Tag Archives: wow a blog post with under 1000 words

Hartford Symphony: What’s Next?

Today is a big day in the Connecticut arts scene. Absent major musician concessions, tomorrow the Hartford Symphony will begin the process of “clos[ing] its doors – for good.” Today’s firm deadline has been repeated in the press again and again and again.

hartford symphony

Less clear, however: what management means by shutting down. Not giving concerts? (A lockout?) Bankruptcy? (What kind?) Dissolving? Or destroying the old organization to create a new one in its wake? No one in the mainstream media has asked.

Here are some more questions that have been bugging me:

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2015 Roundup

Well, that was a year.

That existed.

That is now over.

Thank f*ck.


Do I get a prize for surviving??

I don’t have much time to write – I’m entertaining today, and I’m going to the Minnesota Orchestra New Year’s show tonight – but I had a few tidbits I wanted to share before the celebration starts.

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Dead Women Are Dead To American Orchestras

If you spend any time in the online orchestra world, you’ve probably seen the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s infographic about American orchestras’ 2014/15 seasons. A few days ago, the BSO released figures tracking the 15/16 season, and this year, the data net has been cast even wider. Writer Ricky O’Bannon describes the methodology:

This season we collected programming data for both major American symphonies as well as smaller regional orchestras — 89 in total — to give a more holistic view of symphonic repertoire in the United States.

My thoughts after reading that:

Oh, cool! With so many more orchestras included in the data-gathering this year, surely the proportion of living and historic women composers has skyrocketed, or at least inched upward gradually!

Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Last season, the works of female composers accounted for 14.3% of the performances of living composers (and a mere 1.8% of the performances overall). This year, even with the wider field? 14% and 1.7%, respectively.

And then there’s this little asterisk at the bottom of the graph.

every composer

*deep breath*


Look, I know it’s hard for orchestras to program works outside The Canon. And at this point, pretty much every orchestral work by women is outside The Canon. But no one in the bunch of eighty-nine orchestras wanted to program a single work by a female composer once? No one thought that would be musically or historically or politically or culturally interesting? No one thought that would be unique or exciting? No one thought that would be fantastic press release material? No one thought that would excite donors? No one thought that would advance orchestras’ missions to broaden audiences or educate communities? No one saw this as The Easiest Way Ever to outperform peer organizations? For crap’s sake, a random orchestra could program a dead lady’s ten-minute overture once, and wow, suddenly they’re playing 100% more historic women than any other orchestra in America! Congratulations, random orchestra! Your commitment to underrepresented demographics is palpable.

download (1)

The 2015 Song of the Lark Award for Demographically Diverse Orchestral Programming

And hell, it’s not like I’m asking every orchestra to throw an annual month-long Vagina Festival. It just would have been nice to see one orchestra play one work by one woman at one point. I thought that someone, somewhere, would throw us a pity Gaelic Symphony or Farrenc third or Clara Schumann concerto. But, nope.

Anyway. I would love to offer probing analysis. But it’s pretty f***ing hard to analyze the number zero.


Filed under My Writing, Uncategorized

2015 Advent Calendar

Welcome to the 2015 Song of the Lark Advent calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, a new entry will go live at www.sotladventcalendar.tumblr.com. Each includes a 2015 blog memory, as well as a piece of holiday music. (You can also go back in time and read blog highlights and hear musical selections from previous years’ calendars. Navigate through the archives by using the arrows on the left side of the calendar.)

This season’s calendar was therapeutic to assemble… The illness and death of my mother made 2015 the worst year of my life, by far. (2015, may the door hit your ass on the way out. Hard.) I apologize again for not writing more the last few months. But my mind has been cloudy.


The other day I read through a big chunk of the SOTL archives. Some pieces I still like; some are more meh; but I was proud to see that I’ve never insulted a topic by not caring about it. Better days are coming, both in my personal life and on the blog. I think my capacity for caring is slowly returning, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the new life that awaits in 2016.

Which is fitting, I guess. After all, the idea of Advent is about looking inward, taking stock, and preparing for the arrival of new life: a New Year, and a new start.

Cheers. *raises champagne glass*

If holiday music is your thing, I hope you check out the link above every day. I’ll put up another post around New Year’s in case you want to browse the whole thing at once. And please feel free to share the names of your favorite winter / holiday pieces in the comment section! 2016 will be here before we know it, and after four years of calendars (can you believe it??), I’m reaching the outer edges of my winter-related repertoire, haha.

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and/or a blessed New Year’s to you and yours! Thank you for giving me the greatest gift of all…your readership. It sounds hokey, but I mean it with every inch of my heart.

With deep appreciation, Emily

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Balanced Budget Celebration!

The Minnesota Orchestra will report a balanced budget for FY 2015.

I’ve got one phrase for this:


Some excerpts from the press release, accompanied by reaction gifs.

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Griffes, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky

Not a single professional reviewer discussed the concert this week, so I’ll throw out my word count limit.


