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Archive for May, 2008

That’s right. In the latest marriage of music and technology, Asimo, Honda’s humanoid robot, made its conducting debut in Detroit Tuesday. The little white 4-foot-3, 119 pound robot-that-could marched onto stage, gave the crowd a wave, then proceeded to lead the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in “The Impossible Dream.”

“I’m worried that they’ll teach it to multitask,” said cellist Yo-Yo Ma at the rehearsal earlier Tuesday.

Honda corporate affairs manager David Iida came up with the idea to teach Asimo to conduct as a way to put an exclamation point on the company’s DSO partnership. Honda also is sponsoring a master class for students led by Ma.

Read the rest of the Detroit Free Press article here…

…and check out the video below!

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Vienna PhilharmonicLike many professions, for centuries music was dominated by men. For about the last three decades, though, orchestras have taken measures to ensure equal consideration for women and minority musicians. In most cases, for example, prospective players now try out behind screens that hide them from the judges.

By 2005, the change was significant — female membership of international orchestras (outside of Germany and Austria) had increased considerably. It varied from about 26% at the Philadelphia Orchestra to 41% at the New York Philharmonic and 43% at the French National Orchestra.

Three women are already too many … By the time we have 20 percent, the orchestra will be ruined.”

       – Vienna Philharmonic musician, quoted in a 2003 issue of Profil

The orchestras of Germany and Austria have generally lagged behind the others, and the Vienna Philharmonic remains at the very bottom of the list. Effectively a musicians’ democracy, it has been deeply reluctant to admit women to its ranks.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the Vienna Philharmonic officially ended their policy discriminating against women players. For years after that, however, their only female member was a harpist. Television producers were allowed to show only her hands. Her name was not listed in programs.

Fully 10 years later, in May 2007, the Vienna Philharmonic finally granted full membership to violist Ursula Plaichinger. Plaichinger had been hired in 2001, in spite of an audition in which the screens came down for the final round (the Vienna Philharmonic reportedly believes it is "important to see what musicians look like while they play").

Cellist Ursula Wex, hired in 2003, and violinist Isabelle Ballot, brought on board this year, now play in Vienna Philharmonic concerts. However, both are still listed on the orchestra’s roster as probationary.

Both Wex and Ballot started their Vienna tenures in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra (Wiener Staatsoper), traditionally a training ground for the Philharmonic. The Staatsoper still has only 5 women, and one of them, oboist Helene Kenyeri, was handed her walking papers in March.

Albena DanailovaBut last Thursday (8 May), the Staatsoper promoted first violinist Albena Danailova to concertmaster. She will take on her new duties with the Staatsoper in September — just as Kenyeri is leaving.

The number of women in the orchestra will thus actually fall, but the dynamics of musical leadership will undergo a seismic shift. Many of the same musicians play in both the Vienna Philharmonic and the State Opera Orchestra, and the politics of this situation will be intriguing to watch. The glass ceiling may not have ruptured yet, but perhaps change is finally in the air for this last bastion of male-dominated classical music-making.

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The Firelands Symphony has announced the appointment of Carl Topilow as music director from July.

Topilow is music director of the Cleveland Pops and is also known in Northeast Ohio for his work with the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra. Last season he led a well-received Holiday Pops concert for the Akron Symphony Orchestra, and has been invited to perform the same role for this year’s Akron holiday concert.

Highlights of the upcoming Firelands season include a performance of the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez with guitarist Jason Vieaux, and violinist Caroline Goulding soloing in the Bruch Scottish Fantasy.

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Scene from Zurich's "Die Fledermaus"After conducting two presentations in March, Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Moest has bowed out of two additional Zurich Opera performances of Johann Strauss’s operetta Die Fledermaus, citing dissatisfaction with the staging. Although the operetta’s story has nothing to do with vampires or Count Dracula’s castle, Michael Sturminger‘s staging uses those devices, apparently solely on the inspiration of the work’s title, which means "The Bat."

In addition to his Cleveland duties, Welser-Moest is general music director of the Zurich Opera.

More from the Chicago Tribune.

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From the official Deutsche Grammophon Web site:

“For this recording, Plácido Domingo has drawn directly on the origins of music – the music of the street. Domingo and the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, one of Europe’s up-and-coming ensembles, have chosen the popular song form of the copla which, along with zarzuela and flamenco, constitutes the three-pronged spear of recent Spanish popular music. The copla, like its close relative, the cuplé, is music written by a composer, but one who draws so extensively on the folk music tradition that his music merges with that tradition and becomes indistinguishable from it. The great composers of Spanish coplas can proclaim with every justification: “I am folk music.”

Read the rest of the liner notes and purchase the album online here.

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