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Classical Notes

Category Archive: Concerts

Minnesota Orchestra announces 2014 season

Posted at 10:41 AM on January 24, 2014 by Jay Gabler (0 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

Moving quickly after the recent resolution of a 15-month labor dispute, the Minnesota Orchestra has announced a full schedule for its 2014 season — and debuted a new look for its website and publicity materials as well. The season incorporates some concerts that the musicians had planned independently in addition to some new concerts planned on the fly by the post-detente musicians and administration.

Minnesota Orchestra logo.jpg

After its early-February concerts celebrating the orchestra's return to performing in its signature Minneapolis hall (the first of which will be broadcast live on Classical MPR), the orchestra will present 15 different programs through July. Highlights include Osmo Vänskä — the orchestra's former music director, who resigned over his disappointment at the labor dispute — conducting the Sibelius symphonies that recently earned the orchestra a Grammy nomination for a BIS recording.

Vänskä will also wield the baton for a guest appearance by violinist Joshua Bell; a previously planned performance commemorating the reopening of Northrop Auditorium will proceed as planned, but is not part of the orchestra's subscription season. Further, composer-conductor Eric Whitacre will make his Minnesota Orchestra debut, leading the band in performances of his own work and other compositions.

Full details for the season are available on the orchestra's website. Subscription packages will go on sale January 27, with tickets to individual concerts becoming available on February 9.

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Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra double down on Vanska comeback

Posted at 10:37 AM on December 6, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Concerts

Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR
NorthropAuditorium.jpg

With interest unsurprisingly high in the return of former Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä to conduct the orchestra's musicians — still in the throes of a lockout that shows no signs of ending — in a recreation of a historic 1929 performance by the then-Minneapolis-Symphony-Orchestra, the musicians have announced a second performance. Vänskä and the musicians will now perform on both May 2 and 4 at Northrop Auditorium, the University of Minnesota venue that's reopening in April after three years of renovations. Tickets for the second performance will go on sale on December 16 at noon.

History in Houghton: Classical MPR road trips to Michigan

Posted at 3:39 PM on November 15, 2013 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Concerts, Events, Fun finds

RoszaCenter_web.jpgRosza Center for the Performing Arts in Houghton, Mich. (photo by A.K. Hoagland)

For mid-November, it's a nice day for a road trip. That's good for Classical MPR's Jeff Esworthy, who today is heading up to Houghton, Mich., for a performance of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce Of 1914 by Twin Cities-based male vocal ensemble, Cantus. The performance takes place Saturday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m., at the Rosza Center for the Performing Arts.

In addition to conducting a pre-concert interview and introducing Cantus to the stage on Saturday night, Esworthy is interested in learning more about Houghton. "I want to check out the copper-mining history," Esworthy says. "The Native people used to mine it before Europeans came, and legend has it that you used to be able to just pick up raw copper off the ground."

Are you in Houghton? What would you recommend Jeff Esworthy do to take in some local history and local flavor? Share your comments below.

History seems to be the theme for the weekend. The production by Cantus, All Is Calm, recalls the remarkable World War I truce that occurred between Allied Forces and German soldiers on Christmas eve, 1914. The production is loosely based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noël, which tells the same story. Here's that film's trailer:

The Liberating Invitation from the Artworld

Posted at 1:55 PM on January 26, 2012 by Samuel Kjellberg
Filed under: Concerts, Events, In the media, Musical philosophy, Musician stories, The blog

"With its stylization and its larger-than-life emotions, opera has never been about unbroken narrative or cinematic realism. It is about going in and out of the drama, in and out of realism." (Zachary Woolfe, New York Observer; October 5, 2011)


To bridge the gap, to break through the translucent historical and pedestal'd barrier between the stage and the commonplace, is seen as something of a taboo in the classical world. As an artistic audience, we don't know how to handle incorporation and conversation with the stage world, the world of moral fragility, the world of the dilemma that pries us from any comfortable choice, a world perfect in its scenarios. We like to sit cozy, knowing that these experiences are at a distance, thinking that the stage world couldn't possibly portray our own daily experience and struggle with the world, meaning and purpose... But it does.


By all of this I simply mean the act of breaking character on stage, a small aside or reaction that emerges from within the production and addresses the outside world. Throughout history there has been disdain circling this issue.

pape_meph.png
Recently, Metropolitan operatic star René Pape, while acting the role of Méphistophélès (the Devil) in Charles Gounod's Faust, broke character by parting with the French language and addressed the audience with an aside in English.


Let me paint the picture: It is Act 4, a scene in Marguerite's garden. She has just sung the famous "Jewel Song" after having received a box covered in jewels, which happened to have been from Faust through Méphistophélès, who is helping Faust gain the love of Marguerite. After Marguerite's aria Faust and Méphistophélès reenter the stage and begin their recitative. Amid one of his French sighs Méphistophélès (played by René Pape) turns to the audience and says, in English, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." The laughter that followed seemed strained with an underlying current of judgment.


You can see how this would outrage the public, and it did. The concern is duly noted and understandable; classical art should not be tampered with or tarnished. However, allow me to play the part of Méphistophélès's attorney for a moment (Devil's advocate, if I may).


The living aesthetician, Arthur C. Danto, rocked the art world in 1981 with the publication of his book "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art." The mission, as the subtitle suggests, was to create a philosophy of art, which he thought, up to that point, had been slightly ambiguous and undefined. (Claim to fame: That the history of art is finished. A disturbing statement likened to Nietzsche's "God is dead. And we have killed him".)

duchamp_fountain.jpg
His book was a reaction to the history of art, which in the decades previous to its publication brought what some might consider strange artistic developments and freedoms. He philosophically addresses these controversial pieces of art, namely Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" (a urinal with "R. Mutt 1917" written on it), Andy Warhol's "Brillo Boxes" (a stack of boxes with the logo of the Brillo soap pad brand), among other Avant Garde works.

bidlo_not_warhol_1991.jpg

The pinnacle example is a short, passionate dialogue regarding the statue of a cat that was located in a rotunda on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. For a long time this statue sat there, unmoved, sitting near a staircase. He passed this everyday with little notice. However, one day as Danto walked by he noticed that the statue had been freshly chained to the stair case railing. This provided him a door into the question of where the artworld line is drawn and the ambiguity of the border between art and commonplace.


For Danto, the chained cat could have meant one of two things: an attempt to counteract possible burglaries of the statue, or an attempt by the artist to gift some morsel of artworld status into and onto the commonplace. He chose the latter.


Like the chain, the broken character is an invitation to incorporate the audience in the artistic experience, as a way for the actor to connect their own character to the audience as if to say, "Yes, I am here with you. Let us see the world together. Isn't this fascinating?"


Of course, it is easy to say that when an actor breaks character they are breaking the tradition and sanctity of that particular artwork. However, under the Dantonian lens it seems that the breaking of one's character truly is an invitation for involvement, an acceptance between the audience and the artist, a most liberating and inclusive characteristic of art.


Art speaks on behalf of culture, it follows our desires and passions, opening doors, and with such an invitation we as an audience are transcendent up and into the artworld, living, breathing and drinking every morally fragile theme.

Celestial Altercation

Posted at 6:30 AM on December 8, 2011 by Samuel Kjellberg (1 Comments)
Filed under: Composers, Concerts, Events, In the media, Musical philosophy


As we approach the coming of our special event this Friday, December 9th, the New York Polyphony Holiday Concert at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, we will take a look at an original work that was recently commissioned for and premiered by New York Polyphony this past November.


The work is titled Missa Charles Darwin, composed by American composer Gregory Brown and was set to text edited by New York Polyphony's bass Craig Phillips. You may think this title is counterproductive and contradictory, taking a structural paradigm of the Catholic faith and juxtaposing it with the principle text of evolutionary science. However, the piece seeks to exemplify the creativity and ingenuity of the human spirit, as well as portraying the unique position humans have within our reality.


Even though the composer claims this not to be a political statement, his purpose of exemplifying human language, human's curiosity into reality and its multi-functional viewpoints is certainly a spiritual and poetic one.


Under this light, this work could be considered one of the most important musical works of our time — perhaps not in a purely musical sense, but as a statement of cooperation among seemingly disagreeable mediums, between spiritual understanding and an understanding based on facts.


As humans we question the world, whether regarding the creation and meaning of our existence or to simply understand and grasp the world around us. This work shows that there is beauty in both the spiritual and the scientific and each can assist the other in the collective human effort to grasp and understand reality!

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ERIN KEEFE: New Minnesota Orchestra Concertmaster

Posted at 9:25 AM on September 22, 2011 by John Birge
Filed under: Concerts, Events, Musician stories

After a two-year search, the Minnesota Orchestra announced today that American violinist Erin Keefe will be the orchestra's new concertmaster.

Keefe was born in Massachussettes in 1980, studied at Curtis and Juilliard, and is a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

She begins officially as concertmaster right away, at the Orchestra's season opening concerts September 29 to October 1. Her September 30 concert will be broadcast live on Classical MPR. Meanwhile, here's Erin talking about her life as a musician, and playing a gorgeous Sibelius Romance:

Top Score: Live Performance of a Journey song (no, not THAT Journey)

Posted at 3:14 PM on August 11, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds, In the media

The orchestra who plays the Video Games Live concerts in Los Angeles, the Golden State Pops, recently teamed up with 'cellist Tina Guo to showcase a brand new piece of music from the upcoming game Journey (not the band Journey,) the highly anticipated follow-up game to the huge indie success Flower, both by the innovators at thatgamecompany.

Austin Wintory, who is doing the music for Journey, will be our guest on Top Score in the upcoming season. We'll be talking with him about the luscious music for Journey that we've been getting previews of, and talk to him about how sound works in the game at influencing play.

See the video of the performance and read Austin Wintory's interview with Gamespot here.

SPCO takes on the Big Apple!

Posted at 2:49 PM on November 11, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice - or write a piece for jazz ensemble and chamber orchestra.

