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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: May 2006 Archive

Daniel Barenboim: the new Bernstein?

Posted at 8:43 PM on May 1, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

One of the events that nudged me into the world of classical music radio was the brilliant series of Norton lectures given at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein in 1973 and titled The Unanswered Question.

Lucky for me, they were on TV for free. Lucky for you, you can still buy them or find them at many libraries on video or DVD. I remember being swept away by this man who was incredibly passionate about the beauty and meaning of music--all kinds of music--and he showed us with his illustrations at the piano how we are born with the ability to appreciate the forms of music, and how musical syntax is rooted in the forms of nature.

Well, there is a new series of lectures that has just been given by pianist, conductor and peace activist, Daniel Barenboim. They are the Reith Lectures 2006, given for the BBC who have put them on their website. I only just discovered them tonight and haven't gotten very far into them, but it's really good stuff so far--the meaning of music, music's meaning to society. "The inexpressible content of music and in many ways the inexpressible content of life" as he puts it. The first lecture is called "In the Beginning was Sound." You can listen to it or read it here.

Does classical music make you act smarter?

Posted at 8:28 AM on May 3, 2006 by Don Lee

In this space two months ago I mentioned a book that critic Greg Sandow is drafting online, a book about the future of classical music. He argues that the grand vessels bearing the classical music tradition are outmoded, foundering and threatened with sinking. In the six installments that form the introduction to his book, he lists a few ideas for turning the old galleon around.

In general, Sandow thinks classical music institutions need to engage more fully with contemporary life. A common objection to his arguments, cited in Episode Six (just published online), is this one: he’s dumbing down classical music.

He responds with some insightful answers to the charge, differentiating between the music and the way it is presented.

Sandow thinks classical music insiders tend to make “a fetish about how brainy classical music supposedly is.” Consistent with that, they advocate a performance style that “acts out a pantomime of profundity and intelligence. With silence and formal dress, we put a frame around the music, a frame that says, ‘Something very important is happening here.’”

But later Sandow admits to a paradox: “I don’t have trouble with the music, which I love just about to distraction. Especially—and I don’t care how ironic this sounds, after what I’ve just written—I love its inner details, its structure, the way it’s constructed.”

It seems Sandow agrees there is something important happening here…so important that people who love the music should do nothing to stand in its way.

Good night, sweet Guthrie

Posted at 10:40 AM on May 5, 2006 by Don Lee

Music lovers will mourn the closing of the old Guthrie Theater Sunday night almost as much as theater-goers. I’m hardly alone in the feeling that it was a wonderful concert venue—most of all for its intimacy (as mentioned in a piece by Chris Roberts airing today on MPR News).

I have vivid, up-close memories of Frank Zappa, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Randy Newman, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Weather Report. But the Guthrie music memory that stands out most concerns a concert I did NOT see.

It was in the mid-70s. My then-girlfriend had a single ticket to see Aaron Copland conduct the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I decided to go with her to try my luck in the rush line. I was the first person in the line not to get a ticket.

Ultimately, I was not too sorry. A couple of years later I was able to see Copland on stage in Boston. And that night in Minneapolis, to kill time while my girlfriend enjoyed the concert, I decided to see what was going on at the Walker Art Center. They were showing a film by a German director I’d never heard of, Werner Herzog. It was Aguirre, the Wrath of God. The film was mesmerizing; I became an instant Herzog fan. And the soundtrack (by Popul Vuh) was pretty good too.

Soothing the savage beasts

Posted at 7:04 PM on May 8, 2006 by John Zech (5 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

OK, ok, I know. I know the quote from Congreve is "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast" (geez, you people are picky). But I'm not interested in softening rocks or bending knotted oaks. It's the little beasties I'm concerned about.

Bob Christiansen blogged last month that his dog hates music, but I think music, classical music, must have a soothing effect on some critters.

A lot of our listeners tell us that MPR's classical music soothes them when their nerves are jangled, and it seems the Ramsey County Humane Society must agree. When we adopted our little kitty, Bijou, last December, I was very happy to hear All-Classical 99.5 FM on their radio.

Now whether it was chosen to keep the staff happy, or the cats and birds (and maybe dogs), I don't know. And I didn't ask. Bijou listens contentedly to our classical music whenever it's on, and (my wife assures me) she perks up her ears a little bit when her master's voice comes on the radio.

