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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: July 28, 2005 Archive

Music@Menlo 1

Posted at 6:07 AM on July 28, 2005 by Lauren Rico

What's that quote from Picasso—"art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life"? My soul was pretty dusty by yesterday afternoon. Too little sleep coupled with all those little travel nuisances did not have me in the best frame of mind when I made it to the Menlo School yesterday. I had to hit the ground running. There was just enough time for me to meet Wu Han and David Finckel (artistic directors of the festival) before being rushed off into a master class he was giving with a student quartet. I was tired and grumpy and hungry—and then they began to play. I forgot everything. I'd close my eyes for awhile, opening them every now and then only to be surprised see such exquisite music coming from four teenagers in jeans and sneakers. After they'd finished, David Finckel spent some time working a few spots with them and I was really struck by his sense of humor and how easily he related to these students.

Later that evening, Michael Steinberg gave a 2 1/2 hour presentation on Beethoven. I couldn't believe the applause when he stepped out onto the stage. This man is revered here, and for good reason. I have a special interest in the intersection of music with history and geography. Michael incorporated pictures, recordings and live performances into this "Encounter" that kept his audience (a full one, I might add) riveted.

Something that I noticed throughout the day was the way Wu Han just embraces everyone—literally and figuratively. She makes you feel like a part of the family. Her excitement for the festival is totally infectious.

So, there it is, day one. Today I'll sit in on a couple of coaching sessions and attend a master class in the afternoon. Tonight I'll enjoy more Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart (Horn Quintet—YEAH!) at the lovely, intimate Stent Family Hall. This is what they meant by "chamber music." I'm told that the demand for tickets is so high that they may have to cut some of the seats reserved for press!

Day 2 in Kyoto

Posted at 12:19 PM on July 28, 2005 by Brian Newhouse

The concerts are the highpoint of the Symposium, but between these everyone scurries off to take in as many of the workshops as possible. Symposium attendees are largely choir directors, and these workshops offer them a chance to learn new repertoire and tricks of the trade while on summer break. This morning I stopped in for snippets of a lecture on South American choral music, another on the African tradition, still another a master class for conductors.

This master class was notable because here was a small, not-especially-great choir of about 20 singers working through a Brahms motet (Warum ist das Licht gegeben) under one of Europe's grand old choral men, Sweden's Dan-Olof Stenlund. He'd been handed four 20-something conductors to tutor in this two-hour session. They got their money's worth.

Stenlund stood baleful and impatient at their elbow while each one worked—or tried to.

"What's your left hand doing? Why is it doing it? Not like that! The choir's flat, how will you get them in tune now?" He was the grumpy uncle just awakened from a nap, stopping the young conductor before a bar of music had passed.

Choral music at its best is a slice of heaven. But watching it become its best can be like observing the creation of sausage or legislation. We in the audience began to squirm, feeling lucky just to be seated and not up there being slow-roasted with the young conductors.

Today's photos:

Gagaku ensemble

A small Gagaku ensemble performed a lunchtime concert in the World Choral Conference Center. Gagaku is the oldest Japanese performing art, combining vocal and instrumental music as well as dance and religious ceremony. This ensemble contains wind, string, and percussion instruments, and their music dates from the fifth century.

The kakko is a double-headed horizontal drum The sho is a bamboo mouth organ
The shoko is a suspended gong

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