Sounds of Nepal

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News of the devastating earthquake in Nepal has captured global attention this week. On Monday, Drew McManus, author of the popular orchestra business blog, Adaptistrationpublished a post encouraging donations to the Unatti Foundation, a non-profit organization serving orphaned and underprivileged children in Nepal. In 2010, McManus and cellist Lynn Harrell traveled to Nepal and worked at the Unatti Home, just east of Kathmandu.

Let’s listen to some music from this ancient and isolated land, surrounded by the Himalayas. Ful ko Thunga is performed by the Nepalese folk band, Kutumba, which uses traditional instruments including the Bamboo Flute, Sarangi (a string instrument), Madal (a hand drum), Tungna, Dhol, and Jhyamta. This is music that emerges out of a drone and develops slowly through repeating patterns and a strong rhythmic groove.

The Gurung people live in the foothills of the Annapurna mountains, a range of the Himalayas in Nepal. Their villages, tightly clustered like medieval towns, dot the slopes, surrounded by cascades of terraced fields…The people with whom I lived sometimes mentioned that though their lives were full of toil and hardship, they were fortunate to live in a place with ramrod haw a-pani, literally “good wind and water,” which in Nepali means a wholesome or pleasant climate. This phrase evokes not just a sense of good weather, but of a landscape that is kind and bountiful and creates propitious conditions for life. Although people in the village spoke of how loss and misfortune were inevitable in existence, a view shared by most Buddhists, what they stressed above all was the importance of living with grace, kindness, and generosity in the midst of suffering, and of cultivating appreciation and equanimity (a good climate, as it were) in one’s being, regardless of circumstances. The climate in the village was largely one of graciousness and good-humer, with the sorrows of life making its joys more poignant and amplifying the value of human connection.

-Ernestine McHugh, Love and Honor in the Himalayas: Coming to Know Another Culture

A Resolution in Atlanta

Unknown-1The Atlanta Symphony’s two-month-long lockout ended over the weekend. With the help of federal mediation, musicians ratified a four year contract. The agreement halts ASO management’s attempt to gain “flexibility” by downsizing the orchestra, ensuring a compliment of 88 full time musicians by the contract’s final year. Read this article and visit Drew McManus’ Adaptistration for background and in-depth analysis.

The lockout (the second in Atlanta in two years) has delayed the start of the orchestra’s 70th season and raised questions about the stewardship of the ASO’s parent company, the Woodruff Arts Center. As Atlanta Symphony players scattered across the country to perform as freelancers in other orchestras, the Woodruff Arts Center board remained disturbingly ambivalent about the potential destruction of a world-class orchestra. In a rare and bold move, music director Robert Spano and principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles spoke out about the potential destruction of the orchestra. It will be important for the community to continue to hold the Woodruff leadership accountable.

Mahler in the Mid-90s

In an earlier post, I highlighted a few of the Atlanta Symphony’s excellent recordings. As an addition to that list, here is Yoel Levi’s 1995 recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. The Israeli-born Levi was music director of the ASO from 1988-2000.  The recording highlights the Atlanta Symphony’s trademark refinement and polish. Even in the most powerful fortissimos, the trumpets, trombones and horns remain singing and blended. In the first movement’s funeral march, the whispering strings seem to slowly awaken (1:08). The Telarc label’s microphone placement seems to capture the sound from the perspective of distance, as you would hear it if you were sitting in the hall.

  1. Trauermarsch (Funeral March). In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt (0:00)
  2. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz (Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence) (12:51)
  3. Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Not too fast, strong) (27:41)
  4. Adagietto. Sehr langsam (Very slow) (45:32)
  5. Rondo-Finale. Allegro – Allegro giocoso. Frisch (Fresh) (56:37)

The Atlanta Symphony: A Tradition in Jeopardy

Unknown-3You could almost hear the classical music world’s collective groan on Sunday as the Atlanta Symphony became the latest orchestra to impose a lockout on its musicians. The lockout went into effect after both sides were unable to agree to a contract by an 11:59 Saturday deadline. This follows last year’s fifteen month long Minnesota Orchestra lockout, which resulted in the departure of the music director, executive director and numerous musicians.

At Adaptistration, Drew McManus provides excellent analysis of the situation, as well as some of the background:

In 2012, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) musicians were locked out after refusing to accept sharply concessionary terms. Approximately one month later, the musicians ostensibly caved and agreed to large reductions in wages, number of musicians employed, and a decline in weeks from 52 to 41. Two years later, that agreement has expired and the musicians have refused to accept an agreement that is, yet again, filled with additional concessionary terms even though the orchestra’s parent organization, Woodruff Arts Center (WAC), surpassed their most recent annual fundraising campaign and the ASO has trumpeted fundraising success to the tune of $5.5 million in corporate and anonymous donations since 2012.

Last week a leaked e mail, jointly written by Atlanta Symphony Music Director Robert Spano and Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles, warned that the organization’s world-class artistic standing is in jeopardy. A tradition which took many years to build can be destroyed quickly. Leadership in past generations did not build the current great orchestra with a visionless, “bean counting” approach.

It’s easy to see the Atlanta situation in a broader context of fading local power and investment and the rise of a faceless globalism which guts communities and promotes private rather than public good…a world of consumers rather than citizens. Where is the equivalent of George Eastman in our current order? Atlanta, an “alpha-world city“, boasts the fourth largest concentration of Fortune 500 headquarters in the country. It is wealthy beyond measure. It will be incumbent upon the citizens of the Atlanta area to take ownership of their orchestra and demand that its proud tradition continues.

Atlanta’s Recorded History:

In 1967 Robert Shaw, founder of the lauded Robert Shaw Chorale, became music director of the Atlanta Symphony. His many recordings include the Faure and Durufle Requiems and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Here he leads the orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus in an excerpt of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. Here is Brahms’ Schicksalslied, Op. 54 (Song of Destiny):

In the 1990s music director Yoel Levi made many excellent recordings with the Atlanta Symphony. Here is Samuel Barber’s Essay for Orchestra, No. 2, Op.17:

Here is Christopher Theofanidis’ Rainbow Body with current Music Director, Robert Spano:

Explore the TAFTO Archive

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For many professional orchestra musicians and audience members, August offers a rare period of downtime and a chance for contemplation. Summer seasons and festivals are beginning to wind down, while subscription seasons remain just around the corner. There couldn’t be a better time to explore the newly updated Take a Friend to the Orchestra (TAFTO) resource website, created by Drew McManus, arts consultant and author of the popular blog, Adaptistration

Take a Friend to the Orchestra is a series of fun and inspiring essays about how patrons can introduce their friends to the powerful, mysterious and even cathartic experience of a live orchestra concert. TAFTO tears down common stereotypes which may discourage some people from ever entering a concert hall. It reaffirms the idea that going to an orchestra concert should be fun, and should be an occasion which defies perceived rules about dressing up and knowing when to clap. Like sports teams, orchestras are cultural institutions which belong to the entire community. A wide range of viewpoints are represented, including, “critics, bloggers, musicians, classical music enthusiasts, and administrators.” Back in 2006 I was honored to contribute an article to the series. Other contributors include Alex Ross, Sam Bergman, Lynn Harrell, Leonard Slatkin, Gerard Schwartz and Henry Fogel. Drew talks about the series in this interview

Reading these essays, you won’t find gimmicky ideas or overhype about the need to re-invent the wheel in order to remain “relevant.” Instead, you’ll sense passion and enthusiasm for the magic of live orchestra concerts. In the next few weeks, explore the archive and then consider accepting this exciting grassroots challenge and take a friend to your local orchestra.