Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Money where your mouth is

May 10, 2008

I tend to hold petty grudges over non-existent and perceived slights. Thus it should be no surprise that listening to L.A.’s only classical music radio station, KUSC, this morning pissed me off again. It’s silly really, when you are the only game in town it’s impossible to be all things to all people. We all make decisions about how many negatives we can tolerate in our own minds about the people and things that we otherwise like or admire. But there are limits. KUSC is in the middle of a brief pledge drive and during this morning's opera broadcast time, on-air “talent” Jim Svejda and Duff Murphy were busy hawking the same crap public radio stations always do during pledge drives. (Exactly why anyone who is interested enough to listen to a classical music station to begin with would be tempted to pledge for a 6 CD set of “opera’s greatest arias” is beyond me.) I’m not much of a fan of either of these two to begin with. Svejda, besides having perhaps the most affected voice in all of radio, holds the dubious distinction of having uttered the infamous five words “My good friend Michael Medved” a few years back on-air, forever relegating himself to the realm of people who know many things despite a glaring lack of common sense.

In any event, the blather turned to the topic of the just completed Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast season and after praising last week's performance of Die Entführung aus dem Serail Murphy mentioned the prior week’s performance of Glass’ Satyagraha. With thinly disguised derision Murphy noted that one could tune-in “anytime” during the performance without really having to hear anything more and get everything they needed from a few minutes of the piece. Murphy and Svejda then snickered over this keen insight into the repetitive nature of Glass’ work for several moments until Svejda brought things to a halt noting that they might end up offending people out there who actually like Glass’ music. He went on to note that KUSC even plays Glass. Now isn’t that special.

While Murphy and Svejda are certainly entitled to their opinion, regardless of its lack of originality or insight, it does in fact bother me that neither of these supposed aficionados could quite pick up on the relevance of perhaps one of the biggest musical events so far this year outside of a tag line for some cheap jokes. More concerning, it also highlights the station's tokenism and patronizing attitude toward contemporary and late 20th century classical music. Long relegated to little more than a couple hours on Saturday night, KUSC has had little interest in advocating new(er) music outside of film music.

Which brings me back to the question, how much do you have to agree or disagree with an organization in order to support it? KUSC is an important enterprise here in L.A. and I usually pledge several hundred dollars a year to do my part to keep it going despite the fact that I rarely listen to it. But maybe the hosts are right. My interests in western art music and theirs are pretty divergent. Heaven knows they’ve got plenty of listeners who can’t get enough Beethoven and Mozart and can’t wait to get their hands on those generic compilation CDs they’re pushing so hard right now. Clearly my money would be better spent going to something I actually support. So this year my KUSC donation will go to REDCAT or perhaps to fund my trip to see Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten during this year’s Lincoln Center Festival in New York. Ah, that’s the ticket. I feel better already.



i used to think kusc was the only game in town also. martin perlich (former kusc host) is running a good little station at kscn (csun).

he hosts a great daily interview show (full disclosure i'm on next wed 05/14) and has a very catholic playlist. its too bad that the signal is weak, although you can stream it online.
Yes, Paul, KCSN is indeed a good alternative to KUSC, yet once Martin comes on the air, I have to turn it off. His long-winded gab on any subject just takes away from the music, which is varied, interesting, and definitely for a wider audience than that of KUSC.
And Brian, yes, Jim's mannerisms are a bit much, yet he has a way of enlightening that is far superior to Martin's approach.
I stopped giving to KUSC after they hired that dumbed-down embarrassment called Murphy. Inexplicably, Los Angeles Opera feels the need to use him for their pre-performance pablum.

"Affected" is the perfect word for Svejda (and I remember fondly the bitch-slapping he got from Richard Bonynge on his show a number of years ago), and the Medved comment is deeply disturbing, but at least it's not impossible to LEARN (God forbid!!) something from him. So much so, that it's a wonder in the current climate that KUSC continue to employ him.
The criticism is fair although you miss the point of the fund drives. If the on-air fund raising focused on the music of Glass, Adams, Ades, Riley, and Zimmerman, the support would be very small. In fact, five hours of on-air pitching around their theater pieces would most likely yield absolutely nothing. And if you think the on-air hosts should make no comment about the operas the MET aired this year, likewise fair enough. But really, many of the performances were rather mediocre and the MET announcers, Margaret Juntwait with her whistling "s" and Ira Siff are as cloying and insipid as any. Having seen the NYC Opera production of Die Soldaten in the mid-1980's, you will soon recognize that it's not the music to convince good folks to make annual contributions to non-commercial public radio stations, but good enough to have folks like you write brief notes for the one or two of us who might read it.
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