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Classical Notes

Category Archive: Fun finds

Click on Classical this weekend: exercise, sun dogs and a trivia quiz

Posted at 4:30 PM on January 23, 2015 by Steve Staruch (0 Comments)
Filed under: Click on Classical, Fun finds

Alison Young on a peak in Colorado (photo by Ted Adamski)

It's a late-January weekend; here are some must-see picks on our website for you:

Music for skiing

My colleague Alison Young is an ambitious athlete; she's training for a ski race in Wisconsin and a trail race in England. As she trains, she often thinks of music. For that reason, she shares some of her favorite endurance-training pieces.

Music for sun dogs

Sun dogs are those rainbow-like apparitions that we see encircling the sun on particularly cold winter days. Composer John Luther Adams has written an ode of sorts to sun dogs. It's called "Sky with Four Suns," and you can learn more about the music and hear some of it here.

Test your La Bohème trivia knowledge

Saturday at noon, we'll broadcast the Met Opera's production of Puccini's La Bohème. Whether you're a longtime opera fan or a curious newcomer, I encourage you to take our Music Director Rex Levang's La Bohème quiz. It's fun — give it a try.

Have a great weekend!


Boozy music lessons: New York studio cracks a bottle for adult learners

Posted at 10:34 AM on January 9, 2015 by Jay Gabler (0 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

Mozart in the Jungle Rodrigo 425.jpg

Classical musicians have never been as known for lubricating their performances with alcohol as rockers have been, but that's starting to change. Mozart in the Jungle depicts classical musicians as people who aren't afraid of a stiff drink, and now a music studio in Brooklyn is offering "booze lessons" for 21+ learners who'd like a little help overcoming their jitters.

"You have all these inhibitions when you first start, and it's really hard for people to relax," Pete Lanctot told the Brooklyn Press. "We figured if we tied in booze somehow would make a fun environment."

Lanctot and his colleague Ginger Dolden — who are newly engaged to be married — have been offering liquor-fueled violin and guitar lessons since 2013, and have found that they're a hit. The classes are offered to groups of 10-15 adults over the course of eight-week semesters; students can rent instruments or bring their own, and each semester culminates in a public performance.

"Being a prodigy isn't all that it's cracked up to be anyway," writes the Skint in a discount offer for lessons from Lanctot and Dolden, "because as an adult you've earned the distinct privilege of being able to drink while you play. The teachers at Bantam Studios serve up beer and wine along with expert group instruction in a relaxed environment, putting you in just the right state of mind for learning those fingerings."

If you live in the New York area and you're interested in learning music in an exceptionally social environment, the winter semester starts Jan. 17 and enrollment is now open.


Eine kleine Katze Musik

Posted at 1:30 PM on December 30, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds

This Mozart doll, owned by Fred Child, might get cats' attention (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

In this YouTube video, three Sphynx cats appear to bob their heads in time to Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik."

The visual stimulus ultimately proves too irresistible for one of the cats, bringing the video to an abrupt finish.

Some harmless Internet fun for your afternoon:

Click on Classical this Weekend: lutefisk, carols and hoops

Posted at 4:30 PM on December 12, 2014 by Steve Staruch
Filed under: Click on Classical, Fun finds

Your vote can help determine the playlist for Carol with Classical MPR on Friday, Dec. 19 (Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

As the holidays approach, here are some must-see stories on our website to enhance your seasonal cheer:

Get a first-timer's look at the St. Olaf Christmas Festival

A couple weeks ago, my colleague Alison Young interviewed a couple of women for whom the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has always been part of their lives. But what about for those who've never been there? Digital producer Jay Gabler recently attended the St. Olaf Christmas Festival for the first time in his life, and he shared his thoughts about the experience. If you've never attended, perhaps this may inspire you to try it next year.

Vote for your favorite Christmas carols

We're trying something new this year: next Friday, Dec. 19, we're airing a new, live, holiday special called Carol with Classical MPR in which The Singers will perform beloved carols during a radio broadcast, and we want you to sing along. But before then, we want your input as to which are your favorite carols. Visit this page to cast your vote for your favorite seasonal songs. Feel free to vote early and often.

Read about a different type of December ritual

My colleague Bill Morelock wrote a wonderful essay this week in which he describes a different December ritual that's nothing to do with holly or jolly: Bill writes about basketball. More specifically, Bill describes his experience as a high school and college player, and how a particular basketball scrimmage in the 1970s remains an important touchstone for him to this day. It's a thoughtful reflection and I encourage you to read it.

And don't forget — for a charming musical vignette, watch how Farmer Derek Klingenberg uses "Jingle Bells' to encourage his cows to come home.

Have a great weekend!

Cows and 'Jingle Bells'

Posted at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2014 by Elena See
Filed under: Fun finds, Holiday programming

Farmer Derek Klingenberg (YouTube)

Is there anything that screams "It's Christmas!" more than a bunch of cows getting giddy over popcorn and "Jingle Bells"? No. The answer is no. And is it just me or do they seem to be bobbing along in time to the song?? Can it be? It's a Christmas miracle! (Or maybe just shaky camera work.)

And just who is this Farmer Derek? Clearly a guy who likes his job, likes music, and gets a big kick out of sharing the spirit of the season with cows — and with us. He's on Facebook, if you want to read more or watch more of his videos.

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?


The Music of Living Composers

Posted at 3:01 PM on November 26, 2014 by Daniel Nass
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds, In the media

When people find out that I'm a composer, one of my favorite reactions is, "wait... people still do that?"

It's true! Not all of the music heard in concert halls was written by composers who have been dead for hundreds of years, though it certainly makes up the majority (by a wide margin) of what we hear. On occasion, audiences can also hear the music of the living.

There are some interesting numbers revealed by a recent analysis of the performance seasons of the 22 largest American symphony orchestras. Most notably, during the 2014-2015 season, 11.8 percent of the pieces performed by these 22 orchestras were pieces written by living composers (the most frequently performed living composer this season is John Adams, with 35 performances).

Though those numbers appear to be small, it does seem that audiences are becoming increasingly open and willing to try to connect with new music. The opening 30 seconds of the trailer for the film "(Untitled)" seems to capture the essence of the 'weird' music that audiences tend to be intimidated by (an interesting aside — this film was scored by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang):

What do you think? What's your reaction to opening up a concert program to find that you'll be hearing music written by a living composer?

Unexpected yet welcome music for traveling

Posted at 6:00 AM on November 26, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, Unexpected Classical

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

This week marks one of the USA's busiest travel periods of the year. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, during the six-day Thanksgiving travel period, the number of long-distance trips — more than 50 miles away — increases by 54 percent.

I won't be going anywhere at Thanksgiving, but I'm looking forward to seeing visitors from out of town. Due to a couple weddings at the start of October and of November, I paid my travel dues early; both weddings were a bit further afield, necessitating air travel.

Airports are rather fascinating places. The mass of humanity that moves through any major airport on a given day is astounding. For example, the Airports Council International reports that Atlanta International Airport saw almost 9 million passengers in July 2014 alone, the most recent month for which complete statistics are available.

But aside from hard statistics, airports represent a fleeting snapshot in time: At a given moment at an airport, all those hundreds or even thousands of people are in one place at the same time, seeing one another, interacting, bumping into each other; but fast-forward a few hours, and they're scattered around the globe.

With all those people gathered in one place — even if just for a few hours at a time — major airports resemble cities unto themselves. Atlanta's airport has an underground train that seems a counterpart to its citywide MARTA system; Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has restaurants with seating areas alongside concourses resembling sidewalk terraces; Chicago's Midway Airport largely eschews national restaurant chains in favor of local flavor, with food options like Gold Coast Dogs, Miller's Pub and Nuts on Clark.

WPA muralAnd a city devoid of culture is not much of a city at all; thus public art has found its way into airports. Tampa International Airport features a series of restored WPA murals; MSP features aviation-inspired Snoopy statues; Atlanta has a gallery dedicated to artwork created by local youth. Chicago's O'Hare Airport even has an indoor garden from which its more foodie-leaning restaurants gather fresh produce.

Naturally, music is also part of that artistic landscape. Julie Amacher met a guitarist at the Portland (Ore.) Airport, and you can read about him and listen to his music on this week's New Classical Tracks. A few months ago, Bob Collins of MPR News shared this video of a pop-up pianist in a departure lounge in Prague. In October, Elena See found this video of a cellist and a beatbox artist collaborating on a piece by Bach while in flight.

Recently I discovered this video of some kids at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, returning from a piano camp in Austria, entertaining fellow passengers between connecting flights. Notice the people capturing the moment on their smartphones, or the fellow at left enjoying a glass of white wine as the kids play; sure, the scene was recorded in an airport concourse, but it could just as easily have taken place in the center of a town.

So if you're traveling this Thanksgiving holiday, what music will you seek? If you're traveling long-distance by car or by train, what music will you bring with you? If by air, what music will you listen to in flight? What might you encounter at the airport? If you happen to come across something remarkable, please share it with us — Tweet it to us if you'd like, or tell us about it in the comments below.

Safe travels, and happy Thanksgiving!

These schoolkids play at an amazing level

Posted at 12:30 PM on November 23, 2014 by Lynne Warfel
Filed under: Concerts, Education, Fun finds

This group of kids totally blew me away; it's an amazing band performance. If you haven't seen it, you must!

I choked up when I heard it — they are amazing. YouTube credits them as the Golden Hymn Brass Band:

This is beautiful ... what IS it?

Posted at 2:00 PM on November 21, 2014 by Jodi Gustafson
Filed under: Fun finds

Görkem Sen (YouTube)

Musician Görkem Sen plays some beautiful, atmospheric music on an … instrument of some kind. No idea what the instrument is. Do you know?

Here's the video, posted to YouTube:

Rachel Hutton weighs in on #Grapegate

Posted at 12:30 PM on November 20, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Grapes ready for harvest (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

By now you've probably heard about what's been dubbed #Grapegate — the story in which the New York Times posits that something called Grape Salad is the signature dish of a traditional Minnesota Thanksgiving.

Problem is, pretty much nobody in Minnesota has heard of Grape Salad.

