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Claudio Abbado
Claudio Abbado (bach-cantatas.com)

Born on 26 June 1933, Claudio Abbado never actively sought a music director position. He didn’t need to; orchestras recruited him. He was associated with the London Symphony, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Berlin Philharmonic. Opera, too: La Scala, the Vienna State Opera. Here in the States, he was noted for his work with the Chicago Symphony.

Claudio Abbado died today at his Bologna home following an extended illness. He was 80.

The Guardian has a thoughtful and detailed remembrance.

[H]e raised a superband of players all gathered together for his sake, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, to heights that many listeners have never experienced in other orchestral concerts.

A recording producer defined his special gift as a sense of "absolute pulse" – more precisely, an unerring sense of the right and natural tempo relations in a piece that could give shape and meaning even to the most seemingly amorphous of works, and within that a supple life to the individual musical phrases that no contemporary has equaled.

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Minnesota Orchestra Hall
Minneapolis’s Orchestra Hall (Gerald Mertens)

Last October, Minneapolis had a newly renovated Orchestra Hall – and, for the second season, no music to fill it.

In 2012, the Minnesota Orchestra Association, claiming the orchestra faced crippling deficits, had proposed a contract slashing musicians’ salaries by 35 percent. The players, skeptical about the board’s financial claims, turned thumbs down. In response, the board locked out the musicians and axed the entire 2012-13 season.

When the musicians said no to 25 percent reductions in early October 2013, management also cancelled this season. Concerns deepened about the orchestra’s future.

With talks at an impasse, some of the musicians left town for other gigs. The remaining players, determined to keep classical music alive in Minneapolis, carried on with concerts at other locations, performing as Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. They had even proposed a 10-concert series for this spring.

But in recent weeks, board members who hadn’t previously been involved in negotiations began quietly meeting with musicians’ representatives. Board member Doug Kelley said these informal discussions eventually led to formal talks that "felt like traditional labor negotiations."

The settlement will bring music back to Orchestra Hall in early February (2014). It calls for initial salary cuts of 15 percent. The players will also have to pay more of their medical insurance costs, but this will be partly offset by small raises in the next 2 years.

Both sides compromised in other ways.

The musicians agreed to changes in their work rules, but they earned the right to a greater say in artistic decisions. Some musicians, troubled by a growing trend toward more popular music concerts, got management to agree to 20 weeks’ worth of classical performances per season.

Management landed more flexibility in hiring musicians. They got salary concessions, though smaller ones than they’d originally sought. They also gave the nod to an extraordinary revenue sharing provision: the players will receive additional compensation if the orchestra’s endowment’s investments return at least 10% on average over the 3-year life of the contract.

Board chairman Jon Campbell will step down, but Michael Henson will remain president and CEO.

Despite the pay reductions, the agreement keeps the Minnesota Orchestra in the "top ten" salary tier. The musicians said that was crucial for attracting high-caliber colleagues.

Attracting talent is a problem the orchestra will face immediately. The new contract calls for an ensemble of 95. The orchestra is now 18 short of that number. Time will tell whether the US’s longest orchestra labor dispute ever will have lingering effects on hiring.

What’s more, management has committed to hiring only 7 more players over the 3-year contract term. For now, substitute musicians will fill the gaps. The agreement allows them to be paid less – 90% of the orchestra’s base salary.

The personnel issue that looms largest: the music director. Right now, the orchestra has none. It lost noted Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska in October. Vanska resigned in part because of the cancellation of the orchestra’s scheduled Carnegie Hall appearance. Now that the dispute is settled, will he return? If not, who will replace him?

Many other questions remain, including how (or whether) to fold the orchestra’s scheduled independent concerts into the official season.

One big question: how to rebuild the damaged relationships between the musicians and the Minnesota Orchestra Association. A musicians’ union representative mused, "You don’t lock out people from their jobs for this long without there at least being some lingering feeling." Board member Kelley acknowledged "a little scar tissue." Still, "There is a lot of love for this organization as a whole," said clarinetist Tim Zavadil. "We always knew we could get this done."


Further exploration:

Dispute is Over at MPR News

Orchestra Deal Ends Walkout at Minneapolis Star Tribune

Deconstructing Orchestra Debacle at Classical Voice North America

Letter to Our Friends and Community at Minnesota Orchestra Musicians

Musicians and Board Ratify New Contract at Minnesota Orchestra

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Marketplace had a good story about the connection between George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix (yes, there actually is one), and I thought it was worth you checking out on the Marketplace page.

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Hallelujah Chorus Manuscript
Hallelujah Chorus Manuscript
(British Library)

The first performance of Handel’s oratorio Messiah was around Eastertide, but you’d never know it – in our time it’s become a Christmas season standard.

This December (2013), though, it’s not on the concert schedule for any of Northeast Ohio’s big-name ensembles – the Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, the Akron Symphony Orchestra, or the Canton Symphony.

But that’s OK. You’ll still have plenty of chances to hear it – or even sing it yourself – especially if you don’t mind doing a bit of traveling.

This upcoming Sunday (8 December) yields something close to a surfeit of Messiah programs, if that’s even possible! But if none of these half-dozen performances suits, you’ll still have a few more opportunities before the season passes.

That includes a rare chance to hear a performance that bills itself as the entire oratorio – all the choruses, all the arias, all the recitatives.

Why would this be so unusual? It’s a purely practical reason. By the AFM (American Federation of Musicians) definition, an orchestra service is 2 1/2 hours long with one 15-minute break*. An uncut Messiah performance can blast right past that, sometimes taking the better part of 3 hours.

