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Classical Notes

Category Archive: Film

The complete Chico Marx piano collection

Posted at 1:00 PM on December 1, 2014 by Jeff Esworthy (2 Comments)
Filed under: Film, Fun finds

The Marx Brothers, photographed in 1931; top to bottom: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo. (Ralph F. Stitt / U.S. Library of Congress)

There was a time when piano playing was fun. I stumbled across this online the other day and it was the most entertaining thing I've seen in a long time. I wonder if Lang Lang and Murray Perahia have mastered the pistol trick?


Video fun with overdubbing

Posted at 4:30 PM on October 2, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Film, Fun finds, Opera

Marni Nixon is an American soprano and a highly successful overdub singer for film actresses.

In this week's Flicks in Five, Lynne Warfel describes the use of overdubs in films. Overdubbing doesn't necessarily mean an actor can't sing; for example, as Lynne points out, Audrey Hepburn was a fine singer, but overdubs were used in My Fair Lady simply because it would have taken too much time (and time equals money) to transpose the film's entire score to Hepburn's mezzo-soprano range.

Sometimes actors will lip-sync to a backing track recorded in a studio, often because the desired audio quality can't be achieved on a sound stage (or because an army of studio musicians aren't immediately to hand on a TV set — Glee, I'm looking at you).

But overdubs can also be a source of good fun. For example, here's one person's re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera if it were overdubbed by Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog:

And this one is more of a lip-sync, but here's Mr. Bean giving his performance of the soprano aria "O mio babbino caro" from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini:

Finally, this video combines Muppets and actual operatic singing, as Sesame Street's Murray Monster and Ovejita travel to Lincoln Center to join Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, who — using her real voice — performs Rosina's aria from Rossini's Barber of Seville. There's a bit of informative intro and a couple vocal exercises singers will recognize, but the music starts right around the two-minute mark.

'Butterfly' flutist makes finals in flute competition

Posted at 9:50 AM on September 20, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Concerts, Film, Musician stories

Yukie Ota, the flutist who earned worldwide attention and widespread admiration for her poise in a performance at the 2014 Carl Nielsen Flute Competition in Copenhagen — during which a butterfly landed on her brow — has made the finals in that very same flute competition.

According to Performance Today host Fred Child, Ota is Principal Flutist in the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. And just now was named as one of three finalists at the Nielsen Competition.

Finals and announcement of winners happens Saturday, Sept. 20.

You can watch the three finalists' performances live online, which will stream on the competition's website.

The finals begin at 7 p.m. in Copenhagen, which is 12 noon Central Daylight Time.

Watch a montage of movie villains who love classical music

Posted at 12:34 PM on August 29, 2014 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Film

Clockwork Orange 425.jpg

Sure, Huey Lewis got his in American Psycho — but as any regular filmgoer has noticed, filmmakers absolutely love to make their villains aficionados of classical music.

There's something irresistible about giving characters with brutal impulses a taste for the sophisticated pleasures of Beethoven (a particular favorite), Mozart, or Grieg; and setting horrendous acts to the music of the great composers creates a frisson that filmmakers seem to find hard to resist. It also creates the chilling suggestion that you never know where the killer lurks: you might put your guard up when you pass a bunch of tattooed bruisers on their way to a death metal show, but it's the Chopin virtuoso who will stab you in the back — at least, according to the movies.

Slate has assembled a montage that demonstrates just how prevalent the villain-listening-to-classical-music meme has remained throughout the history of film. WARNING: This montage contains villains using obscene language, committing violent acts, and generally being the sort of people scary movies are made about.


Orchestra Rehearsal with Conductor Ferenc Fricsay

Posted at 4:09 PM on August 8, 2014 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Composers, Film

August 9 is the 100th birthday of the conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-63). Along with many recordings, he left behind a fascinating documentary for German TV, showing how conductor and orchestra work together in rehearsal.

For about 40 minutes, we see Fricsay rehearsing — a long time, but you can dip into it at any point. The music is familiar — Smetana's "Moldau" (or "Vltava"), but Fricsay is totally engaged, despite his poor health: always bringing out some interesting detail, or encouraging or correcting the players, or indulging in some poetic metaphor ("The panther is ready to leap!").