Today, Minnesota Monthly editor Rachel Hutton — whom you hear every Friday morning with John Birge on Classical MPR's "Moveable Feast" — went on New York public radio station WNYC's The Takeaway to speak to host John Hockenberry. "As a Minnesota foodie," the show's website puts it, "[Rachel] explains why New Yorkers have such a hard time understanding the food of the Midwest."

At the top of the interview, Hockenberry describes Grape Salad as someone familiar with the recipe. "John, I'm impressed that you've heard of Grape Salad," Rachel says, "because everyone else that I've talked to seems to have never heard of it before."

In the course of the conversation, Rachel describes how she contacted her mother to get to the bottom of this mysterious dish. Later, she and Hockenberry speculate on Grape Salad and other recipes for Thanksgiving. "We maybe should embrace the grape," Rachel suggests, "maybe people could make this recipe for Thanksgiving and enjoy it."

Listen to the complete interview here; it runs just a bit more than four minutes:

Watch out for flying bow

Posted at 11:30 AM on November 15, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

Violinist Nicola Benedetti (courtesy the artist)

While rehearsing Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, violinist Nicola Benedetti's bow flipped out of her hand.

Benedetti took it in stride and with a good sense of humor; she shared the video (embedded below) on her social media channels, sharing this comment on her Facebook page:

"Whoops! Little accident before tonight's performance. All is well with the bow though, don't worry! Nicky"

Given her commitment to music education, it stands to reason Benedetti would have no problem sharing a little blunder like this with her fans.

Benedetti and the RSNO perform in concert tonight, Saturday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. Minnesota time) at the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall.

Here's that 10-second blooper from the rehearsal:

Where Medieval and Metal meet

Posted at 1:50 PM on November 14, 2014 by Daniel Nass
Filed under: Fun finds

Medieval art by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338)

It's not often that you hear the word "metal" affiliated with the word "medieval."

However, Stary Olsa — a Belarusian music ensemble known for their interpretations of medieval folk music on traditional instruments — recently covered a decidedly un-medieval tune from Metallica's 1988 LP ...And Justice For All. This recent clip is from a television show called Legends Live, and demonstrates the odd (but somehow satisfying) combination of instruments and techniques from the 1400s with metal music of the 1980s. Here is Metallica's "One":

Batman through the music of the Piano Guys

Posted at 12:15 PM on November 14, 2014 by Suzanne Schaffer
Filed under: Fun finds

How do Utah's Piano Guys create a video that revisits 50 years of Batman music and Batmobiles? Watch the video below, and you'll experience:

Over 100 tracks of cellos!

Mod piano!




I admit, I was disappointed not to see Michael Keaton make a guest appearance.

According to Arthur C. Clarke, 2001's Star Child was totally bored by Wagner

Posted at 11:31 AM on November 10, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Star Child 425.jpg

With the recent news that 3001, the late Arthur C. Clarke's 1997 final sequel to his 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, is being filmed as a miniseries for Syfy, I'm re-reading all three of Clarke's follow-up novels: 2010 (1982), 2061 (1987), and 3001. This weekend, as I read 2010, I was surprised to discover the revelation that the Star Child wasn't that into Wagner.

In a passage of the novel, the Star Child — the reborn, pure-energy manifestation of astronaut David Bowman — returns to Earth both to revisit the scenes of Bowman's youth (he brushes his mother's hair, and stops by the scene of a fatal childhood accident involving Bowman's brother) and to run some reconnaissance for the alien beings who created the mysterious monoliths and transformed Bowman.

Clarke describes the Star Child's Earthly itinerary thus: "The pyramids, the Grand Canyon, the moon-washed snows of Everest — those were choices of his own. So were some art galleries and concert halls; though he would certainly, on his own initiative, never have endured the whole of the Ring."

Photo of Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde by Marty Sohl, courtesy Metropolitan Opera

Watch a live web stream of Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall

Posted at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2014 by Fred Child (2 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (photo by Simon Pauly)

Big news in the world of concert/media collaborations — tonight you can watch a live video/audio stream of Joyce DiDonato's concert as it happens at Carnegie Hall. (Produced by medici.tv)

Looks like you have to sign up for an account, but I'm told there is no charge to watch and listen. (Paid subscribers get access to archives and other material.)

This is the first in a series of four live web-streams from Carnegie Hall this fall:

All concerts begin at 7 p.m. Eastern / 6 p.m. Central.

More info on the series here.


Video: a spicy Tango

Posted at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2014 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

Chili Klaus, Denmark's hot-pepper enthusiast (Bifald Management)

The Danish National Chamber Orchestra decided to challenge itself by having every musician stop to eat an incredibly hot chili pepper while performing Tango Jalousie by Danish composer Jacob Gade.

It wasn't a completely unmotivated stunt; the mustachioed man in the video is Chili Klaus, a foodie celebrity in Denmark known for his fondness of hot peppers. It turns out Erik Heide, the concertmaster of the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, is also a chili-pepper fan.

Klaus and Heide collaborate in this hot-pepper challenge. Watching the video makes me think:
1. It's quite a testament to the years of training that contribute to this kind of (almost) unflappability
2. I'm very glad they had the foresight to set up a solo cam on Mr. Tambourine Man.


In-flight entertainment: cello and beatbox

Posted at 8:30 AM on October 30, 2014 by Elena See (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Unexpected Classical

A cello gets its own seat aboard a flight. (Flickr / modenadude)

According to a report from Classic FM, a cellist and an air steward on a flight to Denver teamed up to treat the other passengers to an improvised cello/beatbox duet of the Bourrée from Bach's Cello Suite No. 3.

The flight attendant, known only as Maximilian, can be seen crouching in front of cellist Francisco Vila on the Southwest Airlines flight in the video taken earlier this month, as the pair put an inventive spin on a Bach cello piece:


Meryl Streep to play not one but two opera singers

Posted at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2014 by Elena See
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Opera

Actress Meryl Streep (Brigitte Lacombe)

Yesterday, we speculated on which actors might play composers in an imagined series of biographical films. Today, we've learned actress Meryl Streep has been cast (in real life) to play two different opera singers in two different films.

Streep is to star in a biopic of the famously awful opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins for director Stephen Frears, reports Variety.

The three-time Oscar-winning actor will take the role of Jenkins, an heiress who used her wealth to embark on a singing career that took her to concert halls across the U.S. in the 1920s, '30s and '40s despite her complete inability to hold a note or stay in time. Hugh Grant is in line to play the soprano's partner and manager, St Clair Bayfield, with the film titled simply Florence.

And, as reported this past summer, Meryl Streep is to star in an HBO film as legendary opera singer Maria Callas, the U.S. network has confirmed.

Based on the Tony-winning 1995 play by Terrence McNally, Master Class shows Callas in later life, teaching students at New York's Juilliard school.

How to make a carrot clarinet

Posted at 9:25 AM on October 28, 2014 by Jeff Esworthy
Filed under: Fun finds

Freshly picked carrots (MPR photo/Julie Siple)

It's the time of the year when carrots and other root vegetables are in season. If you've got an extra carrot from your garden, CSA share or farmers market, why not turn it into a clarinet?

In this video from TEDx in Sydney, musician Linsey Pollak turns a carrot into a clarinet within five minutes. The resulting instrument sounds surprisingly good. Watch here:

And the funny thing is, the carrot is pretty much unharmed, so if you get hungry from playing, you can just eat the instrument when you're finished.

Here's the musical notation for Jeff Goldblum's Jurassic Park laugh

Posted at 4:13 PM on October 22, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds


Actor Jeff Goldblum's growling laugh from Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Jurassic Park has taken on a life of its own. The laugh has been sampled and incorporated into electronic dance music by the artist FLIPSH0T, garnering the better part of a million YouTube views. Here's the original laugh, as heard in the film.

Now, you can play Goldblum's laugh on any instrument, thanks to a transcription by Evan Kent. In Kent's transcription, the laugh should first be played mezzo-piano, rising briefly to Fortissimo before concluding mezzo-forte. Pick up your favorite instrument and play along with the movie!

Click on Classical this Weekend: share your scary music picks

Posted at 4:00 PM on October 17, 2014 by Steve Staruch (2 Comments)
Filed under: Click on Classical, Fun finds

Some Halloween treats can be tasty and healthy. (Rob Hainer via Shutterstock)

I'm on vacation this week, but as you're browsing the Internet this weekend, there's something that's a lot of fun to check out on Classical MPR this weekend.

Specifically, what music do you like to hear on Halloween? Help us create the perfect Halloween playlist by submitting your ideas to our Creepy Classics nominations.

Maybe it's a piece of classical music you always thought sounded a little spectral and spooky. Maybe it's a music score from a film that made your hair stand on end. Be imaginative, be playful. Think of what the trick-or-treaters might like to hear to get them in the spirit of jack-o-lanterns and moonlight.

Send your nominations to our Creepy Classics and we'll vote on the countdown starting next week.

Have a great weekend!


Click on Classical this Weekend: name that car!

Posted at 3:50 PM on October 10, 2014 by Steve Staruch
Filed under: Click on Classical, Fun finds

What name would you give Tesfa's new car?

As you're browsing the Internet this weekend, perhaps as you listen to Classical Minnesota Public Radio, I've got these must-sees for you:

Test your knowledge of the flute

My colleague Alison Young has written a wonderful flute quiz for you to try. Whether you're a longtime flute player or an admirer of flute music, you'll enjoy this fun and interactive quiz.

Get the flutist's perspective on the orchestra

Speaking of flute, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Julia Bogorad-Kogan has shared her thoughts about what it's like to be a flutist. I love her description of the instrument she recalls picking up for the first time and finding it to be "love at first breath."

Help name Tesfa's new car

Our Choral Initiatives Manager, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, bought a new car that he'll be driving around the state, sharing the joy of choral music. But he needs a good name for the car. What would you call it? Send in your idea and you'll be entered for a chance to win a box of choral-music CDs.

Listen to Bell play Bach

Speaking of CDs, my colleague Julie Amacher spoke to Joshua Bell about his new album of Bach music. Can you believe this is Joshua Bell's first recording of Bach? He gathered some good friends to help him on it — the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Listen to the music, and you can also enter for a chance to win a copy of the new disc.

