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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: March 2006 Archive

It bears repeating

Posted at 2:04 AM on March 1, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Claude Debussy, Musical philosophy

Recently, a friend approached me with a request. He said he�d become obsessed with Debussy�s Claire de Lune, had been working his way through all the recordings of it he could find�and could I recommend my own favorites?

I threw the question out to my colleagues at MPR and got some lovely responses. Rex Levang and Brian Newhouse suggested Ivan Moravec (unfortunately, hard to find), and Melissa Ousley chimed in with Zoltan Kocsis and Samson Francois. Rex also mentioned that the recent Leon Fleischer recording (which marked his return to 2-hand repertoire after a forty-year struggle with focal dystonia in his right hand) was pretty special. Michael Barone added that organist Virgil Fox�s �organization� of Claire de Lune is beautifully nuanced.

This conversation led Brian to ask: why ARE there so many versions of this piece? What is it about Claire de Lune - or any piece - that inspires such attentions?

And, tangentially, what does it say when the same performer RE-records something? I�m thinking of Yo Yo Ma�s releases (1990 and 1998) of the Bach suites, but there are many other examples.

Anyone care to weigh in?

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Ideas from another Christiansen

Posted at 9:33 PM on March 2, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

After reading Rupert Christiansen's column, "Karaoke crooners hijack classical music" at arts.telegraph, I'm left asking many of the same questions...and actually have been for years. If classical music is indeed better, deeper, more important, different from all forms of popular music, we should have an easy time convincing potential audiences of this. We don't, mainly because its very difficult to convince the culture at large that the culture that produced this music is better, deeper, more important, etc. The automatic respect for the old forms (not just music) is seemingly gone forever. So do we hold on to the belief or do we "karaoke-ize?"

I have a little list...

Posted at 10:03 AM on March 3, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

My wife once told me that when she and a female coworker discussed certain men they'd seen recently in the movies or on TV, if the guy was dishy they would say "he's on the list." The cream of the crop made it to the "laminated list," and once you were on that, you were there to stay.

That got me to thinking about what my "laminated list" would be in classical radio terms. When I used to hand off to Tom Crann every morning we often talked about pieces we played again and again on the radio and never got tired of hearing.

Yesterday I was reminded that Handel's Water Music was on that list. So are my favorite recordings of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite #2 (especially the Bergamasca). These are some of the pieces that make me start humming or whistling along before I even realize it.

So what's on your list?

Has Greg Sandow seen the future?

Posted at 6:48 PM on March 3, 2006 by Don Lee

John Zech put out an enticing invitation in his latest post...one I'm going to let percolate over the weekend. It'll be interesting to see what music pops into my head. For today I want to issue an invitation of my own, one I hope you'll accept over the weekend. This may prod you:

The classical music business wont be able to exist much longer in its present form. That doesnt mean that classical music will disappear (though some of our classical music institutions orchestras, opera companies, and the rest, including some name-brand groups might well collapse). But I think classical music will have to learn to understand itself in a new way. Itll have to transform itself both externally, in the way it presents itself to the world, and internally, in the way that its taught, played, analyzed, and composed.

The quote is from Chapter One of a book about the future of classical music that Village Voice critic Greg Sandow is writing online. He promises Chapter Two on Monday, so now would be a good time to start following the action. It's actually his second attempt; his first effort bogged down, but I very much admired the effort so I'm eager to see how he does this time around. It could be fun to get a group following along on these pages.

And the Laminees are...

Posted at 1:28 AM on March 6, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Im riding the Oscar wave with my own nominations for The Laminated List (see John Zechs post of 3/3).

JS Bach: Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. Okay, yes, Ive already mentioned Yo Yo Mas 1998 recording of the Bach Suites this week, but I can't help it. Talk about dishy! Its the perfect soundtrack for road trip or river trip...the perfect background for sweeping the floor or foreground for clearing out the mental cobwebs...the perfect companion to ibuprofen and lavender eye-pillow for migraine relief.

