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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 2 No. 54

August 16, 2006 at 8:18 PM

It was no secret that last week’s failed terrorist plot in Britain and the ensuing tightening of airport security was going to affect traveling musicians. What surprised me was seeing a story about the problem on the front page of the New York Times (8/15). "Strict regulations imposed last week forced the New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke's to cancel a long-awaited tour of Britain over the weekend and sent other ensembles with imminent trips, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra, scrambling to cope with the new rules."

No travelers were exempt from the initial total ban on carry-on items. Even though the ban was relaxed on 8/14 to allow one small carry-on, that is not enough to help most musicians. “The United States Transportation Security Administration says on its Web site that musical instruments are generally allowed in the cabin in addition to a carry-on bag and a personal item, but it leaves size requirements and permission for the carry-on to the airlines. In addition, it promises that security personnel will handle instruments carefully. That is of little comfort to musicians, particularly string players, who suffer constant anxiety over the threat of damage and fears that their instruments will arbitrarily not be allowed in the cabin, even though violins fit into most overhead bins. The violin virtuoso and conductor Pinchas Zukerman said security officials had even asked him to remove the strings of his 1742 Guarneri del Gèsu. “I’ve had unbelievable discussions at certain airports,” he said by telephone while waiting at the Atlanta airport for a flight with his wife, the cellist Amanda Forsyth. “They want to stick their hands in my instruments, and they say, ‘It’s my job.’ ”

Unfortunately, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s does not own its own crates. “It spent two years planning the trip and many months carefully polishing the programs, which were to have been broadcast in the United States. The trip had special significance for the orchestra’s principal conductor, Donald Runnicles, who is Scottish, and for its president, Marianne Lockwood, who was born in England.” After scrambling unsuccessfully to make it across the Pond in time for their scheduled appearance—whether with or without instruments—their flight ended up being cancelled.

Here’s what some major groups are planning, according to the article.

The Bolshoi opera and ballet, currently performing in London: Will send their orchestra’s instruments back to Moscow by ferry and truck at the end of the week if the restrictions are not relaxed. The Bolshoi orchestra’s chief conductor, Alexander Vedernikov, had been quoted as saying that the musicians’ contract requires them to keep their instruments with them.

The Minnesota Orchestra, due to leave on Sunday for a European tour: About 20 players in the 95-member ensemble like to take their instruments or precious bows on board, but they will stow them in the orchestra’s specially designed crates this time around, said a spokeswoman. “The trunks are delivered straight to concert halls, so the instruments will not be immediately available for players who want to practice at their hotels.”

The Philadelphia Orchestra, due to play the Proms in early September. “Its trunks also have space for all the members’ instruments, but it is working on backup plans for about a dozen musicians who are going on to other jobs or on vacation and not returning with the orchestra, said a spokeswoman.


8/15/06 – As a corollary to the New York Times story, consider the bold approach the Italian early music group Academia Montis Regalis brought to their impending Canadian tour, as reported by the Globe & Mail (Canada). “British transport officials banned carry-on luggage after reports of a large-scale plot to destroy as many as 12 transatlantic flights surfaced Thursday, forcing the Italian Academia Montis Regalis orchestra to board their flight to Vancouver on Saturday (8/12) not knowing what [instruments] they would play in [their North American concerts]. Scouring the city and calling out to performers across B.C., Festival Vancouver promoters found baroque-era replacements …for all 16 of the missed instruments for the musicians from Turin.” Marc Destrubé, the concertmaster of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, loaned his $90,000 violin. "We are very, very lucky, very grateful to the people to give up so we can play," said Italian concertmaster Alessandro Tampieri. Staffers at the University of British Columbia School of Music also took six antique instruments for the performers from the shelves in the department of early music studies.

Musician News

8/21/06 – The issue of The New Yorker issue dated August 21 includes a piece about conducting. Two New York Philharmonic stalwarts, concertmaster Glenn Dicterow and principal cellist Carter Brey, are interviewed.

8/12/06 - Violinist Alexander Markov played Ernst's one-movement Concerto Pathétique in F-sharp minor at the Bard Music Festival, this year titled "Franz Liszt and His World."