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this Weekend: a new piano recording, a birthday party and a new vocal ensemble

Posted at 3:50 PM on October 3, 2014 by Steve Staruch
Filed under: Click on Classical, Fun finds

Minnesota Orchestra conductor emeritus Stanislaw Skrowaczewski takes the stage before their concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Minn., Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (MPR photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

As you're browsing the Internet this weekend, perhaps as you listen to Classical Minnesota Public Radio, I've got some must-sees for you:

Listen to a new release — then enter to win a copy of it

Benjamin Grosvenor is only 22 years old, but he's already one of the world's most sought-after pianists. His new album, Dances, explores a range of repertoire, including Polonaises by Chopin and mazurkas and a waltz by Scriabin — although "Dances" also seems to describe the way Benjamin's fingers move across the keys. Listen to my colleague Julie Amacher's interview with Benjamin Grosvenor on New Classical Tracks; you'll also hear samples of the music and you can even enter for a chance to win a copy of the CD.

Celebrate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's birthday

Today, Maestro Stanislaw Skrowaczewski turns 91 years old. This masterful dynamo is always on the go, and right now, he's in Japan to conduct some concerts. On Friday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m., Classical MPR will air the recording of last year's 90th birthday concert for Stan, hosted by the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota and held at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Michael Barone shares some insights of the night as well as the list of pieces performed — and if you miss the broadcast, we'll have the audio posted online for repeat listening.

Learn about a new vocal ensemble

This week on Regional Spotlight, I had the pleasure of featuring the music of a new Twin Cities vocal ensemble, the Vox Nova Chorale. The group is led by Vicki Peters, who has sung with many of the area's fine choirs, and is only in its second season. If you enjoy choral music, you'll want to give Vox Nova a listen.

Help support Classical MPR

As you know, we're in the middle of our fall member drive, and an easy way to support Classical MPR is to become a member online. Thank you for your support.

Have a great weekend!

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.

Click on Classical this Weekend: videos, stories and musical worlds colliding

Posted at 3:50 PM on September 26, 2014 by Steve Staruch
Filed under: Click on Classical, Education, Fun finds

Karl is a very curious raccoon, as we find out in the video, "What's in a Title?".

As you're browsing the Internet this weekend, perhaps as you listen to Classical Minnesota Public Radio, I've got quite a few must-sees for you:

Watch some new videos

This week, Classical MPR posted five new educational videos to the website as part of our Music for Learning series. Although these are designed for use by teachers and schoolkids, there's something for all of us in these fun videos about such topics as: Take some time to watch some or all of the videos. I think you'll enjoy them!

Read our hosts' posts in Classical Notes

First of all, thanks for being here to read my post! Earlier this week, Michael Barone shared a fun story of some uncanny coincidences involving musicians with whom he crossed paths in Philadelphia, St. Paul and St. Cloud. Alison Young, meanwhile, shared some videos of what can happen when people forget their telephone manners while at concerts. And Fred Child shared how flutist Yukie Ota — who won our hearts after a butterfly landed on her face during a performance — fared in that flute competition in Copenhagen.

Stretch your musical boundaries

It turns out that the people who like classical music and the people who like video-game music have a lot in common — they just might not know it yet. Pierce Huxtable, a production assistant with Top Score, has posted an article in which he describes what video-game music lovers will like about classical music … and vice versa. I invite you to check that out.

And remember, you can also like Classical MPR on Facebook and follow Classical MPR on Twitter.

Have a great weekend!

Please turn off phones in the concert hall; here's why

Posted at 4:30 PM on September 24, 2014 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Education, Fun finds

Scene from Class Notes video, "What to do at a Concert" (Classical MPR)

Wednesday's Class Notes video is all about how to behave at a concert. It brought to mind a number of examples of well-documented bad behavior in the concert hall, all of it tied to telephones.

First, this is really good! It's a story shared by Performance Today on its Facebook page, describing the time NY Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the orchestra, turned around and spoke to a person in the front row whose ringtone kept interrupting Mahler's Symphony No. 9.

Artistic Partner of the SPCO Christian Zacharias stopped in the middle of his Haydn concerto when a phone started ringing at the Gothenburg Concert Hall in 2013. A live concert is "the rare moment where our minds can focus on one thing," Zacharias says.

In this case, a Nokia ring tone at a concert in Slovakia inspires a little improvisation:

Even buskers get annoyed with the phones:

The funniest of all was captured in an article in The Mirror (London) in December 2001:

Conductor Jac van Steen tried to drown out the unmistakable sound and carry on with Johannes Brahms' Symphony No.4.

But the mobile not only kept ringing — it seemed to get louder.

Finally, frustrated van Steen threw down his baton, turned to the audience and shouted: "If that is my wife, tell her I'm not here." The phone's embarrassed owner switched off the device without revealing his/herself to the crowd at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall.

Van Steen turned back to the Halle Orchestra and resumed his performance.

This is what every one of us in an audience wishes would happen when someone snaps a picture despite being told, "Please, no photography." It's over the top but absolutely hysterical … and must have been humiliating for the poor audience member. But Patti Lupone doesn't put up with any monkey business.

A couple uncanny concert coincidences

Posted at 6:00 AM on September 24, 2014 by Michael Barone
Filed under: Classical hosts, Concerts, Fun finds

The Wanamaker Organ is located in the grand court of Macy's in Philadelphia (photo by Kent Miller Studios for Macy's)

Just before heading up to Saint Cloud, Minn., to record the Dover Quartet on Friday, Sept. 12, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu was bringing two choral colleagues (singers for a new professional choir in town) through the Classical MPR area and routed past my office.

In conversation, it turned out that the fellow, Steven Soph, had been in Philadelphia the previous Saturday (Sept. 6) and attended the concert at Macy's by the Symphony in C orchestra and featuring the Wanamaker Organ, at which I was emcee. It was a curious — but fun — coincidence that he should have heard my comments in Philadelphia and then met "the voice" the next week.

So I drove up to St. Cloud on Friday, recorded an interview with and concert by the Dover Quartet kids (everyone is so young!) and, in conversation with the players afterwards, I discovered that their first violinist had a girlfriend in the Symphony in C, and he, too, attended the concert at Macy's … and sat where I was sitting — in the women's shoes department.

It's rather fun that two young musicians, neither of them organists, happened to attend an organ concert (in Philadelphia, no less) at which I was present.

What are some strange, interesting or fun coincidences you've experienced? Share your stories in the comments below.

The Dover Quartet on Performance Today:

VIDEO: A classical-music take on the 'butterfly effect'

Posted at 12:45 PM on September 17, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

A video making the rounds in classical music circles today is this video from the Carl Nielsen International Flute Competition in Odense, Denmark, in which Japanese-born, Chicago-based flutist Yukie Ota remains nearly unflappable throughout her performance, even as a butterfly lands right on her face and remains there, repeatedly flapping its wings, for some time during Ota's performance:

Classical MPR host Alison Young, a former professional flutist, watched the video and had this comment:

"Oddly beautiful and almost sublime that at that particular moment in the music, a perfect little creature would not only land, but decide to stay for a while, on Ms. Ota's face. It's almost mesmerizing to an observer, but the distraction must have been close to unbearable for the performer. Clearly this young virtuoso practiced well, has unshakeable focus and even a sense of humor! She won my heart when she crossed her eyes for a split second to get a clue as to what was up, then made a slight movement to shake off her visitor, followed by simply leaning into the moment until the she could push him aside. Her wry smile at the audience was precious. Good luck, Ms. Ota!!!"

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury may have inspired the expression "the butterfly effect" with his short story "A Sound of Thunder," but this is far from what he had in mind.

As for the effect the butterfly had on Ota? As you can see from the video and as Alison points out, virtually none.

(h/t Jeff Esworthy)

Sorry, Lucy: Beethoven IS on bubblegum cards

Posted at 4:00 PM on September 15, 2014 by Alison Young
Filed under: Casual Conversations, Classical hosts, Fun finds

Lucy Van Pelt character profile, from 'Peanuts' official YouTube channel.

Cartoonist Charles Schulz's beloved Peanuts characters Lucy and Schroeder have a famous exchange in which Lucy dismisses Beethoven's greatness given his absence from bubblegum cards.

We included this well-known exchange in a promo we aired before last week's Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra broadcast. In the comic strip, which we won't republish here but you could probably find on the official Peanuts site, Lucy and Schroeder's conversation goes like this:

LUCY: Everyone talks about how great Beethoven was … Beethoven wasn't so great!

SCHROEDER: What do you mean, Beethoven wasn't so great?

LUCY: He never got his picture on bubblegum cards, did he? … How can you say someone is great who's never had his picture on bubblegum cards?

Turns out Lucy had it wrong.

I found out when listener Doug Palmer of St. Paul, Minn., sent me this email:


I've been intrigued this week by your clever announcement of this weekend's SPCO Beethoven concert, featuring Lucy Van Pelt's declaration that Beethoven never appeared on a trading card. I immediately thought that Beethoven must surely have been included among the 1952 Topps "Look 'N See" series of famous historical and cultural figures that I avidly collected when I was Lucy's age.

But when I googled the old Look 'N See trading card series, I was amazed to find Beethoven absent! The Topps Company only got around to releasing a Beethoven trading card in 2009:

Beethoven on a Topps trading card

I made some fascinating discoveries of Beethoven's appearance in other series, which I'm sharing with you:

Beethoven did indeed appear on a 1927 series of trading cards that accompanied an elixir distributed by the Liebig Meat Extract Company of Belgium:

Beethoven Meat Extract cards

I found that the Rochester NY-based Amenda Quartet distributes Beethoven trading cards at its concerts (too bad it doesn't picture them on its site).

For $10 you may obtain three trading card-sized fine art photo rag prints of this portrait of "Ludpig" from When Guinea Pigs Fly.
[Editor's Note: this item appears to be sold out.]


'Ludpig' by Lesley DeSantis of WhenGuineaPigsFly on Etsy.

Hmm … I'm intrigued by the Amenda Quartet's practice of handing out Beethoven cards at its concerts. Maybe Classical MPR can do that at next year's State Fair? I guess we'll see!

