“Austin City Limits” used to be the name of a nice, genteel little television program presenting live music to a Texas-based studio audience. But these days, ACL is an institution, and a wildly successful festival that is rapidly outgrowing its capacity. “ACL got huge in just three years, and the growing pains are obvious. Last Saturday, when the attendance passed 75,000, ACL felt like rush hour in a subway station with people walking in all directions, cellphones pressed to their ears, oblivious to the music… Monstrous crowds may generate excitement and boost the local economy, but they can just as easily turn a festival into one big drag.”
It would be easy to blast the Toronto Symphony for its decision to segregate all the new music it will play this year into a few specialty concerts, rather than to intersperse it within its programming of classical warhorses. But “suppose the mainstream classical audience and the new music audience just aren’t the same people. Then new music might do better by itself, where it could draw the audience that wanted it… Does anyone actually know how many people in the orchestra audience like to hear new music? Some orchestra professionals I know, perhaps with better data than I have, think the number is very, very small.”
Hollywood may be giving conservatives fits these days, but the new energy amongst filmmakers is downright inspiring to critics, who haven’t seen such a sense of commitment to the importance of the medium since the Vietnam era. “With rare exceptions, movies in the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate era have been dominated by the ‘me’ ethic, concerned more about individual struggles than global ones. When filmmakers have dared to tackle broader social concerns, outside of straight documentaries, they more often than not have done so through the use of symbols or allegory or other distancing devices. God forbid you should actually say what you mean, or wave a fist in somebody’s face.”
Nearly everyone claims to want better television and less sex and violence (especially parents), and in the mid-1990s, the protestations hit such a fever pitch that Congress mandated the creation and installation of a controllable “V-chip” that can block objectionable programs in all new TV sets by the year 2000. Nearly five years after the law took effect, a study shows that an underwhelming 15% of parents actually use the chip, even though the outrage over programming continues unabated. Interestingly, the same study revealed that most parents who want program content policed don’t see any need to regulate the advertising aimed at children.
The controversial Flick family art exhibit in Berlin has suffered its first casualty at the hands of an unusually limber protester. “Yelling loudly, the 35-year-old woman attacked ‘Office Baroque,’ a cutout section of wall by American artist Gordon Matta-Clark, doing a series of head-over-heels flips before landing on the work in a handstand, punching both her arms through the drywall… She then ran across the large room, pushing over a section of a spray-painted truck called ‘Graffiti Truck,’ also by Matta-Clark.” There is some question as to whether the woman was actually motivated by anti-Nazi fervor: she is apparently well-known to the Berlin police.
There is little question about the shameful history of the Flick family. But taken as a body of work, the controversial art collection now on display in Berlin is a fascinating journey through the 20th-century’s artistic evolution. “Again and again, the visitor is faced with sexual symbols, violence and existential questions. Piles of objects serve as metaphors of the ephemeral and insane.” Still, it is clear there is no way for many Germans to view the individual works on display without being constantly reminded of the manner in which they were acquired.
“Writing a full-length opera for a major company is like running for president: Blow it and you’ll never get a second chance.” As a result, many composers are understandably cautious about even approaching the form, and many opera companies that want to put on new works can’t find anyone willing to write them. But a program at Toronto’s Tapestry New Opera Works has been churning out new material for a decade, although admittedly in five to ten-minute chunks. The composer-librettist labs, in which participants must create a new short operatic work every day, are designed “to discover as quickly and cheaply as possible who is cut out to make operas and who isn’t.”
“Christian comedy” might seem like an oxymoron, but the genre is gaining steam in clubs across America, attracting not just devout churchgoers, but also audiences who prefer their entertainment G-rated and can find little to enjoy in the mainstream world of sex-obsessed standup. “What frequently categorizes the humor in Christian shows is its avoidance of racist and sexist jokes, vulgarity, and making fun of people in the crowd.”
The Houston Symphony is trimming expenses, cutting concerts, and delaying auditions for two key positions in an effort to exceed budget goals for the current season. With ticket sales soft, the orchestra decided to cancel planned performances of Beethoven opera set for next March, and is also postponing a recording of a Beethoven symphony. Three other recordings will go ahead as scheduled.
The FCC’s decision to fine CBS a record $550,000 is getting plenty of press. In fact, it’s such a hot topic that if you didn’t know better, you’d assume that the fine actually heralded some sort of substantive change. But surveys show that a vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less that Janet Jackson’s breast got a second of airtime, and are far more concerned about the overall quality level of TV than they are about tightening the decency screws. Still, in the months following the Super Bowl flap, 5-second delays abound and some Hollywood producers are complaining that their shows are being sanitized.