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Click on Classical this Weekend: Blue Christmas, Abbie Betinis and Robert Ball

Posted at 4:00 PM on December 19, 2014 by Steve Staruch (0 Comments)
Filed under: Click on Classical

Abbie Betinis with The Fairlanes a cappella group. (MPR photo/Mike Pengra)

It's been another great week of content on Classical MPR's website; here are three items you may have missed, but you'll want to browse as you're enjoying some quiet time over the weekend:

Sad holiday songs need love, too

Come late December, not everyone is enchanted by Andy Williams singing about how "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." That's certainly the case for author and cellist Edward Kelsey Moore. In his latest essay for Classical MPR, Moore writes about how his love for the melancholy Yuletide tunes began with a first-grade recital. Moore's essay is called "I'll Have a Blue Christmas, Thank You Very Much." It's a really good read; I think you'll enjoy it.

Listen to a brand-new carol

Abbie Betinis continues a tradition begun in 1922 by her great grandfather, Bates Burt. who would write a new carol each year at Christmas. For the past 14 years, Abbie has been kind enough to share and premiere her carol on Classical MPR. Hear what Abbie has written, and hear her perform it with vocal ensemble The Fairlines, right here.

An even deeper appreciation for music

Each Tuesday on Music with Minnesotans, I invite a guest into the studio to talk about his or her life along with his or her favorite music. This past Tuesday, my guest was Robert Ball, an EMS at Hennepin County. Bob embraces all that classical music has to offer — and he even shares how a piece by Mozart helps him when he is saving lives.

Have a great weekend!


New York Polyphony's 'Sing Thee Nowell' nominated for Grammy Award

Posted at 2:00 PM on December 18, 2014 by Luke Taylor (0 Comments)
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Choral Music

New York Polyphony performing in Minneapolis in December 2011 (MPR photo/Tom Campbell)

New York Polyphony have announced that their album, Sing Thee Nowell, has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Chamber Music/ Small Ensemble Performance category. It's the second Grammy nomination for the ensemble, who last received the honor for their 2013 album, Times Go By Turns.

Back in December 2011, New York Polyphony made their Twin Cities debut with a concert in Minneapolis. Perhaps it's fitting NYP earned a Grammy nomination for a Christmas album; the group first came together because of Christmas music and its first album was a collection of Yuletide songs. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote about the group in 2011, after interviewing one of the ensemble's founding members, Geoff Williams:

… it was, after all, Christmas music that launched the ensemble. The four men had first met while singing in church choirs in Manhattan. "We knew immediately how much we enjoyed singing together and we talked over beers every now and again how we should try to form something, but nothing really came of it," Williams recalls.

That changed in 2006, when Malcolm Bruno, a producer friend of Williams, asked Williams if he might be able to put together an ensemble for a Christmas program. Williams and his friends recorded some tracks for Bruno and quicklv realized their sound merited further exploration. Those original tracks became the critically acclaimed album, I Sing the Birth, released on Avie Records. "We had a record deal and an album before we'd actually sung for anyone live," Williams says.

Sing Thee Nowell includes arrangements by longtime NYP collaborator Andrew Smith and was recently featured in Classical MPR Assistant Music Director Jennifer Allen's holiday-album roundup.

New York Polyphony shared this video on the making of Sing Thee Nowell:


On the Air This Week

Posted at 6:32 PM on December 16, 2014 by Jennifer Allen (0 Comments)
Filed under: On the air

Highlights from December 16 to 23

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Amy Giddings, K-6 Music Specialist from Duluth, Minn.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Robert Ball.
Tuesday, 7 pm: Concordia Christmas.
Tuesday, 8:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Amy Giddings, K-6 Music Specialist from Duluth, Minn.
Wednesday, 7 pm: Light and Gold: Christmas with Eric Whitacre.
Wednesday, 8 pm: Archive on the Radio: An Archive Christmas Sampler.
Thursday, 3 pm: Regional Spotlight: Holiday music from regional choral and instrumental groups.
Thursday, 7 pm: St. Olaf Christmas Festival.
Friday, 4 pm: Carol with Classical MPR and The Singers.
Friday, 7 pm: Chanticleer Christmas.
Saturday, 11 am: The Metropolitan Opera: Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.
Saturday, 7 pm: Candles Burning Brightly.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: From Heaven Above.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Bach's Christmas Oratorio, performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Choir of London.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.
Monday, 7 pm: Wonder Tidings.
Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.
Tuesday, 7 pm: School Spotlight.