Click on Classical this Weekend

Posted at 4:50 PM on September 12, 2014 by Steve Staruch
Filed under: Click on Classical, Fun finds

Architect Tim Carl of HGA and Production Director Andy Luft of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts (MPR photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

As you're browsing the Internet this weekend, perhaps over coffee as you listen to Classical Minnesota Public Radio, here are some must-sees for you:

And now, here's a chance for you to put your thinking cap on: This amazing photo by MPR News' Jeffrey Thompson — it shows a network of scaffolding in place during the Ordway's renovation. There's almost something science-fiction about it. Can you think of a good caption for this photo? Share your best ideas in the comments section below.

Pianos for planes, trains and automobiles

Posted at 11:00 AM on September 10, 2014 by Luke Taylor (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Unexpected Classical

The western departures concourse of London King's Cross railway station (photo © User:Colin CC BY-SA)

In mid-August on the News Cut blog, MPR News' Bob Collins shared this video of a man playing a piano in a departure lounge at Prague's Václav Havel Airport:

The pianist in the video, Maan Hamadeh, was quoted by Lebanon's Daily Star, saying, "I would love to see pianos in all public place[s], especially those where the waiting factor is present."

Inside London's King's Cross/St Pancras railway station, there's a piano that gets a lot of attention. Here's a beautiful video by Richard Moore that captures a day in the life of that very public and very popular piano:

And finally, this piano seems just plopped along the side of the street in York, England. Despite what seems to be a chilly day when this video was shot, this boogie-woogie piano player is not slowed down at all — even though he appears to be wearing gloves!

What do you think of pianos in public places? Would you stop and listen? If you're a piano player, would you be inspired to stop and play? If so, what piece(s) would you perform?


Watch a composer play a piano using 88 safety razors

Posted at 3:40 PM on September 3, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Gillette 425.jpg

Gillette's anti-Schick schtick is that their razors are extremely flexible — and they demonstrate that by enlisting composer and producer Son Lux, who's worked with everyone from Nico Muhly to Sufjan Stevens, to play a piano using a device that transmits the movement of the artist's fingers on a remote keyboard to a piano by way of 88 safety razors. The best a grand can get?

Video: Is this little listener America's next great conductor?

Posted at 10:43 AM on August 25, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Little Conductor 2.jpg

"Just a quick note to thank you VERY much for playing Korsakov for our little Alex on Friday," writes Classical MPR listener Susana Perez. "We thought you'd enjoy seeing the results... :-)"

We sure did! Thanks for sharing, Susana and Carlos; please keep us posted on Alex's conducting career.

Dale Clevenger: A great story about a great teacher

Posted at 12:00 PM on August 15, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Dale Clevenger 425.jpg

In a recent blog post, Indiana music teacher Jeff Nelsen shared this humorous story about horn great Dale Clevenger.

"The story goes that Dale was teaching a young horn player in a public master class. He asked the student to play the beginning of the solo piece he'd diligently prepared. The hornist played well, smiled, and looked to Dale for commentary.

"He looked at the student and asked, 'Have you every heard me play before?' The boy excitedly smiled and giggled out a, 'Yeah, I listen to you a lot.' Dale replied, 'Ok play it again, and this time play it like you're ME playing this piece.'

"The kid went at it again, and leaned into every musical mark, and swooned and slurred his way through what may have been an out-of-body experience. He'd never played it better his whole life. The audience reacted in kind, cheering full out.

"Dale waited and said, 'Yeah, just what I thought. I'm a much better horn player than you are.'"

Photo: DaleClevenger.com

Kobe Bryant is big on Beethoven

Posted at 9:15 AM on August 13, 2014 by Elena See
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds, In the media, Ludwig van Beethoven

L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant, seen here in a game against the Atlanta Hawks (photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Basketball star Kobe Bryant has revealed his line of new shoes for Nike. They're called "Kobe 9 Elite Low 'Beethoven'". Nike says the inspiration for the shoes apparently came from the composer's Symphony No. 9 in particular.

Bryant himself has tweeted about his fondness for Beethoven's music, particularly his Moonlight Sonata:

On a related note, Bryant has evidently appeared in a TV commercial for Lenovo, in which he plays Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but as of this morning, the video has been removed from YouTube.

This commercial, made for shoe seller Foot Locker, features Bryant appearing to build a piano:

Oh … the 'Kobe 9 Elite Low "Beethoven" shoes are due to be available in the U.S. starting Saturday, Aug. 16, with an estimated price tag of $200.

Watch a Minnesota Orchestra violinist receive brain surgery - while playing

Posted at 11:27 AM on August 12, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds


In a remarkable video from 2010, Rochester's Mayo Clinic shows Minnesota Orchestra violinist Roger Frisch having electrodes implanted into his brain — while he plays.

The experimental procedure was performed to address a tremor that Frisch has recently developed in his hands. While the tremor is relatively slight, it was affecting Frisch's ability to perform the extremely subtle hand movements required of a concert violinist.

The solution devised by surgeon Kendall Lee was to implant electrodes intended to stimulate Frisch's brain in a manner that can reduce such tremors. The trick was for Lee and his team to find the exact location in Frisch's brain to embed the electrodes for maximum effectiveness. To zero in on the right spot, they actually had Frisch play his violin while being operated on.

Frisch now has a device that he can activate with the flick of a switch to turn the electrodes on — and his tremors off.

Video: Strauss, synchronized swimming ... but no pool

Posted at 1:15 PM on August 8, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, Unexpected Classical

Margaret Hutto via YouTube

Maybe it's because there's not a lot of water in Texas. But these kids from an elementary school in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area pull off a pretty entertaining synchronized-swimming routine during their school's talent show.

Classical MPR's Jodi Gustafson spotted this video online and shared it. The music is Johann Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz.

We're pretty sure the music and the video will make you smile. Even without water, these kids make a splash.

Bang your head with this classical drum quiz

Posted at 10:50 AM on August 8, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

John Bonham of Led Zeppelin at the Los Angeles-area Inglewood Forum in 1973. (Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)

"Beethoven, Stravinsky and Bartók can serve up beats as thunderous as any double-drummer metal band," writes NPR reporter Tom Huizenga in his introduction to a challenging quiz he posted on the NPR Music website today.

Huizenga's quiz asks you to identify classical pieces that spotlight percussion. In the seven-question quiz, you'll hear various uses of timpani, bass and snare drums across a range of works.

Identifying classical pieces using little more than drum fills is not easy. Try Huizenga's "Classical Headbanging Edition" quiz and you may end up banging your head … against your desk.

Good luck! (And feel free to report back here in the comments below with your score and other thoughts about the quiz.)

What does a medieval music technique have to do with Lorde's high school band?

Posted at 12:22 PM on August 7, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Pop music fans have been buzzing about a recently-discovered album by And They Were Masked, a New Zealand high school band that formerly featured vocals by the young woman who's become known worldwide as Lorde. According to the band's Facebook page, their interests include brapping and hockets. Huh?

Well, brapping is simply riding a motorbike off-road. Hockets, on the other hand, are a musical technique dating back to medieval times. In a hocket, a melody is shared among two or more instruments or voices, which alternate notes. Here's Ensemble Scholastica demonstrating the technique with a 13th century quadruple motet.

"Hocketing" was rediscovered in the 1960s when Wendy Carlos used the technique in her groovy electronic project Switched-On Bach.

Today, the technique is used by musicians across a range of disciplines. Here, indie-rock band the Dirty Projectors demonstrate hocketing, as it's used in their music, at the Walker Art Center in 2009. ("They did it in 13th century, like, monk music.")

Good luck finding hockets in the music of And They Were Masked — but it's good luck for all of us that they've drawn our attention to a clever musical technique that's been making melodies more memorable for the past several centuries.

Video: A piano concerto -- with a cat on piano

Posted at 6:00 AM on August 7, 2014 by Scott Blankenship
Filed under: Fun finds

Watch Nora the Cat in her soloist role in this piano concerto (YouTube).

Given the popularity of cat videos on the Internet, I suppose it was inevitable a cat would perform a piano concerto. Lithuanian conductor, composer and artist Mindaugas Piecaitis composed and directed the "Catcerto" — as it's called — for Nora The Piano Cat and orchestra, where Nora, the soloist, was brought in via video.

On the Music Through the Night Facebook page, we like to share fun finds with the audience, and this video really caught fire. Among my favorite comments from listeners:

Brian T Georgopoolos: "Sounds like something the Floyd woulda recorded in the early days"

Joris van der Kamp: "It must be my heatstroke, but this actually made me cry."

Joann Roszman: "I wish mine were that talented. They just eat and sleep."

Join us on the Music Through the Night Facebook page each night for more fun finds and other witty discoveries.

Album covers of orchestral Beatles' music

Posted at 11:55 AM on August 1, 2014 by Luke Taylor (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Recordings

Paul McCartney is playing a concert in Minneapolis on Saturday, Aug. 2. Given the ubiquity and universal appeal of the Beatles' music, it's not surprising there are a number of orchestral settings of Beatles' tunes.

Here are some orchestral Beatles album covers from Classical MPR's music library:

The Best of Beatles Baroque, Les Boréades

According to the liner notes, Les Boréades were recording an album of 17th-century Italian music when they all started riffing on Baroque settings of Beatles music. Producer Johanne Goyette had to promise Les Boréades they could record this album of Beatles tunes only if they focused on getting the Italian album finished first. Les Boréades got that done, then went on to record three albums of Beatles Baroque, of which this CD is a "best of" compilation.

Here, There and Everywhere: The Beatles for Guitar, Göran Söllsher

Guitar virtuoso Göran Söllsher's collection features 17 Beatles tunes arranged for classical guitar. The liner notes feature an introduction written by George Martin.

"These are beautifully played transcriptions of many of the Beatles' most beloved tunes," says Jennifer Anderson, Classical MPR's assistant music director.

Working Classical: Orchestra and chamber music by Paul McCartney, London Symphony Orchestra, Loma Mar Quartet

Inspired by McCartney's use of classical-music instrumentation in such Beatles tunes as "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby," this album by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Loma Mar Quartet blends orchestral and chamber music across 14 tracks, including such recognizable McCartney songs as "My Love" and "Maybe I'm Amazed."

