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The Orchestra Now

Leon Botstein Adds Grafenegg Festival

Musical America

By Susan Elliot

July 13, 2016

Austria’s Grafenegg Festival, now approaching its tenth year as a destination summer event, with preliminary events beginning July 16, has appointed Leon Botstein as artistic director of the Grafenegg Campus and Academy, effective in 2018. The position is a new one, not to be confused with artistic director of the festival itself; that is Rudolf Buchbinder, in the job since the event’s beginnings in 2007.

Apart from attracting some of the highest profile talent in the business [see below], a large part of the Grafenegg Festival’s appeal is its setting, on the nearly 70 acres and gardens surrounding Grafenegg Castle, about an hour’s drive from Vienna. Its primary venues include a vast open-air stage and a 1,300-seat auditorium, along with a number of smaller spaces, including rehearsal studios.

Known for his penchant for clever and unusual programs, both as music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and as artistic director of the summer festivals of Bard College, of which he is president, Botstein recently launched a new training orchestra called The Orchestra Now (TŌN), which will undoubtedly play a part in his new job at Grafenegg.

In a brief phone interview, he described his primary function there as creating innovative, thematic programs and events for rising artists, including members of TŌN, as well as European Union Youth Orchestra members and graduates, and integrating those programs with the larger festival. He also plans to explore the intersection of music with other disciplines and with the culture at large. His first summer will focus on the immediate post-war years and the new nationalism, including the emergence of Russian as well as American composers during that time frame.

As both cause and effect of his efforts, Grafenegg will expand in size and duration.

“The development of musical talent is dear to my heart,” said Buchbinder in a statement. “It makes me proud that we have not only become a significant venue for orchestras and artists of substantial acclaim, but that we also provide a home base for the next generation of musicians in the heart of Europe….We can test new visions…with an interdisciplinary approach.”

Botstein referred to making Grafenegg “a center of innovation in the character, significance, and content of concert life,” while the organization’s Executive Director Paul Gessl called it “a musical home to local, national and international young artists.”

The Festival’s 2016 season includes performances by the Vienna Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Daniele Gatti, the Cleveland Orchestra conducted and Franz Welser-Möst, violinist Hilary Hahn, and Composer in Residence Christian Jost and the Tonkunstler Orchestra.

Original story here.

Five Lessons the Orchestra Can Learn from Museums


By Amanda Angel

March 18, 2016

Leon Botstein conducts TON at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (David DeNee)

Often, when a classical music hall is described as a museum, it’s meant pejoratively. But for Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, director of the American Symphony Orchestra and the force behind a new program training future musicians, The Orchestra Now, the classical world could take notes from its counterparts in the visual arts.

“The museum has been reinvented so I’m using the term ‘museum’ in the more modern use of the word, as a lively place in which the new and the old meet, where there is a kind of curating,” he explained.

This approach is at the heart of TON (pronounced to rhyme with phone), a three-year graduate program at Bard, which launched this past fall. In addition to musical training and classes in curatorial studies, the students present an ambitious series of free and ticketed performances. In between preparations for its concert Friday, March 18, at the Brooklyn Center of Performing Arts, Botstein talked to us about five lessons the concert orchestra could learn from museums:

Programming as curators

“The whole idea is to curate a concert so that it resembles much more what a museum does. When you go to a show there’s an argument — a historical argument, a biographical argument —the paintings aren’t just thrown up on the wall at random. And there’s a catalogue which helps the viewer not only look around at the paintings but also to evaluate the arguments being made and to look at the familiar in a new way. There’s always a thematical adherence to the museum exhibition, and we’re trying to accomplish the same thing in concert programming.”

Listening to recordings is like looking at copies

“In art, the picture of a painting or sculpture in your art history book or on your computer is clearly not a work of art, however, recording, after the Second World War, particularly, developed an aura of importance. Why go hear TON play the Goldberg Variations when you could listen to Glenn Gould on your HiFi, right? We’re coming slowly out of that. It’s quite clear that the HD opera is not opera and that the recording of a Mahler symphony you have on your iPhone is not a symphony. It’s like a snapshot in an art history book. We’re in the business of reviving the idea that the experience of music has to be in real time with acoustic sound."

