Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Potentially frequently asked questions, preemptively answered

Q: How will you decide which concerts to review?

A: The same way, I imagine, that you decide which concerts to attend.

That’s a change for me. When I was a newspaper critic, part of my job was to provide a running account of the artistic trajectory of the community’s leading musical institutions. Gavel-to-gavel coverage, so to speak. That is no longer my job.

I will skip many performances of warhorse repertory, including some by prominent and/or worthy artists. I’m sure to be told, "You should have heard it," to which my response is, "I have, repeatedly."

I will gravitate toward music that isn’t overplayed, to artists with distinctive interpretive styles or unique insights, to performances that promise to be special.

I will avoid overload. Attending three or four concerts a week is a great way to get sick of music. Attend no more than one or two a week, and each can be the singular experience that a live performance should be.

Q: How do I get publicity for my event?

A: Other than calendar listings, this space traffics in earned publicity. Do something noteworthy, or attractively novel.

Q: Will you cover jazz, folk and world music?

A: Occasionally, but the focus here is on classical music.

The Richmond Jazz Society posts news and calendars of jazz and jazz-related events throughout Virginia, at

Q: Will your list of recommended recordings migrate to this space?

A: Not the whole herd.

The recording and record-selling industries are in seismic flux. We read that CDs are on the way out, to be replaced by music downloads. This won’t happen suddenly – it took CDs the better part of a decade to displace LPs, and nearly 20 years before pre-recorded cassettes disappeared. However . . .

A new Martha Argerich-Riccardo Chailly recording (Schumann Piano Concerto and Fourth Symphony) is the first Decca Concerts "download-only album," Gramophone reports/enthuses. The ongoing Osmo Vänskä-Minnesota Orchestra Beethoven symphony cycle, issued on BIS discs, is now available from Internet download services; future installments will be released simultaneously in both media. Independently produced recordings, such as the Michael Tilson Thomas-San Francisco Symphony Mahler symphony cycle, seem likely to be issued as downloads (only?) in the future.

(John Kieser, general manager of the San Francisco Symphony, responds: "[W]e will always issue hard copies of our premier recordings as we think there will always be a market for discs. The sound (especially on SACD) is superior and multi-channel – which is not possible yet on downloads, the packaging has been designed to be a collectable and classical consumers have a low adoption rate of downloading music. That being said, the advantage of downloads is to be able to keep something in the catalogue without carrying physical inventory.")

(Another addendum: The Argerich-Chailly Schumann set circulates in the U.S. on DVD, Euroarts 2055498.)

We are, or soon will be, in a period when many CDs go out of circulation and their contents reappear, byte by byte, as downloads.

Classical record collectors don’t find many stores left worth browsing in, at least not for new recordings. Most collectors I know do their serious shopping online.

The best online retailer, for my money, is ArkivMusic – – which specializes in classics, organizes its site with collectors in mind and is competitive in pricing and shipping charges. The bargain hunter’s paradise is Berkshire Record Outlet – – which sells cutouts at deep discounts.

Instead of mega-listing, I plan to survey recordings of canonical repertory such as Beethoven or Brahms symphonies, or recordings that best profile a composer’s work (such as the discs recommended in "Master Z" – see January archive), or five or ten (or 15 or 20) recordings that hit the high points of a musical period such as the baroque or a genre such as the string quartet. I’ll keep these posted, updated as need be.

If only an exhaustive list will do, try The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs. Updated annually, it covers virtually every work you’re likely to look for. The authors are British, and tilt noticeably toward British performers and fixtures of the UK concert scene. They also rate Toscanini and Karajan more highly than I do.

Q: What about the new plan for Richmond theater renovations?

A: Sigh.

I’ve written a lot about the proposed performing arts center in downtown Richmond, especially about proscenium theaters pressed into service as concert halls. Brief recap: Even the best sound enhancements yield acoustics that are markedly inferior to those of halls designed expressly for music.

That said, if the Carpenter Theater (formerly Carpenter Center) isn’t reopened in the next few years, the Richmond Symphony and the Virginia Opera's Richmond operation will hit the wall financially. (I'm surprised the opera hasn't already moved to the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville.)

So arts groups and their backers will go along. And we’ll see if they’ve learned a lesson about hitching artistic aspirations to civic-development interests and getting caught in political power plays.