The circle of art and commerce

Last week, in my Juilliard course on the future of classical music, one of my students asked about art and commerce.

Where do they fit in classical music’s future? What roles will they play?

Questions like that often come up in my work. They’re often asked — though not, I think, by this student — with some suspicion. Art is good, commerce is bad. Art is pure, commerce is, well;, commercial.

Or, as another student said in this week’s class, often things that aren’t so good succeed because they’re marketed.

Which of course is true. Though it’s also true that wonderful music can just as often go nowhere — meaning that hardly anyone hears it — because it’s not marketed well.

The circle

Taking this question seriously, as it deserves to be taken, I said we could picture art and commerce as a circle. Art on the top, commerce below.

You start with art. You’ve got wonderful music you want to make.

But no one knows about it! Nobody knows who you are. How do you get people to hear what you do, to come to your performances? How can your art make some income for you, so you can start to make a living from it?

Enter commerce

That’s where commerce comes in. That’s where you (of someone working with you) needs business skills. That’s how you generate interest in your work. If you’re giving performances, that’s how you sell tickets. That’s how you generate income. So that, cross your fingers, someday you can make a living from music.

But now we go back to the top of the circle. Let’s say you’ve got great business skills. You’re getting known. People are paying attention.

So now your art has to be good! You can’t let people down. Entice them to hear what you do, then disappoint them.

If they’re disappointed, they’ll come once, but never again. And maybe they’ll take about you, tell others that you do bad work.

Back to art

And so now — now that you’ve got an audience — you work even harder on your art. Keeping it good. Making it better.

And then back down to commerce. While your art stays strong, your commerce has to stay strong, too, You want your fans to keep coming back. You want new fans. So it’s commerce again. You can’t slack off.

And now, again…

…back up to art. You’ve got new ideas. You want to do new kinds of music. Or you want to expand. Do more performances. Perform in more cities. Collaborate with other musicians, with people in other arts.

You want to do things that you’ve never done.

So back down to commerce!

Now, even more, you need business chops. To do more things — do new things, bigger things — means doing more business work. Selling more tickets, raising more money.

Which is especially true if you move into new areas, do things you’re not known for. You’re a performer, but now you compose. Your string quartet gives concerts, but now you want to do multimedia.

You’ll need to attract new attention. Get your fans to try your new stuff. Find new fans, people who might like the new things, even if what you did before didn’t interest them.

And your new projects might be expensive. Another reason for working harder on business.

Around and around

And that’s how it works. Art needs commerce, commerce feeds art. You keep them both going, to keep your music alive.

Original Source: The circle of art and commerce

Y Twr – Welsh opera Music Theatre Wales

Y Tŵr – a rare opportunity to hear a new opera in the Welsh language by leading Welsh composer Guto Puw – thanks to a bold collaboration between contemporary opera company Music Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh-language national theatre of Wales.

Poet, writer and singer-songwriter Gwyneth Glyn has adapted Gwenlyn Parry’s classic play, Y Tŵr (The Tower – 1978) as an opera.
A brand new opera in the Welsh language is a rarity. The first Welsh-language opera was Joseph Parry’s Blodwen (1878) which enjoyed enormous success and had received no fewer than 500 performances by 1896.

Y Tŵr explores the extremes of emotion experienced by a man and a woman over the course of a lifetime together. Based on the work of Gwenlyn Parry, one of Wales’ most important playwrights, this touching and lyrical new opera is an intimate and universal story of love and life set within the tower of its title – a metaphor for any relationship, as its two characters ascend from one level to the next; each one representing a particular moment in their relationship, from the flush of youthful romance to the heartfelt ravages of old age.
The production, sung in Welsh with English surtitles, is directed by MTW’s Artistic Director, Michael McCarthy and conducted by Richard Baker, working with Music Theatre Wales for the first time. The opera is designed by Samal Blak, who designed MTW and Scottish Opera’s successful production of Stuart MacRae’s The Devil Inside for MTW/Scottish Opera, and also MacRae’s Ghost Patrol (Please read review here

World premiere in Cardiff, 19th May, then touring in Wales and at the Buxton Festival. For more details, please read the Music Theatre Wales website HERE

