Italian Opera in Crisis: A Conversation with The New Yorker’s Alex Ross

Riccardo Muti

LISTEN: Alex Ross, Part 1
LISTEN: Alex Ross, Part 2
The Italian government recently proposed a 37% funding cut to the arts, a sum which many believe would have decimated the industry, in particular the country’s 14 official opera houses. The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross spent the month of June in Italy and wrote about the looming crisis in the July 25th edition. In particular, he recounts a moving and spontaneous protest by esteemed conductor Riccardo Muti (pictured left), which led to a reversal of the proposed cut. But President Silvio Berlusconi’s government has already done plenty of damage to the arts there. CLICK HERE to watch the video of Riccardo Muti in Rome conducting Nabucco.

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Santa Barbara Courthouse Hosts “The Party of the Century”, 1920’s Style, to Celebrate Largest Public Art Project in Southern California

Belle Hahn Cohen and husband, Daniel Cohen, stepping back in time.

LISTEN: Belle Hahn Cohen
The Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation started planning the creation of its new fountain about five years ago, and event planner Belle Hahn Cohen says the party she’s got planned to celebrate the unveiling is not to be missed. The courthouse grounds and sunken garden will be transformed, and guests dressed in period clothing will step back in time to the golden era of the 1920’s, drinking from champagne fountains and dancing to live ragtime jazz.

LISTEN: Nick Blantern
The recreation of the 1928 “Spirit of the Ocean Fountain” in front of the courthouse was the largest public art project in Southern California in decades, and the man who landed the job, English stone carver Nick Blantern, says the job was a dream come true for him. The original decaying fountain had been patched up badly and repeatedly over the decades, but Nick was lucky enough to have an exceptionally clear photograph of the 1928 finished product and some modern high tech modeling machinery. And in a highly unusual arrangement, Nick and his team spent nine months working outside, on site at the courthouse.

Sculptor Nick Blantern, standing in front of the old "Spirit of the Ocean Fountain", pre-demolition

1928 photo of "The Spirit of the Ocean" fountain in front of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Click to enlarge

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The Exonerated: A Powerful Play Comes to Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara cast of The Exonerated

LISTEN (4:54)
This award-winning play debuted in New York in 2002, where it ran off-Broadway for two years. It tells the gripping stories of six wrongfully convicted death row inmates who were eventually exonerated after new evidence proved their innocence. The playwrights, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, interviewed over 40 former death row inmates to get their first hand accounts of what happened to them. The script is comprised of the actual texts from six of these interviews, as well as verbatim courtroom testimony from their trials. Produced by Dijo Productions and performed at Center Stage Theater starting July 22, this is the first time The Exonerated has been staged in Santa Barbara. (KDB airdate 7/20/11)

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Young Philanthropist Throws Benefit Concert for Japan

Dani Loza, at the Notes for Notes Music Box studio at the east side Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara.

LISTEN (5:00)
17-year old Dani Loza has spent the last two years at El Puente Community School, a continuation school for troubled kids. It’s a tough place where students often end up by order of a judge for any number of crimes such as drug dealing or gang activity. But Dani just liked to cut class… a lot. She was falling behind fast, so her mother moved her into El Puente. And after two solid years of classes, Dani will return to the regular public school this fall for her senior year.

She also spent a lot of time over the last couple of years at the Notes for Notes music program at the Santa Barbara Boys & Girls Club, where she learned to play the ukelele, and discovered a love of working with the community. To that end, through her many contacts and mentors, Dani produced a benefit concert that she hopes will raise a lot of money for the Red Cross, to be directed to the victims of Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami. Come one come all!

Where: The SOhO Restaurant and Music Club, 1221 State St. #205; Santa Barbara, CA
When: Wednesday, June 29, doors open at 7pm
Tickets: $10 at the door

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Barry Schuyler (1923-2011): Santa Barbara Icon and Steward of the Environment

Barry Schuyler (1923-2011), hiking in the Sierras

LISTEN: Part I (5:00)
LISTEN: Part II (5:22)
By all accounts, the late Arent H. Schuyler (known as “Barry” to all) was a man who knew what he wanted and would stop at nothing to achieve the goals about which he was passionate. He passed away April 28, and KDB Radio in Santa Barbara owes a debt of gratitude to Barry for his dogged help in saving the radio station from possible extinction several years ago. Others owe their very livelihoods to Barry, who helped create the environmental studies program at UCSB in 1970 and inspired countless students to pursue fulfilling careers in the environmental field. Barry was also key to the creation of the Natural History Museum’s Sea Center on Stearns Wharf, as well as the Maritime Museum. His fingerprints and legacy are seen and felt all over Santa Barbara, and the high seas will never be the same, as perhaps Barry’s favorite place to be was out on his sailboat.

