Working at Crittenden Summer Opera 2013
Mar 6th, 2013 by Andrew Kraus

This summer will be my fourth on staff as a coach at Richard Crittenden’s – Crittenden Summer Opera Workshop. More importantly, it is Richard’s twenty-sixth year doing these workshops!  And they are VERY GOOD workshops, indeed.

If you are a singer who is serious about becoming an opera singer, and you have not yet attended one of these workshops, it’s not too late to come to one this summer.  Program Director, Richard Crittenden and Associate Director, Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios have blocked and directed SCORES of opera scenes together over the years – and working with them, you will learn how to sing and act at the same time, and, as Richard says, “…to make the music happen”.

I could go on about the Directing Staff, and the other collaborative pianists and coaches – but I won’t, except to say, I am privileged to work with them and that everybody is good at what they do and will do their level best to bring out YOUR best when you choose to attend a workshop.

For more information on this summer’s programs, download the 2013 brochure here: Crittenden Summer Opera 2013 Brochure. Read even more on the Crittenden Summer Opera website here.







Crittenden Summer Opera 2013 Brochure

Tough Times in Detroit
Aug 30th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus


GM may be doing well again, but the good times are definitely not rolling for the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In fact, things are so bad that despite offering to cut their salaries by 22% the first year with additional cuts during the second and third years of their proposed contract, management has rejected the musicians’ counter offer and is playing serious hard ball.

According to the details in an email sent by “the Detroit Symphony Musicians” to interested parties:

The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra today voted to reject management’s “Final Offers.” The “Final Offers” were actually in the form of two proposals, Proposal “A” and “B.” Management stated that if Proposal “A” was not accepted by midnight August 28, it would be withdrawn and the only offer would then be Proposal “B.” Proposal “B” is more onerous than Proposal “A.”

Proposal “A” would cut the wages of the musicians by 29 percent the first year, 28 percent the second year and 24 percent the third year. In addition, there are major reductions in pension, health insurance and working conditions.

Proposal “B” would cut the wages of the current musicians 33 percent the first year, 31 percent the second year and 30 percent the third year. It would further reduce the starting salary of new hires to 42 percent less than the current minimum.

“Such a salary would make hiring the best musicians to fill vacancies even less likely.” DSO cellist Haden McKay, speaking for the musicians, said.

Wages for extra and substitute musicians would also be slashed, he said.

Both proposals eliminate current procedures which require that only the best guest conductors be engaged.

The musicians have not ignored the current economic crisis in Detroit. Their counterproposal contains cuts in salary of 22 percent the first year, with further cuts the second and third years amounting to $9 million in savings to the DSO over three years. In the third year the musicians would be earning substantially less than they earn today.

As a result of management’s failure to file notices required by the National Labor Relations Act, the DSO will now be required to continue the terms and conditions of the expired contract at least until September 23.

In addition to rejecting management’s offers, the musicians voted to authorize the union and the negotiating committee to call a strike when they deem it appropriate. “This would include any management attempt to unilaterally impose Proposal “B”, said Musicians’ spokesperson Haden McKay.

No further meetings are scheduled.

If there’s any good news in this story, at least for me, it’s that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra still exists, this in contrast to the situation in Charleston, SC, which according to the last thing I read, suspended operations(!) on April 17th this year. See my blog post here for that story.

The glass is certainly looking half, no, make that mostly empty and leaking out the bottom, these days – at least for those of us who are passionate in our love for classical music. Smaller groups like Great Noise, to name just one example of a group of very talented musicians who are surviving on a small fraction of the income paid to members of the DSO and who make very good music, indeed, are springing up even as the older, larger groups are dieing, and that’s a good thing. But you can’t play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with less than a dozen people. It might sound just a wee bit thin.

Sign of the times, I’m sure.

Sure hope things turn for the better for all of us, musicians, non-musicians, music lovers, music haters – ALL of us – soon.

