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Van Cliburn Speaks, Atlanta's War Of Words And Domingo's Successor

Pianist Van Cliburn made a surprise appearance at the 50th Anniversary Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medalists concert in Fort Worth, Texas Sept. 6.
Courtesy of the Van Cliburn Foundation
Pianist Van Cliburn made a surprise appearance at the 50th Anniversary Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medalists concert in Fort Worth, Texas Sept. 6.
  • Very touching: the ailing Van Cliburn addressed the Fort Worth audience at the concert celebrating his competition's 50th anniversary: "I personally want to thank you all for all of your faithful support. Never forget that I love you all from the bottom of my heart forever."
  • From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "How the iconic pianist, who has been gravely ill with advanced bone cancer, managed to appear at the event and deliver a brief but spirited address is a testament to the man who has been delighting crowds and orchestrating breathtaking moments for more than 50 years."
  • And very sad: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed in Bengazi, Libya earlier this week, was the son of Marin Symphony cellist Mary Commanday and the stepson of former San Francisco Chronicle critic and San Francisco Classical Voice founder Robert Commanday.
  • The Washington National Opera has named Placido Domingo's successor as artistic director: Francesca Zambello, who has been acting as artistic advisor since Domingo stepped down.
  • Remember how last week we noted that it was "increasingly likely" that the Indianapolis Symphony was going to cancel some concerts? Well, they've now axed most of their September performances, and the players are saying that they've been functionally locked out.
  • As we reported last week, the Atlanta Symphony's musicians have been locked out as well. Our colleague Kathy Lohr took a deeper look at the situation, while arts admin guru Drew McManus lauded our own Tom for his piece that tips attention back to why this all matters so very much: "Huizenga refocus[es] attention toward what he feels are five of the orchestra's terrific recordings. It's a terrific, and subtle, device that reminds those on the outside looking in about one of the primary reasons orchestras exist in the first place."
  • And oh boy: In Minneapolis, where the orchestra is also roiling, the Minnesota Orchestra's board has just poured $52 million into renovating the lobby, which upsets the musicians very much.
  • Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, an interesting development: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra principal trumpeter Mark Niehaus is putting down his horn to become the ensemble's president and executive director. Says the MSO's board chairman: "When we appeared in Carnegie Hall, the person who stood on stage and introduced us to the national audience there was Mark. The reason he's emerged as our best spokesman is you can feel the passion for the music, for the orchestra, and for the Milwaukee community every time he speaks."
  • And baritone Nathan Gunn has a new role at the Opera Company of Philadelphia as director of their American Repertoire Council, in which he'll help the company fulfill its 10-year commitment to producing an American opera each year and function as artistic advisor to its resident composers.
  • The German government has just restored the citizenship of pianist Menahem Pressler, who fled the town of Madgeburg at age 15 in July 1939. Pressler's amazing response: "I am very happy to be officially reconciled with Germany, the country of my birth, in whose rich cultural legacy I admire the very best of German expression: Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Heine and Goethe. When Nazi thugs burned down the synagogues on 'Kristallnacht', it was our German church organist who sheltered me from certain death. Music saved my life. Although my immediate family survived, most of my relatives did not. I accept this citizenship in memory of those courageous hearts who were denied the possibility of sharing my good fortune."
  • 35-year-old composer/DJ Mason Bates has just won $250,000 as one of five recipients of this year's Heinz Awards, given by Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation.
  • Despite weather issues, this is not the first time I've considered picking up and moving to Helsinki: "Buoyed by a rising generation of conducting stars and soloists, and a thriving musical culture that extends into the provinces, Finland is settling into a new golden age for classical music, turning what other countries often regard as a moribund luxury into a vital part of everyday life. ... For decades, government support for classical music has been broad and deep. In a country of 5.5 million people, there are some 15 symphony orchestras, dozens of working composers, and surprisingly low ticket prices."
  • Missing at the Met: new productions of operas by living composers. "Over the years [James] Levine spoke openly of his frustration in trying to make the Met a house that fosters new and recent opera. But the dearth of operas by living composers at the Met, or even later-20th-century works by composers now dead (it took the New York Philharmonic to present the New York premiere of Gyorgy Ligeti's astonishing Grand Macabre in 2010), seems incompatible with Mr. Gelb's stated mission."
  • What makes Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations so powerful? "Bright, swift, sprung forward, urgent even in the slow variations, it is a record that opens up the music of Bach and the classical tradition through its arresting clarity and directness. ... In it an old tradition is made new, and an Old World practice is planted on the North American continent. After a century of Romantic melody, rhythm is given its due."
  • An edifying read with a commanding headline: "Music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop." No, it's not more "Mozart Effect" business: "These are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline. ... 'To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,' said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. 'Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.'"
  • What? A middle schooler in Farmington, New Mexico named Camille Cruz was banned from playing in her school orchestra for playing a bright purple violin, a gift from her grandmother. "The girl's musical career hit a sour note on the second day of school this month when her teacher informed her the purple violin was out, and that she would have to rent one of the district's violins for [unaffordable to the family] $30." District officials sided with the instructor, though they eventually offered her free use of an instrument. But the incident has led Camille to quit the class entirely. (She's taking choir instead.)
  • In the midst of a very deep and illuminating discussion of Brian Ferneyhough's music, a reminder of why I wish Americans would use the British terms for note lengths: a reference to "hemi-demi-semiquavers."
  • 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.