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Catching some (X-) Rays

Posted at 10:48 PM on May 8, 2006 by John Birge (183 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Okay, this gets pretty esoteric pretty fast, but bear with me; I need someone smarter than I am to figure this out.

Looking at my musical almanac, I see that tomorrow is the birth anniversary of composer Julius Roentgen. I remember when one of our classical hosts wondered aloud on the air whether Julius was related to Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, the man who discovered the x-ray. A listener called to say that she had studied piano with Julius in Berlin, and that Julius and Wilhelm were indeed brothers.

When I tried to confirm this fact, I got suspicious because none of the bios of the composer mention this fascinating connection. After a little more fact-checking, and may be able to put some of this idea to rest:

Julius Röntgen was born in Leipzig on 9th May 1855 the son of a Dutch-German father, Engelbert Röntgen, who was leader of the famous Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and a German mother, the pianist Pauline Klengel.

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was born March 27, 1845, in the lower Rhine town of Lennep, the only child of Friedrich Conrad Röntgen, a well-to-do textile merchant, and his Dutch wife and cousin, Charlotte Constance Frowein.

So that suggests our listener heard it wrong. But I'm still intrigued. Given the German/Dutch connections in both families, perhaps Julius and Wilhelm were cousins, or otherwise related?

As I said, I need someone smarter than I to figure this out. So, "tag, you're it" ! Thanks in advance for the answer; I know that collectively, our listeners know everything! Thank God they don't have x-ray vision...

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First the Roentgens, now the Dopplers

Posted at 4:20 PM on May 9, 2006 by Don Lee (170 Comments)

John Birge’s most recent post reminds me of another seeming musico-scientific kinship: Franz Doppler, composer of the never-to-be-forgotten Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy and dozens of other flute pieces, and Christian Doppler, mathematician and discoverer of the Doppler Effect, the theory explaining why a locomotive whistle changes pitch as a train speeds past.

I have long assumed the two men were related, if only distantly. John's post led me to investigate. To my disappointment, I have not found any evidence supporting my assumption. What I did find is this:

Albert Franz Doppler was the younger of the two, born in Lvov, Poland in 1821. His family moved to Vienna, where he began a very successful career as a flutist when he was 13.

By coincidence, Johann Christian Andreas Doppler lived in Vienna at about the same time. Though he was probably not related to the composer, he should have been. Christian was born in Mozart’s hometown, Salzburg, Austria, in 1803. And in 1845 he used music in the original demonstration of the Doppler Effect. He positioned one group of trumpeters at a train station and another on an open train car. As the car rolled past the station, all of the trumpeters played the same tone. But the pitches didn’t match. Theory proved.

And you wonder how we occupy our time while those long symphonies are on the air....

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And Let's Not Forget the Schuberts

Posted at 2:21 PM on May 11, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I had a piece yesterday for violin and piano, "The Bee" by Franz Schubert. No, not THAT Franz Schubert, the other one; the one that constantly gets lost in the shadow because he apparently only wrote one piece...namely, "The Bee!" This Franz Schubert was born in Dresden in 1808, and is sometimes referred to as "Francois Schubert" to try to avoid confusion. (It almost never works).

I'd love to learn more about FS2, and whether there are any more pieces buzzing around the apiary...anyone?

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Opera news

Posted at 2:21 PM on May 11, 2006 by Rex Levang

It's been a lively few months for opera hereabouts, in case you hadn't noticed. Earlier we had La Boheme, Mercadante's Orazi e Curazi, and, expanding the definition only slightly, Jeune Lune's free-wheeling treatment of Boito's Mefistofele (still running) and for Gilbert and Sullivan fans, Princess Ida.

(And that's only the Twin Cities.)

The latest entry will debut this weekend. There was a multifaceted presentation last night, where composer Laurent Petitgirard explained how he came to choose the subject of his opera. He first considered Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray and then Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but eventually rejected both and was still looking for a subject. His librettist said to him, "But don't you see? London? The 1890s? Your subject is the Elephant Man."

More from MPR's Karl Gehrke here. The Minnesota Opera's production of Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man opens Saturday at the Ordway.

It's Intermission Time. . .

Posted at 8:30 AM on May 12, 2006 by Rex Levang

The Metropolitan Opera has announced new plans for their intermission features; looking back over past seasons, Christopher Purdy blogs affectionately.

