Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Music Director and new Artistic Director announced at the Royal Danish Opera.

 Michael Boder. Photo by Alexander Vasiljev.

New Music Director is Michael Boder. He has conducted both of Alban Berg's two monumental masterpieces "Wozzeck" and "Lulu" in the house and very recently Strauss' "Die Frau Ohne Schatten", and commended a great deal of respect with his confident and naturally authoritative conducting.

New Artistic Director is Sven Müller, and he comes from within the house, having served as Assistant Artistic Director for several years.

Sven Müller
Official announcement is here.

Here's the backstory:
The Royal Danish Opera has been in turmoil since the sudden departure of the former Artistic Director Keith Warner, who left after only 6 months of office, and the simultaneous farewell of the Music Director designate Jakub Hrusa.
The crisis of the Opera department of the Royal Danish Theatre can be linked to both severe problems in dealing with huge budget cuts and what appeared to be a very clear lack of communication and/or understanding between the General Manager of the Theatre - Erik Jakobsen - and Warner. In a thundering burning-all-your-bridges speech, Warner announced his resignation to a gathering of all the opera's employes and made public a large number of issues. His the speech was quickly leaked to the press.

The budget cuts have affected all three departments (Opera, Acting, Ballet) and led to other rather severe internal problems becoming a public matter, including the refueling of an ongoing conflict between several balletdancers and the Ballet's AD Nicolai Hübbe. The dancers protested during an international tour, handing out flyers at Paris' Palace Garnier proclaiming the death of the Ballet, and several were pushing for Hübbe's retirement, following allegations of cocaine abuse and tyrannical management.

The Chorus of the RDO has been reduced to a small size opera chorus (40 members), and the number of operaproductions to 8 (!) in the 12/13 season, with 5 of them being new productions. Several members of the soloist ensemble have simply left as a consequence of the managerial hubbub and there not being suitable parts for them to sing, most notably major names such as tenor Stig Andersen and bass Stephen Miling.

Following the 2005 inauguration of the new 400 mill. € operahouse 'Operaen', the opera invested heavily in the Copenhagen Ring, a complete production of Wagners 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' cycle, and created an awardwinning cycle, carried almost entirely by house singers, directed by then AD Kasper Holten and conducted by then MD Michael Schønwandt. The cycle was a major achievement for the house, and brought with it a massive influx of experience and expertise that can only come with undertaking such a huge project. Unfortunately, Holten decided to scrap the entire set, in an act of either budget savvy (big stagepieces are expensive to store) or incredible vanity. Nonetheless, in the years that followed, the in-house singers that grew immensely from that experience - such as Andersen and Milling and sopranoes Tina Kiberg, Irene Theorin and Susanne Resmark - have gone on to sing other huge parts in works such as Tannhäuser, Tristan and Isolde, Die Frau Ohne Schatten and Parsifal, but now there is simply no budget for the massive pieces they have earlier triumphed in, and most are likely to leave before long.

What about the orchestra? It has floundered without artistic leadership for years now and has still managed amazing performances, testifying to the ability  and potential of the orchestra for world class playing. But, there are signs of potential troubles ahead, with several brilliant members of the orchestra seeking employment elsewhere, and those close to the orchestra might detect the signs of a detrimental kind of hyperdemocracy setting in, where leadership is wanting. As we all know, there is no democracy in art, but it is only natural that a group with no appointed leader will quickly develop internal management. The orchestra needs a music director, and a good one. Fast. Boder might be just what the doctor ordered.

The house has other issues, one major problem being a glaring tendency to let union regulations - rather than artistic needs - dictate proceedings. All regulations need a serious overhaul, but there are many who will defend their luxury conditions like vicious pitbulls.

All in all, there are plenty of challenges for a new boss to deal with, as well as an honest world class potential.

So, today the Royal Opera announced that the new Artistic Director has been found, and his name is Sven Müller. Müller has been 'Assistant Artistic Director' in the house since 2008.  His 'danish' title was that of Ensemblechef, and he was initially hired in an attempt to further the development of the three ensembles in the house (singers/chorus/orchestra) and develop a musical vision, with Kasper Holten having his natural focus on directing, and Schønwandt having openly abandoned any managerial obligations to focus on simply conducting.

With Müller's insider knowledge of the house and somewhat dry, german approach, he might be expected to lead a relatively troublefree and smooth period, which is probably what a General Manager under heavy criticism wants, and also what the politicians have demanded ("stop making fools of yourselves, and start working on becoming a relevant cultural institution" was the message).
What it yet to be seen, is whether he has the support internally from hundreds of passionate artists who hunger for someone with a burning sword to lead the way artistically. How can he compete with the media savvy of Kasper Holten or the creative visions of Keith Warner? He wont. He will lead from a different perspective, but his job will under any circumstance not be an easy one.