Brad Mehldau and the SPCO performed his new piece at Carnegie this past Tuesday and the New York Times liked it writing "their contributions were vibrant and, in the Straussian movements, deeply soulful."

Rose Ensemble postcard #7

Posted at 9:32 AM on October 27, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

It's the last night party at Doolittle's in Alexandria. Lots of stories shared amongst the Rose of driving in fierce winds, an Italian's view of the Midwest, successful weight loss, and the reason for the concert - St. Francis of Assisi.

Rose Ensemble postcard #6

Posted at 2:11 PM on October 26, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories


Checking in from Brainerd. The Rose Ensemble singers are all tucked in for the night and Artistic Director Jordan Sramek - all on his lonesome - reflects on the fulfilling and full-housed last few performances.

Still more performances on their tour - check out the schedule.

Rose Ensemble audio postcard #5

Posted at 10:18 AM on October 20, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories


Looks like Austin was fun for the Rose Ensemblers. Eating BBQ and drinking beer at Piggy Blues with a bit of post-concert chit-chat on this postcard.

Plus the secret to making a very special concert even more special - popcorn.

Thumbnail image for rose at dinner.jpg

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Rose Ensemble audio postcard #4

Posted at 3:05 PM on October 19, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

The Rose Ensemble greets us from a gorgeous space - Our Lady of Good Counsel Chapel at the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato. Even their "ciao!" at the end of the postcard rings for about five seconds!


Thumbnail image for Tour Oct 2010 150.jpgThumbnail image for tour Rose.jpg

Rose Ensemble audio postcard #3

Posted at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories


It's another gorgeous desert evening and The Rose Ensemble checks in from 'backstag'e at Grace St. Paul's in Tucson, Arizona. In the background, Isacco Colombo warms up his bagpipes.

Rose Ensemble audio postcard #2

Posted at 12:36 PM on October 13, 2010 by Alison Young (2 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

Fun times for The Rose Ensemble on the road in Willmar, Minnesota.

I love the story about the little boy who was convinced he had a lower voice than the Rose's bass. Too cute!

(2 Comments)

Rose Ensemble audio postcard #1!

Posted at 1:52 PM on October 12, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories


When I'm feeling kind of blue, I pop in one of my most favorite discs to transport me to another place and time. It's the Rose Ensemble's marvelous recording Il Poverello.

It's music filled with spirit, joy and the unexpected from Italy of the 12th-16th century - choral polyphony, medieval chant, lusty instrumental solos - all to praise one of the greatest and most humble saints, St. Francis of Assisi.

I promise you, it is not possible to feel a moment of self-pity after hearing this music. It simply takes you beyond this world. And right at this moment, The Rose Ensemble is taking this music around the state - with short jaunts to Indiana and Arizona - to make this blissful experience available to all of us.

Listen to Rose Director Jordan Sramek give a little behind-the-scenes audio postcard of their travels - and do try to make one of these concerts!

Renee Fleming drops a few octaves to sing pop covers

Posted at 12:31 PM on October 1, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, In the media, Musician stories

Renee Fleming returns to the Ordway next Thursday for a recital of Mahler, Korngold, Puccini as well as a work written for her by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau. For the most part, she'll be singing in the soprano tessitura.

Her project with Dark Hope is something wholly different - and sung in a much deeper range. As always, Renee pulls it off with panache!

Mozart in Duluth

Posted at 4:28 PM on September 23, 2010 by Alison Young (2 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

"Never should I have thought that a clarinet could be so capable of imitating a human voice so closely as it was imitated by thee. Verily, thy instrument has so soft and lovely a tone that nobody who has a heart can resist it."


This Saturday, I'll be hosting the pre-concert "Behind the Music" talk for the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's opening night concert. Richard Stolzman is the guest playing Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.

I was getting my notes together, deciding which facts to include and what to emphasize all while Stolzman's recording played in the background.

Suddenly I found myself moved to tears. How is it possible - I asked myself - could such sublime music spring from one man's mind?

Of course there is no answer. We are simply given the gift without a thing asked in return, but that we enjoy!

(2 Comments)

Gil Shaham just wants to have fun

Posted at 11:50 AM on September 17, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds, Musician stories

I loved getting the chance to talk with Gil Shaham this week in preparation for our first live broadcast of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra tomorrow night. He is a serious musician, for sure - but he also likes to have a little fun.

Minnesota Orchestra (and MPR) at the Proms

Posted at 8:32 AM on August 27, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories, Programs

Today's the day when the Minnesota Orchestra begins its two-day stand at the Proms in London. MPR's Brian Newhouse is also in London to host the broadcast, which you can hear at 1:30 (Minnesota time) this afternoon.

Britons who may be less familiar with the Orchestra and its conductor can do prep work by reading an article in Wednesday's Telegraph. The headline writer may have gotten a tad carried away in describing the Orchestra's pre-Osmo "obscurity"--but see what you think. Complete article here.

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Sir James in Hollywood

Posted at 3:39 AM on August 26, 2010 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

I was checking out James Galway's website this morning and noticed he's playing a big gig with the LA Philharmonic and Leonard Slatkin tonight (8/26) at the Hollywood Bowl. Galway has made a most remarkable comeback after suffering a nasty fall at his home in Switzerland last December, just two weeks after turning 70.

The world-renowned flautist was forced to cancel three months of recitals after he plunged down a flight of stairs at his home in Lucerne, Switzerland, leaving him with a gash on his forehead, a fractured left wrist and shattered right elbow.

So well done, Sir James...definitely the front-runner for "Come Back Player of the Year."

Here Come the Proms!

Posted at 4:42 PM on July 14, 2010 by Rex Levang (2 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Events

The BBC Proms Concerts will be starting in London any day now. It's the largest music festival in the world, with dozens of concerts every summer, and it's a long-running one, too, having begun in 1895.

Any guesses what the most often played piece at the Proms is?

Thanks to their new online archive and search engine, such fascinating facts are now at your fingertips.

Hint: The way they calculate these things, every performance of an excerpt from a larger work constitutes a "play." So think of a work from which lots of excerpts might be taken. Find the archive here --- and stay tuned to MPR for lots of performances from this year's Proms, coming soon.

(2 Comments)

Happy 50th DSSO Chorus

Posted at 12:39 AM on May 12, 2010 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Concerts, Events

I spent a wonderful Saturday evening as guest speaker at the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra Chorus' 50th Anniversary Banquet at the Northland Country Club in Duluth.

My thanks to all involved for having me and a special shout out to Bob Ballou, a member of the chorus for all 50 years!

The celebration continues with two performances over the next two weekends. You'll get more information here , and if you're in Duluth this weekend or next, check out the DSSO Chorus.

The Parker Quartet Step Outside of the Concert Hall

Posted at 2:37 PM on May 3, 2010 by Laura Ciotti
Filed under: Concerts, Parker Quartet

The Parker Quartet performed at the "non-traditional" (at least for classical musicians) Varsity Theater in Minneapolis on April 15. Read the quartet's previous entry



Karen Kim, violin


Karen KimOf all of the events we have had for MPR, my favorite was our performance at the Varsity Theater. The Varsity Theater is a music club in Dinkytown that's known for presenting an eclectic mix of high-quality music and events. Every season, our quartet likes to perform at a few non-traditional venues, such as the Varsity, in an effort to bring our music to an audience that doesn't normally set foot in a concert hall. Conversely, these events are also a great opportunity for the regular concert-goer to step out of the hall and experience classical music in a new environment.

These performances are also just so much fun for us. I always feel like we're celebrating what I love most about playing in a string quartet: the incredible scope, depth, and variety of the repertoire. We played selections from works by Haydn, Beethoven, Dvorak, Ravel, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. It's simply amazing to me how different the sound world of each of these composers is, and I love being able to experience them all in one program.

After the performance, we had the opportunity to hang out with the audience and capitalize on one of the great perks of playing in a club: the transition to the post-concert celebration is absolutely effortless. One audience member told me that this was his first classical music concert in a very long time. Would he have made the leap back to classical music if it had been in a concert hall and not at the Varsity? I wish that it would have crossed my mind at the time to ask him. Regardless, I'm pretty sure he had a great time, as did we. Many thanks to everyone at MPR who made this event happen.

Jessica Bodner, viola

Jessica BodnerWhen we play on "normal" concerts series, we can usually expect what is going to happen. Not to say that each concert does not feel different - on the contrary, the acoustics of the venue, the vibe of the audience, how full the hall is, the type of repertoire we're playing, etc., will make each concert feel unique and special. No two concerts are the same. However, we generally can expect some things: we will enter from offstage, come out to applause, bow, play the first piece, hope the audience claps, bow, leave the stage, tune, rinse and repeat.

However, since we have embarked on the journey of playing in non-traditional venues, such as the Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis, we have learned that there is a good chance that we will not ever fully know what to expect beforehand. Actually, the same conditions are present: acoustics of the venue, vibe of audience, all of the things I listed before, but somehow, the margin of what can happen seems so much greater. This is what makes it such an adventure and potentially so exciting.

I'll give you an example from a few years ago. It was the fist club show for our residency at Barbés, in Brooklyn, and since we were about to record the complete string quartets of Ligeti, and we knew the audience there could handle it, we decided to play all of Ligeti's quartets. It was so exciting. The tiny room was packed as if people were sardines, and at one point, it got so warm that someone actually fainted. Luckily, I think that person was totally ok. The thing I was struck with, however, was the sense of community - while we were playing and explaining a little about the pieces, it felt like everyone there was really part of one community with us to take this adventure into Ligeti's quartets, and then when this person fainted, the same sense of community was present. Everyone around this person made sure everything was ok and that the person was taken care of, and then when they were sure that everything was ok, the Ligeti continued. Of course, there's also the story of the drunk guy who knocked over Dan's stand, but I won't go into that one....

Fortunately, the Varsity is not nearly as small as Barbés, I don't think anyone fainted, and our stands were out of reach, but I still felt that there was a real sense of community for the exploration of what we were doing, and for that, I'm very thankful.

