LONDON: Two decades ago, I got a tattoo of an Akua’ba statuette on my inner right ankle. A female fertility symbol in Ghana, the disc-headed figure comes from the Akan legend of Akua, a woman who went to a priest for advice because she was having trouble conceiving. He instructed her to have a small wooden statuette of a child carved and to care for that surrogate baby as though it were her own. She was soon pregnant. Years later, as I was struggling to conceive, the irony was not lost on me that not only did I carry my infertility permanently around on my ankle but that I too needed a surrogate, albeit of a different kind, to help me become a mother. Read more

While there won’t be an in-house audience for the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert this time around, classical music lovers across the globe will still be able to experience it — and applaud the musicians — together.

Viewers in more than 90 countries, on networks including the BBC and PBS, can register online to share their appreciation via their tablets, smartphones or computers. (As of Wednesday, due to the large number of registrations, new applications were temporarily blocked.) That recorded applause will be played through the Musikverein’s sound system so that the musicians playing in the “Golden Hall,” as well as an estimated audience of 30 million to 50 million, will be able to share their delight.

The conductor for the concert is Riccardo Muti, whose 50-year relationship with the orchestra will be celebrated throughout the performance with several nods to his Italian homeland. They include Josef Strauss’s “Margherita Polka,” originally composed in 1868 for the wedding of Princess Margherita, of Genoa, to Crown Prince Umberto of Italy.


Also featured will be the “Venetianer Galopp” by Johann Strauss Sr., which is the oldest work in the program and one that had gone out of style for a time. It was first performed in 1834 in Vienna’s Augarten park during a Venetian-inspired gala ball that had backdrops based on St. Mark’s Square. The initial success of the piece, which includes clicking castanets, was said to have persuaded the Austrian composer and music publisher Tobias Haslinger to issue the piece in editions both for piano and for orchestra.


Daniel Froschauer, who is both the Vienna Philharmonic’s chairman of the board as well as a first violinist, said that conversations about which pieces would be played for the 2021 New Year’s Concert started with Mr. Muti in the summer of 2019, during the Salzburg Festival. “Riccardo Muti was fairly easy because he is so experienced, this will be his sixth New Year’s Concert, so he knows the program,” Mr. Froschauer said. “And then my first question would be, ‘In what direction would you like to go?’”

Most of the big musical decisions were made by the beginning of January this year, via phone calls and emails — including to the Philharmonic’s archive, to make sure the concert would not be too long or too short. Then in June, when Mr. Muti was in Vienna for two performances with the orchestra in front of an audience capped at 100 people, the programming was finalized.

The “big challenge,” Mr. Froschauer said, “is to make this New Year’s Concert a cheerful event,” one that sets a tone for the year ahead.One of the pieces Mr. Froschauer said he was especially looking forward to playing was the “Fatinitza” march, which the Philharmonic has never performed. The piece, from the operetta of the same name, premiered in 1876 at Vienna’s Carltheater. Written by the Austrian composer Franz von Suppé — known for his light operas — the story, a comedy of disguise, is set during the Crimean War.

Also making Philharmonic debuts in the program: two 19th-century composers, Carl Millöcker and Carl Zeller. Better known as a composer and conductor, Millöcker was also a talented flute player who worked with von Suppé when his operettas were performed in Vienna at the Theater in der Josefstadt. Millöcker’s uplifting “In Saus und Braus Galopp” (Living It Up) was written for his operetta “Der Probekuss” (The Trial Kiss) and premiered in 1894.

As a boy, Zeller performed as a soprano alongside the orchestra at the Vienna Court Chapel. His operetta “Der Obersteiger” (The Mine Foreman) starts with a call for a strike in a mine in southern Germany, and the waltz “Grubenlichter” takes its name from the portable light miners used which had a wick and flame enclosed in a mesh screen.

Just before the global applause is piped through the speakers at the Musikverein, the orchestra will play Johann Strauss Jr.’s upbeat “Sturmisch in Lieb’ und Tanz” (Tempestuous in Love and Dance), which was written 140 years ago for an annual ball held for local Viennese writers and journalists.

“I am looking forward to playing the big waltzes that have been part of our tradition for so long,” Mr. Froschauer said. “And the one thing Maestro Muti never gives up is trying to make us sound more beautiful.”


Photo courtesy: Terry Linke via Vienna Philharmonic website

LONDON—When Adelaide Tsogo Masenya was six, she switched primary schools. Her local school, Dr Knak Primary School, in the poor Johannesburg township of Alexandra, only taught in her native language of Sepedi. Her new school, Marlboro Gardens Secondary School, had an English-only curriculum. Years later when she asked her mother, a cashier who only had a primary school education, why they had moved her, her mother replied, “You actually asked me to take you to an English school.” Even at such a young age, Masenya, who is now 30, had enough agency to understand the importance of education for her future. Read more

Over the last five years contemporary Ethiopian artists have been making a name for themselves on the global art market, but it’s been a long time coming.

