A scene from the opera Dark Sisters by Nico Muhly (photo: Pittsburgh Opera)
At times we treat certain art forms as a closed set. Complete. We want our reliable standards and nothing more, nothing new. Opera has this challenge. Treating the creative period of opera as if it were behind us, we put it into a museum for preservation. Yet why do we resist the new in opera, while embracing new works in other arts like film, visual arts, and music? Composer Nico Muhly gives us reason to support the creation of new work. Yes, we have to preserve the masterpieces of the past and keep presenting them on stage. Yet we should also cultivate a creative environment that encourages artists to create within these great forms.
Read on for an argument on Nico Muhly as a case study for why we need our organizations and our audiences to be a part of the creative process, in “Nico Muhly, Dark Sisters and the Case for New Opera” (click here to read full article).
Joseph Gaines as Pontio Pilato in the 2008 Glimmerglass Opera production of Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot, with Ryan MacPherson as Luzio (Photo: Cory Weaver)
Artists pursue a calling in a special way, yearning to participate in an art form often in the face of long odds for making a career of it. What is an artist to do if their calling is opera? Opera has faced some difficult times in recent years, and it is facing an uncertain future. Yet if it is to have a future at all, it must depend on those with unwavering commitment to realizing the form — to celebrating past masters and new works, and to bringing those creative expressions to an audience. Joseph Gaines, a tenor, seeks to serve an art form that he truly loves. In telling his story, we seek to both learn something about the form itself and about the admirable motivations of the artist, motivations from which we might all learn something even if we ourselves are not artists.
To learn of a good narrative about a career artist and to reflect on the nature of opera, we invite you to read our third installment in the opera series from The Muse Dialogue, “Joseph Gaines, the Story of Opera and of an Artist” (click here to read full article).
Mary Cassatt, Woman in Black at the Opera, 1879
The future of opera has many considerations. It must respond to changes in financial markets, in audience tastes, and in the aesthetic direction of an art that has a 400-year history but that also remains productive with new works. Beyond that, it is simply one of the most complex and expensive forms to produce. Consequently, contemporary opera companies are dealing with a number of intersecting issues. How to present new work and find audiences for it, how to mount expensive productions of the historically celebrated repertoire, how to balance the budget in tough financial times, and how to honor the artists who pour their soul into their beloved work. The Muse Dialogue offers some thoughts on the situation, and shares the thoughts of Pittsburgh Opera’s General Director, Christopher Hahn.
Join us for reflections on opera, its history and future, and even on the wonders of nonprofit finance in “The Future of Opera, a Conversation with Christopher Hahn” (click here to read full article).
A scene from the Pittsburgh Opera production of La Cenerentola (Photo: Pittsburgh Opera)
The Muse Dialogue turns attention now to opera and opens a series with consideration of the barrier of our own presumptions and misconceptions. Opera is among the longstanding art forms now in a state of transition, evolving as it faces the current era of the arts. One of opera’s challenges is surely our own notion of what it is, an often misinformed bias. Andrew Swensen writes, “Opera might well stand at the top of the list of art forms deserving your good-faith effort to dispel preconceptions. You might find yourself having what is perhaps the most frequent response of first-timers: “That was not what I was expecting.”” Along the way, we have the thoughts of Christopher Hahn, the General Director of the Pittsburgh Opera, and a reflection on Richard Wagner’s responsibility for one of opera’s great cliches.
Join us for the first in a series on opera: “That Was Not What I Was Expecting”: To Get to Opera We Must First Get Past Ourselves” (click here to read full article).
Poco a Poco
Annie Gordon continues her series on El Sistema in this week’s article from The Muse Dialogue. In this fourth installment, she looks at several programs in the Pittsburgh area, programs that are directly inspired by El Sistema or that share El Sistema goals of using music to make an impact on young people. The work of the featured programs — Ozanam, the Poco a Poco intitiative of the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society, the East Liberty Community Engagement Orchestra, Assemble PGH — have inspiring stories to tell, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share them.
