Can We Please Have Some Good News?


It seems that there is an unbearable amount of bad news in the classical music world. I’m tired of hearing my friends and colleagues repeat, in a mantra-like fashion, the doomsdays news of various orchestras’ demise and the death of classical music. While so much of it is in fact true and disturbing, there is good news in various forms and sizes out there that is being sidelined for more sensationalized and disturbing news. So I’m starting a list of positive things that I have noticed over the past month, and I hope to add to it over the next few months with help from you.

If you’ve noticed something positive, exciting, encouraging, or just interesting, please send me a note so I can update the list by mid to late summer. What I am not looking for are press releases, spin on mediocrity, or self promotion.  Here’s what good I have noticed recently:

  1. If you build it well, and thoughtfully, they will come: Nashville built a fantastic concert hall a few years back, and it is being used and enjoyed. The hall was packed this past weekend for Mahler’s Symphony 2, and the capacity audience erupted as the final notes were still reverberating. Five curtain calls later, the orchestra left the stage and the audience was still finishing their drinks, and chatting about the experience. It was a concert hall project that I remember many poo-pooing because it was destined to fail by a few self proclaimed experts. It did not, and I have since watched the orchestra and the audience thrive.
  2. I came across a young woman last week who works as a school secretary. She said, “I love going to the symphony concerts, I try to go to both concerts our symphony offers in a week so I can hear the music twice and learn better how to enjoy a program on the second hearing.”
  3. Florida Orchestra is starting a cultural exchange with Cuba.  Awesome! Spread the music, share the cultures; create a bridge in economies, politics, and beliefs. Music is one way to cover those bases.
  4. Detroit Symphony’s concertmaster, Emmanuelle Boisvert, gets snapped up by Dallas Symphony. Finally, a group that knows and wants talent when they see and hear it; Dallas wasted no time in salvaging what Detroit was quick to classify as “replaceable.” Clearly there is a need for quality and refined talent, not just fresh out of college excitement that seems like a fiscally great idea but  often turns into a regrettable hire.
  5. Christine Brewer and Nancy Wagner get it: neither decided to dumb down music to a middle school class, and a brilliant discussion was formed.  Maybe future patrons and appreciators of the opera world were cultivated.
  6. There are many really awesome living composers that have Facebook accounts and actually write back when fans give compliments. It’s just nice to have some connection with the patrons that previous generations were denied.
  7. Alec Baldwin is a fantastic advocate and voice for the New York Philharmonic. He brings respectable clout and a recognizable voice that isn’t too stuffy to radio broadcasts. He is someone who “regular” people can identify with.
  8. On the Green Line “L” train in Chicago last week, I overheard people talking about the many picnics they were planning for the Grant Park Music Festival and how they were especially looking forward to a concert featuring the composer Krzysztof Penderecki. I always love when people talk about living composers on public transportation.
  9. Dudamel and the marketing machine that follows him around are spectacular. He is a great representative for classical music.
  10. And finally, thanks to the patron who bought me a drink after a concert last month. As she handed me the drink, she said, “I know you put all your heart and more into these concerts, and all I can do is buy a ticket and buy you a drink. Thanks for what you do.” It never occurred to me to receive thanks or appreciation like that. Usually I try to thank the patrons for coming to enjoy a concert. It was really nice to see there are people out there who appreciate the work and passion that many times goes unnoticed.

[info_box]As a reminder, please don’t submit press release oriented content and if you have any association with something you’re commenting on, please disclose that fact.[/info_box]

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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19 thoughts on “Can We Please Have Some Good News?”

  1. Here’re some things I’ve come across recently, Holly.

    1) Classical Music Across Cultures and the Sphinx Organization. The former says, “The Classical Music Across Cultures project is positioned to reach thousands of underserved yet gifted African American and Latino children, and encourage them to participate in changing the cultural stereotype of classical music” and the latter states it envisions “a world in which classical music reflects cultural diversity and plays a role in the every day lives of youth.”

    2) The New York Arabic Orchestra is doing a year long residency in France at FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) whose mission is “to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures. FIAF seeks to generate new ideas and promote cross cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression.”

    3) The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra has been producing a series called “Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music”–the third concert in the series gave children composers a chance to write compositions for tar, oud and santour that were performed by members of the ensemble.

  2. I was gratified to read your account of Green Line passengers looking forward to the GPMF at Millennium Park this summer. Last year I heard the story of a young man overheard on the South Shore Railroad returning from a concert. He was obviously very intoxicated and was talking loudly on his cell phone to a friend: “…and they play Beethoven and all that sh.. and we sat on a blanket and drank wine and got wasted and it was fu…… awesome!” Well, I’m not sure we want too many like this young fellow, but it does show that classical music can appeal to a wide audience.

  3. Holly –

    Last month, Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta reversed his decision to slash all of the city’s arts funding. “When you are dealing with the kind of budget pressures we are dealing with, it can cause you to lean toward taking fiscal steps that are rather draconian, and losing touch with that part of yourself that got you involved in public service in the first place,” Reed said Thursday.