Original Source: Y Twr – Welsh opera Music Theatre Wales

Brahms German Requiem Fabio Luisi Barbican

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 (“Unfinished”).  The Barbican Centre is built over the remains of a much older London, which still exists in hidden corners.  During the week, the metropolis is manic, but on a Sunday night, a quiet calm descends, and once more you can feel the presence of the past amid the high tech towers and traffic.  Under the Barbican Hall itself, was a cemetery where my companion’s ancestors were interred.  An atmospheric way in which to experience Brahms German Requiem, which commemorates the endurance of the human spirit across boundaries of time and place.  Not for nothing did Brahms blend together verses from the Old and New Testaments, evidence of an upbringing steeped in North German Lutheran tradition, even though he rejeted conventional piety, and live much of his life in staunchly Catholic Vienna. . 

The voices of the London Symphony Chorus rose beautifully from the hushed opening chords. “Selig sind, die da Lied tragen“, for those who go forth weeping bearing precious seed will return  “Mit Freuden und bringen ihre Garben”. Death is a not an end, but a process.   With Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director of the LSO,  Londoners get another advantage : Simon Halsey,  Rattle’s  choral counterpart through the years at Birmingham and in Berlin. The LSO Chorus sounded luminous, voices carefully blended.  If anything, the LSO Chorus sounded even richer in the second movement Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras though this brought the orchestra to the fore. The “march” theme  was particularly well defined, with a good sense of surge underlying the solemn, deliberate pace, so when the lyrical motif appeared, it suggested light and hope. The fanfare at the end of the movement was  understated but confident.

Simon Keenlyside sang the baritone part, which he has taken many times before. Experience showed.  Brahms quotes Psalm 9 (verses 4 to 7), where a man contemplates his fate : humility is of the essence, surrounded as he is by the tumult in the orchestra.  Yet the assured, unforced timbre of Keenlyside’s singing highlighted the inner strength that comes from faith, whatever the source of that faith.  When the chorus joined in, the protagonist was no longer alone, in every sense.  Perhaps for this reason the song with soprano (Julia Kleiter) Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit was added, for it is a moment of illumination, before the mood turns sombre yet again.  The solemn processional of the second movement echoes in the sixth.  Forceful chords from the orchestra, and a blazing fanfare of brass, strings and percussion, and the chorus in full swell , for momentous changes are to come.  The trumpets rang out, as in the Book of Revelation, a trumpet will herald the End of Time, when the dead of past ages will be raised to life again. Keenlyside’s voice rang out “Wir werden verwandelt werden” and the chorus entered,  forcefully “Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg!”  A thunderous finale, after which it took some moments to recover.

Fabio Luisi and the London Symphony Orchestra were impressive, and their Schubert Symphony no 8 was excellent, well poised and stylish.   But the full honours went to the London Symphony Chorus, for Brahms’s German Requiem is one of the high points in the choral repertoire.  “Selig sind die Toten…..daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit“.  Rich, fulsome playing from the LSO, luminous singing from the LSO Chorus.  The German Requiem concluded in transcendance. .

This review will also appear in Opera Today

Original Source: Brahms German Requiem Fabio Luisi Barbican

Student: “I get so nervous when I play for you!” The Teacher responds!

As mentors, we can easily recall our student days when well-practiced pieces tanked upon arrival at our piano teacher’s home. Even ascending the staircase to the threshold of the apartment, our heart rate quickened, and we felt cold, clammy and faint. It was automatic over-drive for the first 20 minutes–an adrenaline crisis of magnitude.

Yet the stimulus, our kind-looking, empathetic mentor who appeared in the shining glow of her Zen-like environment, welcomed us with unconditional love and acceptance. She was draped in a HERE and NOW, mindful learning mantra, leading us to a grand piano, with neatly stacked, Blue urtext editions that she embraced with reverence and affection. At least, when she thumbed through its pages, locating the Mozart amoroso we had practiced– propping it neatly on the rack, her warm, inviting gesture should have transported us to a peaceful cosmos of awe-inspired music-making.