Mahler: Symphony No. 4. Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Soprano Roberta Alexander. Theres always a hint of fairy dust to Mahler, in my reckoning. How else can jingle bells sound both whimsical and vaguely sinister?

Barber: Violin Concerto
Vaughan Williams: Tallis Fantasia
Vaughan Williams: Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus

Pretty much any recording of the above can take my breath away. Case in point: I wondered why I was crying as I watched Master and Commander in the theatre, then realized I was swimming in a Dolby ocean of Tallis Fantasia.

The long, steady slide from 1934 to 2005

Posted at 10:49 AM on March 6, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

From "The Continental" in 1934, to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" in 2005, behold this chronology of Best Song winners at the Oscars. Of course every decade has its occasional dogs, but on average it looks like mebbe 1972 was a critical turning point downward... Doom-ily and gloomily yours, jb ;-)

Continue reading "The long, steady slide from 1934 to 2005"

Pimpin' the Oscars

Posted at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The morning after the Oscars my wife was playing tennis and having trouble with her serve. Her doubles partner, a woman in her 50s, reassured her by saying, "it's hard out here for a pimp."

I doubt this woman had been listening to Three 6 Mafia on the way to the club, but she knew about the song.

As a tangent to John Birge's entry on the decline and fall of the Best Song winners at the Oscars, I've been fantasizing about Itzhak Perlman doing a "classical" arrangement of "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp." I think it would work...at least as well as the medley of film scores he played at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

The arrangement Perlman played bore no relationship to any of the sounds or textures of the original scores (at least none I could make out). In fact, I think it was worse than nothing at all.

Was the Academy pimping Perlman with this pseudo-classical mishmash?

More laminees

Posted at 5:29 PM on March 7, 2006 by Don Lee

John Zech's March 3 post and Valerie Kahler's follow-up yesterday got me thinking about some of the classical pieces that compel me to hum or whistle along whenever I hear them.

To be honest, I probably couldn't hum much of the final movement of Debussy's Cello Sonata, but its delicate urgency makes me want to. I love bathing in the near-bathos of the Air in Grieg's "Holberg" Suite. The fast, contrapuntal passage in the middle of Copland's "Appalachian Spring" always gets me charged up. I never tire of the tangy angularity in "Stick Dance," the first of Bartok's Six Romanian Dances. And the Scherzo in Ravel's String Quartet features a pithy pizzicato.

This little exercise is not the same as compiling a list of Desert Island Discs. If I expected to be left alone somewhere for a long time, hummability wouldn't the main criterion as I packed my CD case. But I welcome the company of these catchy classical tunes most anytime.

Lexicon

Posted at 12:40 AM on March 8, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Whether you're an artist, a musician, a computer programmer, a mechanic, a chef or a housepainter, you become fluent in a certain language one that has its own vocabulary, shorthand, even slang. My husband speaks Art fluently, while Music is my second language. Often, applying one lexicon to the other's medium leads to revelation for both. I'm unable to describe an art piece in artists' terms of light, composition, color, etc., but it's natural for me to think of it in terms of music. For example, the stark dissonance of Picassos "Guernica," or Gerrit van Honthorst's "The Denial of Saint Peter," which feels as though it's almost in a minor key, but temperedsweetened by the sympathy of the handmaiden. Dorian mode, then? And so on.

This crossover of lexicons led to an interesting conversation at our house the other night

My husband has long been a fan of Arvo Prt, but had a watershed experience listening to a Prt CD a few days ago. He described it so lovingly and thoroughly and evocatively that I wanted to stand up and applaud.

Using his artists lexicon (which in itself co-opts writers vocabulary) he described the music in terms of its "narrative structure." There are tropes: heres the heroic bit, here you have pathos, etcbut how theyre connected is completely unexpected, unique, unfamiliar. He went on to talk about how Prt laid down a layer of flute, and then brought the cello in, "tapping" on the flute with its different timbre and gentle dissonance. How he used silence - the space between notes - like an artist uses white space. How it became clear to him that Prt creates his works with the same consideration of materials and placement and palette that an artist does.

He's decided that Prt is a painterand it's hard to disagree with his thesis.