Daniel Chong, violin

Daniel ChongThe moment I walked into Varsity Theater I was struck by how beautiful the space is. It is a space that amazingly blends an urban music venue with old world charm. If you haven't checked it out I highly recommend it. As beautiful as the place was it was not the most ideal setting for an acoustic performance. There is a lot material soaking up sound - carpet, curtains, velvet . . . This of course is the point at which we decide as a group whether or not we want to use mics and their sound system during our performance so that we wouldn't sound muffled. The space is quite large too which made it even harder for us to fill it with sound. I really am not of fan of having our sound amplified. Somehow it takes away from the purity of what we are doing sonically. The nuances, resonance, and color of these incredible instruments somehow get lost when filtered through amps. On the other hand, you want to be heard and you don't want the audience struggling to hear you so we decided to find a way to be projected in a way that was not too obvious. I don't know for sure how it sounded out there, but I think the night was still successful and the technician was very helpful and patient. As I am always adapting the way I listen according to each space, I am sure the audience did the same. We got to play an eclectic mix of really great chamber music so I hope that those who attended walked away realizing how different music can be even within the same genre. I really enjoyed the experience and it's a great feeling to be playing in some alternative venues as nice as the Varsity Theater in the Twin Cities.

Kee-Hyun Kim, cello

Kee Hyun KimA lot of time has passed since the last time I wrote something for MPR. A lot of things have happened in a period spanning only about a month and a half - we are now definitely in the thick of spring!

The quartet has been busy as well. We've been traveling a lot since the beginning of March - we've been to Blacksburg, VA, Helena, MT, Logan, UT, La Crosse, WI, and most recently to Chicago.

A lot of the work we've done at these places have involved some sort of outreach work. We were at the above-mentioned places for about a week each (with the exception of VA and Chicago), each week culminating in a concert. The rest of the time was spent doing outreach activities in the public schools.

I call this past month the 'Month of Outreach.' Even when we were home, we were doing outreach around the Twin Cities as part of our residency with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as going up to St Cloud a couple of times.

Outreach can be a very difficult and all-consuming activity, especially if you're doing 3-4 of these in one day! In this situation, not only are we performers, but we must act as educators, disciplinarians, and public speakers! This is not really something that is taught at Conservatory... However, we've been around the block long enough to know what to expect.

In order to have a successful outreach, you must present it in a way that will make it accessible, entertaining, and 'cool' to the children (as well as being educational). This means curtailing and adjusting programs based on musical experience, education, age/grade, number of children, etc. But, even with this knowledge, you never really know what to expect until you're actually there - you must go in prepared to be flexible.

This blog posting was supposed to center around our performance at the Varsity Theater, which happened last week. I mention our experiences with outreach in public schools above, because our approach to these is actually quite similar to the way we prepare for a performance at an 'alternative' venue, such as the Varsity. My approach to this, is to basically think of our audience as grown-up children. Attention spans, usually longer in grown-ups, will be shorter in those not accustomed to listening to classical music. And the whole point of playing in 'alternative' venues is to target an audience demographic that normally wouldn't come to a concert in a more traditional setting - so we have to tailor our program so that it will leave a lasting impression on someone who might not ever listen to classical music.

If we left the Varsity that evening having turned even just 2 or 3 people on to classical music, I would be happy.

Oh yes, and one of the perks of playing at a place like this? Drinking on the job! And, there's something very cool about being called a 'band member,' and getting wristbands that say 'VIP.'

Manners - A Refresher

Posted at 1:55 PM on April 27, 2010 by Ward Jacobson (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

Etiquette expert Elizabeth Post (known by family and friends as "Libby") died Saturday in Naples, Florida. She was 89. Ms. Post was the granddaughter-in-law of the country's foremost etiquette expert, Emily Post. Along with revising "Emily Post's Etiquette" five times, Post also wrote several books of her own, as well as a column for Good Housekeeping magazine for 25 years. She once said, "Etiquette is meant to smooth the path between people to better relationships."

It got me thinking about good manners (or the lack thereof) in today's concert halls. There are several websites out there offering suggestions - some obvious, some helpful, some rather condescending.

As far as I'm concerned, it's all common sense. Turn your cell phone off. Try to hold that cough or sneeze until the end of a movement. Don't be the first to applaud. If a particular movement is an earth-changer well...yeah, maybe the hall will explode in applause even though the work isn't complete. Feel free to join in if that's the case. You know...common sense stuff.

Pianist Emanuel Ax has his own unique take here. I think he's on to something!


(1 Comments)

Minnesota Orchestra gives two concerts at the Proms

Posted at 12:40 PM on April 23, 2010 by Alison Young (2 Comments)
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Concerts

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.

(2 Comments)

Two days to learn new role - no probs!

Posted at 1:03 PM on March 24, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

Soprano Marlis Peterson had two days to learn a new role for the Met's new production of Thomas' "Hamlet."

Natalie Dessay was scheduled to play Ophelia and dropped out at the last minute. Marlis was already singing in Vienna, so had to show up in New York for a crash course.

She got rave reviews - you can hear her performance with the Met Opera broadcast this Saturday at noon on Classical MPR.

Classical MPR stars!

Posted at 4:20 PM on March 10, 2010 by Alison Young (3 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

Classical Host Mindy Ratner and Performance Today producers Kate Saumur and Jeff Bina are making beautiful music together this Sunday as part of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra's performance of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."

Mindy Ratner has been singing alto with the Minnesota Chorale for some time. She told me she loves the words. "They're filled with love and longing, and a fair amount of mischief. Although we sing about the unfairness of life and the cruelty of Fate, there's a lot of fun to be had along the way!"

Her favorite part is the "hapless tale of the Roasted Swan...poor guy!"

That 'poor guy' has his own solo movement that begins with one lone bassoon played by PT's Kate Saumur who says "just before he sings, the first bassoon has a very high, kind of comical/lamenting solo, and then one obnoxious low note. I call it my 'dead swan on a stick' solo. The scary part is not the high stuff, but resetting your embouchure and pulling that down-in-the-basement low C from out of nowhere."

Kate told me she loves the huge gong crashes in the opening and closing choruses. They make her want to be a percussionist!

That's PT's Jeff Bina's role. He is one of a whole band of percussionists playing the snare, chimes and sleigh bells. He says he loves the snare because it's "so crisp and exacting. I play on all the boisterous outbursts and I add the exclamation mark at the finish of each song. The sleigh bells are impossible to keep quiet. I wrote in my part when to pick them up, so they'll be covered by a loud part in the music!"

If Carmina is not enough to get your blood roiling, also on the program is one of the sweetest pieces ever written, Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Serenade to Music."

(3 Comments)

Prada, Huns, and the Walker Arts Center at the Opera

Posted at 11:06 AM on March 4, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds, The blog

The Devil wears Prada -- and so do the Huns this Saturday at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Met's new production of Verdi's Attila includes costumes designed by Miuccia Prada.

The sets are designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, who also created the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.
Notice any resemblance?

attila.jpg

20080219_walker_33.jpg

Attila stars Ramón Vargas, Carlos Álvarez, and Samuel Ramey as Pope Leo.
Conductor Riccardo Muti makes his long-awaited Met debut with the production.
You can hear it this Saturday at noon Classical Minnesota Public Radio.


Carmina in Duluth

Posted at 1:42 PM on March 3, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra presents Carl Orff's masterpiece "Carmina Burana" this Saturday at the DECC. I'll be there to host a pre-concert lecture "Behind the Music" at 7:00.

Love, lust, the joys of drinking and the madness of Spring are all in 'Carmina' and Orff catches the mood right from the top with his pulsating "O Fortuna."

O Fortuna has appeared in just about every conceivable commercial, movie, talk-show, professional sport, you name it.

Here's a partial list:
1. The soundtrack for the 1981 film "Excalibur."
2. The 2008 Milwaukee Brewers games as the home-team went up to bat.
3, Fox's Sean Hannity show.
4. In several commercials where one political party makes fun of another (was it the Democrats or the Republicans?)
5. Sung every year at graduation ceremonies at the University of Oslo.

Others?

Oh, and here's a parody of "O Fortuna" in case you also can't quite make out the words.

(1 Comments)

The Parker Quartet's triumphant return from the north

Posted at 1:34 PM on January 28, 2010 by Michael Wells
Filed under: Concerts, Events, Parker Quartet

The Parker Quartet just returned from the first leg of their tour, playing shows in Bemidji and Souix Falls. They shared some of their thoughts with us about the trip and their performances. Read the quartet's first pre-tour entry



Karen Kim, violin


Karen KimWe have just returned home from our first MPR mini-tour (to Bemidji, MN and Sioux Falls, SD), and all in all, it was quite the experience! I have never spent much time in Northern Minnesota or the Dakotas, and I feel like my understanding of the Midwest is now more complete. I saw ice-fishers for the first time (they form mini-villages on the lakes!) and... crossed the headwaters of the Mississippi! Yes, the dream has been fulfilled.

I also had a great time performing and teaching in both cities. Our experiences in Bemidji and Sioux Falls really hit home to me the power that music has to build a community. I could tell that our concert was an event that was on the community's radar, and it was wonderful to share the experience with everyone who attended. We also heard some really talented students play in both cities. I hope they keep classical music in their lives!

And now for the hardships of the trip, which thankfully were not numerous. In fact, the only real difficulty was the length of time spent in the car (4 1/2 hours to Bemidji, 6 1/2 hours to Sioux Falls, and 4 hours back to the Twin Cities). I learned some valuable lessons from this road trip, though. 1) You can never have too many snacks. If they're there, you will eat them all, and you'll still wish you had more. This first lesson is made more interesting by the discovery that, 2) during a road-trip through northern Minnesota in January, your car becomes a large, portable refrigerator. Beverages will stay cool, fruit will freeze before it can go bad...this fortuitously opens up a lot of options in the snack department. And finally, the most painful lesson. 3) Once you hit the Dakotas, if you have even the slightest urge to go to the bathroom, do so immediately at the first viable spot. Don't think that it's not so bad and that you can wait for the next one, because it will be far, and you may not make it...