Finding relevance in the subject material

“There has always been a struggle of how do we make the connection between music and everything else we do. It’s a lot of easier when there’s a text. If you’re talking about instrumental music one of the things we have to do is find a way to connect the public to the function of music and what you can learn from music about the world you live in. Concertgoers are interested in politics and religion and they're interested in painting or sculpture or films. They’re curious people that are participating in the cultural life, and you have to relate to their interests. We’re doing programs that try to respond to their genuine thirst for information and for insight."

Providing a space for experimentation and reflection

“There’s no right way to listen. You don’t have to know a lot to go to a museum, look at painting, form your opinion, express your curiosity and be delighted by what you see; and the same goes for music. Presenting concerts is an exercise in innovation. It’s a laboratory not a pharmacy, dispensing already proven products. It’s experimenting to see what works, in an effort to solve what is the function and future of an orchestra.”

Fostering a conversation and language around music

"Everybody says, 'Oh I don’t go to concerts, I don’t know anything about classical music,' but I keep saying you don’t need to know anything. I don’t know anything about art; I don’t know anything about movies, and I go to museums and movies all the time. I’m persuaded that there’s something to know. They don’t need to give you an analysis of the work they heard, but they can express if they’ve had a good time and were moved or not moved by it. And these orchestra members in TON are learning how to use of language to talk about music. That’s why at concerts we have a question and answer period after a concert, and that’s why we encourage the musicians to talk with the audience."

Quotes have been condensed.

Read original story here.

Bard's The Orchestra Now Soars

The Millbrook Independent

By Kevin T. McEneaney

October 2015

The first performance of the full TŌN (pronounced tone) Orchestra, The Orchestra Now, at Bard proved to be a resounding success on October 24. This augers well for both students, patrons, and loyal attendees of the Sosnoff Theater where the concert hall was 95% sold out as conductor Leon Botstein took the podium.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, where Beethoven first began to stake out his originality, had been previewed at Simon’s Rock last month. The performance there was good, but Saturday night’s performance was more nuanced, richer in both sound and unity. The superior acoustic of Sosnoff gave the Orchestra an extra lift, yet the players were more relaxed, self-confident. There was more drive in the Scherzo and more polish in the final movement. Dawon Eileen Suh from Korea emerged as a stand-out violinist.

The 1948 Cello Concerto of Mieczslaw Weinberg was an unusual featured choice by Canadian cellist Rylan Gajek. Having fled Poland and established a successful career in Russia, Weinberg was not immune to Stalin’s 1948 expansion of gulags peopled by hundreds of thousands of Jews, many of them ardent Russian nationalists. A good friend of Shostakovich, Weinberg served time, but after Stalin’s death Shostakovich managed to get Weinberg released. This cello concerto offers an extended lament with ghostly Yiddish melodies arriving and departing. The cello becomes the character of Job. While Gajek played with clear lyrical lines, the orchestra was slightly timid. A promising talent was blooming before us, telling this tragic story with pathos while sustaining suspense.

Two years ago Bard Conservatory Orchestra had performed Symphony No.11 (1975) by Dmitri Shostakovich. The performance was good enough to recall vaguely, yet what happened last Saturday night was spectacular, fabulous, transcendent. Botstein obviously knows this work inside-out. Most critics write off this Symphony as a minor work, but Botstein has finally proven that it is a major work: beginning with idealistic hope this chronicle of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution turns to confusion, then mournful lament, and finally to a chilling, unforgettable, macabre conjuration of evil itself.

The horror, anger, and pathos reached illuminating transformation as brass and percussion crushed strings, flutes, and harp, which was humiliatingly reduced to a fallen, irrelevant historical footnote—the ever-diffident Shostakovich had finally let loose. The result was terrifying, musically overpowering, thrilling. Botstein and orchestra became a single entity. The audience sat stunned, speechless. People gradually began to applaud, then slowly stand, until all were standing and applauding. What an auspicious start to the TŌN project!

