Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nikki Haley's State of the State: from bad to worse?

Last night South Carolina's newly-inaugurated Governor Nikki Haley delivered her first State of the State address to the assembled houses of the state legislature, and to the people of the state. The backdrop for this speech of course is the looming $829 million shortfall in the state's budget; so this address provided Gov. Haley her first opportunity to give some indication of specifics in how she plans to grapple with this budgetary crisis. Nearly the entire first half of the speech was given over to some general expressions of optimism in facing challenges, pledges of openness and transparency in governance and promises to work constructively with the legislature (trying to set herself apart in style at least from her predecessor Mark Sanford), and standard boilerplate pro-business and shrink-government rhetoric, complete with the obligatory Ronald Reagan quote. This part of the speech was capped off with another burst of optimism:

With commitment from the public, creativity from our cabinet heads, courage from our legislature, and a chief executive willing to lead the charge and make the tough decisions, there is no limit to where we can take South Carolina.

Then, finally, it appeared the Governor was ready to lay out some specifics. What would be the very first proposals (with dollar amounts attached) uttered from the Governor's lips, this chief executive willing to "make the tough decisions"? Well, we were told that the Department for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services was being moved "from a privately leased space to offices sitting empty in a government-owned building," and that would save $700,000. Over four years. Uh, okay, Governor, that's nice but...we're still waiting, what's the first thing on your mind for bringing our budget under control? OK, here it comes:

We will not please everyone with the decisions we make but we must make decisions that do the least amount of harm and have the best long-term effect. And the reality is the role of South Carolina’s government in the year 2011 can no longer be to fund an Arts Commission that costs us $2.5 million. It cannot be one that funds ETV, costing taxpayers $9.5 million.

And with that, along with the balance of her speech (which essentially punted most hard decisions down the road and/or to the legislature), Nikki Haley gave us a pretty clear indication that "making the tough decisions" to her means picking off the least powerful constituencies in crunching the budget numbers, which have a tiny impact on the overall budget picture yet will hoodwink her more credulous Tea Party followers into thinking she is actually doing something serious about government spending. By putting the Arts Commission and ETV at the head of her "to-do list" (together amounting to one-and-a-half-percent of the budget deficit), the Governor brings into question her seriousness about the whole enterprise, the relatively-inexperienced politician's depth of understanding about the state, and her grasp of plain old common sense, as in: slashing a giant agency's budget by 30% may cause great pain and hardship, but dialing a small agency's budget down to zero means you had better think long and hard about the disappearance of that aspect of your state's existence. As I write this on the morning of the 50th anniversary of JFK's inaugural, let's just say that Nikki Haley's speech last night could be called "Profiles in Courage--Not."

I would call Gov. Haley's proposal to end funding for the Arts Commission penny-wise-but-pound-foolish, except it's not even penny-wise when you are talking about such a small amount! And what the state gets for this tiny investment! The SCAC has helped bring the arts, an essential part of the human experience, to South Carolinians for over 40 years, including to those who live in rural locations, to those of modest means, who would otherwise have little access. Far from being some kind of sinecure for so-called "elitist" arts, the SCAC is heavily involved in preservation and promotion of folk arts, traditional arts, which are so central to South Carolina's history and culture. A glance at the list of recent grantees will give you a sense of how broadly the Commission impacts the cultural vitality of this state. (Full disclosure: I received an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Commission in 2008). 
And the same goes of course for ETV. Destroying these aspects of our state's life gains so little relative to our budget woes; yet it would immeasurably desiccate the depth of experience, the quality of existence available to our state's citizens, who are enriched by these agencies' works regardless of whether they live in a larger city or rural area, whether they are rich or poor. SCAC and ETV make South Carolina a better place to live, which also means a better place for people to choose to relocate to, a better place for companies to choose to operate in.

The good news is that, apparently (I've only read Haley's speech, did not hear it) her proposals to end state funding for SCAC and ETV were met with significant groans from legislators, indicating there is still substantial support for these agencies (and understanding of how much bang-for-the-buck they deliver for South Carolina) among the Legislature. (You may recall it was just 8 months ago that the Legislature had to override Mark Sanford's veto of funding for SCAC). In the days ahead, I'll link to methods for contacting your legislator to express your support for these embattled agencies. In the meantime, if you would like to express your support of the Arts Commission and ETV to Governor Haley directly, this page shows you how to do so via either snail mail, fax, or e-mail.