Lexicon

Posted at 2:08 PM on March 9, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Valerie's blog reminds me of this remark that Anne-Sophie Mutter made about playing violin (italics mine): "Making great music is about finding a way to put a lot of light onto the musical painting, of getting under the skin of the composer and inside the music itself."

Must attention be paid?

Posted at 4:13 PM on March 10, 2006 by Don Lee

What if they gave an Elliott Carter Festival and lots of people came? I understand that all but two of the concerts have been sold out in a series presented this week in the Twin Cities by the U of M School of Music and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Karl Gehrke reported on it Wednesday on All Things Considered.

I attended the opening event Tuesday, the screening of a film about Carter called A Labyrinth of Time. It's a fascinating piece of filmmaking and it helped me begin, and I emphasize the word "begin," to understand Carter.

It also made me think about how we program music on classical music radio. We don't play Carter. The simple reason is that lots of people don't like it. It's difficult to listen to, mainly because it challenges centuries-old conventions regarding melody, harmony and rhythm.

But in a broader sense I was reminded, a little sadly, of the notion that music doesn't tend to work well on radio if it DEMANDS attention. The sounds that come through the radio must co-exist with other things going on in listeners' lives. If we're broadcasting music that refuses to be pushed to the background, even a "conventional" piece such as Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge," we present listeners with a choice: pay full attention or tune out entirely. So what's a self-respecting radio programmer to do? It may not be practical to demand a listener's attention, but for those times when we do have it I'd like to think that we REWARD it.

It Takes Two to Tango (by Piazzolla)

Posted at 2:19 PM on March 12, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

Don Lee's post about Elliott Carter in particular and attention-grabbing music in general makes me wonder about radio and the concert hall's need for each other. One thing that radio can't do well is to require time spent listening to new music that doesn't automatically fit most listeners' tastes. The concert hall, on the other hand, has a captive audience (mostly an acquiescing one) and can provide the space for new sounds to be heard and evaluated.

Now comes the rub: concert halls also have to please audiences, so just programming new sounds won't work for them either. If both of us wish to only entertain, we know what music works. If both of us want to expand the definition of concert music, to teach, to grow along with an audience we know what we have to do, we just have to make the decisions to do it.

Bull's Eye hits the Arts

Posted at 10:52 PM on March 12, 2006 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

This weekend I went to two concerts by two terrific groups: VocalEssence, and The Rose Ensemble. Both programs sported the Target logo, acknowledging their corporate support. This weekend, The Washington Post weighed in on the topic and how the landscape of corporate sponsorship is changing, with particular attention paid to Target. Here's the article

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Signatures

Posted at 3:32 AM on March 13, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Ever wonder what occupies the mind of a radio host at 3 in the morning? Read on:

Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in almost all of his movies, and after the birth of his daughter Nina in 1945, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld began hiding her name in each of his drawings.

But - even without these obvious and characteristic insertions, we would still recognize the stamp of these artists. Youd probably know a Hitchcock film from his camera angles or the way he used shadow. The fluid, spare lines of this illustration spell out Hirschfeld clearly enough.

What about Sergei Rachmaninov? He worked the Dies Irae into a surprising number of his compositions...but what about when he didn't? Can you recognize a Rachmaninov from its angles, shadows, lines?

Ill never mistake a Stokowski transcription for anyone else's. I know Tchaikovsky when I hear him. Same for Satie and Vivaldi and Bach. Beethoven? Does he have a signature, or have I just learned which stuff is his?


Roger Federer in concert

Posted at 11:08 AM on March 14, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

This past weekend I went to some of the early-round tennis matches at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, CA. One of the great things about the first week at these tournaments is watching matches on the "outer courts" where you can see the top players up close. But sometimes, it's even more fun to watch the players warming up on the practice courts.

On Saturday afternoon I saw a big gathering by one practice court, and there was the biggest star of the game--Roger Federer. It was cold and windy, and since Federer wasn't playing that day he didn't practice much. But while his coach (the great Tony Roche) hit with his practice partner, Roger went over to the crowd by the fence to sign autographs. Some of the girls at one end of the fence yelled "Roger, come here, we're your biggest fans!"