Making Noise in the Library

Posted at 8:27 PM on May 14, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

This Saturday May 20, meet Classical Minnesota Public Radio at the grand opening celebration of the new Minneapolis Central Public Library. Julie Amacher, Jeff Esworthy, and I will be in the music department from 11am-2pm. Our little Mozart Lounge is a small part of a huge day-long celebration in and around this spectacular new building. Please stop by and say hello! Info at our events calendar. BTW, last week I went over to check our setup, and got a sneak peek of Cesar Pelli's new building, full of very inspiring spaces. Get your own sneak preview in this Sunday Star Tribune feature.

While I'm on the subject, can you imagine life without a free public library? Can any society call itself civilized without one?!? Here are some statistics that speak volumes about civilized Minneapolitan's love of learning and libraries:

1. 75% of Minneapolis households use MPL every year, and 25% of households use MPL 20 or more times annually.

2. 80% of Minneapolis children have library cards -- far above national averages.

3. MPL has the 4th most card holders per capita of any major American city.

4. Minneapolis holds the 3rd largest per capita library collection of any major American city.

5. The new Central Library has 38.5 miles of shelving.

6. At the new Central Library, virtually 100% of the collection will be at the fingertips of patrons (up from 15% previously)

7. With 297 public computers (up from 75 in the old building), the new Central Library will provide more computer access than any other building in the state.

8. MPL has 350,000 registered borrowers, including 70,000 (20%) who live outside of Minneapolis.

9. In a typical year, MPL circulates 3 million items, answers nearly 2 million reference questions, and welcomes more than 1.5 million on-site users.

10. MPL is actively collecting learning materials in more than 30 languages.

As a St Paul resident, I still hold a special spot for our treasured old James J. Hill library building (now that's a library), but where borrowing is concerned, I play both sides of the river, and I hope to celebrate the newest grand library with you on Saturday.

Signs of civilization

Posted at 11:03 AM on May 15, 2006 by Don Lee

A friend was asking me the other day about European radio broadcasters, saying he’d observed distinct differences between them and us. During his travels in Europe, he said he’d noticed their news reports were longer. Classical music was more prevalent and the programming choices more serious. He wondered whether what he heard was evidence that European listeners are more sophisticated than we are.

“That’s not what European broadcasters think,” I told him. More than 25 years ago, wondering the same thing about our cultures, I raised a similar question with several German radio people. Their answer surprised me. They said they didn’t have many listeners for challenging music, serious documentaries or radio drama. They offered this programming because they felt it was important work to do and the government subsidized them to do it. Since that time, the rise of commercial broadcasting in Europe has reduced the audience for public radio culture even more.

Saturday’s New York Times reports another development that suggests Europe's cultural roots may not run as deep as Americans might think: The Berlin Philharmonic has launched an ambitious new education program. When that organization in that city makes such a move, it lends a lot of symbolic weight to the notion that future classical audiences can't be taken for granted (even if you factor in the big grant the orchestra got for the project).

So. Europeans are not more culturally sophisticated than we are. Or are they?

Osmo-sis Strikes Again!

Posted at 12:21 PM on May 15, 2006 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

The first review of the latest Minnesota Orchestra CD crossed the transom today from classicstoday.com, filled with epithets like "perfect," "stunning," and "it doesn't get any better" for the Minnesota Orchestra.

David Hurwitz rates this one 9 for artistic merit, and a perfect 10 for sound quality. He was clearly a convert when he reviewed Osmo Vanska's first Beethoven CD with the Minnesota Orchestra a little over a year ago, which rated 10 and 10.

BTW, this new CD will be a thank-you gift in our June membership drive, so you can get your copy AND support Classical Minnesota Public Radio at the same time!

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What we talk about when we talk about music

Posted at 3:16 PM on May 16, 2006 by Don Lee

I’ll leave it to someone else to respond directly to Tom Oscanyan, who posed a question in the Comments under John Birge’s post yesterday. Mr. Oscanyan wonders how critics judge the artistic merit of a performance. “As a lifelong ‘fan’ of classical music,” he says, “I'm still trying to wrap my arms around the idea of a review.”

The language of music is abstract and our reactions to it are subjective. So I’ll bet part of Mr. Oscanyan's problem is the difficulty in wrapping words around music.

