Sarita Lilly in Porgy and Bess

I am proud of our DMA student, Sarita Lilly, who performed as a resident of Catfish Row in The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the American Repertory Theatre (Aug. 17–Oct. 2).  The production moves to Broadway in January 2012.  During her time in the DMA-Voice program, Sarita has held a number of positions in the CFA Dean’s Office and at the Tanglewood Institute.

Sarita with Audra MacDonald who played Bess.

Sarita with Audra McDonald (Bess).

Sarita Lilly with Norm Lewis

Sarita with Norm Lewis (Porgy).

Candide!

B4gyWcmmyA9Q_NZUn-f1YxvAJ7Q3qtz-2JVX4LRrsrvKG0uDgDHrfWCwkjwHlKkSoLQXasZK7PwIEn0zj8tSFNlVKDF90RbCC5yTbIn0vM6h4A Think of the talent that has brought us the current musical production of Candide, beginning with Voltaire, and then Richard Wilbur, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Lillian Hellman, John Latouche and Dorothy Parker.  Add to this group, the direction of Mary Zimmerman and the marvelous company and crew and you have one of the best musical productions I have seen in a long time.   Please go.

I am aware that musicals cost more to produce but I hope the Huntington will continue to do them as this was a real success.  Mary Zimmerman’s direction added a zesty physicality just as she did for Lucia Di Lammermoor, which she directed at the Metropolitan Opera.

BU Theatre

September 10 — October 16

Huntington Theatre Company

Philadelphia Orchestra Money Woes Require Shared Leadership, Not Demands

Musicians must take responsibility for the future of the Orchestra and not simply make demands. They should assume a leadership role and not blame outcomes on management.  Many things are at stake in Philadelphia.

Orchestra at a Juncture (from Philly.com)

Now five months old, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association’s bankruptcy case has come to a critical fork in the road.

Wednesday’s hearing before Judge Eric L. Frank was a subdued affair, with only a few lawyers present and no orchestra players or staff, but it was important for laying out two possible imminent paths – a quick resolution or a long, acrimonious battle that could stretch on for some time and have tragic consequences for the orchestra.

Read more…

My Interview in BU Today

If you have a moment, please read my thoughts on the future of the arts at BU.  We have big plans and I need your thoughts and suggestions, cfadean@bu.edu.

BU Photo Services Image

BU Photo Services Image

It’s been just a year since Mexican conductor and arts administrator Benjamin Juarez put down his baton and took up residence as the dean of the College of Fine Arts. With more than 2,000 students in his college and a budget of $20 million, Juarez says his biggest challenge during the past 12 months has been finding ways “to support, align, and celebrate the numerous interesting initiatives that I have learned from faculty, students, and staff while being both strategic and visionary.”

BU Today spoke to Juarez about his plans for the coming year, as CFA prepares to launch its fall season with next month’s 15th annual Fall Fringe Festival. Notable among Juarez’s changes is the decision to build much of the college’s visual arts, musical, and theatrical programming each year around a single theme, what Juarez calls a keyword initiative—this year’s theme: violence. Next month’s Fringe Festival opera Bluebeard’s Castle, for example, depicts domestic violence, November’s lecture by artist Enrique Chagoya focuses on his lithographs of violent collisions between cultures, and Emily Mann’s play Execution of Justice, to be staged in February, is a story of political violence (the aftermath of the 1978 assassination of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk).

BU Today spoke with Juarez about the idea behind the keyword initiative and other innovations at CFA this fall.

BU Today: What’s behind the idea of building arts programming each year around a central theme—in this case, violence?

Juarez: We are trying to build a two-way dialogue with schools and colleges throughout BU, inviting our community to feel, think, and act around themes that are relevant to all of us. Building programming around a keyword also allows us to align programs in all three schools at CFA and to organize a variety of roundtables, lectures, shows, and performances in order to create a larger community engaged in rich dialogues.

How did you choose violence as the inaugural theme?

Violence was proposed by Jim Petosa, director of the School of Theatre. Violence is endemic to our times and our societies; we find it in the family, in the workplace, around issues as diverse as gender, religion, or social class. The year 2012 will be an election year, both in the United States and in many other countries around the world. The election process is used by some politicians to harden positions and target real or imagined enemies, bringing added urgency to our concerns about violence.

This is a cloud word idea: the concepts of nonviolence, hope, and peace are as much a part of the initiative as the immediate meanings of the word.

Do you worry that building programming around a central theme limits what you’re able to offer each year?