"This is one of McCartney's most interesting classical discs, with inventive original compositions and lovely orchestral re-workings of some of his most popular songs," Anderson says.

Ecce Cor Meum, Paul McCartney

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, this is Paul McCartney's own collection of classical-music compositions. The title means, "Behold My Heart" and the musicians include the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, soprano Kate Royal, the Boys of Magdalen College Choir, Oxford and the Boys of King's College Choir, Cambridge.

"This is McCartney's second oratorio, the first being Liverpool Oratorio," Anderson says. "Ecce Cor Meum echoes the great British choral masterworks by Elgar and his contemporaries."

(Incidentally, is the designer of the album art in any way a fan of Rangers FC…?)

Here are some other fun finds from the Internet; this is just a start and is by no means an exhaustive search:

So how does it all sound? Have a listen, then share your thoughts in the comments section below:

Do you have any orchestral recordings of Beatles music in your collection?


Video: Brass band on Wheels

Posted at 1:00 PM on July 31, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds

Fanfare Le Snob perform in the streets of Paris (photo from artist website).

At first blush, it looks spectral, ritualistic and esoteric. But dig a little deeper, and it turns out the performances of Fanfare Le Snob are intended to be anything but inscrutable.

Based in western France, Fanfare Le Snob is a professional company that has gained local, national and international recognition for its live shows. According to its website, Fanfare Le Snob is a group composed of musicians and comedians who are committed to the shared values of making art that's public, free and accessible to all.

Although they'll certainly march down the street on their own feet, the performers of Fanfare Le Snob are often mounted on Segways — those two-wheeled, battery-powered, one-person vehicles. Wearing long robes, the members of Fanfare Le Snob seem to drift effortlessly above the road surface, playing their instruments while moving in choreographed patterns.

And speaking of their instruments, those are notable, too: the sousaphone player's instrument is retooled to wrap around her body; the trombone player's bell is bent up and outward, like something in a Dr Seuss illustration. The repertoire is less Holst and Elgar than it is brass settings of Floyd and Zeppelin.

But written description takes us only so far; here are a couple videos from Fanfare Le Snob's Vimeo channel:

GLISSSSSSSSSENDO OPUS II version de jour from LE SNOB ET CIES on Vimeo.

GLISSSSSSSSSENDO OPUS II version de nuit from LE SNOB ET CIES on Vimeo.

A couple of dates in Montreal and in Quebec City are as close to Minnesota as Fanfare Le Snob have come this year. The videos above as well as additional finds on YouTube will have to suffice for now.

(H/T Andrew Cleveland)

Stephen Hough's tasty tweets

Posted at 2:00 PM on July 25, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

Stephen Hough in concert (photo by Hiroyuki Ito)

In addition to being one of the world's leading concert pianists, Stephen Hough is a talented composer and a gifted writer.

It also turns out that this true renaissance man loves food and he tweets about it often. Many times the food items are connected to places and to people Hough is visiting.

Here's a sampling of menu items Stephen Hough has shared via Twitter (where you can follow him @houghhough).

Video: Lang Lang and LeBron

Posted at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Superstars, ambassadors, friends: LeBron James and Lang Lang (AP photo)

The Sporting News reports that the NBA's LeBron James — recently in the news for leaving the Miami Heat after four seasons to return to Cleveland Cavaliers, where his career began — is now in China on a five-day goodwill tour sponsored by Nike.

Pianist Lang Lang greeted James on his arrival in China, and the two exchanged gifts; according to the Sporting News article, James gave Lang Lang a pair of basketball shoes, and Lang Lang presented James with a CD of his own music as well as an album of music written for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.

This YouTube video captures some of the fun had by the two superstars, including piano-playing by Lang Lang, a basketball showcase led by James — and a special treat at about 1:06 in the video, Lang Lang and James doing something of a piano duet together:

Edvard and a Red Card

Posted at 5:00 PM on July 10, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, Unexpected Classical

This week on Classical MPR, we've been celebrating the World Cup with Morning Glories picks that have connections to or are inspired by soccer. Now, we've found a video that is inspired by soccer and includes classical music.

First a bit of context: During the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, scrutiny has been placed on players who exaggerate the effects of physical contact — known as "diving" — in order to sway the referee's opinion.

Following the Netherlands' 2 - 1 defeat of Mexico in the round of 16, for example, Dutch forward Arjen Robben admitted diving and apologized for having done it in the game (although he said it was not the fall that led to the decisive penalty in that match).

With this topic in mind, the staff at Fourgrounds Media, Inc., a video production company located in St. Catharines, Ont., put together this amusing video that imagines what life would be like if we reacted to contact in our everyday interactions the same way some soccer players choose to react on the pitch. And for the music in the video, the producers chose "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt.

It's a fun video; note that if you can read lips, there's one lip-reading language advisory. Otherwise, enjoy the music and the laughs. (h/t Toni Karlsson)

What do you think of the use of Grieg in this video? Do you like it, or is there a different piece of music you would have chosen?

Holst and hops: Bells Brewery releasing beers inspired by "The Planets"

Posted at 10:28 AM on July 8, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Bells Brewery planets beer 2.jpg

Gustav Holst's orchestral suite The Planets has inspired countless movie soundtracks and served as the theme music for Valentine Michael Smith in Robert A. Heinlein's classic sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land, but it's breaking through to a new pop-culture frontier this summer as Michigan's Bells Brewery releases a series of special beers inspired by the suite's seven movements.

"The Planet Series" will debut next month, with a new beer being released every two months until the brews reach the outer limits of Neptune. (Holst's suite didn't include Earth — or Pluto, which had not yet been discovered when the composer was writing in the 1910s.)

Moving in order of the suite (not astronomy), the releases will begin with Mars, the Bringer of War — a double IPA. The series will continue with Venus, the Bringer of Peace (blonde ale); Mercury, the Winged Messenger (Belgian single); Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (brown ale); Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (bourbon barrel-aged barleywine); Uranus, the Magician (black double IPA); and Neptune, the mystic ("mystical stout").

"Lawn Mower Opus in G": Minneapolis composer writes over a very literal "ground"

Posted at 1:16 PM on July 1, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

In music, "ground" is a term that refers to an underlying bass pattern over which a melody is laid. (This is also known as a "pedal point.") Minneapolis resident Brad Peterson has added a new layer of meaning to that term, composing a "Lawn Mower Opus in G" over the drone of a...yep, you got it.

In an video about the making of the piece, Peterson explains that the composition's seed was planted (if you will) when he was ten years old: as he mowed his family's lawn, he improvised a melody in the key of the mower's roar. Years later, after he'd learned music composition and performance, hearing a neighbor's mower reminded Peterson of his childhood inspiration.

"Basically, every instrument I had at some point tried to make a part, and built it and built it and built it into this orchestral work and just tried to recreate this magical...the evolution of a song with the naïvete of a ten-year-old boy humming along with his lawnmower."

Here's the song, with a video also created by Peterson.

Classical MPR staff meet Sir Henry Wood - virtually

Posted at 4:23 PM on June 23, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

As classical music fans around the world get excited for the annual Proms concerts in London (July 18-September 13), BBC Music Magazine has partnered with the application Blippar to allow users to pose for a photo with the bust of Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944), the Proms' founding conductor. Here at Classical MPR, we had some fun posing with Sir Henry.

If you'd like to join the fun, download the free Blippar app (just search the app store on your smartphone or tablet) and use it to scan the cover of the magazine's July issue; an image of the cover is also available here. Send your photo to jgabler@mpr.org if you'd like it included in a future post on our site!

Listen in later this summer as Classical MPR broadcasts numerous performances from the Proms.

Alison Young, Classical MPR host

Alison Henry Wood 2.jpg

Brad Althoff, Performance Today producer

Brad Henry Wood 2.jpg

Claire Philpott, education coordinator

Claire Henry Wood 2.jpg

Fred Child, Performance Today host

Fred Henry Wood 2.jpg

Jay Gabler, digital producer

Jay Henry Wood 2.jpg

Luke Taylor, digital producer

Luke Henry Wood 2.jpg

Steve Barnett, archive producer

Steve Henry Wood 2.jpg

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, choral stream producer

Tesfa 2.jpg

Even the Current's Barb Abney got some face time with Sir Henry

Barb Abney Henry Wood 2.jpg

Happy birthday, Richard Strauss! From your fan, Elvis Presley

Posted at 1:26 PM on June 11, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

On today, Richard Strauss's 150th birthday, lots of people are remembering the composer's big pop-culture breakthrough when the introduction to Also sprach Zarathustra was featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thanks to that placement, Strauss's music later opened a stage spectacular that was perhaps even stranger than the far frontiers of Stanley Kubrick's film.

When Elvis Presley opened a new run of shows in Las Vegas in 1971, writes biographer Peter Guralnick in Careless Love, Presley's band began welcoming the King onstage to the strains of Strauss in an arrangement by Joe Guercio.

"Guercio's wife, Corky, had suggested to him half-jokingly that the music reminded her of Elvis, and to his surprise, the orchestra leader agreed. When it turned out that Elvis, too, had had the same idea, they started fooling with it during the winter engagement, using it as a kind of overture to bring Elvis onstage sometimes, sometimes actually interrupting the show at Elvis's instigation just so the rhythm section could try it on the audience. Now, with Elvis's encouragement, Guercio developed the idea on a grand orchestral scale.

"'We set it up to the point where you got to the last chord, and the tympanist played the final set of eight notes, and it would build to such a frenzy that it was orgasm time from then until Ronnie Tutt [Elvis's drummer] took over — it was like the ultimate orgasm.' That was how Elvis reacted to it, too: 'he didn't want to be just a guy walking out there, he wanted to be a god.' And with the 2001 theme, he was."

Watch: Sir Mix-a-Lot and the Seattle Symphony play "Baby Got Back"

Posted at 12:28 PM on June 9, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Sir Mix a Lot Seattle Symphony 2.jpg

"This is really something that you should not do," said Sir Mix-a-Lot Friday night onstage with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. The rapper was referring specifically to inviting a couple dozen women onstage with him, but some listeners will undoubtedly think the statement could equally well apply to the entire enterprise: presenting a new orchestral arrangement of Mix-a-Lot's notorious-turned-beloved 1992 hit "Baby Got Back."