Click on Classical: What's the best Nutcracker?

Posted at 8:39 AM on December 15, 2014 by Jay Gabler (0 Comments)
Filed under: Click on Classical

Ozawa Nutcracker.jpg

Every Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to discuss stories we're featuring on our website. Here are the stories we'll be talking about today.

​This week Garrett Tiedemann interviewed French composer Laurent Girard, who practices a fusion of classical, ambient, pop, and what he calls "folktronica." That's pretty new — but of course all music was once new, and Cinda Yager grew up with parents who thought even Mahler wasn't "real" music. Cinda writes about how she learned to open her mind to the sounds of the 20th century.

Many people like to listen to The Nutcracker during December — but what's the best Nutcracker​ to cue up? I listened to eight leading recordings of Tchaikovsky's complete ballet, and I published a guide that will help you choose the right recording​ whether you're baking cookies or popping cocktails.


Click on Classical this Weekend: lutefisk, carols and hoops

Posted at 4:30 PM on December 12, 2014 by Steve Staruch (0 Comments)
Filed under: Click on Classical, Fun finds

Your vote can help determine the playlist for Carol with Classical MPR on Friday, Dec. 19 (Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

As the holidays approach, here are some must-see stories on our website to enhance your seasonal cheer:

Get a first-timer's look at the St. Olaf Christmas Festival

A couple weeks ago, my colleague Alison Young interviewed a couple of women for whom the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has always been part of their lives. But what about for those who've never been there? Digital producer Jay Gabler recently attended the St. Olaf Christmas Festival for the first time in his life, and he shared his thoughts about the experience. If you've never attended, perhaps this may inspire you to try it next year.

Vote for your favorite Christmas carols

We're trying something new this year: next Friday, Dec. 19, we're airing a new, live, holiday special called Carol with Classical MPR in which The Singers will perform beloved carols during a radio broadcast, and we want you to sing along. But before then, we want your input as to which are your favorite carols. Visit this page to cast your vote for your favorite seasonal songs. Feel free to vote early and often.

Read about a different type of December ritual

My colleague Bill Morelock wrote a wonderful essay this week in which he describes a different December ritual that's nothing to do with holly or jolly: Bill writes about basketball. More specifically, Bill describes his experience as a high school and college player, and how a particular basketball scrimmage in the 1970s remains an important touchstone for him to this day. It's a thoughtful reflection and I encourage you to read it.

And don't forget — for a charming musical vignette, watch how Farmer Derek Klingenberg uses "Jingle Bells' to encourage his cows to come home.

Have a great weekend!


Composer conversations get at the heart of making music

Posted at 10:00 AM on December 12, 2014 by Vaughn Ormseth (0 Comments)
Filed under: Casual Conversations, Composers, Events

Composer Missy Mazzoli will participate in Composer Conversations on May 8, 2015 (photo by Stephen S. Taylor)

"All music was once new," goes the sign off each day for The Composers Datebook.

Maybe that's self-evident, yet to fans of classical music, it can still sound a little startling. We cherish classical music in large part for its timelessness — the capacity to speak across generations and centuries. At best, its power is at once enduring and time-specific, universal and personal.

But if great music tunes us in to the eternal, it's still grounded in the time and place of its original creation, the moment of its being "once new." It's easy to forget, as we return again and again to our favorite masterworks, that classical music (broadly defined) is a living art form, not only because centuries-old works continue to invite exhilarating new interpretations, but as importantly because it continues to incorporate the present-day works of living composers.

Intended for music lovers of all stripes, Composer Conversations is an informal sit-down with some of our time's best emerging and established living composers, and some of the artists who perform their music. Now in its third year and hosted by Top Score's Emily Reese, the series explores its guests' inspirations, artistic history, and current projects, offering a glimpse into the processes and people behind the compositions.