Wouldn't it be great if something like that happened in the classical music world? Maybe it does somewhere that I don't know about, but imagine if people got tickets for a concert series and they could wander in and out of different concerts going on simultaneously, and then walk into rehearsal rooms while soloists or ensembles or even orchestras were practicing. Then, during a break they could rush the stage for autographs.

This might be another way to break down the "fourth wall" that separates the audience from the folks on stage. In the same way fans in the ballpark hope to catch a homer or a foul ball, maybe we could have the conductor or soloist toss some "goodies" into the audience at the end of the concert--souvenirs, or something that would give them a free ticket to another event.

The online Kollege of Musical Knowledge

Posted at 5:36 PM on March 14, 2006 by Don Lee

Here's a multiple choice, complete-the-sentence quiz:

There is a connection between Handel's aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth" from his oratorio Messiah and...

A) William Pitt the elder
B) The abolition of public execution by hanging in England in 1868
C) Boston, Lincolnshire, England
D) Big Ben in the Houses of Parliament, London

You'll find the answer here on a Web site called funtrivia.com. The quiz is called "classical connections." Each of the questions calls on you to make tangential, often obscure associations between a piece of music and a person, place, event, etc., etc. It's the most interesting of several quizzes I discovered in an online article by musician and writer Drew McManus. If you like classical music and trivia, prepare to get sucked in for an hour or two.

I made my day by edging "Joe Somebody" 10 to 9 in a composer trivia face-off at another Web site McManus recommended. Now I may enter the NCAA office pool after all.

Where's Jarvi?

Posted at 11:11 PM on March 14, 2006 by John Birge (3 Comments)

This one is interesting! The London Philharmonic played in San Francisco last Sunday. Kurt Masur fell ill for this tour, so our own Osmo Vanska covered four of the dates. Neeme Jarvi was booked for the fifth, but Joshua Kosman's review reports that Jarvi withdrew "because of illness."

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand reports that Neeme Jarvi spent last Sunday in Cincinnati attending his son Paavo's wedding. Hmmmmm....

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The Cruelest Month

Posted at 12:29 AM on March 15, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (2 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

While TS Eliot said April is the cruelest month, City Pages restaurant reviewer Dara Moskovitz had this to say:

February [is] the cruelest month. Yeah, I know it's supposed to be April, but this is Minnesota, and our winter is so, so long that I've contacted the legislature about some updates. Let's call February the Cruelest Month, if only so we can call April "I'll Kill You, I Swear to God, If You Don't Give Me the Remote, I Am Not Even Kidding, You Are Just Like Your Mother, Just Give Me It, Quit, I Said, Quit It."

Given this weeks meteorological unpleasantness, Im casting my Cruelest Month vote for March. I mean, it was FIFTY-SIX degrees last week. And then a foot of snow? Thats just mean.

Every winter, I make it through the first few months thinking, Well, this isnt so bad! Here it is February already were almost out of the woods. How can I forget about March EVERY YEAR? But forget I do, so the spiteful late-winter snows catch me unawares.

Ah, but theres always a silver lining. Two, in this case. 1. Because snow shovels are SO last season, I was able to procure one at a steep discount. 2. A springboard, if you will, for a discussion of seasonal music. My husband and I were talking about this very thing a few days ago. Now, I dont mean seasonal music like a Christmas carol or an Easter mass. I dont even mean seasonally-titled music (Four Seasons, Summer Music, etc). No, what were getting at here is something much more ephemeral and subjective: music that feels seasonally appropriate to you, for whatever reason. For example, my husband said that every year as winter creaks into spring, he gets an itch to listen to the Rolling Stones. A teenage boy who was around for the conversation agreed, saying his fondness for techno was entirely winter-specific. An old orchestra colleague of mine always associated Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 with summer gardening. For me, Bach is a year-round favorite but I usually reach for the Cello Suites in early spring. I also have a perverse need to listen to Duran Duran when I spring clean. I dont quite understand it I think it has something to do with my college years and operant conditioning.