Read the tribute from the Santa Barbara Independent, written by Barry’s son, Peter.

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Reducing The Risk of Alzheimer’s at Santa Barbara, CA “Brain Gym”

Clients at CFIT in Santa Barbara, CA participate in a music therapy class

LISTEN (8:22)
Aired on WBUR/PRI’s Here & Now on 5/23/11

Currently about 5.4 million American suffer from the horrifying effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and as the baby boomer population ages, it’s estimated that by the year 2050 that number will at least triple. Researchers are desperately seeking treatment, or a cure, but in the mean time, doctors and researchers at a non-profit facility in Santa Barbara, California are working to reduce people’s risk of developing the disease in the first place. It’s called CFIT (Cognitive Fitness and Innovative Therapies). Many call it a “brain gym”, utilizing everything from board games, Wii Fit, nutrition counseling, music therapy, etc., all designed to keep the body and mind healthy and active.

Swimming pool at CFIT for acquatic exercises

Doctor Ken Kosik is a neurologist, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a leader in Alzheimer’s research. He founded CFIT two years ago with the idea that people don’t have to live in fear of developing Alzheimer’s, and that relatively simple lifestyle measures can be taken to reduce risk, while improving quality of life. None of CFIT’s clients has the disease, and they either show mild cognitive decline or none at all. And while Dr. Kosik can’t say for sure whether his program prevents Alzheimer’s, he says there is plenty of evidence that CFIT therapies reduce one’s risk for developing the disease, and perhaps delay its onset. CFIT clients agree whole heartedly.
(Watch short video of CFIT’s music class

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2011 Performing Arts Scholarship Foundation Competition

(from left to right) Sari Haidar, Deborah Bertling (PASF President), and Joshelle Conley


LISTEN: 2011 PASF Competition (4:50)

On Sunday, May 1st, ten young musicians went toe to toe in the 29th annual Performing Arts Scholarship Foundation Competition at the Fess Parker Hotel in Santa Barbara. The foundation and event was created in 1982 to help young musicians with serious professional potential pursue their dreams, and once a year the best of the best in the region compete for cash prizes. Dozens auditioned a couple weeks prior, but only ten made the finals. There are two categories: vocal and instrumental. Pictured left are the winners in each — 29-year old soprano Sari Haidar (red dress), and 15-year old violinist Joshelle Conley.

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National Poetry Month Series for KDB Radio

  • THE EVOLUTION OF MUSIC AND POETRY: A Conversation With Derek Katz, Associate Professor of Music History at the University of California Santa Barbara
  • Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

    LISTEN: Part I – Madrigals of the Italian Renaissance (4:40)
    LISTEN: Part II – 19th Century and Franz Schubert (5:00)
    LISTEN: Part III – Poets: Screenwriters of the Opera (5:00)
    LISTEN: Part IV – 20th Century Music and Poetry (4:43)

    For the most part, classical music as we know it would not exist were it not for the work of poets. For centuries composers have set their music to poetry, beginning in earnest during the Italian Renaissance of the late 15th and 16th centuries. Prior to that, composers set music to words from the bible, or prayer. Moving ahead through time, the turn of the 19th century became one of the most important periods in the evolution of classical music, largely because it was the golden age of German poetry, but also the golden age of the piano, which had just assumed the form with which we’re familiar today. The poster boy for this era was non other than Austrian composer Franz Schubert (pictured left).

    But poets really hit their stride in the world of opera, where they were essentially paid screenwriters. Composers hired poets to write the libretti, which they would then set to music. Today, however, few would know that the lyrics to Rossini’s Barber of Seville were written by a poet named Cesare Sterbini.

    Collaboration between composers and poets waned towards the end of the 19th century, but it didn’t end. Notable 20th century examples include composers Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland, who frequently set the poems of Emily Dickinson and James Joyce to music.

  • DAVID STARKEY: A Conversation About Poetry With Santa Barbara’s Outgoing Poet Laureate, David Starkey
  • David Starkey, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, 2009-2011


    LISTEN: Part I – On Being Poet Laureate (4:40)
    LISTEN: Part II – The Love and Value of Poetry (3:45)
    LISTEN: Part III – Inspiration (5:12)
    From April 2009 to April 2011, Santa Barbara City College English Professor David Starkey served as the official poet laureate of Santa Barbara. In this capacity he has shared his poetry with the community in several ways, including writing and reading poetry at various political events, as well as symphony and opera performances.