Kee Hyun Kim, cello

Kee Hyun KimI am sitting at home right now, sheltered from the cold gloom and doom of a January afternoon in Minnesota, eating some dumplings and drinking some hot tea, and reflecting on the past couple of days. For the past hour I have been cleaning my apartment. When I went outside to take out the trash, I was wearing my sweats, a T shirt, a poofy jacket and flip flops. I was concerned that all the snow melt would refreeze, making my driveway dangerous, so I set about shoveling and clearing a path through the snow and ice. It was only about 10 minutes into it that I realized that I was still in my flip flops. Have I finally acclimated? Is this the path towards becoming a true Minnesotan? Out in the cold, shoveling snow in... flip flops?

What an interesting week it's been! On Tuesday, we recorded the Ravel Quartet for Fred Child, on Performance Today. On Wednesday we hit the road for our first concert ever in Bemidji, MN. The quartet took two cars - Dan and Jess with their new puppy, Bodie, and Karen and I in my car. Perhaps the most difficult part of this tour was the actual driving. From the Twin cities it was a little over 4 hours to Bemidji (google maps told us 5 and a half), and from Bemidji to Sioux Falls, it was a little over 7 hours, and from Sioux Falls back to St. Paul was around 4 hours.

Don't get me wrong - I really like to drive. Especially when I'm driving my own car. If this is the case, like it was for this trip, then packing is a lot easier too. Instead of cramming all my clothes, toiletries, suit, dress shoes, music-related stuff (music, music stand, CDs for sale etc.) and God knows what else into one small suitcase (adjusting for liquid regulations for TSA), I can just spread everything out in my car. And, especially with the flying situation the way it is these days, I am appreciating driving even more!

That being said, driving to all these places - all around Minnesota and the eastern part of South Dakota - in the middle of the winter is not something to be taken lightly! Weather was pretty bad - visibility was extremely poor for nearly half the trip. As a result, I am sure we missed a lot of the beauty of the landscape - as well as all the Paul Bunyan statues that I kept reading about. But oh well. It could have been worse. A LOT worse. It was just such a shame to be driving at barely 60 miles an hour when the speed limit was 75!

One of the most interesting things that I saw from the car on the road up to Bemidji was the ice houses on the lakes. Being the "land of 10,000 lakes," and, obviously, being extremely cold, I expected to see some ice fishing. What I didn't expect to see was what seemed to be whole fishing communities out on the lake! Instead of people swaddled up in 20 layers, fishing with a stick and with a metal bucket next to them, which was the image I had in my mind's eye, I saw what I first took to be many colorful port-a-pottys out on the frozen water - which turned out to be these 'shacks' where people build over and around the hole in the ice that they are fishing out of. Supposedly these 'shacks' can be quite elaborate - MTV Cribs, Minnesota ice shack episode anyone?

What was really fascinating about all this was that not only were there these ice shacks, but there seemed to be even roads, and on one lake, I saw what looked like a small river flowing in a crack about 5 feet across!

I am sure the whole experience is very safe, and that residents go out on the frozen ice all the time. Actually, thinking back on it now, I remember seeing these colorful "igloos" on Lake Calhoun last year. It's funny, tho - when we were driving from Bemiji to Sioux Falls, we stopped in Itasca State Park, which is the headwaters of the Mississipppi (something else I learned on this trip - I thought the Mississippi flowed out of the St. Lawrence River, or from somewhere in Canada, at least!). Someone said it was good luck to walk across the frozen Mississippi together, so the quartet made it its mission to do so - however, when I told my girlfriend, for whom this is her first Minnesota winter (or first time in the Midwest period!), she seemed extremely alarmed. Especially when I took a picture of a hole in the lake and sent it to her :)

Anyways, let's see. In my opinion, the concerts themselves went very well. They were very well attended (full house, with an overflow!!), and after both concerts, we got standing ovations. It is a known fact that it is much easier to hold and maintain an audience's interest, when the artists talk about the music beforehand. This breaks down the invisible barrier between the audience and performer, and creates a more intimate (and comfortable) environment for the listener. In this regard, we were very fortunate to have Steve Staruch, an announcer for MPR, touring with us! Steve, with his stories and personal anecdotes, and with his easygoing familiarity, set the tone for the evening (or afternoon, in Sioux Falls), warming up the crowd and preparing them to greet us and the music. Karen deconstructed the Stravinsky 3 Pieces, as well as the Concertino, for the audience, making it more accessible, and at the end of the concert, Steve mediated a question and answer session between us and the audience. A bit time consuming, but a great recipe for a successful evening of chamber music that is both informative, enlightening, and enjoyable!

To be honest, it being winter and all, I did not really get to see much of the towns. It was my first time in that part of Minnesota, and certainly my first time in the state of South Dakota! It would have been great to walk (or at least drive) around and take some pictures, buy some souvenirs, and get a feel of the local culture, but because it was so nasty outside, that opportunity never really presented itself. However, the taste of 'local culture' I was able to get was through talking to the residents of these two cities.

In Bemidji, I had the opportunity to coach a talented young cellist on the Saint Saens cello concerto. He was a junior in high school, and studying with Peter Howard, former principal cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was extremely receptive to what I had to say, quick to adjust, and such a nice guy - none of the better-than-you attitude you get with a lot of high school students! Some of the audience members I talked to were such characters as well! I will not soon forget the man who approached me, talking about traveling, asking if I liked touring, etc. - then he said something like "I used to travel around the world myself, when I was around your age. Of course, my band was a lot bigger than yours... the U.S. Navy." Or the high school music teacher who was so enamored by our performance, especially by our Haydn, that she implored us to release some performances of our Haydn on Youtube, because "we are so isolated up here!" Or finally, the man who stated that Bemidji was one of the world's "best-kept secrets" - not only had we come to play here, but next week the Ahn Trio was coming, and a few months after that, Midori.

Sioux Falls was a slightly different experience. First of all, the weather was worse once we got there, so sightseeing was really out of the question. The masterclass we were to conduct was open to the public - this was by far the largest audience we'd had to come see us teach... ever! It was also unnerving because right before the class, I had become re-aquainted with an old friend of mine from high school! She had just finished graduate studies at Rice University, and gotten a job as associate principal viola of Sioux Fall Symphony this past September. This entailed her to teach at Augustana College as well - and here she was, after almost 6 years, listening to us teach a masterclass in front of a crowd of eager listeners! The man seated in front of me was filming the entire thing too on his camcorder - his family is going to have a recording of me dancing around stage instructing the students to play with no vibrato for eternity. Scary thought.

Funny story about the power of MPR's promoting skills. Immediately upon the completion of the class at Augustana, Kristi Booth, the regional director for MPR stood up, announcing the concert at 2pm and expressing her hopes to see everybody there. My friend leaned in to me and said "that's funny that she seems worried that people won't know about the concert. You guys have been on the radio, and they'e been announcing your concert, since, like, November."

Thinking back on it now, I don't know quite what i was expecting at these two places - I had resolved to be an informed tourist (googling these cities before we left), to keep an open mind, and most importantly, to be adaptable. Fortunately, I am happy to say that reality exceeded my expectations. First of all, the crowds were among the most diverse that I had ever seen in attendance at a chamber music concert. Not only were there the usual silver hairs in attendance, but I saw many high school and college age students, and especially in Sioux Falls, many young children, probably no older than middle school age. I certainly did not expect the level of reverence and concert etiquette that was on display! Not once, in any of the places, was there a cell phone ring, or even a watch alarm. No one clapped between movements. And despite the weather, not once was I ever distracted by hacking, whooping coughs, loud throat-clearing, or even the subtle-yet-not-so-subtle unwrapping of a cough drop. Audience members of Bemidji and Sioux Falls, give yourselves a round of applause, or at least a pat on the back, for being among one of my top 10 greatest audiences. We couldn't have done it without you.

Finally, my closing thoughts. At the beginning of this blog post, I touched briefly on the subject of acclimating; on becoming a real "Minnesotan." (or, to be more inclusive, a real "greater rural Mid-west area" resident). Driving for hours through the states of Minnesota, and North and South Dakota, I was surprised to to find myself feeling a real sense of belonging. How could you not feel at home when everybody around you is so friendly, so accepting, and so generous of their time and compliments?

The quartet moved to the Twin cities in the Fall of 2008. For me, this was after living in Boston for almost 10 years. Because of our intensive touring, and my puffed up sense of East Coast elitism, I didn't really get the sense that this was really "home" yet, even as recently as this past September. However, by traveling to these more out of the way communities, and sharing out gift of music with a reciprocating audience; this was the final step that made me feel most welcome, and a sign that I was an integral part of the community here.

A special thank you to Kristi Booth, regional manager for MPR, for all her hard work, and to Steve Staruch. This would not have been possible without you guys. And of course, to Minnesota Public Radio - please continue to support MPR! - one of the best classical stations in the United States, in my humble opinion.

Jessica Bodner, viola

Jessica BodnerWe just returned to St. Paul from our concerts in Bemidji and Sioux Falls.  The trip was a blast!  It was great to get to know Steve Staruch a little, as well as Kristi Booth, one of the main organizers for these concerts.  Working with them on this trip just strengthened the fact that MPR is a fantastic organization full of really special people.

As I think back on this trip, I don't quite remember things in a linear way, so I'm going to list the things that made impressions on me.

My first meal in Bemidji was at Hardees.  I was pressed for time, I was hoping there was going to be a cute street full of interesting restaurants, but the closest thing I could find was Hardees.  I am a vegetarian, so I had to be creative in ordering - I ordered the ¼ lb. burger topped with Portobello mushrooms and cheese€¦.hold the ¼ lb. burger, please.  The cashier took $1.50 off, which I thought was very nice!

After never having seen an icehouse for fishing on the lake, I saw more than I can count.

