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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: April 2006 Archive

Maybe Howard Should Try Mozart

Posted at 10:20 PM on April 1, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (9 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I read today where Howard Stern is upset that only about 20% of his former audience followed him to satellite radio. I could have told him that was going to happen; after all, who would ever pay for radio?

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The young person's side at the orchestra

Posted at 5:34 PM on April 2, 2006 by Don Lee

“That was hot.” Someone behind me said that last night when the Minnesota Orchestra trumpets brought the middle movement of Mahler’s First Symphony to a blistering end. I didn't turn around to look, but he sounded like someone younger than 40. On Saturday night there were more 30-somethings in the hall than I remember seeing at any Minnesota Orchestra concert I’ve attended.

My friends and I guessed that Mahler had to be the reason. One said the heart-on-sleeve expressiveness of Mahler’s music, with its bold, dramatic statements, is a draw for the younger-than-usual concert-goer. (In fact, as the program notes pointed out, Mahler’s original title for the first part of this symphony was “Days of Youth.”) I agreed, adding that Mahler sometimes shows a compellingly loopy side—clarinets careening beyond control and violins madly waltzing out of orbit. The cachet of the name is yet another draw. Not only can Mahler be “hot,” he is also cool, and has been since Leonard Bernstein made him so 40 years ago.

What do you think? Does the idea that Mahler is young person’s music make sense to anyone else?


Posted at 10:41 PM on April 2, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Hello. My name is Valerie and I'm a crossword puzzle addict.

I started with the soft stuff, the gateway puzzles. TV Guide, People magazine. Soon that wasn't enough, and I was buying puzzle variety books from the drugstore. Then I graduated to the newspapers' daily crosswords, where I quickly learned the difference between "TMS" and "NYT" puzzles. Tribune Media Service, you see, published crosswords I could do Monday through Saturday...but the New York Times got more difficult as the week progressed, and I'd be hopelessly over my head by, oh...Tuesday. But I kept plugging away, learning the familiar characters, little by little. Hersey's bell town, 5 letters. Swiss canton, 3 letters. Saarinen father and son, 5 and 4 letters respectively.

It was time for the New York Times Sunday Crossword. Oh, the rush of that first completed grid! I wanted to experience it again. Conveniently, it took me about a week to finish a puzzle so I'd just start again with the new Sunday crossword.

With time and practice, I got better. Faster. And I couldn't wait til next Sunday for a new puzzle. Enter the NYT Crossword Puzzle Omnibus - a series of compilations, each with a hundred or more puzzles.

Some people watch TV. Some knit. For me, the last few minutes of consciousness before sleep are spent wrestling with letters.

Here are a few from a crossword I finished this week. The puzzle is by Alfio Micci, and was titled Musical Excerpts.

29 ACROSS Air from Borodin's Polovstian Dance No. 2 (18 letters)

43 ACROSS Song from Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile (12 letters)

63 ACROSS Tune from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 (13 letters)

82 ACROSS Pop song from Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu (23 letters)

99 ACROSS Air from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 (13 letters)

119 ACROSS Melody from Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess (12 letters)

137 ACROSS Borrowing from a Borodin Nocturne (18 letters)

First person to post a reply with all the correct responses wins a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil.

Eine Kleine Brollymusik

Posted at 7:38 AM on April 3, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

I was doing the tourist bit in historic Alexandria, Virginia many years ago when I saw an umbrella with part of a piano score printed on it. I asked the owner if the music was Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu and she smiled and said yes.

I figured that one out after hearing Vern Sutton on "A Prairie Home Companion" sing a series of parodies of a certain pop song based the Chopin piece.

Consider this another clue to Valerie Kahler's "Word" puzzle posting: 82 ACROSS Pop song from Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu (23 letters)

Mikey Likes It--classical music, that is

Posted at 9:05 AM on April 4, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The Pioneer Press had a nice story on Sunday about Wisconsin's art educator of the year, John Jaskot. He feels "art educates the whole child." To quiet their minds while the kids do art he turns on MPR's classical music station. (Yes!)

"I like rock, jazz and some country, but classical music is best for doing art," Jaskot said.

Seems like it rubbed off on them, too. When a substitute teacher put on a rock station one day the kids said they preferred classical. (Yay!)

You can read the whole story here.

