Marin Alsop. Photo by Grant Leighton.
The winners of the 2013 British Composer Awards have been announced: 14 talented composers. To be precise, that's 14 talented male composers.
To blogger Jessica Duchen, this suggests a question that's so urgent she puts it in all-caps (referring to the number of categories, 13, rather than the actual number of winners): "HOW IS IT POSSIBLE IN 2013 THAT 13 MEN GET PRIZES AND THERE IS NOT ONE WOMAN IN THE LINE-UP?"
It's no secret that achieving diversity — of all types — among participants and audiences has been as much a challenge for classical music as for any art form. Progress is being made, even at the highest levels: this year, American conductor Marin Alsop became the first woman ever to lead the BBC band at the Last Night of the Proms. As the British Composer Awards (and caveman comments like those by Vasily "a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things" Petrenko) evince, however, we're still a long way from equity.
Duchen offers a suggestion: "It is time for an all-women prize for classical music. Women are achieving great things in this field — but they are not being adequately recognised for it. This time we need more than a list. We need action and we need it now."
What do you think? In the quest for gender parity at parchment and podium, would prizes specifically for women musicians and composers help?(4 Comments)
Jeremy Denk, the compelling and persuasive artist, American concert pianist, avid chamber musician, exploratory in his choice of repertoire has now moved from the ivory keyboard of his Steinway to his dimly lit laptop to become a writer for none other than the New York Times' book reviews.
Last Thursday (April 12th, 2012), Denk was published in the New York Times Book Review, an honor not stopping at simple publication. His review boasts the largest thumbnail picture on the page — the featured article!
The book: The Great Animal Orchestra written by Bernie Krause, a self-proclaimed child prodigy, folk musician, author and soundscape recordist in a newly coined term called biophony.
Krause's book comes years after his short stint with folk ensemble The Weavers, some exploration into electronic music, creating the synthesizer group Beaver & Krause (which you can hear with bands such as The Monkeys, The Byrds, The Doors and Stevie Wonder) and then years spent in the Muir Woods recording the sounds of nature.
As Denk puts it, the book "resembles a howl more than an argument" as Krause exposes our abandonment and exile of the world's sound. Krause uses scientific data, his own observation, and some hearsay in order to criticize our entire human culture as wall-building and ignorant of the beautiful array of sound in nature that is as much creative as it is practical.
This prominent review is no doubt a great honor for Jeremy Denk. But isn't this a story Westerners have been hearing about for quite some time — disillusionment and numbness to our world. As we continue down the overstated economic downturn, as education continues to be left to simmer on the back-burner, as our political system becomes unconscionably polarized (and no less corrupt), and as our religious and spiritual selves become bankrupt we are left with no choice but to turn toward nature, to seek refuge for some morsel of the sacred.
It is not as though our experience with nature is in anyway unique, quite the opposite. Rather, it seems a bit uncanny because of its nostalgia and necessity, a sort of overcompensation.
I can remember that during college the only refuge I had from the abundance of assigned papers, endless nights cut by the wedge of a coffee-induced stare, countless performances and the occasional breakdown was the soundscape piece by Steve Reich called "Music for 18 Musicians." This hour-long, harmonically swirling pulse would drive me into a trance. Often I would find myself with arms wide, leaning back, head held erect as I mentally wandered the mountain ranges of Montana (the place where I spent my summers), forgetting that I was sitting in a crowded computer lab lit by florescent bulbs.
Whether your experience with societal life is a positive or negative one, Jeremy Denk's review sheds light on the offerings of Bernie Krause's book The Great Animal Orchestra, a reawakening to the harmony and melody of nature.
After you peruse the review and maybe even the book, take time to notice the sounds of the world and think of your own refuge...
On a side note (and shamelessly promoting the Twin Cities music scene)... Jeremy Denk will be playing two separate concert series here in Saint Paul this weekend. The first, a series featuring works by Charles Ives, Mauricio Kagel and György Ligeti is showing from April 19-21. The second, featuring works by Edward Elgar, Hugo Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev, Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák showing from April 20-22. Get your tickets at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's website.