The keyword programming is an option, but not the only option for programs in our schools at CFA. And even though all three schools are very much on board with the initiative, they continue with other programs that have to do with their academic or artistic requirements.

You are planning a new CFA minor designed for all BU students. How did that idea come about?

Our vision of the role of the artist in the 21st century deals not only with artistic excellence, but with educating the young artist to be a social leader, an agent of change, a promoter and ambassador of the arts, a creator of social capital, an architect of value, and a humanist entrepreneur. The new minor is about the tools that will allow young artists to live their dreams in a rapidly changing world. Our ideal graduate will move easily from the stage, gallery, or classroom to the at-risk community, from the cultural focal points of the world to rural areas where arts programs are a rare occurrence, and from studying at the most prestigious artistic institutions to creating their own content and being sought after for their collaborative skills and unique leadership abilities. We are still working on the title and final content of this minor, but among the suggestions we have discussed so far are “cultural planning,” “arts leadership,” and “cultural building.” We will be able to share more information about the program soon.

CFA students will attend events such as "Ellen Banks—Musical Manifestations: Compositions in Wax, Paper, and Yarn" (on view at the Sherman Gallery through October 30) as part of the college's new Freshmen Experience program. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky CFA students will attend events such as “Ellen Banks—Musical Manifestations: Compositions in Wax, Paper, and Yarn” (on view at the Sherman Gallery through October 30) as part of the college’s new Freshmen Experience program. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Can you explain your new program, the Freshmen Experience, and what its goal is?

The Freshmen Experience is based on an open invitation from our faculty to first-year students to join them in small groups to attend a performance, exhibition, concert, lecture, or backstage tour in an area that is outside the students’ main area of study. These events are activities that our faculty members are passionate about. Groups of 6 to 12 students will be able to share coffee or a slice of pizza with the faculty member before or after they jointly explore something beyond their discipline. The idea is to give students a better idea of what BU and the city of Boston have to offer and to strengthen relationships among music, theater, and visual arts students.

You’re offering a series of Saturday workshops for all students at the University, regardless of major. Why is this important?

The Saturday workshops are a series of experiments that will provide students at CFA and across BU with tools that go beyond their pursuit of excellence in an artistic discipline or their professional studies, and that may prove very useful—even necessary—to succeed in the 21st century: leadership tools, decision-making, critical and creative thinking, the way we communicate or negotiate, how we make decisions, ways to be better team players. These are just some of the points that will be covered in these workshops.

A full schedule of 2011–2012 College of Fine Arts programming is available here. More information about Juarez’s initiatives can be found here.

BU Campus-Wide Arts Initiative

ThumbnailWith yesterday’s announcement in BU Today about Provost Morrison’s creation of a new BU Campus-Wide Arts Initiative, I am thrilled that we now have the mandate and the structure to enhance the role of the arts at Boston University for the benefit of all our students.

The spirit of the initiative is to insure that all BU students, regardless of major, enrich their lives with diverse artistic experiences.

As you will read in the article, I will be joining with a small group of colleagues across campus to come up with a plan to bring this initiative to life.

Once the committee meets and begins its work, I will be happy to keep you up to date on our progress.  The timeline is tight, as the Provost has asked for a first plan by the end of this semester.

In the meantime, if you have ideas or comments you’d like to share, please send them to me at cfadean@bu.edu.

In Memorium: James V. “Tim” Nicholson, Longtime Professor and Friend of the School of Theatre

Professor James V. “Tim” Nicholson.  BU Photo Services.

Professor James V. “Tim” Nicholson. BU Photo Services.

We are mourning the death of James V. “Tim” Nicholson, longtime faculty member and theatre artist.  Professor Nicholson died of pneumonia on August 9, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, at the age of 84.  A memorial service was held at Crosslands Nursing Home on Saturday, August 20.

Tim Nicholson was appointed to the School of Theatre faculty in 1957, where he initially taught lighting design, stagecraft and theatre practice. In 1970, he began teaching graduate directing and rehearsal & performance, became the primary advisor for all graduate students, and assumed additional administrative duties. Professor Nicholson was promoted to full professor with tenure in 1974 and, upon his retirement in 1989, was named Professor Emeritus of Theatre Arts.

Characterized as a team player and a talented theatre artist totally without ego, Nicholson was held in great respect and affection by colleagues and students alike.

