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Classical Notes: November 12, 2008 Archive

The Fauxharmonic

Posted at 7:00 AM on November 12, 2008 by Gillian Martin

In the battle between humans and machines, it's nice to see the humans win once in a while.

Ten days ago, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and it's conductor Markand Thakar (also music director of the Duluth Superior Symphony) went head to head with the Fauxharmonic Orchestra, a digital orchestra that uses samples of real instruments, and is conducted by someone wielding a Wii-mote. The Fauxharmonic was developed by conductor and composer Paul Henry Smith.

In the opinion of Steve Smith of the New York Times, the live musicians came out on top, though it was closer than you might think:

The demonstration was genuinely impressive. But when the Fauxharmonic was followed by the real orchestra in successive performances...the confrontation was less Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman than Bobby Flay pitted against a George Foreman grill.

Mr. Smith's account had a realistic tone and adequate flavor, though no one would mistake the fifelike trill of his virtual concertmaster for the work of a real violinist. The orchestra, conducted by Markand Thakar, had greater warmth and substance, along with tangy nuances (and, yes, occasional blemishes) resulting from 21 individuals working together.

Read the whole article here (registration required).

How to Carry a Spear

Posted at 3:43 PM on November 12, 2008 by Rex Levang

Ah, the things you can run across on the Web. . . .

Here's the handbook for supers at the San Francisco Opera. ("Supers," or supernumeraries, are the non-singing performers who play "the people," "the crowd," "knights and ladies," etc.)

There's always something fascinating about glimpsing backstage, and you get the answers to some interesting questions here.

Can I strike up a backstage conversation with, say, Anna Netrebko? (No--page 11.) I have a visible tattoo. Am I disqualified? (The makeup artists are pros; so not necessarily--page 8.) Do I need to know the story of the opera in question? (It's a good idea--page 6.) I'd like to get more roles as a super; what do I do? (It's the Woody Allen answer: show up. Page 3.)