What about you?

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Orchestra on Demand

Posted at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: The blog

We're always wondering how to bring this music we all love to the widest possible audience. Radio? Sure. Been doing that now for nearly 40 years. But just as newspapers and record companies and loads of other media companies are having to seriously re-think their way of doing business (or go the way of the dodo), we're wondering how does this wonderful ancient art form, classical music, interact with new technology?

So, I'm extremely curious to watch what happens to our latest venture: Several days ago we posted nine fabulous concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra to our Web site. This is new for the Orchestra and the result of lots of conversation between MPR and the Orchestra about how it would be to our mutual benefit—and be really cool for classical fans worldwide.

There are star soloists, and most of the programs are led by the star conductor of the moment, Osmo Vänskä. This is by any account, great music passionately performed by world-class artists.

So, we've built it (and are now promoting it on-air and online). Will they come?

Where's Jarvi? Revisited

Posted at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Re my March 14 entry, word from Joshua Kosman is that there was a mixup. First word from the agent to the SF Symphony staff (who presented the concert) was illness; later that was clarified to reflect the wedding conflict, but Kosman didn't get the word before his review went to press.

So much for Jarvigate. Darn it; now I'll have to recall that message I left for Oliver Stone. ;-)

Osmo in "rural Minnesota"?

Posted at 12:56 PM on March 16, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

In a follow-up story to the ongoing Masur tour cancellation, this remark showed up in MusicalAmerica.com today:

"Osmo Vnsk, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, was drafted for four, including the kickoff in Santa Barbara, followed by Los Angeles, San Diego and Davis, Calif. But he had to beg off before San Francisco, as he had previously committed to a lead a community orchestra concert in rural Minnesota on that date."

Funny, last time I drove to Bloomington, it didn't look all that rural !

Downloading: What will make the late adopters come around?

Posted at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2006 by Don Lee

The Los Angeles Times reports today that the L.A. Philharmonic is getting into the downloading game. Starting early in April, the orchestra will make selected concerts available via iTunes for about $10 apiece.

No one expects this enterprise will make a lot of money, at least not right now, but I'm inclined to agree with the LAPO's general manager, Deborah Borda, that it's a wise move. She's quoted as saying, "Ten years from today, they might not be making CDs. We really don't know what the delivery system will be. The new technology takes investigation, investment and practice."

That's where I am personally. I'm investigating these new developments with a fair amount of interest. I've invested in an iPod...for my son. And I'm just beginning to practice; I've helped my son figure out how to use iTunes.

So far, like much of the post-50 demographic, I haven't been tempted to go further. The learning curve isn't the obstacle. The issues are that I'm still dubious about computer audio and I'm still attached to the old packaging: pictures, liner notes, something to hold in your hand. But I'm open to persuasion. I'm sure it's only a matter of time. And maybe I'll make the L.A. Phil's "Minimalist Jukebox" one of my first purchases.

How Fuddy is my Duddy?

Posted at 5:17 PM on March 18, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (5 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

As much as I like really cool technology, I keep moving toward an iPod and then always move away. I make sure I always update my Mac software so that I'll be ready for an iPod if I ever take the plunge, but I can't see the need to have that much music that readily available. All of the old technologies serve me just fine whenever I want to listen to music. (But then I very seldom turn on the radio in my car either!) What would impel me towards this technology would be the availability of material other than music, and the new video iPods are tempting, but even downloaded TV shows don't make me rush to buy.

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Apropos of Nothing

Posted at 5:45 AM on March 19, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

We often wax rhapsodic about the sublime in classical music...but I also have a soft spot for the ridiculous, the remarkable, and the charming.

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Dem bones, dem bones...

Posted at 12:02 PM on March 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

One of our senior colleagues routinely refers to himself as a "fossil" when he presents some old-school perspective in our meetings here at MPR. After reading Bob Christiansen's recent "Fuddy/Duddy" blog, I'm starting to feel like my bones are rattling a bit, too.

