The Well-Tempered Ear

WORT-FM 89.9 now has a Monday morning show of modern and contemporary classical music with Paul Baker

April 6, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The listener-sponsored, community radio station WORT-FM 89.9 — long a home for classical music from all eras, from the earliest to the newest — has a new program to join its many others about music in all genres and all periods as well as news and commentary about public affairs.

It airs on Monday mornings from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. with Paul Baker (below, in his WORT studio). He is well-known radio host, music critic and amateur musician.

Baker recently shared with The Ear some insights into his new show “Listen Adventurously”:

Are you still doing your show for WSUM, the student-run FM radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

I hosted Only Strings on WSUM-FM 91.7 to focus on chamber music at a time when I was taking cello lessons. I wanted to absorb as much chamber music as possible, and preparing for, and hosting, a radio program was one good way to do that. I ended the show in 2019 when I reached the five-year mark.

How did the new WORT show come about?

I’ve been a WORT fan for more than 30 years. I know many of the program hosts and have been in touch with the music director, Sybil Augustine, for some time.

I had hosted a WORT Sunday early morning show briefly about 20 years ago. The Monday morning classical slot recently became available when Christopher Delamarter stepped down, so I raised my hand.

What can you tell us about the content of the show?

The show has been billed as 20th-century classical music. I am extending that to include pieces from the 2000s as well — things written as recently as last year. There is just so much good material. Younger composers and performers deserve to be heard. 

So the show will feature Bartok and Shostakovich and Samuel Barber, of course, but also Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt and Jennifer Higdon and Laura Schwendinger (below, who teaches at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and whose music is widely performed) and Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion Ensemble. In my opinion, there’s a lack of local availability to hear this music.

I enjoy sharing music with people. When I worked on campus, I programmed three shows for WSUM-FM. Now that I’m retired, I’m happy to have this opportunity on WORT. The only drawback is that I must get up at 4 a.m. for the 5 a.m. air time. But I’m a morning person, so it’s not that bad.

Editor’s note: If you want to see a sample playlist, as well as WORT’s daily show schedule, here a link to the one from this past Monday: https://www.wortfm.org/on-air-schedule/


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Does Wisconsin Public Radio play too much harp music?

March 26, 2022
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PLEASE NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, the following commentary was posted briefly yesterday and then withdrawn. That also disabled the commentary function temporarily. Once the glitch is solved, The Ear will post it again. That means some of you will get it twice. I apologize for any inconvenience. And to the fans who have kindly greeted my return, heartfelt thanks. I will be posting more details about the use and frequency of this blog in the near future.

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Can’t help it.

The harp always reminds The Ear of a giant egg slicer.

Still, The Ear loves the sound of the harp — in the right works.

That usually means when it is blended into orchestral works (Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Mahler come to mind) and chamber music works (Debussy and Ravel come to mind).

But when it comes to solo harp and harp concertos, no thanks. Barring some Baroque music and Classical works — Handel’s concerti grossi and Mozart’s “Brunch” Concerto for Flute and Harp — he’ll pass for the most part.

So much harp music, both original and arranged, just sounds second-rate or worse. Can anyone name a masterpiece for the solo harp written by a great composer? And I don’t mean Louis Spohr who composed for his harpist wife.

The solo harp repertoire is very small, hence the need for so many transcriptions.

That’s a problem.

The harp tends to make music for other instruments sound so .. so … so pleasant! Even when the original is dramatic, it’s all pluck pluck, twang twang, zing zing. Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom of J.S. Bach’s mighty Toccata and Fugue in D minor for Organ played on the harp.

So, The Ear asks, why has Wisconsin Public Radio started playing so much harp music on almost every show? (Below is WPR host, accomplished harpist and harp evangelist Ruthanne Bessman, who often includes harp music in her Saturday Morning program “Classics by Request.”)

Is it because the public really loves hearing the harp so much?

Is it because the radio show hosts do?

Do listener surveys indicate a preference for the harp?

Does the covid pandemic play a role in seeking bland but soothing music?

What do you think?

Do you like or even crave harp music?

Do you think WPR is programming too much harp music these days?

Too little?

Or the right amount?