“Tim Nicholson was deeply devoted to the BU School of Theatre and expressed great pride in his continued association with us after his retirement,” said Jim Petosa, Director of the School of Theatre. “His generosity was proof of his care, and his gentlemanly advice and expressions of support were always welcome to hear and receive. He will be greatly missed by our community.”

“Near Death Experience” Pushes DSO to Reinvent Itself

Orchestra Hall.  Detroit, MI. Wikimedia Commons Image.

Orchestra Hall, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Wikimedia Commons Image.

In the 7/31/2011, Financial Times, Petroc Trelawny reports on the trials of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

A strike by the Orchestra’s players this past spring
“ended when the players agreed, in April, to a 23 per cent pay cut, reducing their base salary from $104,000 to $79,000. Even after the cuts, it’s still far from clear if the DSO has a viable future.”

Likening the Orchestra’s audience to erstwhile aging Buick customers, Matt Cullen of General Motors, says it is time for the DSO to “evolve.”

While that advice may be hard to swallow from an executive of a company that refused to evolve for decades, it is, nonetheless, true.

Cutting salaries is not a longterm strategy.  Only larger audiences will guarentee the Orchestra’s future.

Though Detroit’s case is critical, no orchestra is immune to the challenges posed by an aging audience, tightening budgets, and lower ticket sales.  All must evolve to meet the audience where it is.

An Ally at State

images-1

Frank Oteri sees a glimmer of hope in the midst of a summer of budget cuts to arts organizations throughout the U.S.

The composer advocate of the American Music Center* in New York and founder of the online arts magazine, New Music Box,  Oteri returned with a slightly improved outlook after his visit to the State Department in Washington, D.C.

You read that correctly, the U.S. State Department.

Oteri and other prominent members of arts service organizations were invited to discuss the benefits of cross-cultural communication to the mission of the U.S. State Department.

Even if the value of the arts seems lost on some politicians, the State Department wants to persuade arts organizations that it sees a role for the arts in diplomacy.

Oteri points out that although American culture is accused of swallowing up local culture around the world, it is American music, theater and visual art that fill the seats and exhibit halls in other countries.

The State Department is currently building a portal on its website for American artists to establish exchange programs with artists around the world.

Hopefully the site will be simultaneously a place to convene and engage in important discussions, as well as to develop ties with each other and become a marketplace for the artistic community both here and abroad. For example, they are hoping that such a site can serve as a portal for matchmaking folks who want to work in exchanges overseas. As they pointed out, people-to-people relationships are invaluable to diplomacy.

Oteri points out that the Internet can get a lot done with minimal investment.

Artists have always known of the crucial role the arts play in bringing people together.  Still, to have that role acknowledged by an official governmental agency, is indeed welcome.

*As of July 1, 2011, the American Music Center and Meet the Composer merged to create New Music USA.  

Keyword: Violence. World Health Organization Reports 1.6 million Lives Lost Annually From Violence

World Health Organization image.

World Health Organization image.

Each year, more than 1.6 million people worldwide lose their lives to violence. For every person who dies as a result of violence, many more are injured and suffer from a range of physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health problems. Violence places a massive burden on national economies, costing countries billions of US dollars each year in health care, law enforcement and lost productivity.WHO works with partners to prevent violence through scientifically credible strategies that are conceived and implemented in relation to causes at the levels of the individual, family, community and society.

John Adams’s Commencement Address at Juilliard

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John Adams. Wikimedia Image.

I wanted to share with you John Adams’s commencement address at Juilliard.  All of the text and pictures (except the one of him) come from his very interesting website. The first paragraph — in quotes — is from near the end of the speech.  I placed it at the top for emphasis.

Juilliard Commencement Address

‘…don’t ever feel that what you’re doing in this attention-deficit disorder country of ours is marginal or unimportant. You are in fact the heart and the soul of its very being.’

I have to say that being a composer invited into a public gathering is always an anxiety-producing experience. No matter how casual or at ease we composers may appear on the outside, there is always that little homunculus sitting on our shoulders, muttering cryptic and often insulting remarks and reminding us that, no matter how much we’ve composed or now matter how grand the honor we may be receiving, “you’ll never be as good as Bach.”

Things have loosened up and changed in a very positive way for composers in the years since I was in school. Back then, when I first started going to concerts, a “distinguished” composer in the audience was relatively easy to identify. You just looked for a very serious middle-aged person, usually male, and usually resembling a college math professor who had misplaced his glasses. He would be the one who had been born on a bad hair day and who wore a wrinkled shirt that hadn’t known an iron in several years. He would be the one who composed using a hardware device called a “pencil” and who carried around his latest composition, probably titled “Confrontations Four” for soprano, double bass, piano and magnetic tape in a well-worn oversized briefcase.