My motivation for that tangential response to his question is to recommend a discussion I just read by British broadcaster Armando Iannucci. He says, “It's easy to fall back on quasi-mystical, pretentious language when trying to talk about one's experience of classical music, but that shouldn't stop us trying.” You can find the rest of Iannucci's attempt here.

Canada tries one-upping "Minnesota nice"

Posted at 9:11 PM on May 16, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Thumper's mother said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." That's what the National Arts Centre in Ottawa is saying to its employees. But they want to make it more than a code of conduct. They want it to be a law--for life--according to an article in the Ottawa Citizen Saturday.

You may recall that Pinchas Zukerman is the music director of the NAC orchestra. You may also recall Zukerman took a sudden sabbatical from the orchestra a few months ago, words were said, and now, just as suddenly...he's back. Of course, the NAC communications director piped up right away to say "It's not about Pinchas."

Yeah, right. And when they say it's not about the money, it's ALWAYS about the money.

They musician's union says they already have a code of conduct and they are protesting.


Posted at 8:25 AM on May 17, 2006 by Rex Levang

Next week the Minnesota Orchestra winds things up with performances of Puccini’s “Tosca,” an opera that’s come in for a lot of abuse from a lot of people.

But not from all. Any guesses what composer is being talked about in the following anecdote?

One day he was speaking to me in glowing terms about Puccini. And being the silly, impertinent young man I was, I started to sneer. At that he flew into a towering rage, locked us both into his little studio and sat down at the piano. He then played me the whole of "Tosca" from memory, stopping about fifty times on the way to ask, "Have you anything to complain of about that passage? Look how good the harmony is, how he respects the form, what a clever, original and interesting modulation there is in that tune." Finally he took down the score to show me how perfect the orchestration is. He said, “...This economy of means by which two solo instruments in Puccini’s orchestra produce such an impact – that is the mark of a great artist.”
Post your answers below.

“Happy Birthday, Mr. Phelps...”

Posted at 2:01 PM on May 18, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

"...this cake will self-destruct in 10 seconds."

Today is Peter Graves' 80th birthday. Born in Minneapolis, he was a 16 year-old radio announcer at WMIN Minneapolis, but became famous as Jim Phelps on TV's Mission: Impossible in 1966. The groovy theme music was by Lalo Schifrin, who studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory.

If you can stand Tom Cruise, there's Mission: Impossible III, with Lalo Schifrin's original theme, and a score by Michael Giacchino, who studied at Juilliard (anyone know who his teacher was?).

The director of M:i:3, JJ Abrams (creator of Alias , Lost, and an electronic music composer) invited his friend Thomas Dolby to co-write an instrumental for the film.

It's been 23 years since Dolby's mega-hit record She Blinded Me with Science. In the '90s he got out of the music scene and made a jillion dollars selling ringtone software that's in half the world's cel phones. Now he's reviving his music career a bit, and his tour brings him to St. Paul this weekend!

Speaking of movies and weekends, check out the excellent NPR Weekend Edition interview with Hans Zimmer, who composed the score for The Da Vinci Code, which opens this weekend. Unlike Schifrin and Giacchino, Zimmer never studied with anyone; he's completely self-taught. Like Thomas Dolby, Zimmer had a huge hit in the 80's as as a member of The Buggles. Their single Video Killed the Radio Star was the first music video to be aired on MTV.

Now, are we any degrees closer to Kevin Bacon?

Back in the Day

Posted at 8:38 AM on May 19, 2006 by Rex Levang

A colleague passed on to me a file of “the worst album covers of all time,” which seems to be drawn mainly from pop and gospel albums of the '70s (link forthcoming if I can figure out how to do it).

For classical fans who were around in that decade, this kind of conversation inevitably comes around to the famous covers of the Westminster Gold label, a nice collection of which has been posted here. Sometimes they were striking for their visual simplicity, but what everyone remembers are the humorous ones, whether flagrantly goofy (as in WGS-8188) or understated (as in WGS-8115).

Downloads redux

Posted at 2:17 AM on May 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Some of us were posting a while back about our lack of interest in downloading music from the internet for iPod use. Some have speculated that classical music consumers just aren't that into downloads. But that may not be true.

Urge.com, MTV and Microsoft's new challenge to Apple iTunes, went online Wednesday and they are hoping you'll be using them for your classical tracks.

The full story is in The Critics Notebook from Friday's New York Times.

