Stimulated by a Slipped Disc post yesterday, the Milwaukee conductor Viswa Subbaraman has written to the President, asking why classical music was left out of the White House celebration of American music.


As an Indian American who grew up listening to Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Pearl Jam, Indian Carnatic music, and Garth Brooks but now conducts opera and orchestral music, I wanted to write to you about my sincere disappointment that no American classical musicians were invited to the White House for the Celebration of American Creativity. As someone currently living in the classical music world, I find myself constantly defending rap, hip-hop, country, rock and roll, etc. against the snobbery of some of my peers. I find it unfortunate that one of the oldest art forms, and one that has been material in diplomacy would not get the same focus from the White House.

Wonder if he’ll get a reply. Full letter here.

obama nea

David Sanders, cellist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1974, outlines their working culture:

Something that members of a world-class symphony orchestra are used to hearing, especially around contract negotiations time, is that “those musicians only work twenty hours a week” (four rehearsals and four concerts). What is missing from that statement? Let’s see.

Most members of a great orchestra began working at their chosen instrument from the time they were young children, maybe as young as four or five years old. I was a late starter; I started cello lessons at age 14. But it’s not just a matter of taking lessons over a long period of time. Generally speaking, the successful instrumentalists practice on average anywhere from three to six hours a day, every day. Think about that. What have most people been doing from the time they were five years old for three hours a day, or six hours a day. There are very few courses of study or careers that take that kind of dedication, attention to detail, concentration, and a general fanaticism over the course of ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years. And that is before you get a job. A violinist who starts the instrument at five years of age will very likely study and practice that instrument for twenty years or more before getting a job in a great orchestra. That’s over forty thousand hours of practice.

Okay, so you’ve been practicing for 40,000 hours, and you apply for an audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So do 149 other violinists. And your audition lasts somewhere between two (not a good sign) and fifteen minutes (a very, very good sign). You’re called back to the finals, along with two or three others, and low and behold, you win the job. Thank God, you can stop practicing. WRONG!!!!

When I was the lucky one on April 23, 1974 and got my job in the CSO, of course I knew that I was joining possibly the best Orchestra in the world. A year earlier Time Magazine had had a cover article featuring Sir Georg Solti, who was to be my music director, and called him “the fastest baton in the west.” The article also rated U. S. orchestras, and for the CSO it simply said “sine qua non.” I was excited. I was practicing. I wanted to earn my keep, so to speak. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I sat down in that great cello section in that great Orchestra. All around me, everywhere I looked and listened, there was such greatness coming from so many instruments. And they were doing it with such naturalness and ease, yet with an incredible intensity. I had the intensity at that time, but I didn’t feel as if I had the naturalness and ease, so I started practicing even harder.

You cannot rest on your laurels in the Chicago Symphony, or in any world-class orchestra. You never want to let your colleagues down,  yourself down, or, maybe more importantly, the music down. Now in my 42nd year, I still don’t want to let my colleagues, myself or the music down. It is a never-ending struggle to continually try to master a musical instrument, to keep improving, be it string, wind, brass, or percussion. And believe me when I say, twenty hours a week is just the beginning.



A letter from Mozart to a friend, the botanist Nikolaus, Joseph von Jacquin, asking him to return three scores, has gone for more than twice the estimate in a Boston online auction.

Mozart wrote: ‘I ask you to send me back with the bearer of this, the Quartet in G minor, the Sonata in E flat and the new Trio in G.’

Anyone know if he got them back?


mozart find

They have hired Randy Elliott from the Cleveland Orchestra as director of artistic administration. Randy was number 2 in Cleveland to Mark Williams, director of artistic planning and right-side brain to music director Franz Welser-Möst.

In Chicago he will be number 2 to Cristina Rocca, who holds the title of vice president of artistic planning.

Basically, it’s same job, different orchestra.

chicago so godfather

In the latest of his Fly on the Wall videos, Stewart French has filmed Alban Gerhardt playing a Slava encore – a work actually composed by Slava himself. It’s called ‘Moderato’ and Alban has recorded it for Hyperion.


alban gerhardt2

Elizabeth Fischer, 68, a prominent performer among Vancouver’s avant-garde, went crowd-funding when she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

With the money raised, she took an Iceland vacation with two friends before flying to Zurich to end it all at Dignitas.

elizabeth fischer

Full story and interview here.

It calls to mind the sad decision six years ago of the British conductor Edward Downes and his wife, Joan, to end their lives at the Swiss mortuary.

We regret to share news of the death of Zoltan Roman, a pioneer of Mahler scholarship in North America and a very kind and helpful colleague. He was 79.

A refugee from the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, Zoltan fled to Canada, where he played oboe in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra before taking up an academic career in Calgary. He supplied important information on Mahler’s Budapest period to Kurt Blaukopf and myself, but his major contribution was a documentary study of Mahler’s American years, 1907-11, a book full of indispensable insights. He also published a book on Mahler in his native Hungary.

Zoltan is survived by his wife Eva and her children Eva and Monica and grandchildren Alex, Nicole, Michael, Indigo and Levi, to whom we send our warm sympathies.




The Max Rostal competition, based in Berlin, has a history of withholding its awards if the finalists are not up to standard.

This year, it has given first prize in viola to Diyang Mei (China) and to Alican Süner (Turkey, pictured right) in violin. Alican also won the audience prize.

max rostal prize

Max Rostal, an influential London teacher, died in 1991.

Former WQXR presenter Naomi Lewin is in Mainz, Germany, to honour an ancestor who stood up to the tormentors.

“My 80-year-old great-grandmother put on her hat, marched into Gestapo headquarters, and told them, “I gave two sons to Germany in the war, and you will give me my third one back!” says journalist Naomi Lewin. And they did.

Read more here.

naomi lewin mainz

Six staff have quit the Australian National University’s music school since its director Peter Tregear was forced out in August.

Among those leaving are the harpsichordist Dr Erin Helyard and jazz teacher Johannes Luebbers.

A course course in Historically Informed Performance in Theory and Practice has been scrapped because ‘the staff member who created and taught the course is no longer available to teach it.’

Utter chaos and disgrace in Canberra. More here.


The German newspaper publishers association (VDZ) are giving Barenboim, 72, their Victoria Medal for career achievement, previously awarded to the likes of Henry Kissinger and Shimon Peres.

He might use the occasion to ask why some of Germany’s leading music critics, much younger than him, are facing enforced early retirement.


barenboim german cross