This past June, Rebecca Yeh was crowned Miss Brainerd Lakes as a part of the Miss Minnesota Education Foundation, the official preliminary to the Miss America Pageant.
You might remember Rebecca for her stunning performance of the Adagio from J.S. Bach's Violin Sonata No. 1 as a Featured Round performer for Minnesota Varsity this past spring. A wonderful musical talent, Rebecca left this past weekend for her freshman year at Ohio Northern University as a pharmacy major.
Before she left, I had a chance to talk with Rebecca about the competition, her plans, and her music.
Classical MPR: Have you done any pageant competitions before?
Rebecca Yeh: The Miss Brainerd Lakes pageant was the first pageant I competed in. I attended the pageant in 2010 and thought that I would have a great shot at it this year. Coming from a musical background and with my accomplishments as a violinist, I felt that I would have a lot to offer to the title of Miss Brainerd Lakes.
The Miss Brainerd Lakes Pageant is a part of the Miss America Organization that requires a talent and a personal platform, which really gives more depth to the program aside from being judged like a typical "beauty pageant".
MPR: What repertoire did you play in the competition?
RY. For my talent performance, I played Vieuxtemp's Souvenir D'Amerique Yankee Doodle Variations. The piece starts out with a very serious, almost uninviting opening, which eventually sneaks into the theme of Yankee Doodle. The reaction from the audience is always enjoyable, as they are surprised recognize the tune.
MPR: What will you be doing as Miss Brainerd Lakes for the coming year?
RY. So far, I have been able to travel to other local pageants as visiting royalty. I have also been part of parades in the Brainerd Lakes Area, as well as community events throughout the summer. In addition, I have had the opportunity to speak at service organizations such as the local rotaries.
At the local level of pageant competition, the main goal is to promote my platform, and prepare for the Miss Minnesota Pageant next June. During my breaks at home, I will have the opportunity to visit my community and participate in as many events as possible. My platform is named, "A Voice for Autism", inspired by my 20-yr-old brother, Philip, who has pervasive developmental disorder under the spectrum of autism. Being crowned June 25th, I am in the process of developing my platform so that I am able to make real, tangible changes, not only in my brother's life, but in the lives of other people with autism. My hopes are that I can integrate my music with my experience with autism, to create programs and bring awareness to autism spectrum disorders. I have had the opportunity to visit summer programs for autistic students and perform familiar pieces for them, while telling them about myself and taking questions. It has been amazing to see the effects even the simplest music can have on the relaxation and calmness of some students. I am hoping that by the time Miss MN comes around, I will have had opportunities to reach out and use the honor of being Miss Brainerd Lakes to help these people.
MPR: How did it feel to win?
RY: Winning the pageant was such an honor. I had put a lot of work into my preparation for that day. What many people don't realize is that the pageant itself is a small peek at the journey of growth each of the contestant's experiences. The interview portion of the pageant occurs off-stage, before the night of the pageant. Through months of mock interviewing and staying aware of my current events, I began to develop and communicate my viewpoints in society, culture and politics. In addition, the judging of the pageant looks at all areas of the contestant: physical fitness, public speaking, academics, and talent. Winning all categories of competition (swimsuit, evening gown, talent, and interview), I was honored and elated that my preparation had been well worth it.
This week, we're airing Beethoven, as interpreted by Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra--including, tonight, their brand-new "Emperor" Concerto, with pianist Yevgeny Sudbin.
And by a nice coincidence, the Star Tribune just named Vanska their Artist of the Year.
What happens when you've got a list of 20 and 13 all come from the same geographical area? Well, in the case of choirs and choral ensembles - you make a statement like this: British choirs are the best in the world! And not only are British choirs making that statement - the editor of a major classical music magazine has made that statement and so has American composer Eric Whitacre.