- Jesper

Operaen, Copenhagen

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A conductors guide to understanding your musicians.


Musicianish - Conductorish Parleur, 1st Edition

What they say

What they mean

"I can't see your beat in bar XX, could you give me a clear cue on the X-beat in that bar?" (habitually heard after the first or second read-through of a new piece) "I didn't open my part before the rehearsal, and now 'm too busy looking in my music to have even a remote chance of observing what you are doing"
"I really liked that conductor" "That conductor called the rehearsal early"
(Strings) "This is too fast" "This is not in D major"
(Singer) "This is too fast" "I did it slower with another conductor who said I was good"
(Brass) "This is too fast” "I had a big lunch"
"I'd like to keep a flow in bar 41 and 42" "I don't understand the rhythm in bar 41 and 42, so I'm gonna try and ignore it..."
"Yes, he's a major talent" "I wish I had his agent"
"Next season looks a bit boring" "There is a Bruckner symphony on next season"
(Concertmaster) "Are these your bowings?" "Don't do your own bowings, son"
"Oh yeah, It's a great piece..." (at post-concert reception) "I don't like your conducting, but I'm polite and not sure what else to say"
"No one can play this!" "I haven't practised this!"
"This would be a great opportunity for you" "This would be a great opportunity for me"
(Orchestra manager) "I'd love you to take part in our outreach programs. You are an inspiring person, and it's imperative that we attract a younger audience" Alright, we've rented this Teletubbies costume for you to conduct in..."

Of stars and staffs... #1

Lets face it; the classical music business is in dire straits. We are up shit creek without a paddle, and someone keeps stealing the noseplugs.
Taking a somewhat objective look at budgets for large orchestras or operahouses, one might get the feeling that there are a couple of major moneysinks in the business; star conductors and star soloists.
Even when grossly overestimating the importance of a really great conductor or a world class soloist, how long can managers with good conscience pump out 10-15% percent of an annual budget on a single event, as is sometimes the case when smaller orchestras or operahouses have 'exclusive visits' from world famous stars. Is it worth it? There is surely no defending someone getting paid 10, 20 or 50 times more than the standard fee?

In the mindset that perpetuates the pratice, the agents are the astronomers and the managers the astrologers.

The astronomers seek out the stars, name them and put them in their place on the firmament. They sit snugly behind desks, predicting the downfall of this and that star, and govern unscrupulously how these stars affect the lives of classical music listeners by telling the them so in colored pamphlets and media interviews.
When the astronomers have done their deed, the astrologers then try to interpret the deeper meaning behind it. They see the stars shining in the evening sky, follow their trajectories intensely, clutching at the hope that there is a certain mystical insight to be gained by simply associating oneself with these stars.
(The stars themselves, whether they be the flavor-of-the-month or the more longlived type, are only human, so they go where the money takes them. Who are they to tell their manager; "I want to cost less, my fee is unreasonably high"? Or am making frivolous assumptions here?)

The prevailing theory is, that some of the power - the mana - of the gueststar will rub off on the locals, leave a lasting imprint on hearts and minds and somehow magically enhance the capabilities of these 'lesser creatures', whereas the truth of the matter is, it rarely does. What makes someone better is pratice and patience, perseverance and pourage (I meant 'courage', but it had to fit with the other 'p' words...).
What a star-visit can do, on the other hand, is inspire. It can reinvigorate someone who might be stuck in a rut, and it can demonstrate how high standards can be set. And that is all fine and dandy, as long as there is also a culture of excellence present in the establishment, not just a culture of excellence-by-proxy.

So what's my point? My point is, that also in a time of crisis, managers need to maintain a balance between hyped cultism and healthy cultivation. The first is associated with the glamorous stars, the latter with 'boring' people of sustainable skill who are allowed to influence an orchestra or ensemble over a longer period of time. So, Mr. Manager, the next time you hire a chief conductor, forget what the agent says and listen with your own ears to whether or not the guy actually influences your ensemble in a positive way.

Lets stops pissing in our pants to keep ourselves warm. There is no quick-fix in music industry in crisis, there is only a growing responsability for not letting the collective craftsmanship dissapear. The audience finding your product boring? THEN STOP DUMBING IT DOWN!

I feel like I want to elaborate on this subject, so I'll nonchanantly refer to this post as #1 of 2, and lets see when I get around to it...if you get bored waiting...go practice your scales!

If you could magically create your dream conductor, but he/she could only posess one quality, he/she should preferably be...