But we resisted, embracing our own enslaving mindset regardless of what existed in reality. And with a self-imposed distortion of what a lesson should be about, we were guaranteed a disappointment universe, bundled in autonomic jitters and keyboard-plagued land mines.


From my perspective, these tension-loaded recollections had been associated with a time when lessons were LIVE and bristling with person-to-person interactions. These would be tempered by a wise and patient teacher who walked us down from our mountain top of anxiety to a level ground of relaxation: In a gradual decompression, we became detached from our EGO-heavy, high expectations– wooed, instead, into ONE-ness with the creative process.

My most beloved NYC based-teacher, Lillian Freundlich, who’d mentored me with this very approach, knew, like a psychotherapist, how to refocus my attention on the music and not MYSELF. Her nursed immersion was progressive, in baby steps, as she shook the kinks out of my shoulders, forearms, wrists, and ushered in the second twenty minutes of my lesson, with natural, effortless breaths fueling a resonating singing tone. By her persistently patient efforts I was able to flow quite naturally through my scales and into the loving lap of Mozart’s middle Sonata movement. (K. 281)


Today, decades past my early student experiences, and in full bloom as a piano teacher of adults, I often find myself sitting thousands of miles from the epicenter of a pupil meltdown, wondering why my ONLINE presence can instigate a volcanic eruption!

It’s of concern because I’m NOT a looking-over-your-shoulder, or IN YOUR FACE mentor by any stretch of the imagination!

Nevertheless, this important glance at the world of teaching from near or far readily exposes the same issues of how we relate to our music and creative selves. Do we stunt our own growth with learning DEAD-lines and unreasonable EXPECTATIONS? What unattainable STANDARDS do we affix to each lesson that portend our own sense of FAILURE, when failure is our particular invention.

I certainly don’t view any part of a musical journey as a “failure” of any kind.

And here’s where I’ll defer to a well-written blog, (though I would have omitted any reference to “failure” within it.) The “guest” creator, known as the “Cross-eyed pianist,” sets forth a self-compassionate framing for music learning and performing that I’ve forwarded to my gaggle of ONLINERs who often shake in their in their booties the moment we’re face-to-face on FACE TIME! (Should I exit to the next room, at the next SIGN ON, listening to a pupil from a dark, hidden closet?)

Regardless of my on or off-screen persona, a distressed student is often heard moaning a familiar chant via her Internal Mic: “You must have told me to dip that cadence a thousand times, and I’m still at it! Maybe I should just quit the piece.. But, I’m not a quitter! You know that, so let me try it again!”

This soliloquy may play out with innumerable repeats and variations as I sit under a webcam, wondering if I should put an end to the perseveration that’s going to sabotage each and every subsequent hit the dirt effort.

It’s a no-brainer that if a student is playing with a loaded gun of confidence-shattering bullets, there’s no way that she’ll settle into a judgment-free, safety zone of ONE-ness with her J.S. Bach Sarabande.

And Who’s Counting my suggested revisions to a phrase, or the reminders to a pupil about fingering, etc.? It’s not I who’s in the Accountancy Office!

This is where fact and fantasy need separation, just like blaring FAKE NEWS demands a constant REALITY CHECK!

So I happily refer to the previously referenced blog that puts everything into perspective:

My favorite quotes:

“Self-compassion can protect us from the negative thoughts, self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy that the life of the musician may provoke, but it can also encourage us to open ourselves up to the full spectrum of our experience which is the starting point for truly compelling and mature musicianship.”

“…Mindfulness helps us to be non-judgmental and to take a balanced approach to our emotions. Being mindful allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, and for the musician it encourages a positive attitude towards mistakes (learning tools) and setbacks.”

An Online student in Kentucky responded positively to this posting:

“Perfect! I love it, self compassionate. My new mission!”

“Amen,” I replied, from my bunker in Berkeley.

Original Source: Student: “I get so nervous when I play for you!” The Teacher responds!