The 2015 Composer Conversations will welcome Kevin Puts (Feb. 18); Bryce Dessner with special guests Carolyn Shaw and Richard Reed Perry (April 2); Fred Lerdahl (April 22); and Missy Mazzoli (May 8). All conversations take place at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in downtown St. Paul. Tickets are free, but reservations are required.

Past Composer Conversations guests include Laurie Anderson, Maria Schneider, John Luther Adams, Shawn Jaeger, Nicola Campogrande, John Harbison, Sufjan Stevens, Vivian Fung, Timo Andres, Gabriel Kahane, and Dawn Upshaw.


Cows and 'Jingle Bells'

Posted at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2014 by Elena See (0 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Holiday programming

Farmer Derek Klingenberg (YouTube)

Is there anything that screams "It's Christmas!" more than a bunch of cows getting giddy over popcorn and "Jingle Bells"? No. The answer is no. And is it just me or do they seem to be bobbing along in time to the song?? Can it be? It's a Christmas miracle! (Or maybe just shaky camera work.)

And just who is this Farmer Derek? Clearly a guy who likes his job, likes music, and gets a big kick out of sharing the spirit of the season with cows — and with us. He's on Facebook, if you want to read more or watch more of his videos.


On the Air This Week

Posted at 6:38 PM on December 9, 2014 by Jennifer Allen (0 Comments)
Filed under: On the air

Highlights from December 9 to 16

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: Alexandria Concert Choir.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Dr. Dan Yoon.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight: Alexandria Concert Choir.
Wednesday, noon: A Hollywood Holiday.
Thursday, 11 am: Cantus: Live at Westminster.
Thursday, 3 pm: Regional Spotlight: recent holiday performances from all over the state.
Thursday, 6 pm: Taste of the Holidays.
Thursday, 7 pm: Wonder Tidings.
Friday, 7 pm: Light and Gold: Christmas with Eric Whitacre.
Saturday, 11am: The Metropolitan Opera: Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Approaching Christmas.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.
Monday, 7 pm: : Christmas with Luther College.
Tuesday, noon: Candles Burning Brightly.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.
Tuesday, 7 pm: Concordia Christmas.


Nystedt legacy continues with Knut's grandson

Posted at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2014 by Vaughn Ormseth (0 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Programs

Håkon Daniel Nystedt is artistic director for the Oslo Chamber Choir (photo by Helge Lien)

Knut Nystedt, who passed away this week at the age of 99, left a lasting mark on the world of music. Meanwhile, Nystedt's grandson, Håkon Daniel Nystedt, continues his grandfather's legacy as conductor of the Oslo Chamber Choir (Oslo Kammerkor).

The Oslo Chamber Choir did a perfchat on Performance Today during my time with the program, and it became one of the all-time listener favorites of 2009 — people went wild for these elegiac Nordic songs, some of which were layerings of folk songs with other classical choral works (Bruckner, etc.). Asked about the lingering melancholy of these songs, Håkon Daniel Nystedt joked the emotion "is our speciality."

You can listen to the Oslo Chamber Choir's 2009 performances from Performance Today here:
PART I: Grieg and A Wedding March
PART II: Sheep herding songs and Rachmaninoff

One of the most beautiful works on the choir's 2012 CD Strid ("Struggle") is Håkon Daniel Nystedt's own arrangement of The Bridal March of Myllarguten.

The CD was featured on New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher; you can also listen to the disc via Spotify:


Knut Nystedt Dies at Age 99

Posted at 11:15 AM on December 9, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (5 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

Nystedt was appointed Commander of Order of St. Olav in 2005 for his efforts in Norwegian music. He has also received numerous other awards and honors. (Photo: Lars O. Flydal / Vårt Land)

Grammy Award-winning Norwegian conductor, composer and organist extraordinaire, Knut Nystedt, died yesterday at age 99. Nystedt's music has made a lasting impression amongst classical musicians across the globe.

One of my favorite compositions is this setting of Bach's Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh where he splits the choir into 5 groups and infuses assigned, timed movement to the traditional chorale setting. The final product is hauntingly beautiful…

May he rest in peace …