We went to the headwaters of the Mississippi River - it's located about 40 minutes from Bemidji in Itasca State Park.  I found it to be magical, especially with it being winter in a sparkling sort of way.  It was so peaceful and seemed to be so well protected.  It felt like an honor to be there.

It was awesome that the concerts were sold out!! It's so great to go out on stage when there's a full house.  There was an excitement in the air that I think we were feeding off of and also giving back - it was a great exchange.

I loved meeting the students in both cities, at the master classes and after the concerts.  They were so down to earth, sincere, and just seemed like they were there for such good reasons.  The students we worked with were so receptive and musical, so it was exciting to share our thoughts with them.  Some of the college students that came to the concert in Bemidji were great to talk with because they were telling us what it's like to live in Bemidji and then asking what our lifestyles are like, it was like a great cultural exchange.

It is amazing how little there is off of I-29 S from Fargo to Sioux Falls.  It didn't help that there was intense fog and freezing rain the whole time, but it is really something to witness.

When we were doing a TV news interview, the person doing the interview thought our warm-up (us not playing together at all!) was what we wanted on the news! I hope she heard the difference when we actually started playing a piece together.

Bodie (Dan's and my four and a half month old Vizsla puppy) was mostly terrific.  He's absolutely great in the car, which was helpful to find out, but we also found out that small hotel rooms effect dogs just like they do people - he got a little antsy in the hotel rooms sometimes.  He did force us to get out and find some interesting parks, though.

Looking forward to Duluth! 

Daniel Chong, violin

Daniel Chong I was thinking today about what to write as a follow-up to our trip, and to be honest I had some trouble figuring out what to say.  When we hit the road I often feel like I enter a time warp.  A lot of things go out the window: the date, day of the week, time (I never know what time zone we're in), and more often than not even where I am.  The only things you really need to keep in mind when you're on tour are the dress rehearsals, concerts, and where you're sleeping.  Sometimes, there are other additions to this list such as if we have to give a master class somewhere or if Jessica wants to discover all of Paris by foot in one afternoon (if there ever is a walking marathon I would have her sport a uniform that had a picture of my face looking like Rocky's after his bout with that Russian dude with her infamous quote, "just a few steps more" to serve as pure intimidation to the other competitive strollers).  But really, besides this I usually worry about things like where to eat (which always takes the number one spot), how to properly manhandle the given hotel shower until I believe again that H really does mean hot and C really does mean cold, and deciding whether or not I can get away with wearing this shirt once more.  And you want to know what the crazy thing is?  It's that this lack of daily rhythm actually becomes a rhythm.  And do you want to know what's even crazier?!?  Is that nine times out of ten, when we finally get back home from a tour I feel more at a loss of what to do with myself because all of sudden being home has become a big interruption to the rhythm of the road.

So what I'm trying to say here is that it takes some time for me to properly encapsulate each trip we have.  I can tell you floating thoughts in my head like I've never seen Winter more beautiful than on our drive to Bemidji; it made me realize that the concept of black and white in photography and art are not mimics of color but are as vivid and real as any shot of Spring.  I can tell you that there are extremely talented youngins all over our country such as Sadie Hamrin who Karen and I had the privilege to work with.  And, I can tell you that walking over the headwaters of the Mississippi River in the dead of a Minnesota winter at Itasca State Park is one of the most thrilling things I've ever done.  But, the idea behind this blog is to communicate to you all the experiences I had on this trip through my very own eyes and that's exactly what's difficult.  It needs to sink in for a while.  It needs to sink and sink until that day comes where I'm sitting around with friends or family having a drink and somebody says something that triggers something in the pathways of my brain which leads me to say a word or two about that one time my quartet took a trip to Bemidji, Minnesota and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Because when that moment comes it'll be straight, honest, and completely absorbed.  Words trip me up sometimes.  Maybe that's why music is for me.

Facts vs. feelings

Posted at 12:33 PM on January 28, 2010 by Alison Young (6 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Musical philosophy

I was giving a pre-concert talk a few months back at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and explaining in great detail a 12-tone piece - it's form, the background of the composer's approach and how the piece fits into an historical context, etc, etc.

One of the regular concert-goers walked up after the talk and said it was so interesting and illuminating, but in the end he just didn't like how the music made him feel.

Anne Midgette in the Washington Post writes about this phenomenon: "You have two extremes in classical music: on the one hand, the elaborate program note filled with facts and information about the piece, and on the other hand the blunted reaction of the listener after the fact: 'it sounds pretty.' "

How do you judge music? Is it the facts and figures that help the music come alive or do you prefer to simply let your ears determine if you like a piece or not? Or is it a combination of the two?

(6 Comments)

Emerson String Quartet in Winona

Posted at 5:57 AM on January 22, 2010 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

The Emerson String Quartet performs in Winona tomorrow night under the auspices of the Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

The four of them have played together for more than 30 years now. What's the secret to their longevity?

Cellist David Finckel says that their friendship is solid, but what drives them is the work itself: "There is so much to do, just to play everything we are committed to, and to do it at the level that people have come to expect of us."

Read more about what Mr. Finckel has to say about the Emersons, the state of string quartets generally, and his (lack of) work-life balance in this two-part interview by Madison, WI-based critic and blogger Jacob Stockinger.

Classical on the Small Screen

Posted at 10:41 AM on January 20, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Concerts, Events, In the media

A couple PBS specials of note, tonight and tomorrow.

Tonight on Great Performances: "The Audition," a documentary about the finalists in the Metropolitan Opera's young artists competition. Here's a trailer:

By the way, the next wave of young talent in the Metropolitan Opera auditions will be in St. Paul on February 6 for this year's regional contest. Winners here go on to the semifinals at the Met in NYC.

Tomorrow night, it's Live from Lincoln Center with Josh Bell & Friends, incl Jane Monheit, Marvin Hamlisch, Nathan Gunn, Regina Spektor, Chris Botti, and Sting. It's a live concert based on his new album, based on his house concerts:


The SPCO's Stravinsky Festival

Posted at 12:40 PM on December 15, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Concerts

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra sure knows how to warm up a Minnesota January. In 2009, they did it with their International Chamber Orchestra Festival. In 2010, they'll spice things up with their three-week-long Stravinsky Festival.

It will feature a concert performance (no sets, no costumes) of Stravinsky's only opera, The Rake's Progress, as well as performances of several of his ballet scores. The festival culminates in a joint performance by the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra of Stravinsky's earth-shaking (or at the very least, floor-board shaking!) The Rite of Spring.

For your enjoyment, here's a 1965 video of the great man himself conducting the "Lullaby and Final Hymn" from his ballet Firebird.

Future Classics concert on-line beginning Monday

Posted at 12:51 PM on November 29, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Events, Programs

What will a classic be in 50 years? in 100 years?

The Minnesota Orchestra bets on the classics of the future with their week-long Composer Institute. Hundreds of submissions came in and seven emerging composers were chosen, their pieces performed by the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska.

You can listen to the concert plus commentary from the composers at ClassicalMPR.org FOR ONE WEEK ONLY beginning tomorrow.

Don't miss it: atmospheric music about the seasons, a Satie-esque piece based on "The Little Prince," as well as a visceral flying experience, fire, obscure poeticals forms and more.

The Myth of High-Priced Tickets

Posted at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2009 by Gillian Martin (6 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, In the media

I was very disappointed to see this comic strip in yesterday's Star Tribune advancing the myth that "only rich people can afford" tickets to the symphony.

(Especially since I had just read this article about ticket scalpers asking over a $1000 a piece for tickets to an upcoming U2 concert a 2007 Hannah Montana concert.)

Tickets to major orchestras (like the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony or our own Minnesota Orchestra or Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra) are comparable in price, and often cheaper, than tickets to pop/rock acts such as Bon Jovi, U2 or Taylor Swift.

I don't hold comic strip creators to the same professional standards as reporters, of course, but would a little fact-checking be so bad?

(6 Comments)

Hear the music of the future!

Posted at 4:35 PM on November 20, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musical philosophy

I looked up "Classic" in the dictionary and it says "serving as a standard of excellence; of recognized value."

In classical music we might add that it's something that endures.

Recently, my colleague Ward Jacobson posted a blog about which living composers would be still be played 50 years from now?

I wonder if games like this were played back in Mozart and Beethoven's day? I'll bet they were because, for the most part, every concert was all new music.

You can "hear the future" tomorrow night at Orchestra Hall when Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra present seven emerging composers in their Future Classics concert.

I'll be there hosting, which basically means I get to ask all those questions you've always wanted to ask - what's your piece about? why did you write it? what do you want us to experience? how was writing for the Minn Orch?

Come tomorrow night - or stay tuned the week after Thanksgiving to classical MPR.org when we post the concert on-line.

Halloween with Ben Folds at Orchestra Hall

Posted at 9:52 AM on November 3, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

In the previous blog, my colleague Alison Young talked about dressing as an SPCO musician wannabe Halloween night in St. Paul. Down I-94 in Minneapolis that night, Orchestra Hall was handing out fake eye-glasses to patrons (many in costume) attending the Minnesota Orchestra pops concert featuring Ben Folds, who's known (among other things) for his horn-rimmed specs.

Nice touch for a night full of fun music.

Special kudos to Pops conductor Sara Hicks who seemed to have as much fun as anyone, including coming out for the second half of the concert as Cher, along with Folds' Sonny.

Being a big fan of Folds, I was really curious to hear how this collaboration would work - and for the most part, it worked quite well. Most importantly though, the hall was packed - and I'm guessing a good portion of those in attendance had not been there before and were hearing the Minnesota Orchestra for the first time. Hopefully, they'll be back.

"Air" musician anyone?

Posted at 12:38 PM on November 1, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds

Last night at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Halloween concert, a long black formal served as my costume. I went as an SPCO musician-wannabe.

When I sit in the host's chair at Classical MPR, I often air-conduct or air-play all the right notes in some tricky solo right along with the CD. Why else BE a host? No performance anxiety for me!