Chandos British Tone Poems Vol 1 – Rumon Gamba Gurney Gardiner

First in a new series of recordings of British orchestral repertoire, British Tone Poems vol 1 from Chandos, featuring Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire Rhapsody, with Rumon Gamba conducting the BBC Nationl Orchestra of Wales.”What Gurney orchestral music?” one might have asked some years ago, since until only very recently, Gurney was primarily known for his songs for voice and piano  Fortunately, from manuscripts in the Gurney archives, three “new” pieces have been prepared for performance, the Gloucestershire Rhapsody, The Trumpet and the superlative War Elegy, which received its BBC Proms premiere in 2014 (Please read what I wrote about that here).

Gurney’s Gloucestershire Rhapsody was written between 1919, on Gurney’s return fro the battlefield, and 1920, shortly before he was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, where he died 15 years later.   Although  it was generally assumed that Gurney’s late works were incoherent and unplayable,  Gurney scholars Philip Lancaster and Ian Venables have edited them for performance, revealing their true value.  This new recording for Chandos with Rumon Gamba and the BBC NOW is significant because it’s the first formal recording, recorded  in Cardiff in September 2016. It’s much more polished than the earlier recording on the BBC’s own budget label of a Glasgow concert in 2012, with David Parry and the BBC NOW. Gamba lets the music breathe: one might imagine Gurney inhaling the fresh, pure air of Gloucestershire,  and the exhilaration of being able to roam in his beloved countryside. So very different from the horrors of the trenches!  Gurney’s doctors believed that he was better off in hospital, but, when a friend smuggled in a copy of a map, Gurney traced his old hiking routes with  his fingers, as if re-living what he had lost. This background is relevant, for this performance seems infused with a spirit of freedom, of endless open horizons and limitless possibilities.
This “open vista” approach to the Gloucestershire Rhapsody may connect to Gurney’s own hopes for the future. Significantly, the piece starts with the same first bars as Richard Strauss Also sprach Zarathustra –  a dramatic opening, but with a twist.  Gurney deliberately wanted to counteract “The Prussians” and what they stood for. Understandable for a man who served throughout the war, though Strauss wasn’t fond of “Prussians” either, being Bavarian. The horns give way to a pastorale evoking the Gloucestershire countryside, with its rolling hills and spacious panoramas.  To Gurney, past and present connected in seamless flow. The ghosts of prehistoric hunters, Romans, medieval farmers, depicted in a bucolic dance theme. “Two thousand centuries of change, and strange people”.  An ostinato section suggests both the heavy march of Time and the men of Gloucestershire marching innocently to slaughter on the Somme.  Gurney said that what kept him going in the trenches was the thought of commemorating these men in poetry and music.  A short, chaotic “war” section then gives way to a beautifully expansive theme, which might evoke a glorious dawn after a night of horror. It’s Elgarian in its glory, but also Gurneyesque.  In this new dawn, though time moves on, Nature returns, and possibly heals.

This disc also features new recordings of Frederic Austin’s Spring, William Alwyn’s Blackdown, Granville Bantock’s The Witch of Atlas  and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Solent   refreshing readings that do not duplicate previous versions, and together form a very useful, coherent collection: a traverse through the British landscape, in sound.  Also included is the world premiere recording of Henry Balfour Gardiner’s A Berkshire Idyll.  A sparkling Adagio lit by harps leads to a woodwind melody developed further by violins, with expansive legato.  The second section is tranquil yet agile. Firm, exuberant chords dance confidently into an andante where a solo violin takes up the melody, which is then shadowed by darkness, from which the theme re-emerges. into an adagio quasi andante,  resolving opposing moods in peaceful harmony. The piece was inspired by Ashampstead, which is still rural, though it’s just north of the M4 and just south of the main road from Reading to Oxford.  Perhaps the terrain preserves it. As music, A Berkshire Idyll preserves a dream of peace, which was to be shattered the year after it was written by the declaration of war. Gardiner had studied in Frankfurt, so possibly was more affected than might be obvious. He ceased writing music in 1925, though he lived happily thereafter – no tragic Gurney, he.  A Berkshire Idyll is beautiful and will live on.  Gardiner died only in 1950 : his grand nephew is Sir John Eliot Gardiner. 

Original Source: Chandos British Tone Poems Vol 1 – Rumon Gamba Gurney Gardiner