Maybe supertitles would help

Posted at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2006 by Don Lee

“This music sucks,” complained a young man hanging out on Block E in downtown Minneapolis. He was talking about opera music—arias and choruses coming through the speakers outside the bar/video game parlor, Gameworks. According to the story in today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press, the music is supposed to chase away loiterers.

The strategy apparently works. For several years, stories like this one have been popping up regularly all over the country. The Associated Press reported about a month ago that Beethoven is driving drug dealers out of a park in Hartford. A musicologist quoted in that story lamented the irony that "some of the greatest composers in history are now being viewed as some kind of bug spray or disinfectant."

While I know what he means, I also must observe that one man’s bug spray is another man’s balm. You would not catch me loitering on Block E if it were Neil Diamond coming out of those speakers.


Posted at 12:09 AM on April 5, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (9 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Here are the answers to Saturday's crossword quiz:

29 ACROSS Air from Borodin's Polovstian Dance No. 2

Stranger in Paradise (1953 - Robert Wright & George Forrest) Did you know Borodin earned himself a posthumous Tony award for Kismet?

43 ACROSS Song from Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile

The Isle of May (1940 - André Kostelanetz and Mack David)The previous year, Kostelanetz and David had also plundered Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony to create "Moon Love." Soon after, bandleader Les Brown penned a tune called "Everybody's Making Money But Tchaikovsky."

63 ACROSS Tune from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6

Now and Forever (1994? - Richard Marx)

82 ACROSS Pop song from Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows (1918 - Joseph McCarthy and Harry Carroll)

99 ACROSS Air from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

Tonight We Love (1941 - Freddy Martin, Bobby Worth and Ray Austin)

119 ACROSS Melody from Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess

The Lamp is Low (1939 - Peter DeRose and Bert Shefter)

137 ACROSS Borrowing from a Borodin Nocturne

And This is My Beloved (1953 - Robert Wright & George Forrest)

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Rachel wha' hae!

Posted at 11:41 AM on April 7, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

There's a last-minute chance to catch the fine American violinist Rachel Barton Pine in a gala concert tonight in St. Paul. Her latest disc is an album of Scottish Fantasies for Violin and Orchestra, so it's no surprise she got tapped for Tartan Day festivities in St. Paul.

Their homepage doesn't give a phone number, but her performance is at THE CROWNE PLAZA Riverfront Hotel, (formerly Riverfront Radisson Hotel) 11 E Kellogg Ave St Paul. It says "Tickets at the door $25 Performance 8:30 pm." The gala dinner starts at 7:00.

Playing against the odds

Posted at 4:28 PM on April 7, 2006 by Don Lee (69 Comments)

The odds are about 17 to one—a lot better than Powerball. But still: Would you invest tens of thousands of dollars (and practice room hours) to become a conservatory grad if you knew those were your chances of landing a good orchestra job?

For anyone facing that prospect, there’s must reading just out in The Los Angeles Times, an article on “The State of Music Education.” It makes the point that 2,700 music performance majors graduate each year, but lately there have been no more than 160 orchestra openings.

The story also points out that there’s life outside the orchestra for these young musicians. They can become educators, writers or administrators and still keep a hand in music. As far as I’m concerned, anytime you have a chance to work in a field you love, you’re a pretty lucky person.

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Years of Listening Finally Pay Off!

Posted at 6:46 PM on April 8, 2006 by Bob Christiansen

I went to see Ice Age 2 the other day and enjoyed, in addition to the expanded scenes with Scrat, the mix of music. I always try to pay attention to the score and in one of Scrat's scenes I heard a tune I recognized. It was driving me crazy, of course, because recognizing a tune and knowing the name of it are two completely diffent things. It wasn't until I was on my way home, driving with that tune in my head that the name came: "Hunt the Squirrel" from Ernest Tomlinson's First Suite of English Folk-Dances. Singularly appropriate! ...and I won't even mention the suprise production number!

I Know I Know This...

Posted at 9:41 PM on April 9, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Bob's post about hearing the squirrel music in Ice Age 2 (and knowing he knew it somehow)reminded me of hearing that warm, comforting and downright hopeful music that played while the credits were rolling at the end of Ridley Scott's Alien. It's the middle movement of Howard Hanson's Romantic Symphony which, oddly, I happen to have on my playlist Sunday night.