Composer Michael Gordon wrote in his blog yesterday about the popular 'rock band' and 'guitar hero' videos and asks why not bring out an orchestra hero and give us all a chance to virtually play in one of the great orchestras? The comments are as fun a read as his blog.

Clubbin' with the Cello

Posted at 11:30 PM on October 21, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

Matt Haimovitz is one of the best cellists in the world today, and you're liable to see him play just about anywhere.

Haimovitz is midway through his "Figment" Tour, saluting contemporary music icon Elliott Carter and also bringing together a wide range of important new music for cello and electronics. Look for Haimovitz next week, just up the block from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.....at the Dakota Jazz Club.

The Haimovitz Dakota gig is October 28th at 7pm.

There's a lot more about this innovative young artist when you click here.

Up To Their Waists in Opera

Posted at 11:25 PM on October 13, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds

There was a time when opera singers could just...sing. They didn't even have to act that much, but just stand in front of beautiful sets in their gorgeous costumes and sing.

Those days are gone. But director Robert LePage seems to be taking things a little too far in his upcoming production at the Canadian Opera Company. See what he requires of the singers (and the stage crew!) here.

L.A. 360

Posted at 10:14 AM on October 9, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds, Programs

From the Los Angeles Times, here's a 360-decree panoramic view of the crowd at last night's Dudamel/Philharmonic opening concert--not inside the auditorium, but out on the plaza. (See if you can spot the face of Placido Domingo.)

And if you missed our broadcast last night, you can hear highlights on Performance Today. And as I should have mentioned, the complete concert will also be coming up on this week's SymphonyCast, Thursday evening at 8: Mahler's First, and a new John Adams piece (slyly humorous at times, at least to these ears), City Noir.

Dudamel Debut Online

Posted at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Concerts, Programs

Tonight's the night--the official inaugural concert of Gustavo Dudamel in his new job leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Anticipation and ticket demand are riding high, as this LA Times article suggests.

You can hear what all the excitement is about, tonight on this website (NB - not on the radio!) [update] and on the radio as well! The concert is at 9 Central, Mahler and John Adams are on the program, and Fred Child will be hosting.

The Joads Play Carnegie Hall

Posted at 6:46 PM on October 5, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Concerts

The Joad family gave up everything to get to California, and now they'll see New York, too.

The Minnesota Opera produced the world premiere of The Grapes of Wrath by Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie back in 2007.

Now a concert version of the work (no costumes, no sets) will play Carnegie Hall next spring. See the big-name cast list here.

St. Paul est tres francais, n'est pas?

Posted at 4:36 PM on September 24, 2009 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

Airline prices might be dropping, but I can't just take the weekend off to fly to Paris. So I'll do the next best thing: don my beret and head over to Saint Paul's Church of the Nativity for a series of French concerts on their French organ.

The series might more accurately be called a "marathon" - it takes a whole month to present all ten of Charles Marie Widor's Organ Symphonies played on an organ that sounds pretty much like the organ Widor wrote these pieces on and for at St. Sulpice in Paris.

Nativity's Casavant-Freres organ is actually French-Canadian. 2,882 pipes in 52 ranks were installed a couple of years ago and I think every pipe is put to work in the marathon beginning Sunday.

This is the kind of music you feel in your solar plexus. The walls will vibrate and your teeth will rattle - it's sensational stuff!

more info here

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Boos at Met Opera's Opening Night

Posted at 4:22 AM on September 22, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Concerts, In the media, Musician stories

A preview piece in yesterday's New York Times predicted that "the Tosca that makes its debut tonight at the Metropolitan Opera is bound to annoy a least a few opera patrons." That proved to be an understatement.

The crowd was enthusiastic about soprano Karita Mattila in the title role, and had great applause for James Levine and the orchestra. But when Swiss stage director Luc Bondy and his production team came out to take their bows, the booing from the audience was so vehement that the management brought down the curtain.

Bondy's production replaced a traditional and much-beloved Franco Zeffirelli production that had been in the Met's repertory since 1985.

Read more about the new production and the audience's reaction to it here.

Read Mr. Zeffirelli's rather catty remarks about Mr. Bondy and his work here (registration required).

SPCO Welcomes New Musicians

Posted at 11:30 AM on September 11, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra welcomes two new musicians to their ranks today.

Violinist Sunmi Chang fills one of the two violin positions that have been open since 2006.

Cellist David Huckaby fills the position vacated by the retirement of Daryl Skobba in 2007.

Ms. Chang and Mr. Huckaby jump right in. They'll both play in tonight's season opening concert with Douglas Boyd conducting Beethoven's famous Fifth Symphony.

(Mr. Boyd, by the way, gives his last concerts as an SPCO Artistic Partner this month. At six years, he is the longest serving Artistic Partner to date.)

Ukuleles En Masse

Posted at 3:40 PM on August 22, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Concerts, Events, Fun finds, In the media

What is the sound of 1000 ukuleles playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy?

Well, it's quieter than you might expect.

The "world's greatest classical music festival" hosted the world's largest ukulele ensemble recently. Read all about it here.

Adulation for Osmo

Posted at 12:32 PM on August 17, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Concerts, In the media, Musician stories

"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).

Galway still rocks at 70

Posted at 10:03 AM on August 6, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

James Galway turns 70 on December 8. He's celebrating this birthday-year by giving tons of concerts and workshops, and accepting the Life Time achievment award from the National Flute Association next week - where he hopes to break the world record for largest flute ensemble.

It was a bit off my radar since this isn't exactly classical, but Sir James will be rocking out TONIGHT with the Cuban American band Tiempo Libre at the Dakota.

First Night of the Proms

Posted at 9:04 AM on July 23, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Concerts, Events, Programs

Last Friday, the BBC Proms got underway in London. We're going to be bringing you lots of music from the Proms--in fact, today's Performance Today will include some Elgar from that First Night of the Proms. (That's not to be confused with Last Night of the Proms, which also includes Elgar, and which we'll broadcast live.)

The Proms website is abundant and diverse, to say the least. Case in point: this page devoted to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

I guess that means her tour with Tom Jones is out of the question...

Posted at 4:45 PM on January 30, 2007 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Concerts

It seems Dame Kiri TeKanawa has some qualms about sharing the stage with underpants. She bowed out of a scheduled 2005 concert series with Australian songster John Farnham after learning that his more zealous fans sometimes fling their knickers onstage.

Why is a 2005 cancellation in the news now? Because the resultant (inevitable?) breach of contract lawsuit is now in court.

Read all about it.

P.S. In case you were wondering, John Farnham and Tom Jones have indeed shared the stage...in 2005, the very same year Kiri bailed for the aforementioned reason - those unreasonable unmentionables.

Tom: "Hey, John, what are you singing about under there?"
John: "Under where?"

bah dum bah!

BBC Proms: Viktoria Mullova

Posted at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2006 by Brian Newhouse (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

Have a world-class Stradivarius you'd like to lend for a few days?

Violinist Viktoria Mullova actually already has one and it's worth a fortune. But with the new airport security measures she's not able to carry it onboard when she flies. She has to check it with luggage. Pause here to reflect: you own a priceless Strad and you're sitting on the tarmac watching the luggage guys sling it under the plane along with the boulder-size bags of your fellow travelers.

When I talked with her yesterday (interview for our Last Night of the Proms broadcast) she really sounded worried about her Minnesota Orchestra appearance next week. Her plan is to drive with a friend from her London home to Heathrow, do her best to convince security to let her carry the Strad onboard in its case. If they refuse, she's going to hand the instrument to her friend who'll deliver it back home. When she lands in Minneapolis she'll start scrambling for the best instrument she can find.

More…

Mullova defected from the Soviet Union 23 years ago. (Here's a nice synopsis of a hair-raising story.) She was on tour in Helsinki and left her state-owned Strad lying on the hotel room bed and fled into Sweden.

Two weeks ago she essentially reversed that scenario when she went to play in Helsinki with the Minnesota Orchestra. This time, she had to 'smuggle' her new Strad into Finland onboard the plane. Refusing to check it with her luggage, she wrapped the instrument in a towel and hid it in a shopping bag.

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Menlo listening highlight

Posted at 10:08 AM on September 6, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Antonin Dvorak: Piano Trio in e minor, op. 90, "Dumky"
Wu Han, piano; Ani Kavafian, violin; David Finckel, cello
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This piece also unfolds as a set of stories, though I don’t see a nice red thread running through it as you can in the Schubert Fantasy. Each of these six movements is its own brilliant dark world. To watch David Finckel’s face during the performance—you can tell he’s enjoying the music in that way, as story: surprised at this turn, almost frightened at the next.

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Menlo listening highlight

Posted at 2:58 PM on August 29, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Schubert: Fantasy for Piano, Four Hands, in f, D. 940
Jeffery Kahane, Wu Han, piano
Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

I think Schubert must have had read some twisted, tragic story before sitting down to write this, because he's so clearly trying to do the same with this music. He tells it as a story in four movements—four chapters, if you like—but each one flows without a break to the next. Jeffrey Kahane takes the lower part, while Wu Han plays 'right hand.' Afterward Jeffrey was telling me how surprised he was at the power of this particular Steinway, especially the low end, and that if he'd had another set of hands he would've covered his ears! (see post Menlo: noisy world)

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Menlo listening highlight

Posted at 3:41 PM on August 25, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Mozart: Piano Quartet in g, K. 478
Wu Han, piano; Ani Kavafian, violin; Carla Maria Rodrigues, viola; Peter Wiley, cello

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The delicious final course in the musical meal of Menlo's first program.


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Menlo listening highlight

Posted at 11:28 AM on August 23, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Mozart: Church Sonatas in F, K. 244; E-flat, K. 67; C, K. 336
Ani Kavafian, Tein-Hsin Wu, violin; Peter Wiley, cello; James Welch, organ

Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

These churchy pieces always make me smile, knowing a bit about the complexity of Mozart's character, especially his delight in bathroom humor. But here he is being a good pious young man, and a professional composer trying to please his boss.

