!) Unfortunately, I wasn’t on the aisle seat, which would have allowed me an easy and a fairly quiet exit. As my eyes streamed with tears (while desperately trying to think zen thoughts), I prayed I would be able to hold the cough in until the music was over. Luckily, I did, and I let it out during the final applause. My colleague applauded my restraint. But was it restraint? I kind of think it was just luck. I, too, hate coughers at concerts, but there you go–I was almost a serious offender and I wasn’t even sick.

Sometimes coughs just happen, no matter how hard you try to repress them, and even if you aren’t sick (please refer to the note regarding people who wear too much perfume/cologne to performances).

And isn’t it better to cough between movements than during them if you absolutely must? My trick is this: I unwrap my cough drops before the music starts and have them ready so they don’t make noise if I think I’ll need them. That said, I had no reason to think I’d need a cough drop last week.

If you are at a concert and see an audience member’s eyes filling up with tears, it may not just be the music that’s moving him or her. Hey, it could very well be me, trying valiantly to suppress a cough and doing my best not to be one of those concertgoers you just want to kill.

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Generally, I would never advocate posting press releases as blog entries. In this case, however, I will make an exception. The July 29 release of Martha Argerich: Evening Talks was reason for great personal celebration for me. Yes, I’ve loved her playing for decades. And I just spent the better part of an hour trying [...]SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Martha Argerich Forever…”, url: “http://blog.naxos.com/2008/07/17/martha-argerich-forever/” });

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NOTE:
The essay below was written by the award-winning filmmaker Tony Palmer, whose superb catalog is a legend (as is he). Naxos of America began distribution of his films in January; however, some of the films which he references in his essay are not–as yet–distributed by us (the Margot Fonteyn, Britten, Stravinsky, Richard Burton and Testimony–his film about Dmitri Shostakovich).

For those two people who may not know much about Tony Palmer, Palmer has made many iconic films including All You Need is Love (a 17-part series about the history of popular music), All My Loving, 200 Motels, the acclaimed Wagner film (with Burton/Redgrave, etc), Callas (portrait and tribute to the great singer), O Thou Transcendent: The Life of Ralph Vaughan Williams (his most recent film), several films about composer Benjamin Britten (including his production of Death in Venice), Puccini, The Salzburg Festival – A Brief History, Testimony (about composer Dmitri Shostakovich, starring Ben Kingsley), and Parsifal, which featured Placido Domingo. I’m including the link to his website here, as I’ve only listed a precious few of his cinematic accomplishments. His career spans over 40 years, during which time he has won 40 international prizes for his work, including 12 Gold Medals at the New York Film & Television Festival, as well as numerous BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television) and EMMY nominations and awards. He is the only person to have won the Prix Italia twice.

As of this posting, Naxos of America distributes five of his classical titles: O Thou Transcendent: The Life of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Callas, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs: Symphony No. 3 (Gorecki), Puccini, and God Rot Tunbridge Wells (a film about Handel featuring renowned actor Trevor Howard ).

TONY PALMER
I am fascinated by artists whose lives display phenomenal courage – physical, psychological and moral – the kind of courage that most of us are incapable of. To stand naked upon a stage, whether as an actor or a singer or a dancer, and have nothing but your skill and self-belief to protect you, is an experience that no-one who has not done so can begin to understand. Nor the incredible sacrifices that every performer is forced to make in order to achieve that moment of perfection and magic that we all demand and worship.

Maria Callas, a broken woman, sings of her insecurities with a searing honesty that transcends mere singing. Shostakovich, who endured unimaginable horrors to tell us all, and for all time, what life was like under the monster Stalin. Richard Burton, the 12th of 13 children, determined to make it out of the coal mines to which his family seemed condemned, buying the biggest diamond in the world, an epileptic drinking himself and his talent to oblivion because the strain was so great. Puccini, whose life was torn apart by a scandal involving the suicide of his maid. Handel, blind, despairing, railing against all those who had stolen his copyrights. Margot Fonteyn, used and abused and betrayed from the age of 14 until almost the day she died, the greatest ballerina in the world, dying penniless in a tin shack and buried in a pauper’s grave. Scott Joplin, the son of slaves, struggling in a segregated and bigoted society, to write an opera! Bob Dylan, the greatest lyric poet of the second half of the 20th century, taking on almost single-handedly the mendacity of a militarised nation. Benjamin Britten, openly homosexual when it was illegal and punishable by imprisonment, driven by a terrible and haunting belief in his own worthlessness ”¦ the list is endless.

And these are the subjects of my films. And such subjects cannot be “encapsulated” in a television “slot.” I don’t care tuppence for the demands of cretinous and pompous “commissioning editors” of television companies whose attention spans are less than that of a flea. I refuse moreover to have any kind of commentary in my films. Unlike commissioning editors, the audience is not stupid. It resents being told what to think, especially by a whining (often female) voice uttering banalities. And as for the critics, many of them illiterate and ignorant, why should I care about such people?

The problem is, as Shostakovich memorably put it, “to reach the people. That is the question. But how is it done?” And without wishing to elevate the craft of making films beyond its ultimately menial level, it is perhaps worth pointing out that it is an essentially solitary occupation. As Orson Welles eloquently described it: it is “a collective endeavour, driven by a singular, blinding vision.” So to work occasionally in the theatre, especially the opera, is to be reminded of this collective endeavour and to hear, at first hand, an audience response. It can be exhilarating like no other sexual experience – I remember the first night of the Russian première of Parsifal, conducted by Gergiev. But it can also be humiliating – I remember a group of indolent, over-paid, English tubs of lard, thinking (it seemed to me) they were on holiday instead of performing, wrecking a production of Peter Grimes. Such experiences are necessary, however, because they are the closest one gets to the experiences that I have spent my life examining in my films.

Finally, I have never understood the difference between so-called “classical music” and “popular music.” Stravinsky once told me there were only three kinds of music, good music, bad music and non-music, and it doesn’t matter a damn if it’s a symphony, or jazz, or rock’n'roll. Later he refined this categorisation. “Only two musics,” he declared. And then he clenched his fist and said “That’s the first.” And then he opened the palm of his hand and stretched it towards me. “That’s the second,” he said.

I hope my films are the second.

Tony Palmer

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I’ve often debated the value of performance DVDs over recordings. Obviously, in many areas, especially opera, video recordings are invaluable documents. Since production values are intrinsic to so many operas today, unless you are lucky enough to be there, a DVD performance may be the only way to experience the entire production—not just the singing. [...]SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Some thoughts on Performance DVDs”, url: “http://blog.naxos.com/2008/06/10/some-thoughts-on-performance-dvds/” });

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