The issue cuts across (or should, anyway) party lines. As Rep. James Harrison, Republican from Richland County, put it at the time of the last veto override to preserve SCAC funding: "The arts is one of those quality-of-life issues. Even in these tough economic times, there's a place for arts in our budget."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January concerts in the Midlands

The blanket of ice coating the Midlands after this latest storm should melt away just in time for the beginning of a very busy concert schedule in the second half of January, as the season really resumes in earnest. For the insatiable music-lover, an appealing fortnight awaits:

Saturday, January 15, Koger Center, Columbia: The South Carolina Philharmonic resumes their season, and they're not tiptoeing back into it either: a season of heavy-hitting masterworks continues with Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica," the symphony that blew the lid off Classical form and proportion, declared the 18th century definitively dead and pointed the way musically for much of the century to come. The orchestra sounded really impressive at the last concert in November; if you have not heard the work Morihiko Nakahara and this group have been doing lately, you definitely owe it to yourself to check them out. This is not only not your father's SC Philharmonic, it's not even your 4-years-younger-version-of-yourself's SC Phil.

Tuesday, January 18, USC School of Music Recital Hall: Charles Fugo, Columbia's poet laureate of the piano, does his annual solo recital at the university; this year's installment includes Chopin and Ravel among others. Here is an account of mine from 2007 of just one of the several memorable performances of Fugo's that I've managed to catch.

Thursday, January 20, Camden (Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County): SC native Claire Bryant, an up-and-coming cellist on the New York scene, has launched her own Charles Wadsworth-like series in Camden and Aiken, bringing other rising stars of the chamber music realm to our area for a chance to hear masterworks of the genre live. These are always integrated into extensive educational-outreach activities by the musicians. Bryant, who could be recently heard with the ACJW ensemble at Carnegie Hall led by Simon Rattle, is bringing a program this time around that will include works by Ravel, Bartok, Poulenc, and Paul Schoenfield.

Tuesday, January 25, USC School of Music Recital Hall: Serena Hill, who was heard last November in Dominick Argento's one-woman monodrama "Miss Havisham's Wedding Night" with USC Opera, will be doing a faculty recital at the School of Music, where she is currently adjunct faculty. Ms. Hill is also on the faculty at Coker College as well.

Friday, January 28, Arts at Shandon: Peter Kolkay and Friends at 7:30 p.m. at Shandon Presbyterian Church at the corner of Woodrow and Devine streets in Columbia, more or less catty-corner from the Whitney Hotel. The renowned bassoonist (a regular with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and associate prof at USC) gives his take on Bach's 3rd Cello Suite in C Major; that alone is a not-to-be-missed proposition. But the "Friends" in this concert also are powerhouses in their own right: the aforementioned Charles Fugo, and USC oboe prof and SC Phil principal oboist Rebecca Nagel. The justly-famous Poulenc trio for these instruments is also on tap, works for bassoon and piano by Weber and Bourdeau; and most intriguingly, the premiere of a new work for bassoon and oboe by Reginald Bain of the USC faculty. It's titled "A Mathematical Offering," in 10 very short movements.

Sunday, January 30, Richland Co. Public Library: This show is for the wee ones in your family...Opera for Kids, operated by FBN Productions, under the leadership of Ellen Douglas Schlaefer (Opera at USC's director for several years now) has been bringing live opera into classrooms all over this state and into neighboring ones as well, for quite a few years now. Often they present a well-known children's tale using famous opera music adapted for the purpose; last year they did a Pinocchio which delighted our then-2-year-old; this time around it's the Three Little Pigs. Performers are mostly twenty-somethings, enthusiastic aspiring opera artists on the front end of promising careers; if past performances are any indication, grownups will be tickled by the show nearly as much as their giggling offspring. This free show for the general public is at 3 PM in the Bostick Auditorium of the downtown public library on Assembly Street.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LA Phil at the movies: reax

I wasn't able to make it to our local theatre for last Sunday's Los Angeles Philharmonic live broadcast, but here is some of the nationwide reaction to the event. Most of these focused on the question of whether an orchestral performance could be as compelling in this format as opera performances, specifically some of the more successful of the Metropolitan Opera's HDTV theater broadcasts. At the New York Times, Vivien Schweitzer speculates that "broadcasts might encourage orchestras to ditch the formality of 19th-century tails for contemporary attire." In her review, she gets quickly to the central question:

As with the Met broadcasts, the Los Angeles simulcasts offer listeners outside major cities a chance to enjoy first-rate live cultural events. What remains to be seen, as in the opera world, is how people with access to both will pick a format.
Tom Huizenga's blog for National Public Radio gathered feedback from several of their producers nationwide, who in turn reported on fellow audience members' opinions. The consensus here as elsewhere seemed to be: the orchestra sounded great, Vanessa Williams as host was dreadful, and the jury will be out for some time on whether this has a future. Brian McCreath of WGBH quoted a couple of fellow attendees who made the interesting point that they "missed the physical experience of a literally vibrating concert hall, something that simply doesn't translate, even with the best in surround sound technology."

