Classical Music: Sorry State of Affairs
Jan 30th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

In an oddly headlined article in the Style section of today’s Washington Post, music critic, Anne Midgette gave all of us working in the classical music business something to think about.

I kind of knew that it was increasingly tough to “make a living” in the business.

I kind of knew that attendance at classical events (at least in the US of A) is just a tiny fraction of what turns out for performances by pop culture (isn’t that really an oxymoron?) icons like Bruce Springsteen.

I kind of knew that CD sales in general were down, and classical cd sales were a miniscule part of that market.

But until I read Midgette’s article, I didn’t know that it was as bad as it is even for classical music stars.

According to Midgette, “In early October, pianist Murray Perahia’s much-praised album of Bach partitas was in its sixth week on the list, holding strong at No. 10. It sold 189 copies. No. 25, the debut of the young violinist Caroline Goulding, in its third week, sold 75 copies”.

Yikes! Murray Perahia’s Bach Partitas sold less than 200 copies! Murrah Perahia? Puh-leez.

It must be said that Midgette focused on albums aka CDs. She didn’t mention and might not have had stats on mp3 downloads, but she’s absolutely right when she says that “If classical music can’t make money, it can’t stay alive…”, and goes on to say that, “…it’s notable that recordings appear to do worse than concert ticket sales. If everyone who attended the National Symphony Orchestra on a given night bought a copy of the same album, that album would leap to the top of the classical charts every week”.

Got a point, she does.

But I need to ask: was anyone selling CDs in the lobbies before, at intermission of, and after these orchestra concerts? Is anyone actively soliciting email addresses at these events? And what about mp3 downloads? Why not push those? Why not do a lot more “live in concert” performances and sell the resulting recordings thereafter?

This is the 21st Century. If the wonderful, magical tradition of Western Classical Music that I love so much is to survive, we, in the community of those that love it, need to find ways to reach more people more ways, to market and sell in new ways.

I believe if we take on that challenge, we have a chance to succeed.

How about you?

Mantovani 2009 China Tour!
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

I know this is “old news” for now, but some of my friends and fans have asked me to write about my experiences on the tour, post some photos, etc. So, in the tradition of much earlier writers, here starts the serialized story of the tour as experienced by yours truly.

Disclaimer: the opinions and views expressed in this series are my own, and in no way are to be construed as “official” Mantovani content.

I took this photo at Pudong Airport around 2AM Shanghai, China Time, after about 28 hours of air travel, after two days with 6 hours of sleep. We flew from Orlando, then changed planes for the trans-Pacific flight in San Francisco.

After making it through customs and immigration, having my passport checked and all of that hoo-ha, I was finally IN CHINA, at least outside the quarantine area of the airport. Wallking inside the nearly deserted domestic terminal had a certain surreal quality to it – acres of polished terrazzo floors, a very strange ceiling with what appeared to be spikes sticking through it, a walk way stretching to what seemed like infinity.

Mantovani 2009 China Tour – Beijing Traffic Cop
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

One of the cool things for me about traveling to a foreign country, whether it’s business, pleasure, or in this case, pleasurable business, is savoring the differences from home.

In this photo a Beijing traffic cop keeps an eye on things, doing his best to maintain order in a place with traffic jams that actually make traffic in the Washington, DC area where I live seem light. Traffic was so heavy and so unpredictable, that the orchestra usually left our hotel around 4PM so we were assured of arriving at the theaters somewhere between one to two hours later. Better to get there with an hour to kill than to race in just as the curtain was about to arrive, the audience in place.

Coming Next: 7 concerts, 5 cities, 9 days

Mantovani 2009 China Tour: The Itinerary
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

China Itinerary

One thing to remember about an orchestra tour is the sheer amount of actual travel involved, particularly in a BIG country like China. Despite the best efforts of our in country tour hosts and promoters, the Zhang Brothers, Mag Jian and Jiao, and Jiajia Shu Fong (AKA “Beth”, herder of cats and musicians), the travel was arduous; the amount of sleep and time for sight-seeing, unfortunately, minimal. But hey, don’t pity us, we still had a heck of a good time, at least I know I did.