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Menlo listening: piano trio

Posted at 2:59 PM on August 14, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in e, op. 67
—Derek Han, piano; Ani Kavafian, violin; Peter Wiley, cello
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Mozart celebrated birthday number 250 this year, so he was the headline of the 2006 Menlo festival, but the sub-head was Shostakovich who has 100 candles on his cake. Not that theres much celebrating going on in this piece, written in the horrible year of 1944. If you like your music nice and dramatico, here you go. If youve only got a minute to sample it, drop the needle on the very beginning of the first movement and check out Peter Wileys beautiful, eerie cello solo, pitched so high that it sounds like a completely different instrument.


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Menlo listening: Shostakovich

Posted at 5:44 PM on August 12, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Shostakovich: Sonata for Cello and Piano in d minor, op. 40
Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

For Menlo's first three seasons, co-artistic directors David Finckel and Wu Han never appeared in duet together because they—a phenomenal husband-wife cello-piano team—were very conscious that Menlo should not be all about them. Their focus was on the music itself and the artists they'd invited. But here in the first moments of the first 2006 concert they paired up for this fantastic performance that shows why they are who they are.

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Menlo: final post

Posted at 2:03 PM on August 7, 2006 by Gayle Ober
Filed under: Concerts

“Oh, to have a camera right now!,” Brian Newhouse lamented on Friday afternoon as we watched Jorja Fleezanis, the Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, rub “Tiger Balm” into the shoulders of one of the young violinists studying at Music@Menlo. We all stood around a picnic table on a bright sunny California afternoon and watched as Jorja accompanied her ministrations with stern, caring words about stretching, warming up and generally taking care of the body during these intense rehearsals. Meanwhile all around us, the younger students were playing ping pong or laughing like they were at a playground.

Having spent some time at the Aspen Music Festival, also a marvelous training ground for young musicians, I tried to remember if I’d ever witnessed such a personal interaction between a professional musician and a student. I’m sure it happens there as well, but just the sheer size of that festival, versus the intimacy of Music@Menlo, would preclude an outsider like me from sharing in the joy and awe of that moment.

This opportunity to hear great chamber music and watch as professional musicians teach others their craft flows everywhere throughout Menlo. And, it’s done right out in the open for all to see. From open rehearsals to the coaching sessions, those of us watching are invited to be a part of the learning. One more example:

Saturday morning was the final coaching sessions for the Sunday concert given by the 18-and-under students. The session began with the oldest students and finished with the very youngest. Some of them could be described as prodigies, others are just talented young people who work very hard to play this well. During this coaching session, Wu Han (coffee cup and cell phone in hand) took time to offer last-minute advice on technical and musical matters. She also heaped praise on every student and encouraged those of us in the audience to help her through our applause and cheering.

Then David Finckel and she talked about getting on and off the stage, gave tips on how to manage your audience when you have a quiet ending, and how to get your face out of the score during your solo part so the audience knows that something special is happening. Each student is also required to speak to the audience via a little introduction to their piece. No detail was forgotten and no opportunity for praise overlooked.

In the midst of creating some of the most memorable chamber music concerts I’ll ever attend, I could not help but be reminded of the fact that Wu Han and David and their teaching and performing colleagues are creating the next generation of chamber musicians. They are also nurturing and educating the future of our world and doing it with great love and affection for the music and for those who create it. The students are asked to be the best they can be but in an environment that acknowledges that they are indeed emerging human beings who need more than just lessons, coachings and performances.

If I were the parent of one of the young students at the Music@Menlo Festival, I would want to know that in addition to giving the incredible musical experiences, someone rubbed Tiger Balm on my child’s tired and sore shoulders and made sure they played ping pong after lunch.

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Menlo: Ara Guzelimian

Posted at 3:31 PM on August 4, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Headed home now, wishing everyone who’s stopped by to read this blog could spend at least a day with Music@Menlo.

Ara Guzelimian, Carnegie Hall’s Artistic Adviser, gave the lecture-demo last night and took the audience into Mozart’s wind music. That topic didn’t really grab my lapels when I heard it was coming: Mozart was all about the symphony, the operas, the piano concertos, and the string quartets – not necessarily winds. But working with musicians onstage and with bits of recordings, Ara showed us how Mozart so often picked a wind instrument when he wanted to say something uniquely powerful.

Ara didn’t even mention the late clarinet masterworks (the Concerto, the Quintet) which would’ve made his point right there. Instead, he went into the piano concertos, operas like The Magic Flute, Clemenza di Tito, and even the pivotal C Minor String Quintet, and showed how wind instruments either inspired them or put blood in their veins.

Menlo 2006 is all about the world’s most famous composer, but also the composer you hear on hold and in the elevator, the composer you take for granted and don’t really hear after a while. Last night I got an ear scrubbing. I’ll probably grab some perfect stranger by the elbow in an elevator someday and say, “Listen! Clarinets in pairs! Mozart’s voice of angels…”

Like I say, I wish everyone could be here at least a day or so, to remember why he or she fell in love with this music in the first place.

Menlo: the set and setting

Posted at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2006 by Gayle Ober
Filed under: Concerts

As MPR producer Brian Newhouse and I stood on the grounds of the Menlo School yesterday, I could see why Artistic Directors Wu Han and David Finckel chose this location for their festival, Music@Menlo. With its bright white buildings, gravel driveways and mature trees, it is a beautiful place that encourages you to come in and stay for a while.

Shortly after arriving, we were greeted by the head of the Menlo School, Norman Colb. As we looked up at the magnificent old mansion that anchors the school, he told us the "real" story of how Wu Han and David chose this place. It goes something like this: One winter when the school was on break, Wu Han and David were visiting a friend who lived not far from the Menlo campus. Their host insisted that they see the grand ballroom of the mansion on campus, which he claimed had wonderful acoustics. There's a bit of a mystery about how Wu Han, David, and their host garnered a key to get into the building, but in they went. What they discovered was a beautiful space that begged to be filled with glorious music.

Yesterday we heard music from noon onward, but it seemed like a very short day, with performances from the youngest members of the Festival Academy—10-year-olds playing early Mozart works for piano and violin—to some of our nation's most accomplished wind players giving us snippets of the magic that we would hear in future concerts. We might expect this from a summer festival led by two of Americas finest chamber musicians, but there is such a spirit of discovery and unbridled joy on the grounds during the day and in the concert hall in the evening that makes me want to gather a group of friends and return next year for more. As I listen to the broadcasts in the weeks ahead, I'm eager to experience this visit to Music@Menlo again.

Gayle Ober is Director of Classical Programming at American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio. She joined Brian Newhouse in Menlo on Wednesday.

Menlo: Nicolas van Pouke

Posted at 10:38 AM on August 3, 2006 by Brian Newhouse (31 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

I’m taking Jayson’s point when he responded to Monday’s blog and, while I assure him that every effort is made to keep the Boredom Quotient as low as possible, I’m going to yield the floor to someone whose B.Q. is in deep negative numbers.

He’s Nicolas van Pouke, all of 13 years old, who came from the Netherlands to study piano at Music@Menlo. Ten, twenty years from now the people at this year’s Festival are going to say “We heard him in ’06…” This kid is an animal, and after a concert last night he came up to me and asked if I’d like to listen to his performance at the finals of the Princess Christina Competition in his native Holland this spring. Very shyly he handed me this CD.

Here he is playing the first movement of a Haydn Sonata (Hob. XVI: 50) live in front of judges and audience in The Hague. I’d bet this month’s rent that Nicolas, who hasn’t started to shave yet, is going places. Let me know what you think, Jayson.

Audio Listen to Nicolas van Pouke perform the first movement of a Haydn Sonata

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Menlo: students and the pros

Posted at 11:19 AM on August 2, 2006 by Brian Newhouse (8 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

You should see how the eyes on the Music@Menlo student musicians narrow as they watch the veterans here perform. The pros – all of whom have international careers touring and recording – make it look so easy. Last night for instance, the Orion String Quartet had us in the palm of their hand with Mozart’s haunting arrangement of Bach’s Prelude and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Watch the kids’ faces during moments like that and you see this great mix of awe and determination forming: ‘I want to do that’ and ‘I will do that.’

In my talk to these students the other day I told them that, while they’re busy practicing and dreaming, give some thought about how they’re going to position themselves if the big record companies and promoters are a little slow in calling. How can you make your art, I asked them, how can you be useful to your community – which by the way is a pretty solid strategy for gathering great press and advancing your careers.

In a story taken from my own backyard, I told them about a Minneapolis elementary school that’s trying hard to keep music in the curriculum. I showed them Jerry Holt’s gorgeous slide show that ran with this Star Tribune article. Check it out yourself here.

Now go back and stop the show when the counter is 15 seconds from the end. What do you see in that photo?

That girl’s eyes have stayed with me ever since this story ran in the paper two months ago. She’s part of Minneapolis’ burgeoning east-African refugee community and most likely has seen things I hope never to see. But there she is, that bright shiny flute in her hands and she’s doing her best. I told the Menlo kids that, while you can see many things in that photo, something you can’t miss is plain, simple opportunity. This girl is waiting for us, all of us, including the future stars of Menlo, to show her how. Being useful to her could jump-start or be a whole career right there.

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Menlo: outdated by the time you read this

Posted at 12:09 PM on August 1, 2006 by Brian Newhouse (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

I gave a talk the other day to 40 or so young musicians who’ve come to study at Music@Menlo, its title being “Your Career and the Troublingly Open Arms of Media.” I’d hoped to give them a few inside tips on making recordings so that they would all become nice and famous. But the problem, I started by telling them, was that these tips would be obsolete by dinnertime.

Sooner or later these performers (8-28 years old) will want to give media a great big hug. But media and technology and the legalities that swirl around them shape-shift every six hours. How to succeed? Here’s one credo and as far as I can see it’s the most reliable one around: more is better. Chris Andersen, Wired Magazine’s editor-in-chief, said recently that musicians have to become “agnostic” about media and create as many ways as possible for the audience to find them; don’t presume ahead of time how people will want to find music. I added that, while musicians and consumers get excited about new technologies, also don’t forget that radio (very solid research says) is still going to be the dominant way for Americans to hear classical music for at least the next five to ten years.

