Top Five Music News Stories of 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The world of classical music is often compared to a museum, but over the last twelve months it has proved to be a living, breathing and sometimes gasping art form.

Throughout 2011 we’ve seen the inauguration of new festivals, the resuscitation of old ensembles and the collapse of much beloved institutions. Along the way, venerable maestros have stepped aside to usher in new talent, and observers tried to introduce young and underrepresented voices to audiences. Here are our top five stories of 2011:

1. Financial Woes All Around

Whether or not it’s a fair categorization, concert and opera tickets are often considered luxuries for the upper crust. However, this year orchestras and opera companies suffered financial woes more in line with the 99 percent. The Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy, the New York City Opera had to give up its Lincoln Center home and most recently Opera Boston announced its closing.

2. Signs of Rebirth

Despite these high profile woes, 2011 has seen ensembles rebound. The Detroit Symphony ended its strike and agreed to a three-year contract. And locally, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, which all but shut down in 2010-11, programmed an ambitious and inventive 2011-12 season with its new leader, Alan Pierson. Meanwhile, the established Orchestra of St. Luke's opened a new venue, The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, providing New York-based musicians with much needed rehearsal space

3. Aging and Ailing Maestros

While figures such as Pierre Boulez (86), Bernard Haitink (82) and Elliott Carter (103) don’t seem to age at all, the fragile health of other maestros caused international incidents this year. Riccardo Muti’s tenure at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra started on unsure footing as he recovered first from a stomach ailment and then several broken bones suffered during a fainting spell. Muti has since returned to the podium—with a new pacemaker—but his contemporary, James Levine, the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, has not yet taken up his baton. Levine’s absence has forced the Met to scramble for replacements—most frequently turning to its new principal conductor Fabio Luisi.

4. New-Music Series Emerge

Opportunities to see new compositions and contemporary music seem to expand each year, and 2011 continued that trend. Several new music series such as Merkin Hall’s Ecstatic Music Festival, the Park Avenue Armory’s Tune-in Music Festival and the American Composer’s Orchestra–founded Sonic: Sounds of a New Century proved that contemporary composition is a vital part of New York City’s music scene.

5. Women Composers Get Short Shrift

However, amid all the new compositions, one group of composers seems to be underrepresented. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’s revelation that the New York Philharmonic wasn’t performing any works by female composers during the 2011-12 season sparked a small furor last winter. The new music Web site Sequenzia 21 offered some programming suggestions to alleviate the oversight. A less forgiving post at New Music Box challenged the Phil’s oversight. WQXR blogger Olivia Giovetti chimed in with her own response debating whether symphonies should provide an affirmative action-type model when it comes to programming.

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Comments [1]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Boonton, NJ from Boonton, NJ's Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute

The biggest news of all is that there is LIFE out there. Things change, and often though at the time it seems for the worse, new conditions conjure up new solutions. After the Middle Ages, often rightly termed the Dark Ages, came the most artistically fertile Renaissance, with Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaelo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and the Bach family among the hundreds of major figures in government, the arts and social democratization. The test of a civilized society is how they treat women and that applies to religion, social status, work opportunities, politics and all other ventures. Unfortunately, the commercial interests that exclude quality to serve the lowest common denominator of talent, education, or work ethic marginalize the possibility of people to improve their lifestyles and the economy to provide for the common well being. Locally and internationally, the health of Maestro James Levine is a major concern to the music world. That the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the world's most distinguished and virtuosic symphony orchestras must go a-begging, be bankrupt, underscores the plight of culture in our materialistic society. People must become ACTIVISTS for the values of CULTURE !!! HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL !!!
As a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera composer ["Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare,"] and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, I wish to extol Merkin Hall, the Park Avenue Armory, and the American Composer's Orchestra for their enlightened ventures promulgating the NEW music.  Congratulations to all involved. My website;, where one can download free 37 complete selections from my four three hour solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall including arias from all the Wagner heldentenor roles, excepting only Tannhauser, by turning to "Recorded Selections."

Jan. 02 2012 02:32 PM

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