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Spring for Music

Long-time readers may recall that I declared blogging dead three years ago, and I suspect that it was actually dead long before that. What I meant was not that the best practitioners of what used to be called blogging had generally found their way into more traditional media or had otherwise dropped mostly or partially out of the game, although that is also largely true. What I meant was that acceptance of blogging by the mainstream media as something serious -- it was in 2007 and 2008 that publicists started to ask me out for coffee, flacks for horrible crossover recordings started to ask where they could send me a promo, when newspaper critics started writing "blogs" on newspaper Web sites (indeed were sometimes writing almost exclusively Web-only content in some cases), and when I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter as a local blogger -- spelled the end of the subversive blogger. It's just as well: blog and blogging are ugly-sounding words that will hopefully fall into disuse.

Well, not so fast. This week, a New York-based festival issued an Arts Blogger Challenge. This was pretty transparently a ploy to drive traffic to its site -- the group will be presenting six regional orchestras at Carnegie Hall in May, and they would like some coverage and clicks. A self-selected group of bloggers -- those who did not immediately withdraw their names in a fit of pique -- would be assembled into some sort of March Madness-like bracket and compete against one another by answering questions and being scored by a panel of judges and readers of the site. With the possibility of winning a $2,500 prize and, more importantly, the chance to have more potential readers find their way to Ionarts, it seemed unreasonable not at least to enter. To take part in the first round, all we had to do was answer the following question.

New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?

The answer, it seems silly to have to point out, is that the concept of a cultural capital of America is no longer relevant in the Internet Age. New York has a certain concentration of cultural events worth seeing, it's true, but one has more and more access to them from other places. The New York City Opera may be dying, and the Metropolitan Opera is losing its edge, leading Alex Ross, for one, to write recently that "The quality of operatic programming and production in New York has plummeted." People all around the world can see for themselves by watching the Met HD broadcasts or listening on satellite radio, and they can compare what they hear and see with streaming audio or video from lots of other opera houses and concert halls from around the world. In my In Brief posts, a regular Sunday link dump feature, I list a large number of worthwhile audio or video streams from that week, from around Europe and other places. One could list many more, and there are now sites devoted entirely to cataloging them.

Most of the concerts reviewed here at Ionarts are based in Washington, where I live, and in Munich, where our German correspondent lives. The fact is that we often review artists who travel and are heard in both Washington and Munich at different times of the year -- and indeed in New York, too. We both had occasion recently to write about the same Jonathan Miller production of Così fan tutte, which came to both London and Washington. We both travel around our respective continents, too, and write about lots of other places. We write about new recordings and DVDs, too, meaning that our audience is a mixture -- local people who want to read about local performances and people from around the world who want more general content. We do not need to be in any one place to do this, and neither do our readers.

See my further thoughts on this PR ploy masquerading as a contest.


Anonymous said...

"the Metropolitan Opera is losing its edge"

Hardly, IMHO. Leaving Alex Ross aside (who has already made his fortune, culturally), what do you think about the MET's edge, or don't you follow it and think about it?

Obviously, the New York City Opera is troubled. (One could very easily say the same about the Washington National Opera.)

Charles T. Downey said...

You would hear no argument from me that Washington National Opera is troubled. The Metropolitan Opera is still obviously a force, but there have been fewer productions that have seemed worth the trip to New York -- this is not my complaint alone. The Ring cycle has been something of a debacle, and tickets for it have not exactly been flying off the shelf.

I am also not the only one to think that too many of the artistic decisions -- casting, staging, and so on -- are being driven by how things look on the HD screen rather than how they look and sound in the house. I did not say that the Met was culturally irrelevant, after all, only that it has lost its edge.