Gramophone, the classical music magazine that proclaims to be "the world's authority on classical music since 1923," asked an international jury to name the world's leading choirs. 13 of the 20 on the list are British ensembles and according to composer Eric Whitacre, there are several reasons why this is true, including excellence in sight reading, brilliant and crystal clear tone and an in-depth and thorough education in the history and technique of music.
So, what do you think? If you had to list your top 3 or 5 or 10 - would they be Minnesota groups? American groups? European ensembles? And why?
The Parker Quartet, our artists-in-residence last year, played Carnegie Hall the other night, and got this warmly appreciative review from the New York Times. Congratulations to the group.
And we're still basking in the success of last week's drive--again, a big vote of thanks to all of you who contributed.
Luther's Homecoming weekend is the perfect time to hand out one of the highest honors bestowed by the college. It's given "in recognition of success and achievements in professional fields, service to society, contributions to community, as well as loyalty and service to Luther."
Way to go, Brian!
Here's to Arthur Hoehn, whose rich voice and wry wit graced MPR for many years. Many listeners probably associate Arthur with Music Through the Night, though that was only one facet of his radio career.
Arthur's going to be inducted into the Minnesota Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame this weekend--and at noon tomorrow (Friday), he'll join Gary Eichten on Midday to talk about radio and take calls. (Word is, Gary would love to inundated with callers with questions and reminiscences.)
Lots of kudos to go around for Minnesota classical musicians this week.
Jordan Sramek, artistic director of the Rose Ensemble in the Twin Cities, receives the Louis Botto Award at the Chorus America Conference in Atlanta. The award is named for the founder of Chanticleer. It honors an individual whose work "has demonstrated innovative action and entrepreneurial zeal in developing a professional or professional-core choral ensemble." The Rose Ensemble also just got word it will represent the United States at the 9th World Symposium on Choral Music next summer in Argentina. They're one of only 25 groups in the world to be selected.
The League of American Orchestras just annouced the winners of this year's awards for adventurous programming. Among smaller orchestras, first prize goes to the South Dakota Symphony. Among the biggest orchestras, third prize goes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. First prize went to the mighty New York Philharmonic, so the SPCO is a David among Goliaths.
Nicholas McGegan spent ten years with the SPCO, and now he can add OBE to his resume too. Nic was been made an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth. The award is 'for services to music overseas'. Catherine Zeta-Jones was also named an OBE, which puts Nic in good company. Tho if he wants to keep up with the Zeta-Joneses, he'll need to marry Michael Douglas, and win a Tony award...
The Bemidji Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Beverly Everett, have been named finalists in The American Prize spring 2010 competitions in orchestral performance and orchestral conducting.
Through a series of competitions, the Bemidji Symphony was singled out, the chief judge noting "...a grand performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - a sterling example of everything a community's music-making should encompass."
Way to go Bemidji!
A big score for the home team - the Minnesota Orchestra plays not just one but TWO concerts this August in London as part of the BBC Proms.
This is a huge deal and boy, are we proud!
Classical MPR plans to carry the broadcasts live each day. These will be hosted by the BBC and Brian Newhouse.
Susanna Philips comes to Minnesota Opera this September as Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice with the incomparable counter-tenor David Daniels.
Between this award, and James Valenti's Richard Tucker award last week, it seems that Minnesota Opera is developing an impressive track record for bringing us tomorrow's stars, today.
If you don't want to wait til September to hear Susanna Phillips' Minnesota Opera performance, here she is singing Mozart in Fort Worth:
Tenor James Valenti just won this year's Richard Tucker Award.
Some call it "the Heisman Trophy of Opera." It's a $30,000 prize recognizing an American singer poised on the edge of a major international opera career.
That's a bit late, considering that Valenti has already sung at many of the great opera houses of the world, including La Scala in Milan. You'll hear James Valenti sing in our live broadcast of La Traviata from the Metropolitan Opera tomorrow at noon.