The arrangement, by composer Gabriel Prokofiev (Sergei's grandson), was presented as part of the Seattle Symphony's Sonic Evolution project, which "creates a bridge between the Symphony and Seattle's storied reputation as launching pad for some of the most creative musicians on the popular music scene." In previous years, the series has featured composers paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Quincy Jones, and other Seattle pop-music luminaries.

Though headlines are saying that Mix-a-Lot "went classical" with this collaboration, in video of the performance released by the Symphony, the orchestra is hardly audible as Mix-a-Lot bumps and grinds with a bevy of women in concert apparel, most of whom look like they're having flashbacks to the last time they shook their booties to what's now become a wedding-reception chestnut — likely much less sober than they were at Benaroya Hall.

You can watch the video below, being warned that the song hasn't been at all edited from the version that inspired one of the original PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT badges. If you thought the L.A. Philharmonic's performance of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels — possibly the only composition performed by a major American orchestra last season to feature erotic apparatuses in the score — didn't go far enough, you'll enjoy hearing a full concert hall yell along as Mix-a-Lot declares the conditions under which a prospective partner might pique his interest.

There's been no indication as of yet that Minnesota ensembles are taking note of this collaboration, but just in case, you might want to start preparing yourself for Prof to take the stage with the Minnesota Orchestra — or, better yet, for the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra featuring Riff Raff.

Harmony in the Park in Minneapolis as told through social media

Posted at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Choral Music, Concerts, Fun finds

The rain threatened, but thankfully fizzled. The nearby falls were roaring full tilt. And an enthusiastic crowd packed the benches and spread itself out on the adjacent green space as Vocal Point, The Singers and Six Appeal entertained on Thursday, June 5, the first of three installments of Harmony in the Park this month. The next Harmony in the Park concerts are in Mankato on Sunday, June 8, and in Duluth on Sunday, June 15.

A number of people in attendance shared their thoughts and photos via social media. Several of these communications have been collected here so you can relive the concert — or experience it vicariously.

Among those enjoying the concert last night were a number of dogs, which Julia Schrenkler, Ali Lozoff and Jen Van Zandt were spotting and photographing. You can look at a gallery of these canine classical lovers on Classical MPR's Facebook page.

And remember, you can connect with Classical MPR through social media by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.

Here's the Minneapolis Harmony in the Park social-media wrap-up:

Bob Dylan channels Rachmaninoff on new recording of "Full Moon & Empty Arms"

Posted at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2014 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

Bob Dylan Shadows in the Night 2.jpg

Without fanfare, Bob Dylan has just released a cover of the 1945 song "Full Moon & Empty Arms," best known in the version recorded that year by Frank Sinatra. A representative for the artist confirmed that the track will appear on a new Bob Dylan album — possibly with the title above, fans are speculating based on this art posted by the artist — later this year.

Classical music fans will recognize the melody: it's based on the third movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. Ted Mossman, who co-wrote the song with Buddy Kaye, was known for adapting the classics in this manner; another example is the 1945 Mossman/Kaye number "Till the End of Time," a hit for Perry Como based on Chopin's Polonaise in A flat major.

Here's the Rachmaninoff movement; the big theme begins at about the 1:45 time mark. Take a listen, and then compare it with the song as performed by Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan.


Night Gallery: Caption Challenge

Posted at 9:42 AM on May 12, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Classical hosts, Fun finds, Programs

Radio, like the Internet, is a 24/7 operation. If, for example, it's just before midnight on Christmas Day, there are people working in the building at Minnesota Public Radio.

So what do people get up to during those hours?

Scott Blankenship is one of the hosts of Music Through the Night (MTTN), the overnight programming on Classical MPR. The MTTN audience members are a loyal bunch, and they tend to engage with the hosts via the Music Through the Night Facebook page.

Among the many music-related offerings on the page is the occasional caption challenge. Last week, Scott Blankenship posted this picture:

... and then he invited people to submit their caption ideas. Other audience members vote for their favorites by liking (in the Facebook sense) the submissions. Scott writes, "The most likes at the end of the night gets braggin' rights for the week!"

Here are some of the higher-ranking entries:

Will Anderson: "He was doing alright, right up until he went flat."

Steve Fusselman: "Sounds like I need a tune-up"

Kat Cooper: "just a little bass-ic soap box derby engineering"

Basha Yonis takes a Far Side approach: "Being from a family involved in classical music, Bobby completely misunderstood when he overheard the older kids talking about 'driving bass'."

Rachel Kopel: "School district combines music classes and Shop to reduce budget."

Looking at the number of likes given to each entry, it appears Rachel may have earned those "braggin' rights" Scott offers!

You can read these, among 40-plus additional comments and caption ideas, by checking out the full post on the Music Through the Night Facebook page.

What other caption ideas do you have? Share them below.

Giving the viola some respect

Posted at 10:33 AM on April 25, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, Concerts, Fun finds

The viola is the instrument musicians love to tease — so much so, that there is an entire category of jokes about them. Classical MPR's Steve Staruch is a violist, but he loves viola jokes. There's a German expression, Was sich liebt, das neckt sich — "Those who love each other, tease each other"; in other words, teasing is a sign of affection. So here are three displays of affection for the viola:

How can you tell when a violist is playing out of tune?
The bow is moving.

What's the difference between a viola and an onion?
No one cries when you cut up a viola.

Why don't violists play hide and seek?
Because no one will look for them.

Amusing as that last joke is, the reality, of course, is different. Music benefactors Linda and Stuart Nelson deliberately sought out violist Paul Neubauer and offered to commission a new work for him, and Neubauer thought, "Why not a viola concerto, and why not have Aaron Jay Kernis write that viola concerto?"

The resulting work received its world premiere with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra just last night (Thursday, April 24), and a new video released by the SPCO takes viewers inside Kernis's new Viola Concerto, from both the composer's and musician's points of view.

In the video, Kernis says his new concerto is "uniquely tailored for Paul and the viola" because Neubauer "draws so many beautiful colors out of the instrument." Over the course of the nearly seven-minute video, Kernis and Neubauer provide a sort of hop-on/hop-off tour of the work, discussing each movement and its influences and inspirations.

"I hope audiences have a very strong reaction to this piece," Kernis says, "and [I] hope that it will find its way out in the world with such an amazing soloist and wonderful musician at its center."

Neubauer adds, "I hope 20 years from now, this becomes a staple of the [viola] repertoire."

Watch the video to learn more about this new piece. The SPCO and Neubauer will perform it again tonight and tomorrow, April 25 and 26, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul.

What do you think of this new work? Did you attend the concert? Are you planning to attend one of them this weekend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Soundtracks to on-screen adventures

Posted at 12:21 PM on April 10, 2014 by Emily Reese
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Programs

Music is an integral part of the gaming experience. Even though the first game, Pong, didn't have music, it wasn't long before every on-screen adventure had its own soundtrack.

In the early days, composers had access to two or three channels that could each produce one sound at a time. As a result, a lot of early scores end up simulating Baroque-era figured bass and early counterpoint. Eventually, gaming technologies caught up with present day. Now, gamers are treated to full orchestral scores, depending on the game itself. Consistently, I'm surprised and in awe of the talented composers who are writing soundtracks for video games.

For instance, Gustaf Grefberg's score for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is captivating. Grefberg, an unknown quantity to me until I heard this score, works for a Swedish game developer called Starbreeze Studios. For the Brothers soundtrack, he mimicked an old Scandinavian singing tradition called "kulning", used primarily by women to call back the herds at the end of each day. Grefberg's kulning is used to great effect, in a game about family and loss.


Peter McConnell wrote a terrific score to Broken Age, demonstrating his love of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring at a moment in the game involving a fairytale-esque sacrifice. McConnell's instrumentation is always a delight — his scores demand musicianship from the performers.

The fandom for video game music is deep and wide. Lately, a handful of string quartet projects have popped up in celebration of that fandom. The Videri String Quartet formed recently in the Boston area, and a project called The String Arcade recorded a string quartet album of game music to raise money for an El Sistema-based after-school program in California.

As always, it's a pleasure to share this music with you, and I look forward to bringing you more in the future!

Yo-Yo Ma's 'Playhouse'

Posted at 9:26 AM on March 26, 2014 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

I've always imagined Yo-Yo Ma to be a fun-loving guy. From his photo op with a wombat to his inspired modern dance collaborations, Ma seems to be a guy willing to go the extra mile in the name of art, or simply having a good time.

NPR Music's latest Field Recordings video does both: art + a good time.

From Anastasia Tsioulcas, writer and piece producer:

When you're lucky enough to have cellist Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble, some of the world's premiere instrumentalists and composers, gather for an afternoon of offstage music making, you've got to think long and hard about where to put them. And we decided that the perfect match would be ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.

And if that weren't enough, there are some fun animated GIFs from the session too.

If you had the afternoon to spend with Yo-Yo Ma, what would you do?

Bach by the numbers

Posted at 12:12 PM on March 21, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds, In the media, Johann Sebastian Bach

When it comes to celebrating famous birthdays, we all love the numbers that end in 0 and 5. But a 329th birthday? Pah.

When it comes to J.S. Bach, however, perhaps we should think again.


According to an article by The Guardian's Philip Oltermann, Bach's 329th birthday is quite a big deal for scholars and numerologists:

Some researchers claim that the Baroque composer had an obsession with the number 14, the sum of the numeric value of the letters in his surname (B+A+C+H = 2+1+3+8 = 14). The numbers 3, 2 and 9 also add up to 14 - and all this 14 years into the 21st century. Coincidence?

Oltermann goes on to report that the Bach Museum in the composer's hometown of Eisenach, Germany, will feature an exhibition this year that explores J.S. Bach's fascination with numbers and number puzzles. One of the items on display includes a painting in which Bach wears a vest with 14 buttons and holds a drinking cup with a 14-point monogram.

There is some scholarly debate about the 14 obsession, but the idea of a composer being fond of numbers isn't difficult to imagine. You can read Oltermann's entire article about Bach and numerals here.