While doing a little digging around on the interweb I found the following quote, part of Thomas F. Bertonneau's Amazon.com review of a Hanson CD:

Howard Hanson oddly resembles Scott's alien. He is a powerful presence whom his modernist nemeses have repeatedly attempted to expel, by declarations of his hopeless Romanticism and obsolescence, who nevertheless keeps reasserting himself to their great consternation.

I must confess, I never thought of Howard Hanson as an alien before.

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Howard Hanson: Interlochen Alien??

Posted at 8:44 PM on April 10, 2006 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Valerie's post on Hanson's Second Symphony showing up in "Alien" reminds me (and thousands of fellow Interlochen alumni) that this music became "The Interlochen Theme." Decades ago when NBC was doing summer broadcasts of Interlochen's World Youth Symphony Orch, that theme was played by the kids as live outro music while the announcer read the credits. Years after the broadcasts ceased, the tradition of closing Interlochen concerts with Hanson's tune continued. As for "Alien," here's a relevant post from Craig Pettigrew on the Interlochen Alumni listserve:

"The person responsible for the Hanson at the end of Ridley Scott's "Alien" was the film editor, Terry Rawlings. Not only is he a great editor, but most knowledgable when it comes to music. Films go through a "temp" process where music is cut in to allow the director and/or studio a chance to see the film in what feels like a finished
version. Temporary music was cut in by both Terry and Jerry Goldsmith's Music Editor, Ken Hall. None of whom are Interlochen alumni. But they know a great piece of music when they hear it, and Terry's suggestion of the Hanson for the temp turned out to be so terrific that Fox licensed it for the final version of the movie.

"I know this because I was the Music Editor on "Alien 3," also edited by Terry Rawlings (Directed by David Fincher, scored by Elliot Goldenthal) . During the temp process in "Alien 3" (which went on for almost a year) Terry had cut in, even before I came on the film, Hanson's "Elegy for Koussivitzky." This played near the end, and climaxes as she takes a Christ-like dive in the boiling metal. (At the time, no baby alien came bursting out; that was added at the end, so as to allow for yet another sequel) And the Hanson stayed for some time, cut and re-cut by myself to fit the various picture cuts which seemed to change week to week. (I had picked and cut the rest of the temp music, and Elliot had provided us with some synth demos)
However, the cue that Elliot ended up writing for the scene pulled
together the thematic elements introduced throughout the score, and it is a wonderful piece of music. And thus the Hanson was replaced.
Say what you will about those films, but they have provided wonderful
canvasses for composers. Elliot's score is among my favorites, and I'm proud to have been associated with it."

-Craig Pettigrew
NMC '72
IAA '72-73

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All rise

Posted at 12:55 PM on April 11, 2006 by Don Lee (2 Comments)

Acting on the notion that a little confession is good for the soul, I will admit here, publicly, that I have been thinking curmudgeonly thoughts. At a concert Saturday night, I stubbornly stayed seated as most everyone else in the audience rose in a standing ovation. It was a lively, stirring performance—far better than average. But I chose not to stand.

Why? Well, for one thing, I've always thought standing ovations were meant to recognize exceptional artistry. I haven’t kept close track, but I’d venture that four out of five Twin Cities performances I attend (not only concerts) end in standing o’s. The exception is the event that does not bring the audience to its feet. On Saturday night, I decided I was not going to contribute to standing ovation inflation.

I also found myself thinking uncharitable thoughts about the motives of others in the audience. That’s what brought me up short and led to this confession. It’s the kind of thinking that would reserve the concert hall for a prescribed kind of behavior. It’s the kind of thinking that can drive people away from classical music.

I hope you’ll forgive me. I can’t promise that I’ll join each and every standing ovation from now on. But if you feel moved to stand, I will gladly applaud for you too.

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Standing on Tradition

Posted at 11:09 PM on April 11, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Concerts

In response to Don's post about "requisite" standing Os, I have this to say:

[leaps to feet, clapping wildly]

Bravo! Bravo!

Having been on both sides of a perfunctory standing ovation, I'll say that as a performer it can be embarrassing when you know the performance didn't merit an A+. It's one thing if it's Grandma and Aunt Marge (and the concert was in the living room!) but entirely another when you sense the crowd going through the motions. And yes, as an audience member I've often felt compelled rather than impelled to stand.