Public Perceptions Then and Now

Posted at 1:00 PM on May 20, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

I've been reading Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street" and have been struck by a couple of things. First, his descriptions of St. Paul and how familiar it is, even after 86 years. Nothing puts me into a story as much as being familiar with the locale, and having the main character stand on Summit Avenue and look out over Lowertown to the bluffs of the Mississippi really makes me know her.
Second, his mentioning of the music performed at a graduation party. Lewis talks about "Carmen" and "Madame Butterfly" and the "Soldier's Chorus" without ever mentioning Bizet or Puccini or Gounod, or even that they were operas. His readers knew all that in 1920...they didn't have to be told. I don't think that any author today could make that comfortable assumption.

Joan Tower Makes the Top 20

Posted at 11:26 AM on May 22, 2006 by Don Lee

I’ve heard quite a few classical music lovers say the 7th is their favorite Beethoven symphony. It’s certainly mine. And American orchestras seem to like it too. They performed Beethoven’s 7th 89 times last year—more than any other piece. Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony came in second, with 76 performances.

These and wads of other stat’s on the past year in American orchestra programming can be found in a report just issued by the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL).

Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and other familiar names dominate the top 20 list. But there’s a surprise in the No. 8 slot. Tied with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is Made in America by contemporary American composer Joan Tower, with 57 performances. And there are more on the way. By the time the work is done touring the country under the auspices of the ASOL and Meet the Composer, it will have been performed 65 times. The Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis performed Made in America in the Twin Cities on Feb. 12.

Mozart = "Taquila Makes Her Cloths Fall Off" ???

Posted at 5:57 PM on May 22, 2006 by John Birge (7 Comments)

"Ever have a song stuck in your head, but can’t remember what it’s called, or even who sang it? If you at least know how it goes, try this astonishing Web site, suggested to me by a reader: It’s SongTapper.com. Basically, you tap your Space bar in the rhythm of the melody notes–”Lu-cy in the sky-yyyy, with di-i-a-monds” or whatever–and, incredibly, the site guesses which song you meant. In my very few tries, it did amazingly well. (It also offers a link to the iTunes music store so you can hear 30 seconds of the actual song for free, to confirm its wisdom.) "

I can't remember where I found this yesterday, but it's pretty, uh, interesting. When I tapped in the opening of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, here's the music that songtapper.com guessed. Number 3 is actually correct, but number 2 is especially intriguing (who knew?):

Mozart Turkish March
Taquila Makes Her Cloths Fall Off
Mozart Eine Kleine Nachtmusic
Kaiser Chiefs Every Day I Love You Less And Less
Rossini William Tell Overture
Blind Melon No Rain
Lavalee/Weir O Canada
James Brown I Feel Good
Frankie Goes To Hollywood Two Tribes

Okay, your turn. Try songtapper.com, and post your findings here at Comparing Notes, so everyone knows how you did. Humor encouraged.

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Amazing Vengerov

Posted at 8:22 PM on May 22, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

I've been lucky to have some transcendent concert experiences over the years: a candlelight "serenade" concert at the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Berlin Philharmonic at Philharmonie Hall in Berlin (nobody coughed or made any noise during the music), and Maxim Vengerov with the Minnesota Orchestra.

It was a last minute thing. My boss at the time, Dick Stevens, had subscription tickets to the MN Orchestra and he couldn't make it to the concert that night, so he gave them to me (thanks again, Dick).

That night, the 19-year-old Maxim Vengerov played the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. His sound seemed to start in his toes and his whole body played the instrument. It was incredible!

Vengerov is coming back to play a Schubert Club recital Wednesday night at the Ordway. If you can get a ticket, you might have a transcendent experience, too--I hope so.

He just played the same program at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night. Your can read the New York Times review here.

To your tambourine in time

Posted at 3:41 PM on May 23, 2006 by Don Lee

Tomorrow is Bob Dylan’s 65th birthday. My birthday wish for him is to follow through on a statement he made in this 1966 interview:

Reporter: You said just a minute ago you were preparing to go to classical music. Could you tell me a little about that?
Bob Dylan: Well, I was going to be in the classical music field and I imagine it's going right along. I'll get there one of these records.
Reporter: Are you using the word classical perhaps a little differently than we?
Bob Dylan: A little bit, maybe. Just a hair.
Reporter: Could you explain that?
Bob Dylan: Well, I'm using it in the general sense of the word, thumbing a hair out.

