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Classical Crib Sheet: Top 5 Stories This Week

Anne Akiko Meyers, holding the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu violin, which reportedly sold for a record price. She says the anonymous buyer has offered her use of the instrument for life.
courtesy of the artist
Anne Akiko Meyers, holding the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu violin, which reportedly sold for a record price. She says the anonymous buyer has offered her use of the instrument for life.
  • Anne Akiko Meyers — the violinist who made news a year ago for an album recorded on her two Stradivarius instruments, including the then record price-breaking "Molitor" Strad, which she purchased for $3.6 million — announced yesterday that she's been given lifetime use of the 1741 "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri, which was put up for sale for $18 million in 2010 after being left largely unplayed for roughly 50 years. The newest owner who has lent it to Meyers is said to have paid a record amount for it, though the purchase price remains undisclosed and the buyer remains anonymous.
  • Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet who was attacked with acid last week, has spoken out about the attack to Pravda. (The Los Angeles Times has published translations of his remarks.) "I associate what happened with my work," he told the Russian daily. "I have provoked an aggression in somebody. Sooner or later this aggression was to take the shape of concrete action." The LA Times reports that Filin's doctors say that while he will not lose his eyesight, he will require extensive plastic surgery and months of treatment.
  • Valery Gergiev will succeed Lorin Maazel as chief conductor at the Munich Philharmonic as of 2015, reports Russia Today — and the London Symphony Orchestra has confirmed that they will not be extending Gergiev's contract as principal conductor after it expires in 2015.
  • Jim Oestreich, the veteran classical music editor of The New York Times, has accepted the paper's buyout and will be retiring from his full-time post at the end of January, after 24 years on staff. As the New York Observer notes, "By our count, this brings the total number of eligible Times staff taking advantage of the buyout offer to six. According to executive editor Jill Abramson's December announcement, the total number needs to get to 30 to avoid layoffs." Oestreich will continue to advise on coverage through the spring and write for the paper as a freelancer.
  • Speaking of new chapters: Crossover violinist Vanessa-Mae is taking a year off from playing her fiddle to pursue a new dream — of competing as a skiier for Thailand in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The 34-year-old trains in Switzerland at the Zermatt resort. "It has been my dream to be a ski bum since I was 14," she told Reuters.
  • Classical geek? Keep going...

  • Today in health news: Playing music may lower your blood pressure, say researchers in the Netherlands. According to Pacific Standard Magazine, the scientists "measured the cardiovascular health of 25 musicians and 28 non-musicians, all healthy young adults between the age of 18 and 30 ... The only significant difference was the musicians — including six pianists, five singers, four flutists and three guitarists — practiced their instrument for an average of 1.8 hours per day. The researchers found blood pressure was significantly lower among the musicians, and their heart rate 'tended to be lower' than those in the non-musical group. They attribute this to the musicians' higher levels of 'somatosensory nerve activity,' which 'beneficially modulate the autonomic nervous system.'"
  • However, classical music is maybe not so good for car rides: In research reported by England's Daily Mail, "Both a male and female driver who listened to classical music drove more erratically than when they weren't listening to any music at all." (Among the safest choices? Norah Jones, Coldplay and Bon Iver.)
  • This study inspired CultureMap Houston contributor Joel Luks to compile a listicle of five pieces to avoid at all costs while behind the wheel. Among his picks: the second movement of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony ("this is a piece that I listen to when I need to get fired up about something — like when needing to summon one's inner nastiness for an all out face-to-face screaming combat") and the Sacrificial Dance from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring: "Chances are that an unexpected forte section will scare the bejesus out of you. Or that the gimpy, asymmetrical meters will make banging against the steering wheel impossible, something that pisses off anyone with rhythm."
  • Meanwhile: Benjamin Britten died of untreated syphilis that led to heart failure, claims a new biography by Paul Kildea. "Kildea, a conductor and music historian, believes Britten [was] almost certainly infected by his partner of many decades, the tenor Peter Pears, but never knew he had the disease, which was beyond treatment by the time surgeons discovered it," reports The Guardian, adding: "Kildea believes Pears also never learned the truth, and was a carrier without symptoms of syphilis. It is thought the couple were not informed because of the social taboo regarding the disease at the time."
  • However, Dr. Michael Petch, the cardiologist who treated Britten during the last three years of his life, tells The Guardian that it is "'extremely unlikely' that Britten had the venereal disease, and 'complete rubbish' that his surgeon would or even could have covered up the condition." Dr. Petch added: "There is no serological, bacteriological, pathological or histological support for the diagnosis."
  • Let's turn now to measuring the health of the classical music business. The Independent has excerpts of remarks made to the Association of British Orchestras by Max Hole, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group's international division and the overseer of all the label's classical music activities worldwide. Hole, who was originally a manager for rock bands, told the assembly that the classical music community needs to reach out to "people like me who would engage in classical music if they didn't feel it was elitist or forbidding." The Independent adds that Hole stated that "the traditions and institutions that seek to promote and preserve classical music 'are in danger of causing the genre great harm and hinder its growth.' Even the term 'classical' is in danger of alienating its audience, he said."
  • Philip Glass' opera about Walt Disney just opened in Madrid, and is called "a great American opera" by the LA Times. In a roundup of the Spanish reviews, The Telegraph notes, "The opera portrays Disney as a megalomaniac, sympathetic to Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt and having racist and misogynist tendencies ... Ruben Amon, critic of Spanish conservative daily El Mundo, says Disney — portrayed by the acclaimed British baritone Christopher Purves — is shown as 'arrogant, misogynist, racist, tyrannical, mean, ultraconservative, uncultured, hypochondriac and megalomaniac.'"
  • An MVP for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: Steelers offensive lineman Max Starks, who served on their board from 2006 until last year and is a longtime lover of classical music. "Getting 80 instruments together in perfect harmony, it's similar to a football team," Starks told ESPNW, ESPN's website for women. "Getting 61 guys in sequence with each other, the carry-over keeps it consistent." (But why is this ghettoized as women's news? Because the arts are strictly for the ladies?)
  • Miami's CBS 4 News has a profile of a former Long Island high school star hoops player who turned her attention from pick and rolls to Puccini, after a chorus teacher heard her goof off by mimicking opera singers — and convinced her that opera was her destiny. Eventually, Jeannette Vecchione turned down free-ride sports scholarships from Division I schools to take a full scholarship at Juilliard. She's in Miami to sing the Queen of the Night with Florida Grand Opera this week.
  • A classical music board game called "Virtuoso" is in the making. Designed by Caleb Heisey, a graphic design graduate student at Philadelphia's Tyler School of Art, players compete by answering questions about music history, theory, composition and listening comprehension. It's gorgeous, with violin peg-shaped pieces and an orchestral stage-shaped playing board. And the entire concept of the game revolves around classical music: The "audition," a lightning round, "is based on the real-life experience of moving up 'chairs' in an orchestra." (As of now, Heisey tells Deceptive Cadence, there's only one copy of the game in existence. Anybody want to publish it?)
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    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.