Go inside a composer's apartment

Posted at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds, In the media

For composer Timo Andres, home is where the art is.

According to New York City's classical-music radio station WQXR, "Connecticut-born Andres likens his music to 'walking into an interesting apartment and seeing a few things next to each other that tell you something about a person.' "

How appropriate, then, that Andres recently invited WQXR into his apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., to talk about where he lives and works:

Andres is in St. Paul, Minn., this week; he'll be one of the speakers featured in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Composer Conversation series event tomorrow night, Thursday, March 20, at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall.

John Lunn keeps writing music for 'Downton Abbey'

Posted at 4:13 PM on March 13, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds, In the media

Music is such a powerful tool when it comes to film and television; as Downton Abbey composer John Lunn told me in April 2012, "I'm manipulating what's going on quite a lot underneath the dialogue ... without it, you'd view the scene differently."

That was back when he was working on the third season of the popular period drama. Now with four seasons in the books, Lunn has launched into the fifth batch of episodes for Downton Abbey.

To give further insight into his ongoing work, Lunn recently contributed a guest post to Downton's Tumblr page, and shared it via this Tweet:

Central to Downton Abbey — or any drama for that matter — are the relationships between the characters. As Lunn writes,

"Writing music for such a series does require a certain amount of flexibility. Each thematic strand must stand out and be distinctive, but ideally each one must be able to transform itself into another. There are always a few constants — the House, the Crawleys, although even they change, and the Masters and Servants; but the development of the music is about the relationships between people."

One of the changes that's been a bit difficult for Lunn was the death of Matthew Crawley at the end of series three. See what Lunn has to say about that by viewing his complete post.

And if you're going through some Downton Abbey withdrawal, Steve Staruch's interview with the Oratorio Society of Minnesota casts some light on what that group is doing to keep the show's music alive during the stretches between seasons.

Dose of Adorable: Toddler conducts choir

Posted at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2014 by Luke Taylor (1 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Fun finds

Ever been told to mind your manners or your words when young children are present? It's not that the children will necessarily be offended, of course, but because they're likely to model and repeat that behavior.

The reverse is naturally also true; when we model positive behaviors, children imitate that as well.

The Current's host and producer Jade shared this recent video out of Kyrgyzstan that was posted by our friends at the CBC, in which a toddler appears to conduct her father's choir by imitating the choir director.

Jean Piaget may have likely regarded this as typical behavior — but for most of us, it's just plain adorable.


Minnesota Chorale Rises!

Posted at 11:43 AM on February 26, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Fun finds


I strongly encourage everyone to read Chorus America's great feature on our own Minnesota Chorale! See the article below.

Crush the Choral Geeks Quiz

Posted at 4:41 PM on February 24, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music, Composers, Fun finds

Fellow Choral Geeks,

I hereby challenge you with this mini version of quiz that will be released during Classical MPR's Choral Month. After you finish the quiz, I invite you to LIKE our Choral Music from Classical MPR Facebook page to learn more about upcoming events and exciting choral initiatives. Don't forget to SHARE! 

(Note, the quiz requires Adobe Flash, so most mobile devices will be unable to participate this time. We'll work on bringing a more accessible quiz next time.) 

This Valentine's Day, say it with Milos

Posted at 10:45 AM on February 14, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds

Yesterday, classical music host Jeff Esworthy asked me, "Did you know Milos Karadaglic's record label is now promoting him as a hunk?"

Classical guitarist Milos — he's been operating more frequently under the single moniker, à la Brazilian footballers or Sting — released an album of Latin-tinged music last autumn. There's obviously a romantic (small R) thread to a lot of that music, and that extends quite naturally into Valentine's Day.

Which may have led to the website that Jeff Esworthy went on to describe to me. This new site allows users to create personalized Valentine's Day cards that incorporate Milos into the design.

The site lets you choose some background and foreground elements, and you can scale the elements to some extent. At bottom, you can customize a message for your special someone. As you design, a soundtrack of Milos's music helps provide the right frame of mind.

In the interest of this blog, I attempted a few quick layouts. In this first example, I tried to use some forced perspective (within the limits of the site) to make it seem as if Milos were playing an intimate gig in a restaurant with a fireplace. It didn't work too well:


I had better luck when I attempted to make it appear as if Milos were playing guitar on a hillside overlooking a city. The cupid element is one of the embellishment options.


Although the site does provide some preset background images for you, another option is to upload one of your own. Looking to create something uniquely Minnesotan, I uploaded a photo I took at the recent Loppet dogsled race. I thought it might be fun to place Milos on one of the dogs, as if he is serenading as he goes past. That didn't work too well, either:

Milos_3_mush.jpgNo dogs were harmed in the creation of the design above.

But if you've procrastinated this Valentine's Day, there's still time to send your sweetie an e-greeting. And maybe Milos can help.


A violinist and her dog

Posted at 6:00 AM on February 12, 2014 by Fred Child
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Fun finds, Musician stories

Violinist Ida Kavafian has been raising Viszlas (Hungarian hunting dogs) for years. She's a regular at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show every February at Madison Square Garden. This year one of her beloved pooches won "Best of Opposite Sex" (which goes to the best female if a male wins best of breed, as happened this year).

Her dog is officially named Brittania N Bayviews Ida One (although...I'm sure they have a cute nickname for her!). Here's a picture from yesterday at Madison Square Garden, with Ida Kavafian holding the ribbon.

Ida Kavafian and her prize-winning dog


(And btw, Ida's husband is Steven Tenenbom, violist in the Orion String Quartet. He's as much into the family dogs as Ida...)

The musician competing in the Olympic Games

Posted at 6:00 AM on February 8, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Much attention was paid (with good reason) to the classical music featured in the Winter Olympics' opening ceremonies. But there's also a violinist who's competing in the women's slalom in the Winter Games.

Fred Child, host of Performance Today, recently shared the story of Vanessa-Mae, a violinist who was raised in and lives in the U.K., but who has been skiing since the age of four — before she began playing violin.

Mae is described as a classical crossover artist; at age five, she was studying with Felix Andrievsky at the Royal College of Music in London. At nine, Vanessa-Mae made her concert debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra and toured England playing the Tchaikovsky concerto. In her teens, however, Mae began combining classical music elements with synthetic beats, creating a dance-club sound. She's sold millions of albums — particularly in Asia — and her fortune is valued at more than $50 million.

But she hasn't relinquished her dream to ski in the Olympics, and she recently just squeaked into qualification. Vanessa-Mae will represent Thailand through her father's nationality, and she'll compete as Vanessa Vanakorn, using her father's surname.

Vanessa-MaeVanessa Mae pictured at a Slovenian skiing center in January 2014 (AP photo)

Qualifying for the Olympics is a major accomplishment, but the violinist has modest expectations for the Games. "When it comes to music, I am a perfectionist," she told BBC Sport. "When it is skiing, I have no delusions about a podium — or even being in the top 100 in the world."

Downton Abbey: Which composers are these characters' lookalikes?

Posted at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2014 by Jay Gabler (3 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

Jodi Gustafson, an administrative assistant at Classical MPR, amused herself one night in front of the TV by finding composers who looked like characters on Downton Abbey. How are her matches? What composer lookalikes would you nominate?

Lord Grantham: Franz Schubert


Mary: Abbie Betinis


Edith: Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn.jpg

Mrs. Hughes: Grace Williams

Grace Williams.jpg

Mr. Molesley: Gian Carlo Menotti


Mr. Carson: Maurice Duruflé


Hear the music of Downton Abbey on Performance Today.


Magic piano delights Chicago commuters

Posted at 1:28 PM on December 17, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Not since The Muppet Christmas Carol has there been anything as simultaneously cute and creepy as this seemingly possessed player piano that Amtrak hired Rob Bliss Creative to install at Chicago's Union Station.

Will this viral video help bring the magic back to America's decaying rail infrastructure? Does it matter whether or not the whole thing was staged? Discuss.

Can you solve these composer anagrams?

Posted at 10:28 AM on December 16, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

Photo: Tom Weber/MPR

How well do you know your composers — and your anagrams? This list of scrambled composer names has been making the rounds among our staff here at Classical MPR. (It was originally circulated in 2009, and was credited simply to "a listener." Are you that listener, or do you know the original source of this list? If so, please leave a comment and let us know!) If you get stumped, click here to see the answers.












Composer anagrams: The answers

Posted at 10:04 AM on November 16, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

These are the answers to a post challenging readers to solve anagrams of composers' names. To see the original post, click here.

SLANT FRIZZ: Franz Liszt

KABOB ALERT: Bela Bartok

KAISER TIE: Erik Satie

A FILCHED DERRIERE GONG: George Frideric Handel

HERBAL DINGDONG VINE: Hildegard von Bingen

GAGA FEZ WARMS LOAM DONUT: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

EXPERTS VIEWED LLAMA: Peter Maxwell Davies

HENS HARM BANJOS: Johannes Brahms

NEON CRABS THRUM: Robert Schumann

OUR NICE BIG CHILI: Luigi Boccherini

A GLUM HARVEST: Gustav Mahler

Instrument medic Mark Eskola: "I don't do plumbing"

Posted at 3:33 PM on November 25, 2013 by Luke Taylor (5 Comments)
Filed under: Education, Fun finds, Play It Forward

"I don't do plumbing," jokes Mark Eskola, referring to brass and woodwind instruments. "I just do strings. I have done wind instruments to bail somebody out every so often, but it's just something I don't want to do."

It's not as if Eskola isn't busy enough with strings. A longtime orchestra director at Duluth East High School, Eskola (whose brother Joe works in research at MPR in St. Paul) retired from that position in June 2013; during a school year, Eskola typically fixed more than 50 instruments, ranging from simple re-stringing to crack repair to major overhauls. And even though he's now retired from teaching, Eskola plans to continue repairing instruments.

Although it's easy to conclude a music teacher may have learned instrument repair by necessity, Eskola got started at it when he was about 14 years old. By the time he was a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., Eskola had lofted the bed in his dorm room so he could have space for a workbench underneath, where he repaired instruments for fellow students and for the Gustavus music department.