Thumbing a hair out. I don't know what it means but it certainly makes me curious.

While we wait for Bob to deliver his classical record, we’ve got John Corigliano’s song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man. There’s no commercially available recording I know of, but thanks to New York public radio station WNYC, you can listen here. At the time he wrote the cycle in 2000, Corigliano readily admitted he’d never heard a Dylan song.

Somewhere a Place for Us

Posted at 8:31 AM on May 24, 2006 by Rex Levang

Amidst all the gloom and doom about the future of classical music, there is a place where a burgeoning middle class, riding a rising tide of prosperity, welcomes classical musicians eagerly.

Where is this El Dorado? Jocelyn Ford tells all.

Answer to last week’s question: The composer who liked “Tosca” so much was Maurice Ravel; his student Manuel Rosenthal was the “silly, impertinent young man.”

Instrumental karaoke

Posted at 3:30 AM on May 26, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Q. What's the best recording of the William Walton Viola Concerto?

A. The Music Minus One version.

It's an old viola joke, but a short one (the longest viola joke: Harold in Italy...but, seriously folks...).

For musicians of my generation, there were these records called Music Minus One. They were typically sold in music stores, along with the scores of concertos, and the album gave you a recording of say, the Walton Viola Concerto on one side, with a good player as the soloist, and on the other side was the same recording without the soloist, so you could turn up the stereo and play the solo with the orchestra. They're still around, as a matter of fact.

Now there's a website that wants to get people to pay them a couple bucks for the chance to play along with the rock groups of their choice in much the same way. You can read about it here.

It also appears that commercial classical releases are getting into the act.

I got caught the other night on the air when I unwittingly played the wrong track on Nicola Benedetti's new CD. I intended to play her recording of the Meditation from Thais, but played what they called the "performance track" instead. Turns out that's what they call the version without her playing, so you can play along with the orchestra and pretend you're her (or Heifetz).

I kept waiting for the soloist to come in, and finally checked the CD booklet more closely and saw there were 2 versions of the Massenet Meditation and I got the Music Minus One by mistake. Oops! It happened at about this same hour of the overnight, when I could barely see straight anymore and wasn't ready for a curveball like that.


No Comment

Posted at 7:26 AM on May 26, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Presented without comment, and with many complex layers of irony intact, this list of Conservative Classics, as well as another list from a Classical Conservative.

Quiet Please!

Posted at 11:04 AM on May 26, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

I've toned down my original ambition to convert most of my LPs to CD and just have been working on those that will NEVER be commercially available. "Swingle II: Love Songs for Madrigals and Madriguys" is one of them, and thanks to eBay and a factory-sealed record, "Traditional Welsh Songs by Meredydd Evans" is another.
The problem is the noise...I have to go down to the subatomic waveform level with my pencil tool to take out the most egregious pops, and leave the lesser ones because I'd be working forever! It's amazing how much noise we put up with in the LP era, or turned around, how we have come to expect the background silence of the CDs.
Speaking of silence, I saw that Clarabell died last week. I was watching that final Howdy Doody Show when, at the end of the show he whispered, "Good Bye Kids!" The effect was astounding: it was like Marcel Marceau getting in a sudden shouting match with Teller!

For Elise

Posted at 1:23 PM on May 26, 2006 by Rex Levang (28 Comments)

Beethoven’s “Für Elise” is one of the best-known pieces of classical music in the world. It's practiced by millions, stored on cell phones all over the world – in Taiwan, it’s said, garbage trucks use it as a signal for people to put their trash out.

But there’s still a certain mystery about it. As far as we know, Beethoven never knew a woman named Elise. Did he intend the piece for another woman, whom he fancifully addressed by the name “Elise”? Or did he really call it “Für Therese” (for his friend Therese von Brunsvik), only to have his messy handwriting misinterpreted by a later editor?

A look at the manuscript could clear that one up -- except that the manuscript has been missing for over a century.

All of this prompted by an engrossing story on the blog of composer Derek Bermel, all about a hard-to-reach kid, a young music teacher at loose ends, a Big Event looming in the future, and Beethoven. It’s a long story, so be advised.

I hope Bermel copyrights his material -- this one could have screenplay written all over it. (To check out some of Bermel's music, listen to
Tied Shifts and Soul Garden on the Saint Paul Sunday website.)

