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Classical Notes: September 20, 2006 Archive

Number-crunching with Sibelius

Posted at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2006 by Rex Levang

A few days ago, Don Lee, and one of our readers, weighed in on the striking popularity of the Sibelius violin concerto.

I have my own theory on why it's performed so often, and it’s more about business and numbers than about the (estimable) quality of that piece.

Let’s say that many symphony concerts feature a guest soloist. And then let’s say that many famous soloists are either violinists or pianists (seems like a safe bet), and that they play concertos.

Now there are lots of good piano concertos. Beethoven wrote five, Chopin and Brahms each wrote two, Mozart wrote a whole stackful, Rachmaninoff wrote two very popular ones. And so on. But with violin concertos, things are much slenderer. One Brahms, one Tchaikovsky, one Sibelius, one Beethoven. And so on. So with lots of violinists, but fewer concertos to choose from, it might just make mathematical sense that violin concertos would rise to the top of the most-performed charts.

Apropos of that, a true anecdote (sorry, I cannot remember the musicians of whom this is told). A famous violinist is at the airport, heading off to an engagement, and he bumps into a famous pianist.

They greet each other, ask where the other one is going, etc.

“Tell me,” says the violinist. “When you get to [name of town], what will you be performing?”

“Oh, you know,” groans the pianist. “Another performance of one of those @#$%@ Rachmaninoff concertos.”

The violinist looks at him very gravely. “You must never talk like that,” he says. “Do you know what we violinists would give to have a Rachmaninoff violin concerto?”

Sirius trouble for Met broadcasts?

Posted at 9:44 AM on September 20, 2006 by Don Lee (1 Comments)

Breaking news in the opera world:

NEW YORK (AP) - The Met will be on the air almost as much as the Mets.

Sirius Satellite Radio and the Metropolitan Opera plan to announce Wednesday that they will launch a new channel to broadcast four performances a week during the company's 32-week season, part of the company's vast media expansion under new general manager Peter Gelb.

Metropolitan Opera Radio will debut with Monday's opening-night gala of a new production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." When not broadcasting live performances, the channel will air operas from the Met's archive of 1,500 radio broadcasts that date to 1931.

Sirius, which has about 125 channels, has a subscription price of $12.95 per month, with discounts available for long-term deals. It was available to 4.7 million subscribers at the end of June and expects to be in 6.3 million by the end of the year, spokesman Patrick Reilly said.

Sirius will have 10 historic broadcasts per week, Met spokeswoman Sommer Hixson said. Producers will replace the original commentary by Milton Cross and Peter Allen and original intermission features with new lead-ins and intermissions. The channel's announcer will be Margaret Juntwait, who replaced Allen in 2004 as host of the Met's Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts, which run from December until spring and will continue.

Satellite radio is built for narrowcasting and opera is just the kind of programming it's best suited to deliver. But where does this move leave the Met's Saturday radio broadcast? The announcement says it will continue, but for how long?

Last I heard, the broadcast's future sponsorship was far from secure. And more than a few classical radio programmers have long been convinced that the opera audience is different from and smaller than the rest of their listenership. Some have already pulled the plug on the Met. Others have wanted to do the same, but feared backlash from disenfranchised opera lovers. Now that the fans can get their fix in another, arguably better, way, once-tentative programmers won't hold back any longer. Could the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Met's Saturday radio broadcast be its last? It wouldn't surprise me.

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