This week the Minnesota Orchestra’s program featured three pieces I’ve never sat down to listen to in their entirety: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla-Kahn by Charles Griffes, Rachmaninoff third concerto, and…the Rite of Spring. I know. You’re allowed to crucify me. It’s probably the single most unforgivable blind spot I have.

Conductor Michael Stern was on the podium. I have to transcribe what he said in his brief pre-performance address because I don’t want his words vanishing into the Mists of Time. He was talking about how the works on the program had the force of tradition behind them, yet all three struck out on new paths of their own…

And ladies and gentlemen, I must say publicly, this is the way I see the Minnesota Orchestra: with its long tradition, with its great history, yet now they are on the precipice of inventing something new. And there is a very good reason for that. They have great leadership. You have a great music director. You have a community that believes in music. But you also have these incredible musicians who, despite the recent past, exhibit a kind of bonding solidarity and a commitment to craft and art and a devotion to making great music happen for this city and for the entire region which I know, from my personal experience, and from all my colleagues, is nothing short of inspiring. And you are lucky to have them in your city.

[applause] [applause] [applause]

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Richard Strauss, Don Quixote

I need a coat nowadays when I go outside, and we all know what that means:

The Minnesota Orchestra subscription series has begun.

Therefore: it’s Microreview Time!

For those of you who are new (and quite a lot of you are, so hey!), a Microreview is a type of entry I write on Saturday morning after listening to the MPR broadcast of the previous night’s Minnesota Orchestra’s subscription concert, with a word count equal to or lesser than that week’s newspaper review. Microreviews are meant to hone my short writing skills, provide an alternative perspective to the official critics, promote the official critics, and frankly to provide filler when I’m too busy to write my traditionally novel-length articles on other topics. *thumbs up* Readers are welcome to contribute their own thoughts or Microreviews.

This week’s program was the opening to the Strauss Oktoberfest. Tony Ross the Boss starred in Don Quixote, with the Dance of the Seven Veils and the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier after intermission; the only review in the metro this week came from Rob Hubbard over at the Pioneer Press, and clocked in at 355 words.


The beating heart of the Minnesota Orchestra’s program this week was Don Quixote, the story of the original tilt-er-at-windmills. This orchestra excels at conveying narrative, and that strength was put to fabulous use here. DQ felt less like a tone poem and more like a one-act instrumental opera. At the Adventure of the Windmills, you could practically see Don Quixote lunging about with his lance. “The victorious struggle against the army of the great emperor Alifanfaron) [actually a flock of sheep]” variation cracked me up with its juxtaposition of heroic theme with rambling brass bleating. Tom Turner portrayed to perfection the earnest squire Sancho Panza, especially in his recurring and-that’s-that up-and-down arpeggio. The Ride in the Air was fricking airborne. The death scene was genuinely haunting, even after all the comedy that preceded it. And through it all, Tony navigated the multitude of mood changes with honesty and aplomb. Given that this is less a cello concerto than an orchestral showpiece, I wonder if the best performances might come not from traveling soloists, but rather from principals who know their band. This performance bore out the hypothesis; it was certainly one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Tom and Tony

Tom and Tony

After the heart of Don Quixote, the delicious corny schmaltz of Dance of the Seven Veils and Der Rosenkavalier felt…odd. I might have tweaked the program order. Salome’s dance was masterfully done. There was one marvelously performed skittering pianissimo string passage in particular that just made my violin-loving heart marvel. The Suite from Der Rosenkavalier started off with a few dance-heralding blasts in a tempo brisker than I’ve heard before; I loved it. Since the Mahler performance, I’ve been thinking about sarcasm in performance. I heard a bit of it here. Not in the slow tender heartbreaking moments, but in the more…decadent portions. The snarky vibe might have come partly from the fabulously flexible tempos; Andrew Litton and his players milked those for all they were worth, and to glorious effect.

In conclusion, I hadn’t realized how badly my life needed Erin Keefe playing vaguely snarky waltz solos.


347 words!

There’s still one more performance left tonight at eight, and I recommend you take advantage of it. As always, tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org.

Edit at 3:30pm: And if you’re interested, here’s the Strib review, which was published after mine.



Filed under Reviews

Some Friendly Advice To Peter Gelb

H/t Drew McManus, a great Peter Gelb quote:

“Once the dust settles,” he added, the musicians “don’t have to love me to play well.”


No, but


The public has to love you.

Not just major donors. The great unwashed public. Y’know, the people you need to fill that gargantuan 3800-seat cavern week in and week out. The paying customers you’re now so eager to lock out, disrespect, and condescend to.

2014 has shown that bad things can happen to hated music CEOs, and we’re not even seven months through! Things like screams of “fire Henson!” emanating from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, or the crowd heckling San Diego Opera head Ian Campbell after he announced he was shutting that company down. The actions and attitudes of both of these men led to widespread public anger and decreased support of their respective institutions. (Until their departures, of course.)

So some friendly advice:

You’re thinking of your labor dispute as a two-way tug of war. Surprise!: it’s a three way. The third team is the public. They’re just coming on the field now. If you keep screwing up your PR, two of those teams will be pulling against you.



