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An Instant Conductor, A (Very) Big Baggage Fee And One 'Stroppy' Symphony

He'd better start looking to his left: Singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, who has never conducted an orchestra, is the new principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops.
Frederick M. Brown
Getty Images
He'd better start looking to his left: Singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, who has never conducted an orchestra, is the new principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops.
  • In the aftermath of Marvin Hamlisch's death, Michael Feinstein is taking the reins at the Pasadena Pops in California as the group's lead conductor. Here's the twist: Feinstein has never conducted before. "He's a musician's musician, and that's what our orchestra responds to and respects," says Paul Jan Zdunek, the CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association. "We need a leader who's an excellent musician, but they don't need a formally trained conductor."
  • Former New York Times critic Donal Henahan died Sunday at age 91. Among the Pulitzer Prize winner's valuable essays were discussions of "what he called a poisonous 'cultural apartheid' that was 'not being discussed candidly and openly by those who lead our major cultural institutions.'"
  • So you're upset about losing your 3.5 oz. bottle of moisturizer to the TSA? At least you're not Yuzuko Horigome, who is trying to wrest her 1741 Guarnerius fiddle back from customs at Frankfurt Airport. Officers claim that the Japanese-born, Belgium-based violinist didn't possess the proper paperwork to prove that the instrument is hers, and that she has to pay fines and duty taxes of some $475,000 to get it back. According to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, "A spokesman for the German authorities has suggested that the violin might be returned if it is regarded as necessary for her job."
  • Meanwhile: a cello? Not a passenger — at least not on WestJet, even when it has a proper ticket. Yet cellists have been transporting their instruments this way since musicians started taking flights.
  • Noticeably absent from the wide spectrum of musicians supporting Pussy Riot: major Russian classical artists. But here's a comment from composer Ivan Moody, who is also a Greek Orthodox priest: "The punishment ... is entirely disproportionate, whether the State or the Church is behind it (something also being much discussed in the Russian media) ... This serves nobody, not Russia, not the Russian State, and not the Russian Church."
  • Valentina Lisitsa just released her debut recording for Decca — a signing borne of her shaky YouTube videos that have been watched more than 46 million times. "She freely admits that much of her audience has 'no idea about music' when they first come across her ... Searching for inspiration, she started reading about business strategy online. It's not enough to make the world's best mousetrap; you also have to advertise it, she learnt. She decided to apply the same principles to her music, to bring it to the masses."
  • And meet the very brave players from the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, a group founded by a then 17-year-old (!) pianist named Zuhal Sultan: "When the musicians are at home, they play quietly to avoid upsetting fundamentalists opposed to Western music. They have to hide their instruments so they don't get smashed. Rehearsals have been disrupted by car bombings and power cuts. They face sectarian prejudice against a group including both Arabs and Kurds, men and women."
  • A happy update on the effort to save the Charles Ives house in Redding, Conn.: "The Charles Ives Society is working with local organizations and other parties concerning long-term plans for the property, which includes the composer's study. We are optimistic that Ives's home will be protected from demolition."
  • Are today's HD-ready singers actually better actors than their predecessors? Nah, says Anne Midgette.
  • John Williams, who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year, is going to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Classical Brits in October.
  • Public radio station WWFM is bringing an all-classical format back to Philadelphia — but on its own terms. "The day I walk into a doctor's office and hear WWFM," says station manager Peter Fretwell, "is the day we've failed, unless the doctor happens to be a serious aficionado. Our goal is not to be played as background music. If it's art, it deserves full attention. Front and center."
  • Has the current season of America's Got Talent gone classical in the wild-card round? Not only did the young gothed-out countertenor Andrew De Leon do great this week, but the unlikely classical-music-and-magic duo of Jarrett and Raja made a comeback. (Crazy thing: Jarrett and Raja are old, dear friends of mine.)
  • A new biography chronicling the rise and fall of disgraced Penn State football coach (and opera lover) Joe Paterno is structured as an opera, complete with an overture, acts, arias and intermezzos. "It's a big life," says author Joe Posnanski.
  • Finally, Simon Rattle explains the temperament that little band he conducts in Berlin: "They have a big personality, of course they're stroppy."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.