Read and learn about the impact that music can make for young people in often difficult circumstances. Join us for “El Sistema and Pittsburgh” (click here to read the full article).
Leonardo, gone but not forgotten
We love the arts, and want to preserve them all…or so we think until we realize that we also need to make space for the new. In the process, forms come and go, and some ultimately die out. The process is natural and not necessarily a bad thing unto itself. However, it comes with some difficult questions. Andrew Swensen takes up some of those challenges — the need to cultivate the new, to preserve the old, and to make sure that everyone has a place in the rich world of the arts.
Read on in our latest article, “Aesthetic Darwinism” (click here to read full article).
Gustav Mahler, artist and administrator
Marc Giosi is both an artist and an arts administrator. This talented and well-educated pianist holds the position of Executive Director for the chamber ensemble Chatham Baroque, and formerly worked with Chamber Music America. Consequently, he has seen both “sides” of the equation when it comes to presenting an art form. He understands the management dynamics of development, audience growth, and good financial management. At the same time, he recognizes the challenges to being a working artist and presenting great art. Ultimately the two aspects of his nature combine organically, and so he writes, “The ability to speak genuinely about Bach, Chopin, or Shostakovich reflects commitment to the art form, and the fact that presenting concerts is not simply a day job for me.”
For a fascinating look into the world of art and arts management, read Marc Giosi’s “The Art of Administering” (click here to read full article).
Rodney McCoy, violinist and alumnus of Ozanam Strings
The Ozanam Program in Pittsburgh has been serving youth for many years, advancing the mission “to help boys and girls of Western Pennsylvania develop into responsible young adults through positive, developmental training.” In the 1960s, before El Sistema even existed, Ozanam had a program that used music to reach young people. Ozanam Strings had years of success, and even was featured on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Annie Gordon met with an alumnus of Ozanam Strings, Rodney McCoy, who went on to a career as a jazz violinist. McCoy shares his memories and his thoughts on how music education can change young lives at a time when they need it the most.
Read on for this exclusive interview conducted for The Muse Dialogue in part III of our series, “El Sistema Before El Sistema: Rodney McCoy and Ozanam Strings” (click here for full article).
A case study in effective audience engagement, and building an experience.
A great deal of research has indicated that arts audiences are increasingly seeking an experience in their encounters with arts. That could include integrating a social experience with a performing arts program, or perhaps an enriched experience of interacting with artists. Whatever the case, the focus is on changing the nature of interaction between the audience and work, and between the audience and artists. In the case of classical music, there are many long-standing traditions in how work is presented, and Colin Pinto-Martin argues that it is time to change them.
In this article from The Muse Dialogue, Pinto-Martin says that innovation is long overdue, and especially innovation in providing a total experience for concert audiences. He writes, “Building a relationship outside of the concert hall is essential. If you want to reach people in their 20s, then you need to meet them where they are, which might mean a jam session in a club. If you want children, then you need to get into the schools more.” As he writes, you may even need to learn a lesson from some unlikely sources — a little pizza delivery might help too.
Colin Pinto-Martin offers some insight and heartfelt opinions in “Build the Experience to Build the Art” (click her to read full article).
Athletics Meets Art in the Form of Mario Lemieux (Photo: Pittsburgh Penguins)
Recently Erin Yanacek offered an article on The Muse Dialogue, exploring what she sees as the similarity between her experience as an artist and her experience as an athlete. In the process, she discusses that the topic came out of a debate with colleague Andrew Swensen.
As we always seek to offer the opportunity for dialogue on the arts, Swensen has taken the time to explore everything from dance competitions to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Add a bit of Coppola’s The Godfather, rhythmic gymnastics, and Mario Lemieux’s goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and you come to his argument. And what is that argument? Well, you will have to read on to see if he has been convinced in his response “Artists May Be Like Athletes…But Art is Not”