It’s time that American critics and music fans recognize that Shostakovich, despite his occasional flaws, be seen as being in the same league as Beethoven. What also sprang to mind was that a new kind of hatred akin to Ant-Semitism now rears its ugly head in America: a loathing and hatred for all things Russian. History repeats an old paradigm: hateful demonization of the Other whom one does not understand transforms the hater into a demon. The specter of the scapegoat remains a timeless architype.

What was on display were students transcending cultural barriers and a conductor who had realized a musical vision of both then and now. The past was the present and the present was the past—only music can speak this visionary language beyond boundaries of time.

Original full story here.

Listening for Tomorrow Today at Bard

The Millbrook Independent

By Kevin T. McEneaney

September  2015

In the United States there was once the satellite gap, a purported missile gap, and then the quite real mathematics gap as foreign professors had to be imported to teach in our colleges. There is now a classical music gap as European education at the high school level leaps beyond our lackadaisical contentment with school marching bands. And it is not only Europe, but China, Japan, and even South America now surges ahead of the music. Leon Botstein at Bard College has arrived at a modest solution.

With assistance from the Mellon Foundation, Botstein has created a new program that connects a two-year high school diploma at Bard’s Simon’s Rock campus in Great Barrington, MA, with Bard College in Annandale-on-the-Hudson, N.Y. Instead of going to the eleventh grade, with the Bard College program at Simon’s Rock students have the opportunity to earn an Associate Degree in two years and a Bachelor of Arts in two more years.

The Orchestra Now (TŌN), a unique training orchestra and master’s degree program founded by Bard this year, is  preparing a new generation of musicians to break down barriers between modernaudiences as well as the great orchestral music, past and present. Thirty-seven graduate students at Bard's music program (separate from the Bard Conservatory program) will have free tuition plus $24,000 stipend. Final acceptance to the program remains dependent upon an audition. The TŌN Fund will assist students on the graduate level, leading to a Masters of Curatorial, Critical and Performance Studies.

The concept of The Orchestra Now will unite performers of varying ages, as in the immensely successful Sistema project of Venezuela, founded by Maestro José Antonio Abreu, whose classical music program has reached about 400,000 students. A national tour of The Orchestra Now, at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall, will run year-round.

Early results from Botstein’s program were on display this past Saturday, September 25, 2015, at Simon’s Rock Campus when thirty-seven students performed a concert program at the professional level with astonishing results. Several players from Bard’s graduate school program accompanied younger players in the program. One aspect of such collaboration encodes the well-known phenomenon that novice musicians usually perform at higher levels when they play with advanced musicians.

Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 began the program with its four movements, stately arriving at an energetic climax. This was the first of Haydn’s symphonies to feature a clarinet and graduate student Elias Rodriguez performed with finesse, yet the orchestra itself was slightly timid. Note the position of the performers on the stage, as this was the format performance layout in the Haydn’s era.

Anna Polansky was the featured pianist for Mozart’s Piano Concerto, No. 24. She performed with lyrical grace and nuanced energy as she magically floated the more mystical aspects of the piece floating into the air around us. Here she was ably assisted by graduate student Michael Rau on first violin.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 was next on the card. Cathryn Gaylord on bassoon was outstanding and it was clear that the orchestra had well-rehearsed the dynamic contrasts that this symphony demands. The orchestra played with an inspired unity as if they were a single instrument. If anyone had any doubts about Botstein’s ambitious project, here was irrefutable evidence of something amazing.

Original full story here.

Is the 'Star-Spangled Banner' Out of Place at Orchestra Concerts?


By Naomi Lewin : WQXR Host / Brian Wise

September 25, 2015

The "Star-Spangled Banner" that kicks off opening night concerts across the U.S. is often believed to be a great patriotic tradition. But some people think it's out of place and out of mood. The Fort Worth Symphony recently drew criticism over its practice of playing the anthem before every concert. A Dallas musician sounded off on Facebook that orchestra concerts were not meant to be patriotic events, and that the anthem ruined the mood a conductor was trying to set. Many others agreed.

