We open this week with Chapter 894 of the Death of Civilization: An actual fistfight broke out in one of the boxes during a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance last Thursday night. According to police, a man in his thirties started punching a 67-year-old during the second movement of the Brahms Second Symphony after the two started arguing ... over seats. Police and paramedics were called, though the older gentleman refused treatment and the assailant hasn't been found. Witnesses included our colleague Steve Robinson, general manager of Chicago's WFMT radio, who said CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti simply hesitated a bit: "Mind you, he never stopped conducting. He very gracefully, without missing a beat literally he brought [the second movement] to a very quiet and subdued close, while still looking over his left shoulder."
In the wake of the melee, Muti said that he assumed it was "some sort of medical problem," adding: "You know every conductor has 'killed some people' in his concerts and I have had four or five people at least who were taken away from a performance and would never be able to return,' he said with a sly smile."
Speaking both of our broadcasting brethren and unexpected behavior: during an interview with Pittsburgh's Essential Public Radio host Paul Guggenheimer that was meant to preview a guest appearance leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 83-year-old conductor Andre Previn decided he'd had quite enough: "You ask questions that you wouldn't ask a sick dog," Previn said.
Hear the conversation for yourself, and decide if Previn's response was warranted. A typical exchange (which starts around 6 minutes, 10 seconds): Q: "How did you get your start in music? How did that begin?" A: [Sputtering] "I don't know. I don't know what that means. What do you mean, 'How did I get my start?' [laughter] Christ, I don't know."
This August, England's Birmingham Opera is planning to present the first complete staging of Karlheinz Stockhausen's five-hour Mittwoch, which calls for two choirs, live electronic and acoustic music including four helicopters overhead, each carrying a member of a string quartet. Says Graham Vick, Birmingham's artistic director: "Stockhausen's vision is utterly beguiling, seductive, irresistible and fabulous. He is one of the great originals of all time a dreamer, a visionary, a man who dared to believe that things were possible which I have no idea how to achieve."
For an upcoming staging of Handel's Semele, the Canadian Opera Company went looking for two ... sumo wrestlers. It was hard going, but the COC finally found their contenders: the American Emanuel ("Tiny") Yarbrough, who weighs 625 pounds and stands 6'8", and Toronto's own Elmer Gale, who's just under half Yarbrough's weight but has faced off with Tiny in the ring before. Muses Gale about his opera debut: "'I love new opportunities to try anything new and when you wear one of these you've got to be a bit of a hambone,' he said, gesturing to his revealing sumo garb. 'It's a perfect venue for me.'"
The Napa Valley Symphony is the latest orchestra in trouble. Its board has voted to "suspend all operations and to explore the wisdom of dissolving." Four staff members, including the group's executive director, have already been laid off.
It's been a documentary, but here's a tale just begging to be dramatized on the big screen: The life story of Leon Theremin, whose singular invention, the theremin, turns 90 years old this month. After the inventor and amateur cellist presented his new instrument to Lenin, "Lenin was so impressed he sent Theremin across Russia to show off his instrument and promote the electrification of the country ... He was then sent to Europe and the U.S. to showcase Soviet technology." RCA promptly offered him $100,000 to manufacture it (though most of the money seems to have gone to the regime) making it the very first mass-produced electronic instrument. Then Theremin stayed in the U.S. to indulge in some industrial espionage, and along the way got married to an African-American ballet dancer, left her to return to his homeland, and promptly got sent to one of Stalin's gulags.
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