At the end of the documentary, at about 44:00, you'll see the finished performance.

Lights, camera, classical! Fred Child makes a cameo in award-winning short film

Posted at 9:11 AM on May 8, 2014 by Jay Gabler (2 Comments)
Filed under: Film

Last night I attended a private screening of The Invitation, a short drama by Minnesota filmmaker Brad Birkeland, at the Heights Theater. During the film, I was surprised to hear a familiar voice: that of Performance Today host Fred Child. During a Q&A after the screening, I raised my hand to confirm: "Was that Classical MPR I heard in the film?" Indeed, replied the filmmaker, it was.

The Invitation tells the story of Thomas (Elliott Graber), a young man who's been living alone for some time. When he returns to his vacationing parents' home to make some repairs, he runs into his childhood crush Beth (Heidi Fellner), with whom he rekindles a romance over — this being Minnesota — lutefisk.

The film involves a flashback to Thomas's childhood years, and Performance Today's Piano Puzzlers are heard in the background of both past and present scenes as connective tissue in the lives of Thomas and Beth, who are both pianists. Birkeland said he approached MPR with the idea to use the program in this way, and was pleased to receive permission to do so. The score also includes music by Mozart, Fauré, and Górecki; as well as an original song by Graber.

The Invitation premiered at this year's WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it was honored with a Platinum Remi Award in the dramatic original shorts category. There are no immediate plans for another screening, but Birkeland says he plans to submit the film to additional film festivals, including some in Minnesota.


What would you ask a "Sherlock" music composer?

Posted at 2:34 PM on February 12, 2014 by Jay Gabler (2 Comments)
Filed under: Film


Our contributor Garrett Tiedemann has interviewed the composers of music for Breaking Bad, Gravity, and Hannibal; his next interview is with Michael Price, one of the principal composers for the BBC's Sherlock.

Garrett will have some questions of his own, but we'd also like to include some questions from our audience. What do you want to know about the music for this international hit show? Leave your questions for Michael Price here as comments, or e-mail them to jgabler@mpr.org.


hug a tree, save a guitar

Posted at 1:30 PM on October 30, 2013 by Alison Young
Filed under: Film

Musicwood production still© 2013 Helpman Productions.

"When you cut down a tree and make it into a thousand different guitars all that means is that tree is singing in a thousand different voices."

So begins the film Musicwood, a documentary that tells the story of one brilliant move by the often-reviled environmentalist organization Greenpeace to pit capitalist against capitalist in the fight to save the ancient spruce trees of the Tongass National Forest.

And what is my interest in this film?

Instruments. Specifically the acoustic guitar which is made of threatened and endangered woods. The lovely face of a guitar is made of spruce, a tree that grows is abundance in Alaska. But the indigenous corporation Sealaska control a huge swath of the forest and feel it's their right -- and some say their responsibility -- to harvest the forest.

musicwood3web.jpg© 2013 Helpman Productions.

But their clear-cutting methods are at such a fast pace, some say only stumps and dirt will remain of this pristine wilderness in 10 years.

Mostly the wood is sent to Asia, with just a small percentage going to build musical instruments. And this is the group targeted.

Three of the world's most renowned guitar makers -- Gibson, Taylor and Martin, all competitors in the world of business -- were convinced to come together in a coalition they named Musicwood to work as advocates for changing the process of clear cutting the forest, and hopefully to save the very product they need to survive.

"There are beautiful trees up there that you could kneel down and say a prayer underneath and probably shed a tear doing it. But these guitars are made out of that. There has to be a win-win," says one maker as he tramps through the forest full of wonder and amazement dressed head-to-toe in rain gear.

It's a film of stunning beauty -- both musically and visually -- and, for me, stunning sorrow since to this day, no agreements have been officially reached and only questions are left.

The film will be released in New York City and on iTunes/DVD on Friday, Nov. 1.

View the trailer:

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