Nowadays composers look decidedly more hip. The male of the species doesn’t compose 12-tone music anymore. He’s more likely to have written a piece for percussion ensemble and laptop based on his favorite hip hop artist and has heard it performed on the Bang on a Can Marathon concert. Instead of a dog-eared manuscript in a leather briefcase, his composition is entirely contained on a memory stick he carries in his shirt pocket. Although he’s nearing forty and has just the beginnings of a receding hairline, he’s dressed like Justin Bieber with red high-tops, a leather jacket and a baseball hat that he wears backwards.

But the best thing about the change in new music since I was a student is that now the world is full of very exciting young women composers, many of who have genuinely transformed the musical landscape with their talent, wit and imagination. You can spot one of these young women composers in the crowd because she is likely to be wearing a thrift store retro chiffon dress, fishnet stockings and her great aunt’s pendant earrings. She’ll be the one with the killer web page and who has an upcoming gig at Le Poisson Rouge. And if you look carefully you’ll notice that on her left shoulder she’s got a tattoo that says “Morton Feldman rocks.”

It’s the month of May and people like me who have been asked to speak at college commencements are feverishly thumbing through their copies of Bartlett’s Quotations or searching Wikipedia for some golden little nuggets of wisdom or humorous anecdotes with which to begin their speeches. I see that while we are gathered here Arianna Huffington, only a few miles north of us, is sharing philosophy and savvy career tips with the graduating class at Sarah Lawrence.

When I graduated from college in 1969 the Vietnam War was raging, and a good 20% of my classmates had already burned their draft cards and had adopted the classic John Lennon hairstyle, moustache and granny glasses. At my own commencement ceremony several protesting students tried to take over the podium and had to be removed by class marshals. Times are less violent now, at least within the country, but the world that awaits this year’s graduating classes is no less volatile, no less unpredictable.

I should be doing the ritual thing and blessing you with words of wisdom and encouragement. But the truth is, all I really want to say is thank you. Thank all of you students who, against all odds and against all the pressures to do otherwise, have chosen to have a life in the arts. All the paradigms of success that we routinely encounter in our everyday lives—on television, in movies, in the online world, in the constant din of advertising, even from our friends and families—all these “models” for success and happiness American-style are about what is ultimately a disposable life, about a life centered around material gain and about finding the best possible comfort zone for yourself.

But by choosing a life in the arts you’ve set yourselves apart from all that and from a nation that has become such a hostage to distraction that it can’t absorb a single complex thought without having it reduced to a sound byte. Most people now, and particularly most people your age, live in a fractured virtual environment where staying focused on a single thought for, say, a mere seven seconds presents a grave challenge. (I mention seven seconds because a staff researcher at Google in San Francisco recently told me that 7.3 seconds was the amount of time that an average viewer stays on a YouTube site before jumping to another page.) You have grown up in a world that offers constant, almost irresistible distraction not unlike what the serpent in the Garden of Eden offered to Eve when he whispered to her, “check out them apples.”

The arts, however, are difficult. They are mind-bendingly and refreshingly difficult. You can’t learn the role of Hamlet (no less write it), you can’t play the fugue in the Hammerklavier Sonata (no less compose it) and you can’t hope to move effortlessly through one of Twyla Tharp’s ballets without having submitting yourself to something that’s profoundly difficult, that demands sustained concentration and unyielding devotion. Artists are people who’ve learned how to surrender themselves to a higher purpose, to something better than their miserable little egos. They’ve been willing to put their self-esteem in a Cuisinart and let it be chopped and diced and crushed to a pulp. They are the ones who’ve learned to live with the brutal fact that God didn’t dole out talent in fair and equal portions and that the person sitting next to them may only need to practice only half as hard to win the concerto competition.

And the wonderful, astonishing truth is that the arts are utterly useless. You can’t eat music or poetry or dance. You can’t drive your car on a sonnet it or wear it on your back to shield you from the elements. This “uselessness” is why politicians and other painfully literal-minded people during times of budget crises (which is pretty much all the time now) can’t wait to single the arts out for elimination. For them artistic activity is strictly after-school business. They consider that what we do can’t honestly be compared to the real business of life, that art is entertainment and ultimately non-essential. They don’t realize that what we artists offer is one of the few things that make human life meaningful, that through our skill and our talent and through the way that we share our rich emotional lives we add color and texture and depth and complexity to their lives.