That’s it in a nutshell, though how these musicians execute on that, and in particular make money at it, is a whole semester’s worth of classes. The Menlo kids asked smart questions afterward, but I could tell they’re nervous – reaching for a door they know someday they’ll want to open yet not sure what’ll be behind it.

Talented, passionate kids. How they love this music. I wish I could tell them.

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Menlo: noisy world

Posted at 9:49 AM on July 31, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

There's a pretty good chance that if you're reading a classical music blog, you have yet to experience the phenomenon of Aly & AJ. (If you're a parent of a girl 6-16 years old, all you need to do to get up to speed is ask your daughter.) For the newcomers, Aly & AJ are 16-year-old California pop-rockers. Tall, slim, blonde twin sisters who write songs in their bedroom, a couple years ago they made it very big. Your 6-16 year-old girl wants to be Aly or AJ. Heck, I wouldn't mind being Aly or AJ.

My two daughters are frantic fans and their most outlandish dream came true last week when they called a San Francisco radio station and won four tickets to a concert, the first time anyone in our house has ever won anything by calling a radio station. They even got backstage passes. When she heard she'd won, my nine-year-old let out a scream that I felt in my eyeballs. She and her little sister then jumped on the bed and pretended to faint.

So Friday night, my wife and I and two extremely excited little girls left the classical music Valhalla of Music@Menlo for an open-air theater south of town. We were surrounded by 5,000 other extremely excited little girls. Ours were wide-eyed at the fashions in the crowd and the mountains of speakers onstage. When Aly and AJ bounded on we were swamped by that same scream I'd heard the day before—times 5,000. Our daughters danced in the aisles to music that was peppy and loud and unintelligible. They tried to get me to dance and they screamed themselves hoarse. We had a blast. Backstage afterward, Aly and AJ were as nice as could be to my girls.

The next night I was back at Menlo for chamber music. As much as I love this stuff, I have to admit that I was ready to feel let down; after getting my ears pasted back by 60,000-watt speakers and feeling (if only for an evening) With It, Schubert was going to sound just a little antique, a little too polite.

But Wu Han and Jeffrey Kahane opened the concert playing Schubert's Fantasy in F Minor for Four Hands on a wide-open nine-foot Steinway and I have to tell you that that being 30 feet away from a world-class concert grand played by two such athletic pianists made an impression that Aly & AJ with all their watts could do well to contemplate. Schubert made the bigger impact. His Fantasy unrolls like a brooding and twisted story but interrupted by moments of hope… Wu Han and Kahane put me on the edge of my chair.

I know I'm in apples and oranges land here by comparing. But this is the way my mind has always worked, jostling experiences to make sense of a noisy world. Don't you do the same? These two concerts were as different as they could be and I liked them both. But when I hear stories of pop music's omnipotence and classical music's irrelevance, it's nice to road test the assumptions once in a while. On a northern-California weekend, classical did just fine, capturing at least one heart and mind to a depth that no other music can.

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Menlo: Joseph Silverstein conversation

Posted at 11:22 AM on July 28, 2006 by Brian Newhouse (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

Temperatures around the Bay Area are blessedly cooling, but Music@Menlo kept a little bit of heat going yesterday by taking on the incendiary topic ofvibrato! Joseph Silverstein led a public conversation over the lunch hour about the role of research in violin performance. Silverstein's had a great career as the longtime concertmaster of the Boston Symphony and conductor of the Utah Symphony, but I had no idea he was such a scholar as well. He's read enormous amounts of the literature on violins going back at least 250 years—one author contradicting another while a third has an ax to grind against a fourth, and then come modern researchers who have biases and publish-or-perish agendas—all of them with a slightly or grandly different take on how much vibrato a player should add to each note. Questions were flying around the auditorium yesterday about what Leopold Mozart said in 1756, or Geminiani in 1751, and whether the great violin inspiration of Brahms, Joseph Joachim, really was 'dry' in the whole vibrato department? Oy. Whats a violinist to do? I guess flock to Menlo to have this exact kind of conversation.

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Menlo: no one's anonymous

Posted at 10:38 AM on July 27, 2006 by Brian Newhouse (1 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts

It was just a little side comment, but it opened up this whole festival for me. I was talking with Patrick Castillo, artistic administrator for Music@Menlo, and mentioning how much the Festival seems to have grown since I was here two years ago. Three weeks of concerts instead of two, over 100 volunteers instead of a few dozen, a burgeoning cadre of interns who want to learn festival-izing from these pros...Menlo is bigger than ever—oh, and every concert is immediately sold out. In the parlance of Silicon Valley (where Menlo's nestled), all of this means that demand is ahead of supply, a metric the Valley learned the hard way a half-dozen or so years ago. So with growth all around you, Patrick, whats next? Just more and bigger?

He smiled and looked out the window. "One of the things that makes this all work is the scale. For now, it's small enough so that no one's anonymous here."

I love that. No ones anonymous. You see one of the world's greatest musicians in intense rehearsal with a group of 18-year-olds, or the lead administrator helping a cellist schlep his instrument and a clutch of music stands across campus before a concert, and a dozen similar acts of community every day. You're known here. Can you say the same of your workplace? If not, why not? And is "we're too big" a very satisfying answer?

Music@Menlo may become the next big American music festival, just as big Aspen or Marlboro, but for now small is definitely beautiful.

Listen to previous years' concerts

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Menlo: Mozart festival heats up

Posted at 9:21 AM on July 26, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

You know those big industrial fans you can rent at Menards after your basement floods? I got to St. Mark's Episcopal Church an hour before the first Menlo concert last night and three of those monsters were going full tilt in the church aisles. No floodwaters anywhere, just another day of heat that made page one of USA Today. The fans were trying to shove the heat outdoors as if it were a batch of unwelcome freeloaders who hadn't bought tickets.

They did a good job and by eight the place was cooled down and every seat taken, as are all the seats for every single Menlo concert. Silicon Valley has been waiting a whole year for this.

The Festival's subtitle this year is "Returning to Mozart" and most of the concerts are programmed along these lines: on the first half last night we heard Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2, written in the horrible year of 1944. The cello starts all alone, high, strained, and utterly bereft—like an orphan crying in the back corner of some wartime cave. But after intermission, here came Mozart's C Major Piano Sonata for Four Hands and his G Minor Piano Quartet. Especially the slow movement of the Quartet—it was a balm, as if someone had gone into that cave and picked the little one up and carried it into the sun.

That's Menlo's point this year, that Mozart's humanity still helps our souls in a way that 200+ years havent dimmed in the least.

Listen to previous years' concerts

Menlo: close encounters

Posted at 12:33 PM on July 25, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

The 100+ heat broke at sunset, so the Festival's first event was a sellout. This crowd is rabid for classical music and just as hungry for information about it. So guest lecturer Bruce Adolphe launched into the first of several talks that'll take us into the world of Mozart, who turned 250 this year (had you heard?) and is a central focus of Menlo 2006. Bruce has as many hyphens as Bernstein: composer-pianist-broadcaster-educator-lecturer-impresario, and every week on NPR's Performance Today he also plays a stump-the-audience game where he sits down at the piano and disguises a pop tune in the style of a famous classical composer. You can tell he adores having an audience in front of him, and if you picture a whip smart classical-music-loving Sid Caesar going deep into Mozart's Piano Quartet in G Minor, you have a good idea of how I spent 90 minutes last night.

The audience laughed nearly the whole way through. But Bruce also had a serious and surprising point for most of us: Mozart's music isn't just grace and beautifully classical proportion all the time. Mozart has as much to do with a kind of 'spoken' music. Listen to it and you can hear a kind of everyday language turned into notes. A sentence here, a half-repetition of it there, an emphatic aside to make sure you got the point—all very human and approachable. A great set-up to hear the whole Quartet in tonight's first Menlo concert.

Listen to previous years' concerts

Music@Menlo

Posted at 5:04 PM on July 24, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

And we're off! Music@Menlo gets underway tonight with the first of the Encounters, a multimedia lecture/presentation designed to open up the music we'll hear tomorrow in Menlo's first concert. It's going to be very interesting to watch audience turnout this year. As my dad would've said coming in from the field in late July, It's hotter'n heck out here. Up and down the Bay Area of California, communities are being walloped with heat theyve never seen before. Late Monday afternoon right now and it's nearly 100 degrees in Menlo. Normally, youve got 82 sunny degrees and a light breeze off the Bay, day after day after day—one of the reasons that real estate runs something like a thousand dollars a square inch here. But this is smashing through records and knocking out power grids and emergency shelters are trying to get seniors inside where it's cool. So, when they're used to Paradise will audiences venture into what feels a little like Hades? (Coming from Minnesota, concert presenters ask the reverse when it's January and a zillion below zero. Always the risk, which smarts in light of the endless hours of rehearsal, planning, fund-raising ) I'll let you know.

If they stay away, it won't be for unimaginative programming in the concerts or the level of artistry. Check out this great lineup: http://www.musicatmenlo.org/

Music@menlo audio archives


Cow, Colleges, and Village Band Concerts

Posted at 8:43 PM on July 21, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: Concerts

In the summertime you can find a lot of concerts in the parks of our region, but next week in Northfield you can hear band concerts the way they would have been given more than a century ago.

The Vintage Band Festival will feature more than 15 European and American bands with over 40 outdoor concerts in four days. Each day begins with noon concerts in several city parks, with continuous music into the night.

These are very experienced bandsmen (and women??) who wear period band uniforms and play authentic period instruments.

As an old bandsman myself, I wanted to give you the heads up on what promises to be quite a festival in a lovely town just south of the Twin Cities. You can find out the complete list of ensembles, schedules, etc. at their website.

Maybe I'll see you there!

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.

Tangent:

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.