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LONDON — The global pandemic has struck hard at countless institutions, among them most of the world’s museums. Forced to close their doors to visitors, a major source of revenue, and to cancel or postpone exhibitions, they have struggled to stay alive.

But some help is coming soon, from a perhaps unlikely source. This year, Masterpiece Online, taking the place of the now-canceled Masterpiece London 2020 art fair, has a philanthropic bent, one that is knocking down an old wall between two spheres of the art world.

The online fair, running from Monday to June 28, is focusing its newly created Masterpiece Cultural Fund on helping a number of art museums forced to close in the coronavirus pandemic. Its programming will include panel discussions, virtual tours and private viewings, where attendees and viewers will be asked to donate to the fund via a third-party website.

Those proceeds, along with a contribution by Masterpiece of 25 percent of the amount raised through donations until July 31, will be distributed to almost 20 museums in four countries. The list includes the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum, both in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris and the Hong Kong Museum of Art (the last two are now open), all of which are taking part in the talks and lecture program.

“There is a recognition that things were not exactly rosy for museums before Covid-19 happened, not just for large museums like us but small ones as well,” said Letizia Treves, curator of the National Gallery’s 17th- and 18th-century Italian and Spanish paintings, who will take part in a discussion on women in the arts. “Looking into the future, this is a really interesting model that Masterpiece has introduced,” given the historic separation between museums and the world of art auction houses and galleries.

Even after museums open, she added, the number of visitors will be down because of factors like social distancing and the absence of international tourists.

For museums worldwide, the challenges have been substantial. Two studies released in May by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums found that 90 percent of museums had to close their doors during the crisis, and almost 13 percent of the more than 85,000 that have shut may never reopen because of heavy financial losses.

Those losses are in part a result of missing admissions fees for museums that had them, at-the-door donations and gift shop revenue, and on a larger level, cancellation of “blockbuster” exhibitions that would have provided sponsorships.

The institutions operate with money from several sources. The National Gallery in London, for example, has separate funds for acquiring artwork and, as a charity, receives about half its funding from the government. But it has to raise the rest of its budget, which is over £45 million, on its own. It does not charge an admission fee to its regular permanent galleries.

While the good news is that a majority of European museums have not yet had to resort to layoffs, a substantial number have put contracts with freelancers on hold, stopped their volunteer programs entirely and delayed long-term infrastructure projects because of concerns about the budget.

“Most museums have changed completely their programs for this year, and also next year as well,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture. “So this whole ecosystem around the museum, like tour guides and service providers, are suffering from this new situation.”

Over the years, Masterpiece has supported initiatives by cultural institutions focused on arts education and restoration projects, though this will be the first time they have actively raised funds that will be donated directly to a philanthropic cause. Now its organizers hope to raise £50,000 over the next 12 months through online giving and other methods.

And Mariane Ibrahim, a gallerist in Chicago, helped develop an idea for an online auction to aid the Museum of the African Diaspora, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, in San Francisco. The auction, run by Artsy, an online art platform, raised over $450,000.

Other sources of support, like the Los Angeles-based Getty Foundation, have also sprung into action. Getty’s $10 million fund is offering emergency and recovery support to nonprofit museums and visual arts organizations in the Los Angeles area. “We understood quickly what a devastating impact Covid-19 would have on our region’s arts organizations, particularly the small and midsize ones that often have no cash reserves,” Joan Weinstein, the director of the Getty Foundation, wrote in an email. “We need these institutions not only to survive the pandemic, but to come out stronger and more resilient if we want our future to be more just and equitable.”

Andras Szanto, a consultant to organizations and institutions, including UNESCO, said these initiatives send a strong message. “The moment is calling out solidarity and collaboration in ways that are impressive even if it is only symbolic,” he said, adding, “the crisis has also brought out some of the best instincts in the field.”

That’s why philanthropic initiatives like Masterpiece are important, even if, as Philip Hewat-Jaboor, chairman of Masterpiece London, concedes, the amount raised may initially be modest. “When you start looking at what support mechanisms there are for museums in terms of general philanthropy, there is not very much out there,” he said. He added that it’s more than the money. “Not only the financial support, but also recognizing how important all the different strands of the art world are to one another, and it is that mutual support that is so important.

 

Cover phone: National Gallery in London, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images