I’ve seen conductors squeeze in every selection right under the wire by taking some very brisk tempi, but normally a complete Messiah means overtime for the orchestra – and that’s not usually in the budget. So, it’s standard practice to omit a few sections of the oratorio.

Although I’m sure I’ve missed some, here’s the Messiah concert list I’ve compiled, in order of performance date and time. Feel free to add any others you know about in the comments below.

Sunday 8 December, 2pm: Toledo Symphony. The orchestra joins with the Toledo Choral Society, BGSU choruses, and soloists Cheryl Babb, Katherine Calcamuggio, Richard Mathey, Shawn Mathey, and Kevin Foos. Peristyle Theater, 2445 Monroe Street, Toledo, 43604. Admission is $35 (419 246-8000 or online).

Sunday 8 December, 3pm: Tuscarawas Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. First Baptist Church, 878 Commercial Ave SW, New Philadelphia, 44663. FREE Admission. Excerpts.

Sunday 8 December, 3pm: Galion Community Chorus with orchestra. First United Church of Christ, 248 Harding Way West, Galion.

Sunday 8 December, 4pm and 7pm: Warren Civic Chorus. Blessed Sacrament Church, 3020 Reeves Road, Warren 44483. Like public radio, it’s free, but your contribution will help them keep it going.

Sunday 8 December, 7pm: Messiah Chorus of Lake County. St Gabriel Church, 9925 Johnnycake Ridge Rd, Concord Township. Free (but they’ll pass the hat).

Sunday 8 December, 7pm: Orrville Community Chorus. Seventieth Annual Messiah Performance. Central Christian School, 3970 Kidron Rd, Kidron 44636. The chorus is accompanied by piano. Admission $5, free for students through 8th grade.

Friday 20 December, 8pm: Mansfield Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, with St Peter’s Traditional Choir, OSU-Mansfield Chorus and soloists. St Peter’s Catholic Church, 54 S Mulberry Street, Mansfield 44902 (419 522-2726). Thomas Hong conducts a real rarity – the complete Messiah. Suggested donation $15.

Saturday 21 December, 7:30pm; Sunday 22 December 2pm: Cincinnati Symphony, with May Festival Chorus. John Nelson conducts. The Saturday concert is an abbreviated ("family friendly") version at Hope Church, 4934 Western Row Rd, Mason 45040. Saturday’s concert is a more nearly complete reading at Cincinnati’s Music Hall, 1241 Elm St. Admission Saturday: adults, $25; kids, $12. Admission Sunday: $25-105. Ticket info at 513 381-3300 or online.

Sunday 22 December, 6:30pm: Dayton Philharmonic and Dayton Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Westminster Presbyterian Church, 125 N Wilkinson Street, Dayton 45402. Admission $14-28 (937 224-3521 or online).

Messiah Singalongs. If you really love Handel’s oratorio, there’s nothing like being in the middle of it! These performances give you the chance. If you know the music, or if you’re a good sight-reader, grab a score and join in. If you’d rather listen, you can just sit and soak up Handel’s glorious choral writing.

One is a couple of hours away: Columbus’s Promusica Chamber Orchestra is putting together a Messiah singalong on Friday 13 December at 7pm. Take your score! It’s at Southern Theatre, 21 East Main St, Columbus 43215. Admission is $20 (614 464-0066 or online).

On Sunday 15 December at 7:30pm, Credo Chamber Music will give you the opportunity to sing Hallelujah and more, and in Severance Hall’s Reinberger Chamber Hall to boot. Oberlin viola professor Peter Slowik will conduct, with soloists from Oberlin Conservatory. Admission is $15 (216 231-1111 or online). If you don’t own a score, another $5 gets you one to use for the evening.

If you’re free on Wednesday 18 December at 12:10pm, you can join in a long-standing Cleveland tradition – the annual "Messiah Sing" at Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral. Music director Todd Wilson conducts Trinity’s justly famous chamber orchestra – and you – in Part 1 (the Nativity sequence), and then wraps up with the Hallelujah Chorus, which Handel placed at the end of Part 2 (the Easter sequence). This will be about an hour’s worth of music. Admission is FREE (say thanks to sponsor Mrs Robin Hitchcock Hatch). Even the parking is free.

Know of a Messiah performance that I’ve missed? Add it in the comments below!


*That’s also one reason that concerts have intermissions. Yes, Handel had intermissions in his oratorios, too. But that was because the singers demanded them. The poor orchestra players – and Handel himself – didn’t get a break. They were expected to keep the audience entertained while the singers did whatever they did to relax.

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Jeannette Sorrell
Jeannette Sorrell (WKSU)

This year, Apollo’s Fire will present two holiday programs in December. Early in the month they’ll revive their sold-out hit from the past two years, Sacrum Mysterium, in 5 Cleveland area locations. Then, from the 13th to the 16th, longtime favorite Christmas Vespers will return to 4 locations in Cleveland and Akron.

If you’re a WKSU supporting member, your section B or C tickets for Sacrum Mysterium at St Noel Church in Willoughby Hills and for Christmas Vespers at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Akron will be half-price. See apollosfire.org for more ticket information.

Last year, when Apollo’s Fire released Sacrum Mysterium as a CD, one of our classical stream announcers, Julie Amacher, interviewed director Jeannette Sorrell about the program and reviewed the CD. Read and listen here.

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