Leave a comment, please.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Going live! Here are some links to newly announced summer concerts and 2021-22 seasons

June 15, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Now that the pandemic is fast abating, at least locally, music groups and music presenters in the Madison area have been announcing a return to live music and their new seasons and summer events in a relentless way.

The Ear had been out of commission since mid-May until this week. But in any case, The Ear was overwhelmed and just couldn’t keep up with a separate post for each one.

Still, he thought it might be helpful to be able to check the dates, performers, programs, tickets and other information in one place.

Remember that the Madison Early Music Festival is no more. It has been absorbed into the regular music curriculum at the UW.

Please know that many groups – including, but not limited to, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music (below is the UW Symphony Orchestra — masked, socially distanced and virtually streamed — during the pandemic), University Opera, Edgewood College, Just Bach, Grace Presents, the Salon Piano Series, the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Bach Around the Clock, the Festival Choir of Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and the Madison Bach Musicians – have not yet released details of their new seasons.

But most of their websites say that an announcement of their new season is coming soon.

There are also some trends you may notice.

Many of the groups are raising prices and persistently seek donations as well as subscribers, no doubt to help make up for the loss of revenue during the pandemic.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra have reduced the number of concerts or start later.

Some have simply rescheduled events, like the Wisconsin Union  Theater closing its season with soprano Renée Fleming. And the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s new season is largely the same one they were planning to have to celebrate the Beethoven Year in 2020-21.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Willy Street Chamber Players all have pop-up concerts and scheduled outdoor concerts in parks. Some have also scheduled individual mini-concerts or personal sessions.

If you look at programs, you will see an emphasis on Black composers and performers by almost all groups. (The Madison Symphony Orchestra has scheduled “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker, below. You can hear it performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

What is most disappointing is that no group seems to have announced a special concert or event to pay homage to the public ordeal, health care workers and victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ear keeps thinking a performance of a suitable requiem (by perhaps Mozart, Faure, Brahms, Verdi or Britten) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony would have been an appropriate way to start the in-person season and, at the same time, acknowledge the more than 7,000 deaths in Wisconsin and almost 600,000 deaths in the U.S. and almost 4 million worldwide as of now. Maybe even Barber’s overplayed Adagio for Strings would suffice.

Finally, very few groups seem to be offering online virtual concert attendance as a possibility for those listeners who found that they actually enjoyed at least some the  music in their own homes and at their own times.

IN ANY CASE, HERE IS WHAT HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE OR IS STILL ON TAP. CHECK IT OUT! 

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in free live and for-pay recorded concertshttps://bachdancing.org

Middleton Community Orchestra’s summer concerts at Fireman’s Park (below) in Middleton: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Madison Bach Musicians summer workshops (below): https://madisonbachmusicians.org/2021-summer-chamber-music-workshop/

Concerts on the Square with limited paid admission at Breese Stevens Field (below): https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers): https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/madison-symphony-orchestra-concerts/

Madison Opera and Opera in the Park (below): https://www.madisonopera.org/oitp21/; and https://www.madisonopera.org/21-22/

Wisconsin Union Theater: https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Willy Street Chamber Players (below) at Orton Park: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/2021-summer-concert-series.html

If you know of more entries or have observations to make about these, please leave word and, when possible, a link in the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Critics for The New York Times name their Top 10 online classical concerts for May

May 3, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as we wait to see whether concerts in the next season will be mostly streamed or live, the critics for The New York Times have named their Top 10 classical concerts to stream and hear online in May.

The Times critics have been doing this during the pandemic year. So perhaps if and when they stop, it will be a sign of returning to concert life before the pandemic.

Then again, maybe not, since The Ear suspects that many listeners have liked the online format, at least for some of the times and for certain events. So maybe there will be a hybrid format with both live and online attendance.

As the same critics have done before, they mix an attention to contemporary composers, world premieres and up-and-coming performers, including the Finnish conductor Susanna Maliki (below top) in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

In a welcome development, the recommendations for this month also seem to mention more Black composers, performers and pieces than usual, including the rising star bass-baritone Davon Tines (below, in a photo by Vincent Tullo for The New York Times).

But you will also find many of the “usual suspects,” including Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Bartok, Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messiaen and Shostakovich. (On the play list is Schubert’s last song, “The Shepherd on the Rock,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

You will also find dates and times (all are Eastern), links to the event and some short commentaries about what makes the concerts, programs and the performers noteworthy.

