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Cue Sheet


Have you ever wondered why our newscasts from NPR begin at one minute past the hour, instead of straight up like most other things on radio and TV? It's because the newscasts are designed to be embedded into whatever else NPR (or local stations) may have on the air. A show begins with a one-minute segment teasing what's coming up later, and then there's a break for news. It's all part of a very complicated clock system that is not broken down into 60 (or even 12) neat divisions. You'll find the details here.



In The New Republic, Philip Kennicott has an interesting meditation--no more than that, for he offers no remediation plan--on the sad state of American orchestras and their audiences (or lack thereof). So many hands have already been wrung over this issue that you may not care to pursue Kennicott's piece, but it is a good, clear-eyed view of what's happening today, and who's to blame--largely, he says, the orchestral managerial class fumbling their response to demographic and economic trends, embracing ruinous and unfocused efforts at outreach. Here's a key paragraph:

"Many in the managerial class, especially those who first trained as musicians, care deeply about the rich, variegated, and complex history of classical music, but can find no practical way to offer that history to like-minded patrons. Instead they work with a caricature of the audience, dividing it into two classes, one made up of younger, adventurous listeners willing to try anything, and the other composed of older, problematic ones, who want only Beethoven’s Fifth night after night. But the serious listener, who is adventurous and critical, open and discriminating, does not fit into either of these categories. Among the most worrisome signs for the orchestra is how little concern there is for listeners who care deeply about the infinite variety of orchestra music—Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Lutosławski—but have little use for syncretic hybrids. As always, there is an economic explanation for the marginalization of the serious listener: interesting repertoire takes more time to rehearse, it is difficult to market, it cannot be repeated with the frequency of more popular fare. And serious listeners are resistant to the basic ideological sleight-of-hand behind so much programming: they do not believe that trivial music is worth the same investment as the core repertory, and so they vote with their feet and stay home. This gets them marked as fickle supporters of the civic institution."

You'll find the entire essay here.



In a surprise announcement, the head of NPR has declared that he will be leaving the network to lead the National Geographic Society, which not only publishes that famous yellow-bordered magazine but also operates a cable channel and is planning to build some educational theme parks--returning him to his pre-NPR roots as longtime head of the company that produces Sesame Street.

Why is he leaving NPR after only 21 months? He didn't give a reason, other than the lure of National Geographic, which must be far less depressing to run than an organization with a million-dollar deficit and chronically politicized Congressional funding. On the other hand, every morning now he'll have to face himself in the mirror before going off to run the company that produces Doomsday Preppers.



At 9 a.m. every weekday this week and into the next, we're surveying the great, full-length, Romantic-era ballet scores. Several qualifiers there, and toward the end we'll be getting into material that strictly speaking is not from the Romantic era but does carry on its traditions.

We'll start today (Aug. 19) with the score that started it all, Adolphe Adam's Giselle. True, Beethoven had written an hour-long ballet score and there was certainly no shortage of dance music for the stage during the next few decades, but it was Giselle in 1841 that solidified the idea that good music--not the insipid material that was often foisted upon dancers--could sustain an evening-length story in dance.

From Giselle we'll move on to the complete scores of Delibes' Coppélia on Tuesday and Sylvia (a rarity on stage now, but sometimes heard in concert suites) on Wednesday. Then comes the greatest ballet composer of the 19th century, Tchaikovsky. His Swan Lake will dominate Thursday morning, with Sleeping Beauty following on Friday. We'll take the weekend off from ballet music, then return next Monday morning at 9 with Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker something that really should not be limited to Christmastime performances.

Then next Tuesday we'll venture into the 20th century with two lush, Romantic-style ballet scores by a composer who started out as a noisy iconoclast: Sergei Prokofiev. His Romeo and Juliet, surely the full-length ballet score of the greatest musical substance, will be featured in its entirety on Tuesday, and we'll conclude the series with extended excerpts from his Cinderella the following day. And after that, you'll just have to sit still while you listen to Classical 90.5.



Here's a photo gallery of beautiful interiors of opera houses around the world. Note that most of them are older buildings, before the minimalist aesthetic took over in the 1960s (and ruined opera-house and concert-hall acoustics; the shape of the room and ornamentation on the walls have as much to do with the sound of a place as its look). There are may recent opera buildings with stunning exteriors, but you don't get interiors like these anymore.



Read here how Benjamin Franklin's desire to produce a simplified English phonetic alphabet would have deprived us of our rights to the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y. Imagine how the sponsorship of Sesame Street would plummet!


About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.