8/11/06 - The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the sad news that Charles Barr, a bassist for the Cleveland Orchestra, died in a bike accident following a morning rehearsal. "Barr lost control of the bike about 2 p.m., Cleveland Heights Police chief Martin Lentz said, and a pickup truck struck and killed him after he veered in front of it. He was 31." The paper notes that Barr was wearing a helmet and had an "obvious” head injury. "Barr was a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Before joining the Cleveland Orchestra in September 2002, he played with the New World Symphony in Miami, Fla., and was principal bass of the Charleston (S.C.) Symphony Orchestra. Barr's parents are musicians. His father, Eric, a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, recently retired as principal oboe of the Dallas Symphony. His mother is also an oboist." The paper quotes Thomas Sperl, who shared a music stand with Barr: "He was a phenomenal bass player ... He was very honest and very direct." On Sunday, the orchestra's strings opened their concert with a hushed account of the Air from Bach's Suite No. 3, which they played without conductor, in memory of Barr.

Orchestra News

8/13/06 - The Louisville Courier-Journal’s longtime music critic comments on the Louisville Orchestra's naming of Jorge Mester as its music director "some 27 years after he completed his first stint in that post." He writes, "I was as surprised as anyone when told of Mester's appointment, and I must acknowledge that my initial reaction was not terribly positive." He adds: "But after speaking to musicians, committee members, board leaders and, most significantly, Mester himself ... I'm almost coming around to the notion that choosing him was, and is, strongly in the orchestra's interests ... Mester could tap into the reserves of potent memories about his conducting here from 1967 to 1979, re-energizing the orchestra and its current listeners, while spreading his innate charm and ability to rope in new ones. But he could just as easily run smack up against the orchestra's traditional obstacles: not enough board and administrative support, not enough sustained community interest, not enough labor stability, not enough money. Having said all that, I still give Mester a pretty good chance to turn the orchestra's circumstances around."

8/13/06 – Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune’s music critic tries to place the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's continuing search for a music director to replace Daniel Barenboim in context. "Two or three years is about average for regime changes at major orchestras, though the process has been known to require up to five years," he writes, quoting Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League: "When you have an orchestra whose last four music directors have been Reiner, Martinon, Solti and Barenboim, you have set a very high standard, and that serves to make the search both extremely important and extremely challenging." The article adds: "The appointment of the dream team of Bernard Haitink as principal conductor and Pierre Boulez as conductor in interim leadership roles, beginning this coming season, has bought the CSO time to conduct the search process as thoroughly as possible."

8/12/06 – When the Pittsburgh Symphony leaves on its imminent European tour, it will do so without music director Sir Andrew Davis, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. ". ... Sir Andrew, 62, will receive a femoral-popliteal artery bypass in his left leg and is expected to rest from conducting for about six weeks." Conductor Leonard Slatkin will replace Davis.

Other Music News

8/15/06 – A rift is brewing between the American-based Friends of the Salzburg Festival and the festival itself, according to the New York Times. "Festival officials are miffed with the Friends over that group’s decision to present 'The Salzburg Festival: A Short History,' a new documentary by the British filmmaker Tony Palmer. The festival has disavowed the film, partly because of what festival directors consider Mr. Palmer’s overemphasized and sometimes inaccurate account of the festival’s intertwined relationship with the Nazis."

8/13/06 - The Kansas City Star reports on Kansas City's "first hi-def FM classical station," introduced by Entercom Communications and available only on HD radio receivers. "It will broadcast classical music 24 hours a day, seven days a week with 'CD-quality sound,' said KXTR-AM program director Patrick Neas, making it the only 24-hour FM classical station in the area. 'It's going to be pretty much wall-to-wall music, and the first 18 months will be commercial-free,' said Neas, who's programming the new station's offerings and will continue at KXTR-AM (1660), including its popular 'Morning Show' drive-time classical program." The article adds, "Supporters say that HD digital radio represents the future of high-end broadcast and is a viable alternative to satellite radio ... Unlike satellite radio, after the equipment purchase, HD is free." Let’s hope this guy knows his stuff: Neas "will create programming for syndication over 150 hi-def stations around the United States, both within the Entercom chain and outside it."

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