In this week's podcast, two experts weigh in on the anthem at the orchestra. Marc Ferrisauthor of Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America's National Anthem, says he has no problem with the piece's appearance, which is a holdover from 9/11 in many concert halls.

"Just to shoehorn it in there just for the sake of doing it could take away from the thematic program," Ferris said. "But you don't have to do it at the beginning. You could do it after intermission. You could do it at the end." He notes that the first time it was played at a baseball game was during the seventh-inning stretch at 1918 Brooklyn Dodgers game.

Leon Botstein, the conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and president of Bard College, is more ambivalent. "I don't think it necessarily spoils the mood," he said in the second part of the segment. "But to repeat it at every concert is a kind of cheap patriotism. It has, unfortunately, a negative effect. It's like repeating a prayer every day without understanding its meaning."

However, Botstein believes the "Star-Spangled Banner" can be effective when American orchestras play it on international tours. He also thinks it provides an opportunity for an otherwise passive audience to participate in a concert.

Ferris dismisses the notion that the anthem's octave-and-a-half range and complicated lyrics are overly challenging. "It's a real myth that this is hard to sing," said Ferris. "What, a professional singer can't remember 81 words? We're only singing the first verse."

Botstein disagrees. "The 'Star-Spangled Banner' is not a great national anthem," he said. "It happens to be ours. It's slightly unsingable and the words don't really make a lot of sense. But it is our national anthem. If the audience actually likes it, maybe it doesn't spoil the mood."

Original story here.

Bard College Launches Training Orchestra, 'TON'

Musical America

By Susan Elliott

September 10, 2015

In October, Bard College announced the launch of a new, as-yet-unnamed training orchestra that would be underway by the 2015-16 school year. Yesterday the college announced that 37 students had been enrolled in The Orchestra Now (the "O" carries an accent macron over it, thus TON is pronounced "tone"), which is to be based at Bard and perform in the New York area.

TON is a three-year, tuition-free, masters-degree program to be directed by Bard College president Leon Botstein, also a conductor and music historian. According to Botstein, TON's members are "forward-thinking artists who intend to redefine what it means to be an orchestra." They will be learning how to "curate repertoire that engages concertgoers, sparks new ideas, and attracts new audiences," he says.

Bard reports it has had hundreds of applicants for the Master in Music Degree Program in Curatorial, Critical, and Performance Studies, as it is called. They hail from corners far and wide, including Hungary, Korea, China, Japan, Canada, and Venezuela. Musicians will not only hone their artistic skills, they will also learn how to be teaching artists for future outreach efforts.

In addition to free tuition, which includes health insurance, students will receive a $24,000 stipend.

Asked how The Orchestra Now differed from Michael Tilson Thomas's New World Symphony, a high regarded training orchestra co-founded by Michael Tilson Thomas, who is still its artistic director, TON Executive Director Lynne Meloccaro responded:

"TON is not as interested in defining itself against New World Symphony or other training orchestras as it is with joining their efforts to address a serious need in American musical training. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't enough training organizations at this level in the United States. Like NWS, TON provides career musicians with the kind of practical experience they would expect to encounter as full-time members of an orchestra."

She also mentioned TON's "special emphasis on developing skills in social outreach and audience communication," although NWS certainly emphasizes that as well. Technically, the only quantitative difference between the two would be that Bard's program awards a masters degree. NWS is not a degree program; fellows attend for three years or less. Many have gone on to full-time professional orchestra jobs.

TON's 2015-16 schedule includes four concerts at Bard, three with Botstein, one with James Bagwell, who holds the title of associate conductor and academic director; three performances at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all with Botstein. Free concerts in NYC will be led by Marcelo Lehninger (Bronx); Zachary Schwartzman (East Village); Bagwell (Brooklyn); and JoAnn Falletta (Queens).