Is this phenomenon at all related to the profusion of tip jars in the last 5-10 years? Used to be tipping was for service...you know, walking from here to there, carrying something. And, importantly, tipping was for waiters/bussers who were making below minimum wage and relied on tips for the bulk of their incomes.

Now, tip jars are everywhere - at the coffee counter, at the sandwich shop, the airport parking shuttle.

Lest you think I'm just another stingy curmudgeon: I'm a former waiter myself and a notorious overtipper. I almost always tip unless I'm met with outright surliness.

Down in front!

Posted at 2:48 AM on April 14, 2006 by John Zech (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Curmudgeons of the world unite! I often stay seated and applaud while those around me are standing, but it's darned awkward. You feel like kind of a doofus, and you can't see anyone on the stage anyway...so you might as well get up.

Valerie dates this behavior to the early tip jar years. At the risk of sounding like Joe Soucheray, I'd like to suggest that the "standing obligation" comes out of a "feel-good" culture that doesn't keep score, gives medals to everyone who competes, and wants to be sure nobody feels bad. Of course, then nobody feels really good, either.

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Channeling Ida Benson

Posted at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I was having an online chat with my family as we do every week, and the topics were standard for us: food, the upcoming reunion and animals. We started getting into animals and music, and I realized that I've never met the supposed "His Master's Voice" dog...an animal that will sit and contentedly listen to music with you. I actually thought about that when I got a dog...what a nice way to spend an afternoon or evening, sitting by the fire, listening to music with my trusty faithful companion.

My dog HATES music! All music: rock, classical, jazz, movie soundtracks...doesn't matter to her, she just gets up and leaves the room. My grandmother used to do that too, with any TV program she didn't like. She would get up and leave the room, with her standard "Ish, Ish" trailing off into the distance. So basically my dog is channeling my grandmother! Oh, and she hates fires, too.

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The Pulitzer Prize is no surprise

Posted at 3:14 PM on April 17, 2006 by Don Lee

The Pulitzer Prize for Music was announced today. Throughout its history, the prize has gone almost exclusively to composers in the classical tradition. Critics have wondered why jazz and other kinds of music have seldom earned the recognition. Two years ago, in response, the Pulitzer board diversified the make-up of the jury deciding the music prize.

The results so far? This year's winner is Yehudi Wyner for his piano concerto, Chiavi in mano, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Last year's music Pulitzer went to Steven Stucky for his Second Concerto for Orchestra, premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Since the Pulitzer for Music was established in 1943, the only non-classical composers to win have been Wynton Marsalis, in 1997, and Mel Powell, in 1990. Marsalis's piece was a jazz oratorio and Powell's was a jazz-influenced concerto composed for the L.A. Philharmonic.

Quake 100

Posted at 8:44 PM on April 17, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Tuesday (April 18) is the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake.

It's pretty common knowledge that Enrico Caruso was performing in Bizet's Carmen the night before the quake hit, and the following morning he fled the shaking Palace Hotel in his jammies vowing never to return again.

Many have forgotten, however, that the woman singing the title role of Carmen that night was St. Peter, Minnesota's own Olive Fremstad, who would become the leading Wagnerian soprano of her day--and quite a colorful figure in her own right (she visited a New York City morgue so she could hold a severed head in her hands to prepare for the title role in premiere of Richard Strauss's opera Salome.

Caruso never came back, but within a few weeks San Franciscans were attending all kinds of entertainments to keep their spirits up while they rebuilt their city. You can read more about what they did in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Olive Fremstad was a good friend of Willa Cather, and the inspiration for her story The Song of the Lark, which you can download here. If you want to pay your own tribute to Olive Fremstad, you can visit her gravesite in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, a little over an hour's drive north of the cities (I-35 north, Take the MN-70 exit..EXIT 165...toward ROCK CREEK / GRANTSBURG).

Talkin' Beethoven 3 Blues

Posted at 11:35 AM on April 18, 2006 by Don Lee (3 Comments)

“More music, less talk.” Radio stations have traded on that slogan for years. And the pitch makes sense: When listeners tune in wanting music, they tend to get impatient with lots of chat, no matter how personable or informative the announcer may be.