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/29/arts/music/classical-music-streaming.html

Do you know of local, regional, national or international online concerts that you recommend? Leave word with relevant information in the Comment section.

Happy Listening!


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Longtime friends organist Greg Zelek and Madison native and award-winning trumpeter Ansel Norris team up for a FREE live-streamed concert this Tuesday night

April 26, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two longtime friends and fellow musicians will team up this Tuesday night, April 27, to close this season’s organ concert series, sponsored in the Overture Center by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

It will be live-streamed online because of the pandemic restrictions on attendance.

The concert features the critically acclaimed MSO organist Greg Zelek (below left) and Ansel Norris (below right), an award-winning trumpeter who is a native of Madison.

The program includes works by Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn and Samuel Barber among others.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. CDT. It is FREE but you must register. The concert will be available to registered listeners for unlimited access through May 31.

Here is a link to the MSO website where you can register. It also has more information about the program and biographies of the two performers: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/norris-zelek-2021-streamed/

Here is more background. It appeared in the latest issue of the email newsletter of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which Norris was a member for many years:

Ansel Norris and Greg Zelek first met in 2010 as high school seniors who had both been selected as finalists in the YoungARTS Awards. The YoungARTS Award is a big competition with just a small percentage of students selected for the $10,000 prize from the thousands of high school applicants. In classical music that year, 12 students became finalists and assembled in Miami for a week of master classes with internationally recognized arts leaders.

Ansel Norris attended as an outstanding trumpeter from Madison East High School and Greg Zelek attended as an outstanding high school organist from the New World School of the Arts in Coral Gables, Florida. 

We hit it off right away and it came to me later what a great story this was,” Norris (below) mused. “Greg had grown up in south Florida and now was living in Madison, and I had grown up in Madison and was now living in south Florida.

“You know, there really is a synergy with trumpet and organ. The sounds are produced in a similar way and the way the sounds blend together is really special. Even then, I imagined a concert together.” 

Ten years later, the two friends were dreaming up this concert when Greg was in Miami in February, 2020. And then the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Norris has distinguished himself as a solo, orchestral and chamber musician.

After graduating from East High School in Madison, he attended Northwestern University, from which he received a Bachelor’s degree in Music in 2016.  From there he attended Rice University in 2019. Twice he was the first-prize winner at the National Trumpet Competition and a winner of the New World Symphony’s Concerto Competition. Then, at 26 years old, he became the first-ever American prizewinner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition’s Brass division. (You can hear Norris perform in the competition’s semi-finals in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Playing as soloist with orchestras is a special pleasure for Ansel, and he has enjoyed performances in front of the Mariinsky Orchestra, New World Symphony and his hometown Madison Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. Also a chamber musician, Ansel won a Bronze Medal at the Fischoff International Competition with his friends from the Lincoln Chamber Brass.

Ansel Norris currently resides in Naples, Florida, where he enjoys an eclectic musical career with the Naples Philharmonic. In a place without cold weather, the Naples orchestra could potentially play music safely outside all winter. But Ansel shook his head, “For the most part we’ve been indoors. The orchestra gets tested for COVID each week and we play on a stage with musicians spaced 10 feet apart. HEPA filters are positioned everywhere. Playing 10 feet apart is just crazy. You absolutely cannot depend on the musical cues you were trained to depend on.”

Norris remembers growing up in Madison where there was a “fine legacy for trumpet players. It was so great I didn’t want to go away to Interlochen, even with a full scholarship.” He studied privately with John Aley and attended WYSO rehearsals on Saturdays, which he absolutely loved. 

And now this Tuesday, this 2009 Bolz Young Artist Competition finalist will be returning to the Overture stage with his good friend Greg Zelek, who are both amazing and accomplished young musicians.

As Greg Zelek (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) writes: “Concerti of Bach and Haydn will bookend this program filled with music that is both written and arranged for this electrifying pairing of instruments. Mr. Norris’ remarkable technique and soaring lyricism will be on full display while our Mighty Klais both supports and shimmers in this exhilarating performance you won’t want to miss!” Register here for Tuesday’s concert! 


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Soprano and UW-Madison graduate student Sarah Brailey wins a Grammy Award

March 15, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Soprano Sarah Brailey (below), a native of Wisconsin — who now lives, works and studies in Madison — won a Grammy Award last night.

