Music and the print media

Music and the print media

28 September 2009

The arrival on our desk of the two-monthly English magazine, Opera Now, prompts thoughts about the satisfactions and delights that are to be gained from real magazines, alongside the easy immediacy of the Internet.

Even one who is basically fearful of a technology which seems ephemeral (who can say how safe is the stored material on tapes, CDs, memory chips, and how accessible it will be as the technology to access it evolves, becomes redundant), confesses to making frequent use of it for reference; and occasionally I find myself pursuing an unintended line of research or study. But for a generation not made accustomed in childhood to a computer screen and the complexities of software, its use remains fundamentally disagreeable.

I simply love books and the printed word on paper, and I’m not about to throw out my large collection of reference books. Thus I print articles from the Internet so that I can read them in a civilized manner.

In spite of the sad decline in the intellectual standards and coverage of the more significant arts by most newspapers (and all of those in New Zealand), I still subscribe to a daily paper, as my parents did, reading what is worth reading (in about 15 minutes). I also subscribe to magazines, varying over the years from Landfall and the New York Times Review of Books to New Zealand Books and the Guardian Weekly and many others from time to time.

And the Listener, though with increasing despair as it sinks to the level of Sunday News or Women’s Day: the Listener still has the best books section in New Zealand, even if its handling of music is now skeletal (in its first few decades it was the most important vehicle for news about music in the country; nothing has taken its place).

I’d intended to write about music magazines however.

William Dart ran New Zealand’s only substantial music magazine in recent times, for more than a decade, Music in New Zealand. Its loss is serious, and it seemed to me an indictment on both the professional musical sector (NZSO, the other orchestras, New Zealand Opera and Chamber Music New Zealand), Radio New Zealand Concert and the university music schools, that means were not found to rescue and maintain it.

Most of those bodies publish their own so-called magazines, but they are merely promotional tools. If only they would recognize that most of their readers toss them in the bin after five minutes perusal, and instead, devoted the otherwise wasted money, collaboratively, to producing a real New Zealand music magazine. (As an aside, I deplore the universities indulging in similar, extravagant and fatuous corporate image-making: glossy ‘magazines’ seem de rigueur; and then there’s the advertising! It astonishes me that the Tertiary Education Commission doesn’t simply forbid this sort of make-believe commercial behaviour, as utter waste; overt commercial-style competition has no place in a proper university).

The only musical genre in New Zealand that enjoys an independent magazine is opera, with New Zealand Opera News (as former editor, I take pleasure in its important role and am pleased that Garth Wilshere and the New Zealand Opera Society are successfully continuing its publication).

Opera Now is something else. It’s now 20 years old and undoubtedly the best opera magazine in the world (I can make the comparison as I also see the A5-sized London-published Opera, the New York Opera News, the French Opéra Magazine and the German Das Opernglas).

Opera Now does much more than print reviews and interviews with the latest and hottest young singers and conductors and directors; there are articles on aspects of opera production, history, on opera companies and their funding and their political environment; a regular series by architect Adrian Mourby studies wonderful opera houses old and new around the world; and 23 pages schedule opera performances that proliferate around the world. This issue features on the scene in Berlin and the former east Germany, and St Petersburg, incidentally tracing the sites of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades.

It is evidence of the extraordinary renaissance of opera worldwide, that you’d never guess from reading our own media, and which brings despair at the poverty-stricken state of opera here, and of music in general.

Opera Now is also big and glossy, full of brilliant photos of the bizarre and unbelievable productions that mainly European companies create; the increasing flow of new operas, many of which still play to thin audiences, but some of which are discovering that there are benefits in paying a little attention to audiences’ tastes. Even if you never get there, this is the magazine to fill your dreams of St Petersburg, Lyon or Valencia, Dresden, Venice or Barcelona, or even of Santa Fe, Buenos Aires, Sydney… and today, Shanghai and Beijing.


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