The L.A. Times itself put a positive spin on the new endeavor, perhaps offering part of an answer to Schweitzer's big question:

Although the Phil declined to provide overall ticket sales figures, attendance appeared to be strong at theaters in many areas of metropolitan Los Angeles and elsewhere. At the AMC Burbank 16, 274 of 294 seats were sold for the screening. At the Regal Cinemas LA Live Stadium 14 in downtown Los Angeles, a mixed-age audience that filled more than two-thirds of the seats clapped and cheered loudly as Gustavo Dudamel, the orchestra's charismatic 29-year-old conductor, led the orchestra through Adams' "Slonimsky's Earbox," Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 ("Jeremiah") and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.
    At the multi-screen Edwards Irvine Spectrum 21 and IMAX complex, a theater with about 225 seats sold out in advance, leaving a few stragglers who arrived at the box office Sunday afternoon scrambling to make a last-minute trip to another showing in Aliso Viejo.

If nothing else, that might indicate that such broadcasts might have a local impact, that is for audience members who live far enough away from the live venue for getting there to be a hassle (or who prefer the $20 admission to full price tickets for in-person attendance), yet who may feel a "home team" loyalty to the orchestra in question.

The two remaining installments of "LA Phil Live" will be March 13, and June 5. Again, our area's venue for this is the Regal Cinemas at the Village at Sandhill complex, in the northeast fringes of the city. And if you made it out there for this event last Sunday, I'd love to hear your thoughts: the performance, and especially the sound quality at the theater, as well as an estimated number of attendees.

Friday, January 7, 2011

LA Phil (and Dudamel) live at the movies in Columbia

Press notice on this series somehow didn't make it here, or maybe I just missed it: the Los Angeles Philharmonic and their dynamic, charismatic conductor-slash-media-sensation Gustavo Dudamel are doing three live concerts simulcast throughout movie theaters in the US and Canada, much like the similar venture of the Metropolitan Opera. The first of these will be this Sunday (January 9) at 5 PM local time, and like the Met broadcasts, the Regal cinemas out at Village at Sandhill will be showing these LA Phil broadcasts.

The main feature of the program is Beethoven's 7th Symphony, but also John Adams' "Slonimsky's Earbox" and Leonard Bernstein's "Jeremiah" Symphony as well.

Info on the series here;  link to buying tickets online for the Columbia (Sandhill) venue here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Good news for USC to start the New Year

In my "pre-relaunch" post just before Christmas, I mentioned the demise of the USC Arts Institute (which officially closed up shop on Dec. 31) and wondered whether the university would still somehow find a way to keep Jeffrey Day on board to continue compiling the excellent newsletter he had been distributing via listserv. The newsletter (and Arts Institute's calendar) provided centralized information (both the who-when-where variety and also more in-depth background info) about all the arts doings at the University of South Carolina. This included instrumental music, opera, theater, the visual arts, the events at McKissick museum, and even worked in some arts-related aspects of other academic departments at the university.

The university has faced tough sledding in this economic climate as regards funding from the state; it looks to face potentially even tougher sledding once Nikki Haley assumes the governor's office nine days from now. A public university's role in the community (the city where it's located but also the state as a whole) goes beyond the education it provides its students in the classroom. The resource of talent a university gathers together, both academic and artistic, is one that can be drawn on by anybody in the community. Nowhere is this clearer than with the arts, considering that most of USC's arts offerings are free to the public or relatively low-cost. Anything that can make this point to the community with maximum impact is of vital use, to the community of course but also as a very pragmatic tool for the beleaguered state university as well, as it continues to make its case with legislators and the governor. The Arts Institute's newsletter provided this impact, more strongly than if each arts school or department relied only on its own listserv to get the word out. Plus, the Institute and the newsletter helped to work against the balkanization of the arts that often happens within the academic setting.

So it bodes well for USC and for Columbia that the new year brings this good news: in spite of the Arts Institute's demise, Jeffrey Day will continue to compile the centralized newsletter of USC arts events in 2011. To whomever at USC is responsible for keeping this going, I can only say: "Smart move." The link at right (USC Arts Calendar) takes you to a handy tool for your cultural-events attendance plans; but by all means, go to this link to sign up for the newsletter. Let's hope this excellent news is but the start of a wave of positive developments for the arts in this city, region, and state in 2011.