Brailey received the prestigious award (below) in the category “Best Classical Solo Album” category. It was for her role in the long-neglected, opera-like choral symphony “The Prison” by English composer Dame Ethel Smyth on the Chandos label. (You can hear an excerpt from the Brailey recording in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Brailey’s win is especially noteworthy because it comes early in her career.

Although she has toured nationally and internationally, and has established herself as a professional singer of note, Brailey is a busy graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, where she is finishing her doctoral degree.

Here is a link to her website: https://sarahbrailey.com

Brailey is also one of the city’s busiest and most respected musicians.

During the pandemic year, she explained and help spark benefit concerts and fundraising for musicians whose livelihoods suffered due to cancelled performances. Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=sarah+brailey

She also hosts the Sunday morning radio show “Musica Antiqua” – which features early music — on WORT-FM 89.9.

Recently, Brailey became the artistic director of “Grace Presents,” a series of free concerts at the downtown Grace Episcopal Church across from the state  Capitol.

An avid early music performer, Brailey — who won and now directs the annual Handel Aria Competition — also co-founded and co-directs the free monthly series of Just Bach concerts (below, second from right), the lastest of which takes place this Wednesday, March 17. She sings solos, greets listeners and viewers, and often leads the final sing-along chorale from a Bach cantata.

You can hear many of her performances duing the Just Bach concerts on the Just Bach channel on YouTube.

Leave your own congratulations and thoughts about her performances in the Coment section.

The Ear will post a complete list of the classical music Grammy Award nominees and winners later this week.

PS: Another native of the Madison area was nominated for a non-classical Grammy is Bill Rahko, who co-produced the album “Everyday Life” for the rock band Coldplay. The album was nominated for Album of the Year, but lost to Taylor Swift’s “Folklore.”

Here is a link to a story on NBC 15 about Rahko, who attended Middleton High School: https://www.nbc15.com/2021/03/14/madison-area-native-up-for-grammy-award-for-album-of-the-year/


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The UW Pro Arte Quartet performs the sixth installment of its must-hear Beethoven cycle in a FREE virtual online concert this Friday night. Here are the schedule and links for the rest of the cycle

February 4, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Feb. 5, the University of Wisconsin Mead Witter School of Music’s Pro Arte Quartet (PAQ, below) will perform a FREE live virtual and online all-Beethoven concert.

The program is the sixth installment of the PAQ’s Beethoven string quartet cycle, which is part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s yearlong retrospective of Beethoven’s quartets to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer (below).

Members (below, from left, in a photo by Rick Lang) are violinists David Perry; violist Suzanne Beia; and cellist Parry Karp.

The live-streamed concert begins at 7:30 CST with a short lecture by UW-Madison professor of musicology Charles Dill (below), who will introduce both string quartets: String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6; and String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1.

If this concert is at all like the past ones online, listeners are in for a treat. The playing is always first-rate, but – unlike what has been the case with even professional online and virtual performers – the sound and visual technology matches that quality. To The Ear, these are must-hear performances, wherever you are in the world.

Because of copyright issues, each concert will stay posted in YouTube for only 24 hours.

Here is the new schedule for the spring semester and the rest of the Beethoven cycle.

Explains cellist Parry Karp: “The schedule for this coming semester has been changed a bit because the semester started a week later and we decided to do Beethoven’s String Quintets as well.”

All virtual concerts will take place in Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center. But no in-person attendance will be allowed.

PROGRAM No. 6: Friday, Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m. String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6 (1798-1800). You can hear the last movement in the YouTube video at the bottom. String Quartet in F Major, Op 59, No. 1 (1808)

PROGRAM No. 7:  Friday, March 5, 7:30 p.m. Fugue for String Quintet in D Major, Op. 137 (1817); String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29 (1801); String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 (1808)

PROGRAM No. 8:  Friday, April 9, 7:30 p.m. String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135 (1826); String Quartet in B-flat major, Opp. 130 and 133 (1825-6)

And here are links to those performances: 

Feb. 5

https://youtu.be/wQajNmutqgU

https://fb.me/e/16Km8etgD

March 5

https://youtu.be/56inR_uR_b8

https://fb.me/e/GjwiUI2W

April 9

https://youtu.be/IIW_5NVgGaA

https://fb.me/e/624dKB9kS

 


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The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra starts its four-concert Winter Chamber Series TONIGHT at 7:30. Tickets are $30 for one-time access from Friday night to Monday night

January 22, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new semester of virtual online concerts begins tonight with the inauguration of the Winter Chamber Series by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO, below in a photo by Mike Gorski).