Noticing a trend toward more talk in the concert hall, London Financial Times critic Andrew Clark announces that he’s had enough. He prefers to have conductors immediately lift the baton and give the downbeat rather than take microphone in hand and speak to the audience. Clark makes a fair-minded argument, acknowledging the benefits of connecting to the audience in an informal and interesting way. But, as a believer in “the sanctity of a classical concert,” he comes down on the side of “all music, no talk.” “When performers start speaking,” he says, “they break the spell.”

I share Clark’s belief, to a point. The sense of apartness from the world, of sanctuary, is a concert hall experience I treasure. (And for that reason, I side with another writer who gave a raspberry to a BlackBerry at Carnegie Hall.) But the word “sanctity” also connotes a sense of inviolability that can be forbidding. To people outside the concert hall, the message can too easily seem, “You are not welcome here.” To undo the damage that kind of message has caused, much work still needs to be done. Talking conductors are doing some of it.

Clark says that, as a teenager, he didn’t need explanations to be “enraptured” by Ravel at a piano recital. But what did it take to get him inside in the first place?

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iNic for your iPod

Posted at 9:02 PM on April 18, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

The Alex Ross blog today highlights Nic McGegan, conductor of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, now available for downloads with his other orchestra, San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque. But you'll have to pay for these.

If you want a free stream, don't forget that Classical Minnesota Public Radio offers an archive of complete concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra.

Aren't we good to you? ;-)

Note to Self:

Posted at 12:43 AM on April 19, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

"The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everyone sees." - Arthur Schopenhauer

As (almost) the baby of the MPR classical music family, even I have been doing the classical radio thing for nigh on 20 years. So, sometimes it's a challenge as an announcer to face that Haydn symphony or Beethoven quartet one more time. It helps that Rex & Melissa do such a loving job of crafting the playlists...and that I love the music. I wrote a fundraising spot about it a few years ago, as much to remind myself as to encourage more seasoned listeners to remember that someone's always hearing that "old chestnut" for the very first time.

My task, then? Not so much to hear what no one yet has heard, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everyone hears.

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Nature, Mozart and starlings

Posted at 4:24 AM on April 21, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Earth Day is Saturday and commentator Philip Blackburn and Web designer Ben Tesch are the driving forces behind a fascinating Web site that makes a lot of connections between music and nature. From Mozart's starling to a "Name that Tune" game using the sounds of nature to a composition for orchestra, children and audio tape that reflects the ecosystem of the California deserts—there's a lot of fun, interesting, thought-provoking stuff at musicandnature.org.

The mass appeal of Karl Jenkins

Posted at 2:19 PM on April 21, 2006 by Don Lee

Britain’s Classic FM has released the results of its annual Hall of Fame survey. By polling its listeners, the station declares a composition “officially the nation's favorite piece of classical music.” This year, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto unseated Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which had been No. 1 for the previous five years.

Their broad appeal makes those pieces understandable choices. Not surprisingly, the entire list of top finishers includes what you might call the usual suspects. Except this one: The Armed Man (A Mass for Peace) by Karl Jenkins, which finished No. 10.

Have you heard of that piece? I hadn’t, although I do know Karl Jenkins as the 70s jazz/rocker-turned-“classical”-composer who wrote “Palladio,” an urgent-sounding, Baroque-flavored tune used a few years ago to help sell DeBeers diamonds in TV ads.

A few samples from the Boosey and Hawkes Web site demonstrate that this mass is pleasing music too…Mozart filtered through the sensibility of a film composer like John Barry. On a page touting a recording of the piece, Boosey proudly quotes The Guardian newspaper: “’No doubt, this will sell by the lorry-load.’”

Beethoven, Puccini AND Rodney Dangerfield

Posted at 9:25 PM on April 22, 2006 by Bob Christiansen

I just saw "Fidelio" for the first time, in an impressive performance from Covent Garden, stretched over a couple days, inbetween walking the dog and cooking up a mean Kung Pao Pork. If you haven't yet made the jump to an online movie rental service yet, let me give you one more good reason: operas (and operettas). Who said you have to be limited to Caddyshack and The Crimson Pirate...I've recently gone through almost all the Gilbert and Sullivan available (don't miss the Canadian performance of Mikado) and I"ve got "Idomeneo" and "Tosca" in my queue (also Caddyshack and The Crimson Pirate, but we'll talk about those another time). Bernstein's "Candide" and "Trouble in Tahiti" are coming up as well. I mention this because opera is so much a visual medium, and I'm delighted with all that's available with the click of a mouse. I may not be ready to iPod, but I can Netflix with the best of them!