For the detail oriented:

  • First leg: Orlando to Guangzho via Shanghai
    • 6 hours of sleep in Orlando, bus trip to airport, check-in, 7AM flight to San Francisco
    • Noonish Flight from San Francisco to Pudang (Shanghai), China, go through customs and immiigration, arrive waiting area for in-country flight 2AM local time
    • Flight from Shanghai to Guangzho, arrive at hotel 3:30AM local time, some time Twilight Zone Time
  • Performances and Travel in China
    • Perform Guangzho, dinner at lovely restaurant,
      Guangzho Dinner Choices

      So Many, Many Choices...

      back to bed at midnight, up next morning by 6AM for…

    • Flight from Guangzho to Wuhan
    • Perform that night in Wuhan (yawn), luxuriate in extra sleep next morning and some time off, then up early next day for flight to Beijing
    • Perform that night in Beijing and again, the next night, up early the 2nd Beijing morning for…
    • Flight to Shanghai
    • Perform in Shanghai, next morning off, 2nd performance and late night dinner there, then up early for…
    • Road trip via bus to Huangzho, perform that last and final night, then…
  • Tour is over and flying home

Next post - Shanghai: Skyline to Subway

Mantovani 2009 China Tour – Shanghai Subway
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Shanghai Skyline

Shanghai is an amazing city full of examples of the vitality of the 21st Century China. The sky is pierced for miles on end by skyscrapers tall as any in the world. Having grown up outside New York City just across that fragrant patch which we locals called “The Meadows” with a view of the Empire State Building (I grew up before the World Trade Center was erected), I felt quite at home.

I’m also a connoisseur of subways and trolleys living in the greater Washington, DC area with our “Metro”, and living through my undergraduate years in Boston with its hodge-podge of trolleys, trackless trolleys and heavy rail subway cars, but I digress.

The Shanghai subway system is a marvel. The trains are clean and fast; the fare collection system a technological marvel with electronics aiding the traveler in multiple languages. One simply, and I do mean simply, selects a destination on an interactive map, and the system then calculates the fare and asks for the money. Simple.

And in the cars there are electronic maps as well.

One thing this traveler had never seen was an “open car” design in which a tall Westerner such as this writer could see over the heads of most of the Chinese passengers clear to the front and back of the 8 car (?) train. No doors separate the cars.

But then, in my experience, there’s always something interesting, and I mean this with affection and respect, about how a technology which starts in one part of the world, in this case, the West, is adapted for use in another.

This subway sign says it all: practical, down to earth, simple – and something I never saw anywhere else. Kind ‘a goes without saying, but in China, traffic, whether pedestrian or vehicular, or the usual combination thereof, is not the orderly flow it is in Germany, or even, in Italy!

Next post: Logistics – travel with musicians, instruments, and a live goat. (just kidding about the goat…).

Mantovani 2009 China Tour – Meet the Conductor
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus
Barry and the Tiger

Barry Knight and Friend

Beyond a certain number, much as we musicians might hate to admit it, working with a fabulous conductor really can really help us combine our musical talents and egos in the most beneficial way with the end result being a performance people would want to hear. It also takes a person with a certain skill, some would say, the ability to “herd cats”, to be a really fine conductor. As can seen in this photo, Barry has that skill in spades.

Having had the privilege to work with Barry, I believe he tells it like it is in his Facebook profile: “I’m a hopeless romantic at heart… I love lots of music, Italian Operas (esp.Puccini) & Russian orchestral works & lots of good light, popular, big band & middle of road music, as long as it’s good of its kind”.

And there’s evidence that the critics think Barry good as his word. Milton Kaine, in the October 2000 issue of American Record Guide, wrote, “Conductor Barry Knight is apparently an expert on British light music and does a commendable job”.

