Bell’s Big Busking Bust

Busking just isn’t what it used to be. These days, commuters joined at the ear canal to their cell phones, PDAs, and iPods go rushing right past street musicians without so much as a sideways glance or a thought of tossing a buck into the open case. But surely, if the busker standing outside your local subway station was superstar violinist Joshua Bell, things would be different, right? Um, actually, as it turns out… no.

Is Handel’s Messiah Anti-Semitic Gloating?

Handel’s Messiah is a beloved part of the Christmas tradition all over the world. But the piece was originally intended for Lent, not Christmas, and Handel wrote it “to celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in A.D. 70. For most Christians in Handel’s day, this horrible event was construed as divine retribution on Judaism for its failure to accept Jesus as God’s promised Messiah.”

“Stunt Casting” Here To Stay

Actors and critics may decry it as an unconscionable way to cast major stage productions, but Patrick Pacheco says that using reality TV as a way to drum up interest in costly Broadway shows won’t be going away anytime soon. “In some ways, these shows are merely a new wrinkle on stunt casting that has been around at least since impresario David Merrick began tapping performers with little or no stage experience, such as Betty Grable, to keep Hello, Dolly! humming along.”

Those Randy Composers

Discussion of the great composers tends to be reverential, and even character flaws or professional failings are looked at through the lens of a career that resonates even in the present day. So it can be a bit disconcerting to come across a classical music scholar who is deeply interested in, even obsessed with, the sex lives of Brahms and Beethoven.

We Could Start By Not Calling Them “Young Persons”

Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra has stood the test of time rather nicely, but “as children’s entertainment, the Young Person’s Guide… which assumes total and passive concentration from a seated and silent audience, falls pretty short against its audiovisual rivals for a child’s attention.” One UK composer is hoping to build on Britten’s theme with an entirely new introductory orchestra piece designed to appeal to those endlessly multitasking 21st century kids.

Labour Accused Of Turning A Blind Eye To The Arts

The outgoing director of the UK’s National Gallery slammed the Labour government this weekend, accusing Treasury chief Gordon Brown of having no interest in preserving the country’s cultural heritage. “The criticism came as Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Master of the Queen’s Music, also prepares to launch a stinging attack this week on ‘this utterly philistine government’ with a Prime Minister whose ‘horizons are rock and pop’.”

Should Humor Have To Be Factually Accurate?

A couple of months back, New Republic staffer Alex Heard took on the comedic colossus that is David Sedaris, charging that the author, whose books are frequently listed as nonfiction, grossly exaggerates and even occasionally fabricates the events around which his wry essays are based. Ever since the article appeared, critics, readers, and authors alike have been debating not only whether the charges are true, but whether such lofty standards amount to nitpicking when applied to a humorist whose work is far removed from fact-based scholarship.

The Age Of Perpetual Gloom Is Upon Us

This year’s Humana Festival featured a seemingly endless parade of doom and gloom, says John Moore. “Two of the six plays address the apocalypse. Is there hope? A bit. The world ends only once… That playwrights are fearful is not new; they’ve been laden with it since 9/11. What makes this flawed but compelling 2007 collection different is that we seem to have settled into an acceptance that foreboding is now a lurking everyday reality.”

End Of An Era On Hubbard Street

Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance company is losing its longtime executive director, Gail Kalver. “The troupe ended its fiscal year in August with a $130,000 surplus, no small feat in an era of not-for-profit deficits,” and the organization is confident that Kalver has taken care to ensure a smooth transition.