Who's That Guy Up There With Anne-Sophie?

Posted at 12:27 AM on April 23, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

MPR's library has a lovely box set of Beethoven Sonatas recorded by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis - a souvenir of their amazing 1998 world tour. At each venue, they played all ten Beethoven sonatas over the course of 3 nights.

It's clear that Lambert Orkis is a phenomenal pianist and a gifted interpreter (of everything from Bach to Crumb, according to his website!) and yet, he is relegated to "accompanist" in almost every single web mention of the Beethoven sonatas. In defense of all those websites, it's probably because the CD cover has a huge picture of Anne-Sophie plastered next to the words "Beethoven: The Violin Sonatas."

"So what?" you may be asking. Well, let's have a look at Beethoven's manuscripts, shall we? Ten Sonatas "For Piano with Violin." It's extremely rare, however, to see that phrase on a published score these days. You can find a few versions "For Piano and Violin" and plenty "For Violin and Piano." And yet, when it's time for the recital or the recording, it's billed as a Violin Sonata.

I suppose I played too much chamber music in college to ever take a pianist for granted. (I was a little afraid of them in general. I think they like this.) I saw firsthand that the piano parts in a Schubert quintet or a Shostakovich trio were not "accompaniment." Why should the piano part in a Beethoven (or any other) sonata be classified as such?

Susan Tomes, writing for The Guardian, riffs on this very subject here.

Her hope is that we can begin to reclaim that lost territory for the pianists of the world simply by watching our phraseology.

Tune in Tuesday night at around 11:30 to hear Beethoven's Sonata No. 2 for Piano and Violin. Pianist Lambert Orkis with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter!

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Honda Choir Spoof

Posted at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

You've probably already seen the fantastic UK Honda Civic commercial with the choir that was making the rounds a few months ago. If not, view here, and be amazed! (note also the Garrison Keillor voice-over)

Now comes a spoof of same, done for "118 118", which Wiki tells me is the UK phone equivalent of our "411."

Jolly good fun!

SPCO shows the way

Posted at 5:03 PM on April 25, 2006 by Don Lee (2 Comments)

Way out ahead of their colleagues in other American orchestras, the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have made a savvy step into the 21st century. Yesterday the orchestra announced a new media rights agreement.

It paves the way for every recorded SPCO concert, dating back to 1971, to appear on the Web. Future concerts will be streamed live. Past and future concerts will be available for on-demand listening and downloading on the orchestra’s MPR Web page.

Streaming has become standard practice, but in a very small circle: Streaming tends to accompany radio broadcasts, and only a handful of American orchestras are still on the air regularly. On-demand Web availability of concerts is less common. The Minnesota Orchestra is one of few orchestras that have taken advantage of that opportunity, granted more than a year ago in the musicians union's national contract. Downloading may be a different story. Lately a few American orchestras have been getting into that game. This month, for example, the L.A. Philharmonic is beginning to sell selected concerts on iTunes.

What makes the SPCO agreement stand out is its scope. It covers all recorded concerts, past and future. It permits a full range of Web access. And it allows much more flexible broadcasting rights.

The previous agreement allowed four broadcasts of a concert—presented as an entire concert. Rights expired after three years. The new agreement allows unlimited broadcast use. That will mean you can hear SPCO concert performances many times a week, not just on Monday nights. You’ll be able to hear individual pieces throughout our broadcast schedule, just like selections from CDs.

It will also lend a different character to the weekly SPCO program. While it will still be possible to replicate the overture-concerto-symphony concert pattern, it won’t be mandatory. So you’ll hear programs that mix and match pieces from various concerts in creative new combinations.

SPCO musicians will get a pay increase for granting these new rights, but they and SPCO management deserve congratulations for taking a risk, for being out in front. Here’s hoping other orchestras, who must be watching closely, will follow their lead.

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Zechmeisters in music

Posted at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Confession time: My family name Zech could come from the mining industry, but it's maybe even more likely to have something to do with drinking. There are a number of German operas/operettas where they sing about zechen, which is German verb meaning "to drink." A Zeche is a bill you would get at a bar. A Zechpreller is someone who skips out without paying the bill and a Zechmeister is, as a German friend once reminded me, a "master carouser." Needless to say, a number of my friends have called me "The Zechmeister" without knowing how close they were to the truth--ahem.