It's probably just a matter of time before I get an iPod, but I find myself holding out. I don't think my resistance is technophobia, or latent Luddite tendencies. I think what is holding me back is a certain format fatigue, coupled with an increasing desire to reduce the *noise* around me.

I just got a new computer with a 19" high-definition flat screen monitor, and I hardly use it. I never play computer or video games (I prefer my games to be in *real* reality rather than virtual reality) , I don't play much music on the home stereo and, like Bob C., I don't even turn on the car stereo that much anymore.

Quite a few of my coworkers have told me that, after their air shifts and production work, they've had all the listening they can take. They have to give their ears a rest.

As much as my joints are starting to creak, maybe this fossil is really aging from the ears out. Anybody else feeling this way?

Happy Bach Day

Posted at 2:11 PM on March 21, 2006 by Don Lee

Even before my daughter Hannah was born on this date 19 years ago, I began celebrating March 21 because of Bach. They are quiet celebrations of his birthday; its pleasure enough to have the Goldberg Variations flow in and out of my consciousness as I tend to the daily routine.

Words about him seem almost pointless, but these from the great cellist Pablo Casals keep coming to mind: such is Bach, the greatest and purest moment in music of all time.

Tonight when I turn out the light, I expect my minds lullaby will be Sheep May Safely Graze from Cantata No. 208. The music is so reassuring it makes me want to believe the text: Sheep may ever graze securely/Where a worthy shepherd wakes./Where the rulers well are ruling,/May one rest and peace discover/And what nations blissful makes.

MN at the MET

Posted at 3:16 PM on March 21, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Okay, think American Idol, with singers who can really sing, and genuinely great music for a change!

Last month, Minnesota Opera Resident Artists Alison Bates, Seth Keeton and John Michael Moore swept the Regional round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Last Sunday, Seth Keeton and John Michael Moore were among nine singers who won the National Semifinals round! Seth and John sing at the National Finals this Sunday on stage with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and five Grand National Winners will be chosen. Each will receive $15,000, and a good chance at coming back to the Met someday in a role.

We're following this story on Classical Minnesota Public Radio, and I'll talk with Seth and John later this week to check in and see how they're preparing for the Big Event.

This contest is very prestigious; past winners include Ben Heppner, Rene Fleming, Susan Graham and Heidi Grant Murphy (and that was just in one year!). Minnesota Opera has had a superb track record there. Past Resident Artists who have competed at the national level are Esther Heidemann (national winner), Andy Gangestad (national finalist), Seth Keeton (national semifinalist) and James Valenti (grand national winner).

rrrrrrrrrRING!

Posted at 6:18 PM on March 21, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

BBC Radio 3 broadcast an unscheduled premiere last week. During a live interview with Steve Reich, listeners unexpectedly heard one of his new pieces, which turned out to be the ringtone on his cel phone. It took several moments for the embarassed composer to fetch the phone from his coat pocket.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported on how the ring tone phenomenon is branching out. Joining the hip-hop stars are some less likely names -- like Sibelius. Orchestras and classical-music publishers want a piece of the $600 million dollar ringtone business.

Boosey & Hawkes, a major classical music publisher, offers more than 300 songs from its catalog as $3 ringtone downloads on its Web site, www.booseytones.com, and the London Symphony sells ringtone versions of its recordings at www.lsoringtones.co.uk In addition to Steve Reich, downloads include:

-Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze; good if youre a shepherd with a cel phone
-Stravinskys The Rite of Spring, for those on-the-go Russian Pagans
-And the top ten downloads include classics for SciFi enthusiasts (Star Wars), and for fans of the cult TV hit, Thunderbirds

Not to be outdone, churches are getting into the act. Saint Petri church in Hamburg has a website, www.petriklingel.de to sell hymn tune ringtones. You can choose from

Wachet auf, the ever-popular Oh dass ich tausend Zungen htte, or the old standby Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Proceeds go toward a quarter million dollar fund to restore the churchs pipe organ.

The Sound of Silence

Posted at 4:06 AM on March 22, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (13 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I heartily agree with John Zechs statement (3/20) about needing a break from sounds after a full day of radio work. My non-radio friends are always surprised by A) my weird music collection and B) how infrequently I listen to it.