Valenti's gig at the Met didn't start well; he got food poisoning the night before the opening.
He told the New York Post: "I was up half the night throwing up. I woke up and thought, 'I worked too hard to get to this day, I'm not going to let anything ruin it!' So I drank some Gatorade, ate a little bit of pasta and walked onstage not thinking about anything else but the singing."
If you were lucky enough to hear James Valenti sing at the Minnesota State Fair many years ago, you can say "I knew him when." He performed at the MPR booth at the fair when he was a young artist with the MNOpera. He was also in the MPR studio last month when he returned to MN Opera to sing the lead in La Boheme. You can hear that performance and interview here.
And feast your ears -- and eyes -- here:
Reviews from London are in and Osmo, the Minn Orch and Stephen Hough get high marks.
The London Times writes "Every concerto features incisive conducting from Osmo Vanska and the chiselled splendour of his Minnesota Orchestra."
The London Observer: "Osmo Vanska's suave direction of the Minnesota players allows Hough's brilliance to shine through."
You can listen to a re-broadcast tonight at 8:00 of one of those live sessions with Stephen Hough playing Tchaikovsky with the Minnesota Orchesra.
You may have heard us congratulating the Minnesota Orchestra for their fabulous review in this week's New Yorker.
Music critic Alex Ross wrote about the large number of different orchestras which had performed in Carnegie Hall recently, and concluded the piece with this bold statement:
For the duration of the evening of March 1st, the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world.
You can read the whole piece here.
So on the 26-hour drive from Winnipeg, he called up other professional timpanists along the way and asked to play for them, so that he could get used to playing nervous and in unfamiliar settings.
The prep paid off, and he got the job. Read more about this self-identified "drum dork" and get a peek into a timpanist's world here.
This year's Grammy nominees were announced this morning. Putting aside Beyonce for the moment, the Classical music categories include some musicians with strong Minnesota ties, including pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (former St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Artistic Partner), guitarist Sharon Isbin (St. Louis Park native), and the Enso Quartet (in residence last year with the SPCO).
Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra:
Bartók: 3 Concertos
Pierre Boulez, conductor (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Yuri Bashmet, Gidon Kremer, Neil Percy, Tamara Stefanovich & Nigel Thomas; Berliner Philharmoniker & London Symphony Orchestra)
Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra):
Journey To The New World
Sharon Isbin (Joan Baez & Mark O'Connor)
Best Chamber Music Performance
Ginastera: String Quartets (Complete)
Also noted and nominated:
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham's new French recital CD w/ Malcolm Martineau, much of which they performed at the Ordway in St. Paul just last night!
Pop trumpeter Chris Botti, who plays Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis this weekend.
Jazz singer Kurt Elling, who recently performed at his MInnesota alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College.
Winners will be revealed on January 31. Complete list of nominees in all 109 categories here.(2 Comments)
The nominees for this year's awards (including the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska) are now online.
"The high quality of the Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä's work is beyond dispute."
That's the kind of review anyone would be proud to send home to mother, and it's the opening sentence in today's New York Times review of the Minnesota Orchestra music director's gig at the Mostly Mozart Festival this weekend.
The review is not just a gush-fest, though. Read the whole thing here (registration required).
The National Flute Association e-mailed me over the weekend to tell me they did it: broke the record for largest flute ensemble at their convention in New York City.
I don't have any official numbers just yet, but they say they beat out the Chinese record set in July of 1,975 flautists.
I'll post something official when I get it, but for now here's what the warm up sounded like:
The nominees for this year's Gramophone awards, sometimes considered the Oscars of classical recording, have been announced, though there doesn't seem to be an online list quite yet.
Be that as it may--congratulations to the Minnesota Orchestra, nominated for their disc of Beethoven's Symphonies no. 2 and 7. (Looking across all the categories, they're one of only two American orchestras nominated, along with the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, for an opera recording.)
The awards come out on Oct. 3--best of luck to Osmo and the Orchestra!(1 Comments)