In the music world there have been quite a few Zechmeisters. Bach liked his beer and wine, Brahms had a wine cellar, and there's a famous story by the prominent New York critic James Huneker about a pub crawl he took with Dvorak when the composer was teaching in New York City in the 1890s. Dvorak had whisky cocktails while Huneker drank beer. Nineteen drinks later the critic was ready to call it quits when Dvorak started looking for Slivovitch because it "warms you after so much beer."

Huneker said, "Such a man is as dangerous to a moderate drinker as a false beacon is to a ship-wrecked sailor. And he could drink as much spirits as I could the amber brew."

Graeme Garden has piece in the UK Telegraph about some of the great drinkers and trenchermen of music. Can you tell it in there music? Read more here.

The Redemption of Elise

Posted at 1:38 AM on April 26, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I played Beethoven's Für Elise during my airshift the other night. As I sat back to enjoy a few minutes of good company with this old friend, it hit me with a jolt: I was no longer afraid of it.

For many years, hearing folks mention the work, hearing it on the air or even seeing the words Für Elise in print would make me cringe...and take me back to a dark day.

Scene: Webster Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona. Sixth grade talent show. I wore a red velvet dress. Neil MacDonald was the emcee. He introduced me as "Webster's own Princess of the Piano" which still makes me feel a little queasy now, a hundred years later.

In front of every single lifeform affiliated with Webster Elementary School, I sat at the blonde spinet in the cafeteria, to play Für Elise from memory. In retrospect it's easy to shout "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?" but I was a cocky youth then and wouldn't have listened anyway.

It started beautifully! Very fluid. I'd spent a lot of time learning how to use the sustain pedal, you know. First repeat, back to the beginning. So far so good. Now, I'm supposed to take the second ending and continue on to the B section. But my fingers played the first ending, which circled me back around to the beginning. Okay, no one will notice, right? I'll just sail through to the 2nd page THIS time. Oops, missed it again. By about the 5th time through that first page I finally gave up and ran out the door.

What a drama queen.

Needless to say this wasn't an eventuality poor Neil had planned for. Ever seen a sixth-grader try to improvise through awkwardness like that? Me neither, because I had run all the way home by that point. (I lived across the street, so it wasn't impressive as it sounds.) You know how when you're little you can cry so hard that you kind of get the hiccups? Well, I wasn't doing that - no matter what my sister says.

The other night it was John O'Conor at the black Steinway instead of the blonde spinet. I was so charmed by the performance that I forgot to hold my breath during that transition.


p.s. For those of you who have made it this far, I want you to know that after I stopped hyperventilating, I walked back across the street to the cafeteria. The talent show was still going on. I went on after the next act, and finally got it right.

I just wish Neil hadn't introduced me as the Princess of the Piano again.

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Big Apple is big on iTunes

Posted at 12:56 PM on April 28, 2006 by Don Lee

The New York Philharmonic has sold about 2,000 downloads of the first concert it’s offered via iTunes, according to the New York business magazine, Crain’s. The orchestra launched the initiative late last month. The report says there were another 2,000 downloads of selections from the concert, a February performance of Mozart’s last three symphonies.

During the first week after its release, the recording was No. 1 on iTunes’ classical chart. It’s since been displaced. Now occupying every spot in the classical top ten is singer Andrea Bocelli.

A Day Without Immigrants

Posted at 11:02 PM on April 30, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Tonight's ArtsJournal newsletter contained an interesting message.

A Day Without Immigrants (And ArtsJournal)
The stories you see in this newsletter were collected Sunday, April 30. May 1 is the "Day Without Immigrants" protest against recent attempts in Congress to change immigration laws. ArtsJournal.com is powered by an immigrant so ArtsJournal will not be adding stories on Monday and there will be no newsletter Monday night. Regular service will resume Tuesday.

The gist of the protest is that tomorrow (Monday, May 1st), all immigrants will stay home from work, stay home from school, and not buy a single thing...thus demonstrating their impact on the American economy.

There's a counter-protest being planned as well. Read all about both at the invaluable Snopes.com

I'm not cheerleading for either protest, by the way. The whole thing kinda leaves me scratching my head. What about you?

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