Classical Music Played on Stricken Italian Cruise Ship

Sunday, January 15, 2012 - 06:10 PM

The cruise ship Costa Concordia lies stricken off the shore of the island of Giglio, on January 14, 2012. Costa Concordia off the shore of the island of Giglio, on January 14, 2012 (Laura Lezza/Getty)

The Costa Concordia luxury cruise liner, which ran aground off Italy’s Tuscan coast on Friday, was described by its owners as a floating "temple of fun" dedicated to entertainment and well-being. Even as it slammed into rocks and began to tip over, a magic show was taking place and a dancer from England was said to be trapped in a box and shouting to the magician, “Get me out, get me out."

According to its Web site, Costa Concordia offered nightly Broadway-style shows, singers, acrobats and musicians playing everything from the latest popular dance hits to -- believe it or not -- classical music. It’s unclear if any classical performances were taking place at the time of the accident but several online videos show what appears to be a violin recital in the ship’s Atene Theater, its three-story, 800-seat venue.

More than a footnote to a maritime disaster, the presence of chamber music on the Costa Concordia – however incidental – points to a segment of the classical music industry seldom considered. As modern cruise ships have doubled in size over the past decade, they've provided employment for many classically-trained musicians. A look at the major cruise liner schedules shows that the offerings go beyond the cliché of sequined performers belting out show tunes.

Sometimes a cruise line will hire a soloist and orchestra as a means of adding luster to its offerings. In May, the violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn will perform with the National Symphony Orchestra on the eastbound transatlantic trip of the Queen Mary 2. Operated by the Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise operator, the QM2 also features artists from institutions like the Juilliard School and the Vienna Philharmonic (the latter orchestra appears to have a particular nautical streak, being also slated to perform on an Eastern Mediterranean voyage with conductor Herbert Blomstedt in July).

In other cases, an ensemble or soloist will headline a themed cruise, as with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, whose members will travel the Mediterranean for nine days in August; or the English Chamber Orchestra, which sets out on the Aegean Sea in October with such headliners as violinist Maxim Vengerov and soprano Kiri Te Kanawa.

No classical superstars were billed for the Costa Concordia, which, by all accounts, was on a more budget-friendly trip, albeit one that boasted an array of bars, restaurants, a gym, large spa and several lavish suites. Yet even with cruises aimed at connoisseurs, not everyone finds the music satisfying. Richard Morrison, the chief music critic of The Times of London, wrote about the "ho-hum" performances on a 2008 Baltic cruise.

“I had the distinct impression that some musicians were treating the voyage as a skive in the sun, and performing accordingly,” he wrote. “There was certainly an air of complacency in some concerts. The standard hardly rose to the level of a student recital at a London music college.” He added that the musicians themselves had admitted in their recital that they had met only the day before.

Still, the global cruise industry has seen considerable growth over the last 40 years, with ships' amenities becoming ever more lavish. It stands to reason that a classical music industry in search of new audiences would try and find them on the high seas.

Weigh in: Have you been on a cruise that featured classical music? Would you be less likely to attend one in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster?

Photo: Costa Concordia (Rita Barreto/Setur)


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Comments [9]

Magee from NY

WQXR is not the only site with Classical Music...I'm going to another site!

Jan. 18 2012 08:27 AM
Frank Salomon from Murray Hill

I love how people on the Internet always like to play the "outrage card". I see nothing inappropriate about a blog that looks at the cultural context for a significant news event.

Please people, get over yourselves!

Jan. 17 2012 08:51 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

WQXR, what were you thinking? This blog is so inappropriate, it is beyond words!

Jan. 17 2012 08:31 PM
simon from NYC

The Concordia has so much to make us think about.

Let's see:
1. A ship keeling over and foundering in the Mediterrenean much like the Eurozone is doing right now.
2. Harmony, one of the supposed reason for creating the Eurozone, to create a lasting harmony amongst those nations and also the latin name Concordia of the ship now mortally wounded.

But no, let's make sure none of that is alluded to. Rather, let's concentrate on playing the fiddle as the ship goes down.

HAHA, very apropo if I may say so. Not for its brilliance but for its dumbass-ity. Alluding to yet a 3rd analogy:
Let's all play the fiddle as we go down in the Titanic.

Keep it up. Keep on keeping us blinded to any sense of reality.
Let's all go to Julliard so we can play our fiddles on the capitalist Titanic we're all aboard. Even in all your disagreement with FauxNews you can't rise to see reality except in terms of left and right. Thus ending up feeding us the same from a different end of the hose.
No critical thinking whatsoever, rather keep everyone thinking in terms of left/right and nothing else.

Congrats WNYC, I now see why is so hard for a large segment of the population to not see you as anything other than hogwash for the past glory of a petite bourgeoisie.

Jan. 17 2012 08:03 AM
Michael Meltzer

Doesn't anyone responsible at WQXR ever go home, open the website, read these blogs and think about how you are being perceived?

Jan. 16 2012 11:12 PM

Honestly, several people lost their lives in this tragedy and many more could have. Who cares if they played classical music or not!!!!!! How extraordinarily SHALLOW a remark!!!!

Jan. 16 2012 08:23 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

Pianist Anton Nel, a yachtsman, plays Mozart on the aft deck in this video:

Jan. 16 2012 10:42 AM
Bernie from UWS

I took a jazz cruise several years ago that featured a number of big-name musicians - Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter among others. It was interesting in that it gave us a chance to meet and mingle with the artists on the ship's deck, at the casino, in the pool even. A lot of the fourth wall goes down in those settings. Though I can't imagine having that much fun with the men of the Vienna Philharmonic on a Mediterranean cruise.

Jan. 16 2012 09:26 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

I find it rather tacky that in the midst of a tragedy, Mr. Wise and WQXR choose to run a piece regarding classical music venues aboard a liner in distress. Perhaps the label of "yellow journalism" could be applied here in making the case of trying to turn lemons into lemonade? As of this morning's news broadcast, there are two Americans missing as well as a handful of souls unaccounted for and presumed dead. I thought the closing sentence "in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster" was a double pun in particularly poor taste.

Jan. 16 2012 08:51 AM

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