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Fishin' music

Posted at 8:10 PM on May 29, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The past few days a lot of people have tried to cool off in or near some body of water.

When Antonin Dvorak visited the Czech community of Spillville, Iowa in the summer of 1893, he cooled off near the Turkey River, where he liked to walk and listen to the birds. He said they helped him come up with musical ideas — ideas he would scribble in pencil on his stiff white shirt cuffs. In fact, Dvorak’s son, Otakar, who was eight years old at the time, reported that a fishing trip along the Turkey River was cut short, much to his annoyance when Daddy Dvorak said simply: “My cuff is already full of notes — I’ve got to get home and copy them down.”

In less than a week Dvorák finished what would become one of his best-known and best-loved works — a string quartet in F Major nick-named the “American” Quartet. The quartet’s Scherzo movement even includes a musical quotation from a particularly persistent American bird whose song Dvorák found a bit distracting.

Dvorak's "American" quartet, along with Borodin's lush and lyrical String Quartet #2 will be the featured works on a concert by members of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota Tuesday night (May 30). It starts at 7:30pm at the Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights.

This is a free concert, although a free-will offering will be taken to benefit both organizations. I'll be hosting the program. Hope to see you there.

More secrets of The DaVinci Code?

Posted at 3:47 PM on May 30, 2006 by Don Lee

I hadn’t been eager to see The DaVinci Code but yesterday’s heat drove me to it. With expectations diminished by the reviews, I was primed to end up liking the film more than I thought I would…and I did, though there’s no denying the plodding plot.

As Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou slogged their way through the centuries-old mystery central to the movie, I amused myself with a little puzzle of my own: Who composed the film score? I don’t follow the genre closely, but I started wondering about the DaVinci music when I noticed some blatant borrowing.

Immediately I suspected John Williams. But only for a moment; I heard too little grandiosity. Turns out the composer is Hans Zimmer, who also scored Batman Begins, Gladiator and many others.

I thought some of Zimmer’s modernized medievalism sounded a heckuva lot like Arvo Part. And certain ominous passages seemed to have been lifted straight out of Stravinsky’s Firebird. Have you seen The DaVinci Code? I’d be curious to know if you heard what I heard.

Summer Music

Posted at 9:36 AM on May 31, 2006 by Rex Levang

Gas prices or no gas prices, it seems we're still getting in our cars and driving to the lake, to the weekend getaway, etc., etc, etc. With that in mind (and with apologies to the high-profile Twin Cities events that I'm skipping over), here are just a few classical music events coming up in the next few months, either in Minnesota or within driving distance.

Duluth is offering Puccini's Madama Butterfly in July, and there's also opera in Des Moines (Mozart, Stravinsky, and Verdi). On the U.P., opera makes up part, but only part, of the Pine Mountain Music Festival. Surfing the Net, I also noticed the flashily named Bach Dynamite and Dancing Society in Madison and environs -- if you're a devotee of the Twin Cities' big-name orchestras, you'll notice some usual suspects among the musicians.

To be continued. . . .

Yet MORE secrets of the Da Vinci Code

Posted at 9:47 PM on May 31, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Unlike Don Lee (see earlier post here), I've not yet seen the movie. So I can't comment on the score. But I do read James Lileks' blog "The Daily Bleat," and today he reports on listening to the soundtrack CD. Hilarious, as always:

"Listening to the “Da Vinci Code” soundtrack, which has its moments. It’s by Hans Zimmer, your go-to guy for ominous thrumming tortured-hero music. He uses the same rhythmic modules he used in the “Batman” soundtrack, and that’s a good thing, although if you can’t tell if the music is meant for the Son of God or a guilt-drenched billionaire in a rubber suit, you might want to fine tune your modalities . . . ah, there’s the religious element. Choirs. It sounds absolutely agonized, though; it’s like one long musical apology for the Shocking Truth the heroes are uncovering. Sorry about this, Jesus. At least it’s not Enigma. You remember Enigma: moody Euro soft-corn porn soundtracks with sampled Gregorian chants, punctuated by a breathy chanteuse asking questions of the Marquis De Sade. In French, naturellement. “Etes vous . . . diabolique?” Prolly so, yeah; if the coprophilia wasn’t a strong enough hint, let me tie you down and prick you with peacock quills dipped in the blood of infants. I think they got sixteen albums out of that idea."

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