Tonight’s program features music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Valerie Coleman, Alec Wilder, Craig Russell and Franz Schubert. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the first movement of the Schubert Cello Quintet, played by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.)

The programs are short and feature classic works as well as new music and neglected composers. Often single movements or excerpts rather than complete works are performed.

Concerts all debut on Fridays and remain available through Monday night. Debut dates are TONIGHT, Jan. 22; Feb. 26; March 26; and April 16. A ticket entitles the purchaser to one viewing.

Here is a description of the chamber music series from the WCO:

“While full orchestras remain sidelined, the WCO is excited to present the Winter Chamber Series. This new series will feature chamber works for multiple ensembles ranging from trios to octets, showcasing the versatility and caliber of the WCO’s 34 world-class musicians.

“Patrons will enjoy the four-concert series in the comfort of their own home, streaming each concert on WCO Live on-demand starting at 7:30 p.m. on the evening of the concert launch.

“All programs will be 60–75 minutes in length, with not only music but also stories from the WCO’s own musicians on their journey to becoming professional musicians.

“Also included is a pre-concert talk with maestro Andrew Sewell and Norman Gilliland, as well as a post-concert reflection with musicians of the WCO.” 

Here is a link to the concerts, with programs plus notes by music director and conductor Sewell (below in a photo by Alex Cruz) as well as a link to purchase tickets from the Overture Center box office: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/winter-chamber-series

In addition, the WCO has started a musician’s relief fund. It seeks donations to pay musicians for the wages they have lost due to postponed or canceled concerts.

Here is a link: https://wcoconcerts.org/support/donate

 


Posted in Classical music
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Will the public pay for online virtual concerts? Will you? Consider the fate of newspapers

August 23, 2020
4 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

More and more local classical musicians and music presenters are moving concerts and music-making to virtual online events, at least for the fall and early winter – and quite possibly for the rest of the season. (Below is Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater.)

And although we are still waiting for details, it seems all but certain that many of them will be pay-per-view and require tickets.

True, the move from free streaming to pay-for-view might be very useful in helping performers earn a much-needed living.

But it could also be disastrous – or at least extremely disruptive and disappointing.

Anthony Tommasini (below), the senior music critic for The New York Times, recently wrote a long story defending the move from being free to becoming paid for both livestreams and pre-recorded music concerts.

Tommasini — whose profession demands that he follow wherever the music goes —  thinks it will, or should, work.

Here is a link to his story that includes concerts at The Metropolitan Opera and elsewhere with international stars such as soprano Renée Fleming (beow top) and pianist Daniil Trifonov (below bottom).

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/11/arts/music/classical-music-livestream.html

But The Ear isn’t so sure.

For one thing, many listeners might find alternatives. They might like watching outstanding performances of the same works by great and even historical performers on YouTube for free.

They might like exploring their own collections of recordings, or listening to the radio and watching TV, or even making more music as amateurs.

The Ear also suspects that now that the habit of going to live concerts has been interrupted, many people will simply find that they miss going to live performances much less than they thought they would – or than various arts groups hoped they would. (Below is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in a photo by Mike Gorski.)

In addition, even since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown last March, listeners have become used to the free events that many organizations offered if only to keep a presence in the public’s mind.

The strategy was understandable and made sense at the time.

But The Ear thinks of what happened with newspapers.

In the early days of the internet, newspapers offered online stories for free, as a kind of extra attraction or added benefit to secure subscribers.

But as the newspapers lost both advertisers and subscribers and tried to “monetize” their online editions, they found that the horse was already out of the barn.

Many viewers did indeed subscribe to digital editions, but many others abandoned newspapers and instead turned to free online media for their news.

So what will happen in cases less prestigious than what Tommasini describes?

What do you think?

Will local pay-per-view concerts, perhaps with bigger volume if lower individual ticket prices, be successful?

Will you pay to “attend” such virtual online events?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music
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