Ive never been one of those study-to-Mozart types. Its way too distracting for me, which is mostly a good thing. Music can never be "background" in my life...which can sometimes prove maddening. Back in college, during the semesters I studied ear training (learning to identify chords, chord inversions, chord progressions, etc. by ear) I couldnt shut it off. Id find myself in the grocery store or the elevator mentally graphing out the Muzak bass line and thinking, Deceptive cadence, or, Ha! Picardy third! Geeks R Us.

I have music running through my head virtually non-stop anyway. I seem to have a dedicated music channel in my brain, and its broadcasting 24/7. Most of the time I dont notice it, but sometimes the volume gets turned up to 11 and thats when I become The Most Annoying Person Ever. Every single thing anyone says will fire up a new tune in my mental jukebox and Im frequently powerless to keep from bursting into song. Heres how bad it is: Several months ago I saw a letter to Dear Abby or Miss Manners wherein some poor soul couldnt so much as mention the weather without one particular friend breaking into, Dont know whyyyyyy...theres no sun up in the skyyyyy... or somesuch, and how could she make her stop?? I was convinced Lauren Rico had written it about mewhich turned out not to be the case. But still.

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RIP Enrique

Posted at 8:57 AM on March 24, 2006 by John Zech (9 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

It was 90 years ago today that Catalonian/Spanish composer/pianist Enrique Granados lost his life trying to save his wife. They had been in America, enjoying the success of Granados' opera Goyescas at the Met in New York, and then delayed their trip back to Spain to accept an invitation from President Woodrow Wilson to visit the White House.

That delay was fatal.

After an uneventful Atlantic crossing, they were in the English Channel when their ship (SS Sussex) was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Granados jumped out of his lifeboat to save his wife and drowned with her...90 years ago today.

John Milton, the author of the highly acclaimed novel about Granados,
The Fallen Nightingale, sent me a poem honoring the occasion this morning. (see extended entry)

Continue reading "RIP Enrique"

"...and let's have another piece of pie."

Posted at 8:53 PM on March 25, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

"Brrrrrandy, More Brandy!" shouted Jack Lemmon in "The Great Race" as he was hit in the face with a particularly delectable pie. Let's talk about those delightful, unsuspecting surprises...I was just hit in the face by a lutheal.

I was talking about a CD containing the Suite populaire Espagnole by de Falla, played on violin and lutheal, a word I'd never seen before. Apparently Mirriam-Webster had never seen it before either, because it wasn't in the dictionary. Wikipedia had it though, a piano-like instrument with registers, one of which sounded like a cimbalom. The sound was plunky and lute-like and delightful, and I was happy to have been blind-sided by a new experience.

I felt the same way the other day listening (really listening) to an early Haydn symphony. It's so easy to think you've heard it all, and then you hear something new in something quite old. Now I'm going to see if the record library has Henry Mancini's "Pie in the Face Polka," and see if I can throw it at you sometime!

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Smeagol im Spiegel?

Posted at 2:56 AM on March 26, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (4 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Saw an interesting piece in the Guardian tonight about the Toronto premiere of a new show, 4 years and 27 million dollars in the making - Lord of the Rings: The Musical.

Okay, I confess: The Musical is NOT part of the official moniker. As a matter of fact, producer Kevin Wallace says the stage version of LotR is neither musical nor spectacle nor play. What then? Well, its ALL of them. A hybrid, if you will.

Certainly theres plenty of music to be found in the thousand or so pages of JRR Tolkiens Lord of the Rings trilogy. Someones always giving a lengthy history in verse or singing about a favorite pub or lamenting a lost comrade...but these are the parts I always skip when reading the books. I know I'm not alone in finding these the driest bits of those well-loved stories. How will they translate to the stage?

On another note, early previews hint theres a problem with the length of the 3 hour show - its too short. One unnamed critic said that even filmmaker Peter Jackson needed nine hours to tell the story.

So what do you think? Can it fly?