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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

Time for the last Microreview of the season! *gets weepy*

Catch this fabulous program tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at Orchestra Hall; tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org. SOTL Microreviews will return this fall as we all embark on the Best Season Evar! Feel free to contribute a Microreview of your own, too.

My word count comes from this week’s enjoyable Rob Hubbard Pi-Press review: 429. I think it’s best for everyone if we forget the Strib’s review of weirdness ever existed, so 429 words it is. Here goes!


This week the sacred and the sexual mix unabashedly in a program of Stravinsky, Orff, and Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg.

I’m not so familiar with Heitzeg, although I love his soundtrack for Death of the Dream, the TPT documentary about abandoned Midwestern farmsteads. It was sparse and devastatingly effective. So it was interesting to hear his voice in this new context. “Now We Start The Great Round” has the flavor of movie music written for a Copland biopic, and it serves as a sweeping curtain raiser. But it finished before it started, especially when the stage change took half as long as the piece itself.

After the Stage Change of Interminability came Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Way too late I realized: maybe it’s irresponsible to write about a performance of this piece, especially when

  1. I’ve never heard it before,
  2. I don’t know anything about choirs, and
  3. my two instruments have left the stage (violins! violas! come back!).

So I put the critiquing ears away and just soaked in the ambiance. From that perspective, the Symphony was all melancholy angularity, lit by the glow of the sound of the Chorale. It sounded like candlelight flickering in an Escher cathedral. Lush, sacred…and very odd. Last night I didn’t grasp the narrative. It was all very lovely, but meh. Then again, I don’t find much Stravinsky seductive, so…

Oh, you're the bad boy of music alright.

Oh, you’re the bad boy of music alright

The narrative for Carmina Burana, on the other hand, hit like an anvil to the head. From the first notes it felt like straight-line winds were blowing over the radio. O FOR-TUN-A, indeed. I think the Minnesota Chorale put every single emotion of being locked out of Orchestra Hall for sixteen months into that opening phrase. The bitter sneer of those consonants! My takeaway? Do not get on the wrong side of the Minnesota Chorale. Damn.

It was immediately clear that members of the Chorale could not only sing Carmina in their sleep, but under general anesthetic. That familiarity could easily lead to a bored performance, but of course they’re above that. Their effervescent joy at being back on that stage was contagious, and so deeply satisfying to hear. The Orchestra supported them all the way, but – dare I say it? – it was the Chorale’s show last night. And deservedly so.

As for the baritone in Ego Sum Abbas, I wish I sang that well drunk.

To sum up the 2014 season:

Away with sadness!
summer returns,
and now departs
cruel winter…

wretched is the person
who neither lives,
nor lusts
under summer’s spell.


Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.


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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Mozart

This week’s Microreview is of the Minnesota’s Orchestra Mozart 39 – 40 – 41 concerts. Apparently the Strib was too exhausted from kissing Richard Davis’s tap shoes to send a critic to this week’s Minnesota Orchestra concert, so my word count standard for this week will come from Rob Hubbard’s Pioneer Press review, which clocked in at 359 words. As per usual for Microreviews, I wasn’t in the hall: I was on my couch listening to MPR. So the suspected disclaimers apply.


I like Mozart. I respect him. I don’t love him.

But if more people played Mozart like the Minnesota Orchestra did last night, my heart would reassess.

Every section shined, but to me, this was the strings’ night. Rob Hubbard mused in his review that the string complement might have been too large, and I can understand the concern, because the string sound was certainly big. But strings are my things, so I didn’t mind one whit.

Endless tiny moments to savor, all night long. The ringing of the open strings at the end of descending scales in 39. The unfussy phrasing of the opening of 40. The batsh*t crazy tempo of the finale of 41 (how did the back of the firsts and back of the seconds stay in synch at this tempo from across the stage?).

And this ascending line in 40. What the hell kind of magic is this? It’s a simple ascending line, for God’s sake. It shouldn’t make me want to squeal in bliss like some kind of Mozart-loving pig.

ascending line

And the breathlessly gorgeous phrases just kept coming. One phrase would end, and an equally luscious one would spin in to take its place.

This is a strange analogy, but I’ll make it anyway. The Minnesota Orchestra sounds like a splendid grande dame. She has the wisdom of decades combined with all the mischief of youth. She may be impeccably dressed, but fashion is only important to her within the context of self-expression: her motivations are pure, always. She knows when to be bold and brassy and when she can underplay her hand. Her sense of humor is sharp and biting and more than a little black and snarky. She can stay out later and party as hard as any twentysomething. She has been through more triumph and tragedy than anybody, and accordingly, she won’t stand for bull. She is an amazing 111-year-old lady.

And I love her.

There’s no doubt in my mind: this was the best played concert since the lockout ended.


341 words. Ha. I’ll cure you yet, wordiness.

If you don’t have your tickets for tonight, go! Buy them at minnesotaorchestra.org.



Filed under My Writing, Reviews