Original full story here.


Bard College Receives Grant for First Orchestral Master’s Degree Program

All Things Strings

By Stephanie Powell

August 17, 2015

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Bard College a $2 million grant to go toward the launch of an orchestral music program complete with a training orchestra.

The program, Master of Music Degree Program in Curatorial, Critical, and Performance Studies, is the college’s inaugural orchestral program at the graduate level, and will be complete with a fully functioning ensemble, made up of select conservatory students, the Orchestra Now (TON).

The program will offer students a chance to train in an orchestra that is of professional caliber while earning their master’s degree. The mission, a press release reads, is to “prepare select conservatory graduates for the challenges facing the modern symphony orchestra and to produce scholars and advocates of classical and contemporary music as well as practiced members of a top grade orchestra.” TON students were selected by an audition and academic review process.

Graduate students will study three years in the program, where rehearsals will be held four to five days a week while maintaining courses two to three days a week. Courses will be taught by a combination of Bard College faculty, guest scholars, and performing artists.

 “I would like to thank the Mellon Foundation for this generous grant to our new graduate program in orchestral studies, which is modeled after the successful program of our Center for Curatorial Studies,” Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, said in a statement. “We appreciate the Mellon Foundation’s support of innovative programs such as this one, which binds together the arts and the humanities. This new program extends the same contextual approach we value in the visual arts to practitioners of music in an orchestral setting.”

TON, which will offer students the opportunity to engage in community outreach through regional concert series and community music education programs, will be in residence at Bard College.

All TON students receive a full-tuition scholarship with an additional annual fellowship stipend of $24,000 and health benefits. For more information, visit

Original full story here.

Why Is Mellon's $2 Million Gift to Support a New Masters Music Program So Important?

Inside Philanthropy

By Mike Scutari

August 15, 2015

Readers should know that we here at IP are big fans of Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. After giving him a shout-out in a theater post regarding the Roy Cockrum Foundation, we can now say that we're spending our free time tackling his ambitious novel The Savage Detectives.

The book looks at a clan of aspiring (and starving) poets in Mexico City in the early 1970s. It's romantic stuff. The characters are young, idealistic, and obsessed with the art of poetry, whether it's spending all night discussing Ezra Pound or Chinese masters from the mid-first century.

The book evokes a simpler, bohemian time that nowadays seems quaint and anachronistic. None of the poets seemed to have day jobs. They floated around from cafe to cafe. They somehow got by on poetry, charm, and the kindness of others.

We couldn't help but juxtapose the past and the present upon coming across today's news, which finds the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarding a $2 million grant to support Bard College's innovative master of music degree program in "Curatorial, Critical, and Performance Studies," and its resulting ensemble, The Orchestra Now.

Vividly aware of the financial, economic, and professional demands on modern artists, curators, and musicians alike, the Mellon Foundation realizes that it's actually difficult to pay the bills with one's poetry, charm, and the kindness of strangers. So they've been recently funding programs that create hybrid career paths that blend both performance and professional dimensions.

Take, for example, a $2 million grant to fund the Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program at a half-dozen museums, which provide specialized training in the curatorial field for students from diverse backgrounds across the United States. The program attracts not only curatorial students, but also visual artists who, for whatever reason, may be burned-out or disenchanted with the art-making world.

Viewed through this lens, the gift to Bard makes perfect sense. Just take the title itself, which blends three distinct elements of the arts and music world—curatorial, critical, and performance. Rather than settle for just one of these three fields, students can dip their feet in all three.

According to the press release on Bard's website, the program is designed to prepare select conservatory graduates for the challenges facing the modern symphony orchestra and to produce scholars and advocates of classical and contemporary music as well as practiced members of a top-grade orchestra. Musicians receive three years of advanced orchestral training and take graduate-level courses in orchestral and curatorial studies, leading to a master of music degree.

And so the gift to Bard, like those that preceded it, aims to a create a logical and economically viable career roadmap for artists and performers of all stripes.

Original full story here.