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How best to cross over

Posted at 12:03 PM on March 26, 2006 by Don Lee (6 Comments)

Osmo Vanska conducted the Minnesota Orchestra this weekend in music by ABBA. Willingly. Eagerly, even, as he told MPRs Tom Crann Friday on All Things Considered.

Though I am not an ABBA fan, I love a lot of pop music and I think the classical field could profitably mine that territory more often than it does. Classical music doesnt have to be a thing apart from contemporary life, but to many people it seems that way. It may be a step in the right direction to perform straight-on orchestral arrangements of popular songs, as they did at Orchestra Hall this weekend. If nothing else, its a way for Osmo Vanska to tell ABBA fans, See, we dont bite.

But the gap orchestras must bridge is more than a social one. They should also be sending a message to devotees of other musics that says, in effect, The musical languages we speak arent as different as you might think. The first step there is up to composers. Id like to hear more of them extract raw materials from rock and create new musical substance, as Beethoven and Dvorak and Vaughan Williams did with folk music in centuries past. Like what Philip Glass did in the 1990s when he created his "Low" and "Heroes" symphonies based on music by David Bowie.

I know Glass isnt alone, but how much more is there where that came from? Not much that Im aware of, but maybe I just havent looked hard enough. If you can recommend any rock-classical crossovers that stand up as music you really like to sit down and listen to, Id love to hear about them.

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Brush up your Wagner

Posted at 9:09 AM on March 27, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Wagner's huge operatic masterpiece, the Ring of the Niebelungen, has a convoluted plot based in Norse mythology. If you want to acquaint yourself with the stories and characters a bit better before your next trip to the opera, you might want to check out Dark Kingdom on the Sci-Fi Channel tonight at 8:00 CST.

According to this morning's New York Times review:

"By far the best thing in "Dark Kingdom" is Brunhild, played by Kristanna Loken, Arnold Schwarzenegger's nemesis in "Terminator 3," who was a molten, shape-shifting cyborg that most often assumed the form of a blond hottie. In "Dark Kingdom," with her furs, her blond dreadlocks, her martial-artsy way of wielding a spear, she's fierce and sexy a true Valkyrie, a warrior both on the ice floes and in the bedchamber."

Looks like "24" might have to get TiVo'd tonight.

MN at the Met: Coda

Posted at 12:53 PM on March 27, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

An update on the Met Finals:

Sunday night, Minnesota Opera Resident Artists Seth Keeton and John Michael Moore were among nine singers to perform at the finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Alas, neither of these wonderful singers took top honors, but I heard they were both happy with how they sang and thrilled to just be there. And the exposure they received performing at the Met will be a huge boost to their careers. The only down side of this is the likelihood that as their careers flourish, they'll be called away from Minnesota Opera more often. To get a sample of their voices, hear their studio performances recorded here at MPR, and tune in May 3 at 8pm for a broadcast of all the finalists. Congrats to Seth and John!

The classical new wav.

Posted at 1:47 PM on March 28, 2006 by Don Lee

In posts earlier this month, Bob Christiansen, John Zech and I listed some reasons we havent caught up with the iPod generation. Now it appears were trailing behind lots of our peers in the graying classical music audiencemore than I would have guessed.

Stories just published in the U.K. (The Guardian; The Scotsman) indicate that classical music lovers make up a pretty significant slice of the download market. They account for 2-4% of CD sales, but their share of downloading activity is three times larger.

But Im jumping to conclusions about who these people are. Could it be a younger audience thats downloading all that Beethoven?

Port-a-Pod

Posted at 5:18 AM on March 29, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (3 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

More about iPod, and podlike things.

Seems everybody thought that podcasting (generally defined as downloaded content, available by subscription and played back on a portable listening device)was all about its portability. Get your latest 'cast, and listen to it on the iPod. Right? Not so much. According to the research firm Bridge Data, 80% of podcasts aren't played back on iPods or other portable mp3 players. People are listening right there at their computers!

The author of this article suggests maybe it's time to redefine what we mean by podcasting. This is only the first half of the article. They're soliciting YOUR feedback to help write the second half, which will be published this Thursday.

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