Barry Knight I also witnessed Barry’s ability to charm audiences, to communicate across cultures and languages, to make music available, accesible and enjoyable for people.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way about Barry. The concert reviewer in Wuhan devoted several paragraphs of his review to him:

“The English conductor, a Anthony Hopkins look-a-like, also doubled up as the narrator. During opening, his flawless Chinese greeting of “Good evening friends of Wuhan. Welcome to Mantovani’s beautiful music” gave the audience a pleasant surprise. After that, for every 2 pieces they performed, he would explain [sic] them in simple Chinese. When he was introducing the theme song of “West Side Story”, Tonight, he told the audience, this is a similar story to Romeo and Juliet, only the boy ‘Argh’ in the end – coupled with his imitation of ‘strangling of throat’, the audience laughed audibly in appreciation. Next when he was introducing the “007” theme song You Only Live Twice, he did a gun draw act just like Bond while saying ‘007’ in Chinese. Before the performance for the “Superman” theme song, he even whipped out a blue Superman top with a ‘S’ symbol and asked the ladies if they are willing to date this muscular gentleman.

“Through his narration, the audience got to know about some other things besides the programme notes; “Limelight” was by Charlie Chaplin, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes gave him a ‘gliding in the sky’ feel and he also mentioned that two members of the Orchestra had their birthdays the day before, and they might go for a drink after the performance. The audience felt an affinity towards this elderly, humorous and easy-going gentleman.

“…and when he gave the flowers he received to a lady in the audience and kissed her hand, he was greeting with a thunderous applause.

Well done, Barry.

Well done, indeed, and, I must add, it was a lot of fun working with you.

Andrew Kraus Joins Laurien Laufman for “The Transcribed Cello”
Jan 8th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

On January 24th at 7PM, Andrew Kraus joins Bethesda based cellist, Laurien Laufman, for The Transcribed Cello. Ms. Laufman, former Professor of Music at the University Illinois and protege of Janos Starker and Aldo Parisot, among others, describes the event as, “…an entire recital ‘borrowed’ from the repertoire of other instruments…”. Program details available here.

Want to attend?

Though a private affair, the performers have been told that we could invite “a few” guests of our own. Please contact Andrew Kraus using the form here if you’d like to join us for this event. If we still have some invitations, you’re in.

Best Violins in the World: Made in China?
Jan 7th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

On my way to enjoy an evening of socializing and to play some piano quartets with some musician friends I happened to be listening to a PRI show called The World. The topic being covered was the emergence of China as a place where world class violins are now being built by an old world craftsman trained in Italy after 5 years “in the country side ‘working like a peasant’” and his proteges. That artist craftsman, Zheng Quan, works at the Chinese Conservatory of Music, where, according to the PRI piece, he teaches at the only school in China to offer mandatory training as a string player for those students who want to become (Western) stringed instrument builders.

The transcript, photos and sound file can be found here: http://www.theworld.org/2010/01/06/violins-made-in-china/.

For this writer, a proud-to-be-American citizen and grandchild of immigrant parents, the report was both heartening and sobering.

I was heartened to learn that the fine arts of violin making and the playing of Western Classical violin music are now being appreciated in China, a place with a LOT of people.

I am sobered by the thought that the next generation of great instrument makers as well as players may be one that does not include our children. At the high end (hand built and custom built instruments), I worry that our own skilled instrument builders are being starved out of business for lack of interest and funding. At the middle and lower ends (mass produced instruments), I worry that our we may have already lost our production capacity, infrastructure and work force to the pressures for profit and subsequent “off-shoring” of manufacturing plants and jobs. As for players and singers, the pressure is on them from society in general and concerned for their welfare parents, to keep music as a hobby learned in childhood and adolescence, not to be confused with a way to make a living as an adult.

Those are my thoughts and feelings on the subject topic. I welcome yours as comments to this post and wish you a good day whatever day you happen to read it.

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