    The entire article can be found here:

  4. The players of the dead New Mexico Symphony have organized the New Mexico Philharmonic. They held a benefit concert on May 27, playing the overture to Die Fledermaus and selections with the winners of the Symphony Guild/Jackie McGehee Young Artists’ Concerto Competition. After the intermission four violins, two violas, and two cellos formed a back-up group to a guitar-drum group: Ottmar Leibert with Jon Gagan and Robby Rosthschild. They played three selections from Leibert’s work. The concert finished with some selections from Copland’s Rodeo. My ears found the whole concert well done, fine technical execution and satisfying results.

    The Leibert works were extremely well received, as was the rest of the concert. I knew nothing of Leibert and his music, but this formed a very effective combination. I think there is a hint of how to go forward with classical music here.

    The next evening the Philharmonic played a concert at the Zoo, replacing one cancelled by the bankruptcy of the Symphony. (I did not hear the Zoo concert.)

    The Philharmonic’s goal is to raise money to buy the music library and some equipment out of the Symphony’s bankruptcy sale. I don’t know how they are doing on the money, but I hope very much they are successful. (I have grandchildren in Albuquerque, as well as a daughter and son-in-law there. I’m 900+ miles away in Missouri.)


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  6. There’s plenty of good news but you have to look around the old elephants. Houston’s Opera Vista, a company that does contemporary opera, just sent me the following;
    ‘Our growth has been exceptional – in this last year alone our budget grew 300% while staying in the black, attendance rose 67%, and the majority of our audience are aged 20-40.” Their coming season has Phil Glass’ “Hydrogen Jutebox” which was just done in Fort Worth to full houses. The Long Beach Opera in California is on a roll (they also did “Hydrogen” – is this pumping oxygen into opera?) There are lots of examples of a risk taking approach attracting young audiences.

  7. If you are looking for positive news about classical music, how about citing the fact that the YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert in Sydney on March 20 had more streams than any other concert of any kind in the history of YouTube? With 33 million streams, it was more than double the size of the last U2 live event with 11 million streams and even beat out Oprah (16 million streams). The concert was viewed in 189 countries and is proof positive that there is a world out there on line very hungry for and eager to hear serious classical music. Here is the official citation from Google about the stats: (Full disclosure, I oversaw the artistic direction of the project with Michael Tilson Thomas, who was Artistic Advisor.)

  8. I don’t doubt Alec Baldwin’s sincere love of classical music. But the idea that young people need a celebrity to validate their interest in a strange new (!) sort of music is not a hopeful sign. That’s particularly so when the celebrity is known for the vulgar and unpleasant roles (oops, I mean “edgy” … ) roles he has chosen to play. I love the New York Philharmonic too. But his sterile, ghost-written, prerecorded “Bumpers” for later concert broadcasts cheapen the outmoded idea that a commentator was right there in the broadcast booth. I understand that he’s too busy to come in every Thursday night. That’s why he shouldn’t be the mouthpiece for the orchestra.

    I know that the late Milton Cross (host of the Texaco Metropolitan Radio broadcasts) was the epitome of dead, white music! But his love and respect were infectious, even to young listeners. I wish it were not necessary to pander to the lowest common denominator to recruit new music lovers. Do we really want a new audience that will go right to text and Twitter, instead of letting the music wash over them? I’m so glad my mother dragged me (up 100 steps to the Carnegie Hall balcony) to hear Leonard Bernstein’s Young Peoples Concerts in the early 1960s. As is well-acknowledged, his resolute refusal to dumb down his lectures to us got at least one new generation of demanding, discerning lovers of live classical music.

    • Thanks for your views. I do agree about Leonard Bernstein’s value to young people. However I personally enjoy Alec Baldwin, and I know that many non musician friends are drawn to his broadcasts because of him. And they have become true NYPhil fans because of him. He’s not for everyone, nobody is…but I find his influence a very positive one.

  9. There is lots to wonder at. I am a amateur cellist. I played Tschaikovsky 6 recently with the New South Wales Doctors’ Orchestra at the Sydney Australia Conservatorium. After the concert and after a celebratory drink I was picking up my cello from behind a woman who bearded me and told me how she knew nothing about music but how she had been moved by the performance. She had been carried away by the emotion of the music irrespective of the blemishes you find in any amateur performance. To have had this effect on one person was sufficient to make the hard work, the practice, all worth while. And it showed that good, old fashioned, classical music still has the power to inspire those whose contact with it has been limited or non existent. Classical music is not dead. It is just metamorphosing.

  10. Thanks for this post, Holly. I’m consistently frustrated by the fact that the fabulous things we are achieving at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony in Iowa aren’t cited more frequently as examples of positive developments in contemporary American symphonic music. I’m certain that the strong bias (both in the media and at the League) towards institutions in larger metropolitan areas plays a part in this. In any case we recently received some very good local news, which to us is the very best kind since we actively seek to serve our community first:

    And an essential part of our success story … we’re able to tell it ourselves to thousands of people through my Tumblr, which exists much for that purpose and has become the leading blog for classical music on that platform:


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