And a challenge to any who read this post: If you’ve got good, or at least better news about the state of Classical Music today, use my contact page here to let me know. I’d be more than happy to share the better news!

Another Story – Classical Music Sorry State of Affairs
Apr 5th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Bad News!

Another symphony orchestra appears to be heading into oblivion. According to a March 28th article on the Post & Courier web site at www.postandcourier.com, The Charleston, South Carolina, Symphony is suspending operations.

“The remaining Masterworks concert, scheduled for April 17, is canceled. Ticket holders either will be reimbursed or asked to donate the cost of tickets to the organization, [Board President Ted Legasey], said”.

Average salaries hovered around $20,000, evidently too much in today’s economy.

Comments from the local community on the Post & Courier site seem to devolve to discussions about politically conservative approaches to saving the orchestra (make the concerts more relevant, don’t rely on just a few donors, don’t take any government money) to liberal ones which involve government support and a complaint that $2M is going to be spent out of city monies to construct… a skate board park.


Commentary among musicians on Facebook are also polarized with the Young(er) Turks and their sympathizers pointing to orchestras as “museums” and the (presumably) older folks lamenting the loss of the museums.


There’s even criticism of the notion that “pops” concerts are worth anything or matter much. On that one, I beg to differ. Pop concerts where I soloed with the Mantovani Orchestra were extremely well received… in China. When I asked management why there hadn’t been a USA tour in some years, the answer was simple: “We lost money the last time. The economics don’t support it”.

So it appears that this malaise regarding the symphony orchestra might be a local phenomenon, local to the USA. I have personal experience that pops orchestras and concerts are well received in China; the same is true of Germany, and I’m told, other European countries.

So what can we conclude?

I’m not sure. There seems to be a real renaissance of interest among the young (and their proud parents) in playing in and listening to orchestral music. Competition is stiff for admission to local youth orchestras like PVYO and MCYO. This makes me hopeful that the orchestra, as an institution, but more importantly as an instrument of musical expression, will continue to survive.

It’s a complicated issue. As a working musician, I usually can’t afford to attend a concert by a major symphony unless I happen to be playing with them. The costs have gone too high.

Sorry not to have any answers today, just a lament about the continuing pressures on classical music in these difficult economic times.

Schools Classical Music Programs: On the Block Again
Feb 2nd, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Here we go again. According to an article today’s Washington Post, music programs, classical and otherwise, may be trimmed by the budget cutting axe as Fairfax County officials struggle with the impossible task of making ends meet when there just isn’t enough money to go around.

Since this blog is focused on classical music, not politics, per se, I’ll avoid political comment other than to say there’s credit and blame enough to go around – to members of both political parties, and leave it at that.

What concerns me is how often it is that the arts, including the performance arts of music, theater and dance, are considered frills to be cut when times are hard.

Me – I don’t agree.

I believe that when times are hard, aside from those perennial best sellers despite the times, booze and cigarettes, people need the arts more than ever. My Depression Era grandparents spoke fondly of going to the thee-aye-ter to see the glamorous Hollywood movies of the early 30′s. Of all the things they could have talked about with me after long lives, they valued and remembered those movie outings enough to tell me about them. And, I must confess, though far too young to appreciate it, I remember going to Rockefeller Center in NYC with them to see a move at (I think it was), the Roxie and seeing The Rockettes!

But back to classical music.

I think it would be a huge mistake to cut the programs. Surely there are other places in the Fairfax County Public School System where a little nip and tuck could save major money.

“Save the MUSIC!”, that’s what I say.

How about you?

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?

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.

Piano Vandals Strike at Ithaca College
Dec 21st, 2009 by Andrew Kraus

As US News and World Reports reported on their website at UsNews.com.

Twas the night before finals when a vandal damaged more than 60 pianos at Ithaca College. The discovery stunned the school of music and its students.

A sophomore music student stumbled upon the instruments that suffered vandalism Sunday…

Sickening, isn’t it? Who did it? Why did they do it?
Was it a student at the school?

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