A life in the arts means a life of sacrifice and tens of thousands of hours of devotion and discipline with scant remuneration and sometimes even scant recognition. A life in the arts means loving complexity and ambiguity, of enjoying the fact that there are no single, absolute solutions. And it means that you value communicating about matters of the spirit over the baser forms of human interaction, because you know that life is not just a transaction, not simply a game about winning someone’s confidence purely for purposes of material gain. By coming to Juilliard, by going through the scary audition process and sweating out your first recital or by losing sleep over some offhand cranky comment by your teacher, you showed that you wanted to take a different route. So I am deeply grateful for your decision, and I know, even without asking them, that all of the other honorees here on the stage with me feel the same way.

I often say when a young composer shows me a score that what I’m looking for is to be surprised, because surprise wakes me up to the world, surprise makes me see something or feel something in a way I never before expected. Nowadays, with all the arts so instantly available via technology, we’re finding it ever more difficult to be surprised by something. We can hear or see just about anything online now, but how often are we bowled over, how often have we been forced to stop all other discursive mind wandering and just sit there in astonishment, listening or looking in rapt amazement? What does it take to move us from our customary place? (And by the way, that is what the word “ecstasy” literally means: ek-stasis- to be moved out of one’s place.) And that is what we want when we confront a work of art, whether it’s a completely new creation or an impassioned performance of masterwork from the past.

There are these lines in a Louise Erdrich poem that I’m currently setting that say it right:

I will drive boys
to smash empty bottles on their brows.
I will pull them right out of their skins.

That is the kind of intensity we’re looking for. We need the artistic experience to pull us right out of our skins.

In order to achieve that element of surprise you have to set up expectation. The quality of the surprise—what Melville called the “shock of recognition”—depends on how carefully, how knowingly these expectations have been set up. And whether you are a master playwright, or a subtle and probing lieder singer or a speed-of-light jazz improviser, your expertise in setting up expectations depends on two factors that would at first glance seem to be contradictory: one is supreme technical mastery, mastery of a kind that is so secure and so thoroughly internalized that it functions at an almost subliminal level. (Just look my colleagues sitting here with me on the stage—Twyla Tharp, Derek Jacobi and Herbie Hancock—and you can see technique personified.) And the other is having a gift for the outrageous, having the willingness and readiness to make that sudden, spontaneous departure from the norm—the ability to depart from the script and make the unexpected leap out of the box, and to do it precisely when it’s least expected. (Look at my colleagues again!) Such a gift is impossible to teach. It has to come from the core of the artist’s personality. I remember hearing Yo-Yo Ma play the Bach sonatas for cello and keyboard. It was the first time I’d ever heard him live, and I remember thinking to myself, “Well he’s a superstar, so it will be note-perfect, I’ll be dazzled by his technique and he’ll look great, but I won’t expect any revelations.” But just the opposite happened. My reaction to his Bach was “Man, that was weird!” He didn’t play Bach at all like I’d come to think I’d known it. He was not afraid to be coarse and edgy at times, nor was he afraid to go beyond the accepted norms of polite expressiveness we’d been admonished to consider proper. He’d obviously asked questions before he started to consider the piece.

In other words you have to BE that kind of person: restless, searching,
ready and willing to take risks. You have to think differently and experience the world differently from those around you.

So if I can leave you with some words of wisdom—I don’t know what Arianna Huffington is saying at this point in her speech, maybe “hold on to your technology stocks”—I would probably urge you to do one thing over all else, and that is never to consider yourself sufficiently educated. Always remember to adopt Zen “beginner’s mind.” If you’re playing or dancing and acting something for the umpteenth time, stop and ask yourself “how can I make it fresh? What have I been missing in this? How can I avoid going on autopilot?” And don’t be afraid to take baby steps. Simon Rattle was already a world-famous conductor nearing the peak of his professional achievement when he went off to study performance practice with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and become a sort of apprentice-groupie to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. During the last year of his life Schubert sought out a counterpoint teacher and took lessons. And of course we all know how throughout his life Stravinsky painstakingly learned completely new and unfamiliar musical techniques, even at an advanced age, and we know how what he absorbed gave new life and energy to each new phase of his creative life.

Be bold, be humble, don’t mind being difficult, and don’t ever feel that what you’re doing in this attention-deficit disorder country of ours is marginal or unimportant. You are in fact the heart and the soul of its very being.