    David spent the spring of 2011 in Rome, Italy teaching a semester abroad. While there he was surrounded by poetic inspiration, from the rafters of the Sistine Chapel to Saint Francis of Assisi’s birds.

  • PAUL WILLIS: A Conversation with the NEW Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara
  • Paul Willis, being inducted as the new Poet Laureate for Santa Barbara, 4/12/11

    LISTEN: Paul Willis interview (4:00)

    Paul Willis teaches English at Westmont College, and as been a fixture there for 23 years. He first took a liking to poetry as a college student, shedding the fear and emotional vulnerability he had previously associated with the art form. He feels most inspired when enjoying and exploring the outdoors, whether hiking or camping, or just sitting on a bench on Westmont’s sprawling woodsy campus. He’ll spend the next two years serving honorably as Santa Barbara’s official Poet Laureate, taking over for David Starkey (above).

  • CITIZEN POETS: A series of poetry written and read by members of the Santa Barbara community
  • (click to listen)

    David Starkey, “Symphony in D Minor” (for Cesar Franck)
    Christina Pages, “Rose Nocturn”
    Ron Alexander, Portrait of George Washington (1825), Gilbert Stuart
    John Ridland, “The Voices of the String Quartet”
    Mary Rose Betten, “First Audition for a Broadway Musical”
    Perie Longo, “Art Helps”
    Saray MaClay, “Nude With Violin In Rain”
    Joshua Daniel, “The Science of Dancing”
    Peg Quinn, “Admission Was Free”
    Chryss Yost, “Your Neighbor, the Artist”
    Chella Courington, “Forty”
    Ibrahim Ibn Salma, “Ode to Violin”
    Mary Brown, “Wheatfield With Crows”
    Christina Pages, “To The Harp”
    Pam Davis, “Amadeus, Mon Amour”
    Ron Alexander, ‘The Cafe Concert’, Edouard Manet (1879)
    Sarah MaClay, “Satie”
    Carol DeCanio, “Fog”
    Jim Kotsybar, “Bright Hope”
    Chella Courington, “[a group of jellyfish is called a ‘smack’. a group of lapwings is called a ‘deceit’.]”
    John Ridland, ‘The Orchestra’, by Dan Lutz, 1931
    Mary Freericks, “Les Brodueses”
    Christina Pages, “Where Does The Music Come From”
    Mary Freericks, “Spring Etude”
    Robert Peake, “The Music is My Voice”
    Ibrahim Ibn Salma, “Classical Music”
    Mary Rose Betten, “Overture”
    Carol DeCanio, “Guard”
    Christine Kravetz, “To The Piano”

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    When I Rise: The Story of Barbara Smith Conrad

    Barbara Smith Conrad

    When I Rise: The Story of Barbara Smith Conrad tells the remarkable life story one of the world’s most gifted singers. Born and raised in an African-American enclave in east Texas, Barbara enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin in 1956, the first year the school integrated. But when the school cast Barbara as the lead in the opera Dido and Aeneas opposite a white male student, the legislature threatened to cut school funding if she wasn’t removed from the cast, and she was.

    But with the help of the likes of Harry Belafonte and Eleanor Roosevelt, not to mention her natural born talent, over time Barbara would go on to perform at The Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna Opera, commanding roles such as Carmen, and singing with orchestras led by Bernstein and Levine. But despite world renowned fame and admiration, Barbara was never able to shake the humiliation she experienced in Texas. That is, until someone decided to make a movie about her. Director Mat Hames told me about Barbara’s story, and how the filming process helped heal the wounds of the past.

    LISTEN: When I Rise, Part I (4:22)
    LISTEN: When I Rise, Part II (4:11 + music)

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    Ryan Turner – Young, Ambitious, and (maybe) Future Oscar Winner

    Filmmaker Ryan Turner, senior at the University of California Santa Barbara, hangin' on campus.

    21-year old Ryan Turner is studying film at the University of California Santa Barbara. He has already made a slew of short films, won several awards, and he even had the honor of showing his latest short, “Lukewarm”, at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. But the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, he says, provides a more friendly and down-to-earth opportunity for an upstart like him to network, and with people no less influential than those at Cannes. Plus, he doesn’t have to travel very far.

    It’s one tough road ahead for an aspiring filmmaker, and Ryan’s advice is simply to assume everybody you meet is important and be as nice as possible. Oh, and you have to work really, really, really, really, really hard.

    LISTEN: Ryan Turner (4:26)

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