Much of his instrument-repair training was learned by doing, but Eskola did spend four summers at workshops in Madison, Wis., and he's read numerous books on the subject. "That was before the Internet," Eskola laughs.

Eskola_shop_2_photo_web.jpgMark Eskola's workshop (submitted photo)

In Eskola's home in Duluth, Minn., his workshop is outfitted with two workbenches, two computers, plus clamps, chisels and 20-odd drawers with tools and supplies. There are violins and violas on shelves, a string bass stuffed in a corner near the ceiling (which is conveniently high) and about six guitars awaiting maintenance.

Fixing stringed instruments is a science and an art. For example, re-graduating a cello, Eskola explains, involves removing the top of the instrument and cutting it to certain thicknesses. And a common malady for cellos is something called "wolf tone," which Eskola describes as when "the note wants to come out but it can't quite go" — a repair that requires strategically gluing a weight to the instrument.

Among Eskola's upcoming projects are a couple of violas and two string basses he's going to restore, for which he actually cut down some maple and oak trees specifically for use in the restorations. Whatever the project, there's trial and error and craft involved, but the desired outcome is always an instrument capable of making beautiful music.

Eskola_shop_photo_web.jpgAnother view of Mark Eskola's workshop (submitted photo)

Eskola typically fixes instruments for other people, but occasionally he'll get an instrument that someone can't throw away but doesn't want to keep. The cello Eskola himself uses was given to him by the Cloquet School District in lieu of payment for repairs; granted, Eskola had to fix the cello before he could play it, but it's the one he uses to this day. He recently repaired a rare 10-string guitar that arrived "smashed," which he resold through Rosewood Music in downtown Duluth. And another smashed instrument — a Gibson J-45 guitar that someone sold to Eskola for five dollars — became Eskola's personal guitar. "That's a sweet old guitar," he says, "but it's kind of already worn out again now."

Other instruments have found their way to others' hands somewhat unexpectedly. This past year, while on an outreach trip to Africa, Eskola saw an Applause guitar he repaired get donated to a young girl in Mozambique. Later, Eskola himself gave a bass guitar to a young man in Zambia. "They had nothing, so it was really fun to see him playing that," Eskola says.

And he's been able to stay in touch with the blossoming bassist. "We're Facebook friends," Eskola says. "It's crazy with the technology. He literally lives in a mud hut, but he's got a smartphone."

MarkEskola_photo-2_forWeb.jpgMark Eskola (L) with his wife, Sharon, on a recent visit to Kenya to see their friend, David Shivachi.

On a semi-related note: If you have a disused instrument that is no longer being played, consider donating it to Play It Forward, Classical MPR's statewide musical instrument drive. Read more about Play It Forward here.


A Benjamin Britten puzzle

Posted at 11:12 AM on November 22, 2013 by Alison Young
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds

brittenforweb.jpgBenjamin Britten (London Records)

You may recall how, on Giuseppe Verdi's birthday, George Barany and Noam Elkies put together a fun (and challenging!) crossword puzzle centered on the great Italian composer.

Now Barany and Elkies have done it again, this time for the man whose centenary we mark today: Benjamin Britten.

Barany and Elkies have called their puzzle "Coin of the Musical Realm", and you can find it by following this link. Feel free to let me know how you did on the puzzle by leaving a comment below.

Good luck and have fun!

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:

A 'sports car' pipe organ

Posted at 4:10 PM on November 14, 2013 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, The blog

Coventry Cathedral pipe organ consoleThe console of Coventry Cathedral's pipe organ (courtesy Coventry Cathedral's Facebook page)

Tonight's broadcast of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem appropriately evokes reflection on what occurred in Coventry, England, 73 years ago, as well as thoughts about the broader consequences of war.

But a recent bit of news cast a fresh spotlight on the music that happens in Coventry Cathedral today.

Just two weeks ago, the 1962-built Harrison and Harrison pipe organ in Coventry Cathedral was awarded the Cathedral Grade 1 status by the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS) for its "importance to the national heritage." It is now listed in BIOS's Historic Register of Pipe Organs.

To get a sense of what makes Coventry's pipe organ special, I spoke to Laurence Lyndon-Jones, the former assistant director of music at Coventry Cathedral (he's now assistant organist at Chelmsford Cathedral). At Coventry, Lyndon-Jones regularly accompanied the choir on organ, and he organized the cathedral's Monday-night, summertime recital series. "It was very exciting working with such a wonderful musical instrument," he says. "It's one of the finest instruments in the country, if not further afield."

Lyndon-Jones has a useful analogy for describing what sets the Coventry pipe organ apart:

"The Coventry organ — if you think of it in terms of comparing it with different types of car, which is something I think works quite well to describe what it's like playing the organs — it's definitely a sports car: the Coventry organ is very responsive, very quick and very exciting to play, whereas other cathedral organs in England are fantastically musical instruments, but more grand and less agile. The Coventry organ is a very agile, exciting yet still sensitive if need be, with a range all the way up to very loud, exciting sound as well.

"There are lots of different colors you can use, and all of them are very responsive to your input, really, which makes it a very exciting experience."

Here's a short video of Lyndon-Jones in the driver's seat of that "sports car":

You can hear more of Coventry Cathedral's pipe organ as well as performances on other British cathedrals' pipe organs in this July 30, 2007. episode of Pipedreams with Michael Barone.

The treble clef gets me every time

Posted at 7:44 AM on October 21, 2013 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Fun finds

From an array of computer-controlled set of water nozzles, you can create just about anything. So it's unsurprising to see logos, hearts, and musical notes emerge from some of Germany's Watergraphics fountains.

But then this animated gif came along. The quarter notes and eighth notes are great, but there's something about the treble clef, with its intricate swirls and lines -- it ought to be impossible to create as a fountain -- but there it is, precise, and temporary and... gorgeous.

Just look at that thing.

For more on the capabilities of these types of fountains, look no further than this demo reel:

A Verdi-related video suggestion

Posted at 11:30 AM on October 11, 2013 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds, In the media

Maggie Smith in 'Quartet'
Maggie Smith stars in 'Quartet' (BBC Films/The Weinstein Company)

As we wrap up the week of Giuseppe Verdi's bicentenary, here is a home-video pick to help you carry the celebration into the weekend.

Giuseppe Verdi was obviously a celebrated and successful opera composer, and he was able to share his success through philanthropy. Notably, Verdi founded a home in Milan, Italy, for retired opera singers and musicians. Originally called by the functional title Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, it is also known as Casa Verdi, and it continues to operate today.

The existence of Casa Verdi inspired writer Ronald Harwood to craft a stage- and later a screenplay that would become the film Quartet, released in 2012 and directed by Dustin Hoffman.

Quartet is set in a fictitious retirement home for musicians in Britain (based on Casa Verdi), and it stars Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courteney and Pauline Collins. The plot hinges on a recital put on by the residents of the home; the recital is a gala fundraiser that ensures the retirement home will continue operating.

Giving a nod to his inspiration for the script, Harwood sets the rectial on Verdi's birthday. The hope among the home's residents and its prospective gala attendees is that the eponymous quartet — who wowed audiences in an earlier era — will perform selections from Verdi's Rigoletto.

Besides a thoughtful and witty script brought wonderfully to life through the cast's committed performances, Quartet is notable for its use of actual musicians.

Director Dustin Hoffman, in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live's Simon Mayo, said that for the film to be fully realized, he had to hire real retired opera singers and musicians. "In the film, they are all doing their own singing, their own instrumental playing," Hoffman said. "There's no fakery."

Quartet is also one of those rare films, like Waking Ned or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, that sees older protagonists chasing their dreams. It's a point that wasn't lost on Hoffman as he was casting the retired singers and musicians.

"These gifted people that are on the screen, whether they are musicians or singers, no one had rung their phones for 30, 40 years, and yet talent remains in them," Hoffman said to the BBC's Simon Mayo. "For whatever mysterious reason there is, whether in America or England or anywhere, people become recyclable after they reach a certain age, and no one calls them, even if they can still deliver in the way they've been doing it all their lives. And I think the film wants to [call attention to] the fact that we are somehow dismissing a vital part of our culture."

Be sure to watch through the film's closing credits, which include highlights of the cast's careers in music.

Quartet is available through mail-order DVD services, on-demand streaming services as well as in certain video vending machines. That said, I watched Quartet for free, thanks to DVD checkout from Minneapolis Public Library.

View the official trailer for Quartet:

A Verdi Puzzle

Posted at 10:05 AM on October 10, 2013 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Composers, Fun finds

A Verdi puzzle

Let's just start this blog by stating I am not a puzzle gal.

But on this 200th birthday of one of the greatest opera composers of all, Giuseppe Verdi, I couldn't resist sharpening my pencil and giving this commemorative Verdi puzzle by George Barany and Friends a try — and don't for a second think I'd use a pen!

SUPER clever, like a three-letter word for a Diva's defining feature or the act that brought the house down where other answers premiered — and maybe the only one I might consider answering in pen for 27-across: His troubles started with Weird Sisters and continued when his Lady needed a damn spot remover.

Happy Birthday, "Joe Green," and have at it!

(... and let me know how you did by leaving a comment below. Have fun!)


The endless joy of music

Posted at 9:07 AM on September 24, 2013 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds

Last week, our friends at Performance Today created a video of pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung performing a duet of "Libertango" by Astor Piazzolla. The performance is certainly technically masterful, but it's also fun, playful — and, as one might expect from a tango — kind of romantic and sexy. If you haven't seen the video yet, you can watch it here on the PT website.

That duet brought to mind another video that's been floating around the Internet for a few years. They may not be professional musicians, but Fran and Marlo Cowan combine solid piano playing with a sense of joy in their duet of a ragtime piece, "Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet," performed in the lobby of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in 2008.

I'm guessing the Cowans have a few years on Bax and Chung, but their enjoyment of the music is just as palpable.

It's another example of how music can be constantly enriching. Fun as they may be, some activities are generally limited to certain stages in our lives — pole vaulting, hang gliding, running with the bulls in Pamplona, to name a few. But the joy music gives us? That's ageless.

O Sole Meow - Opera singer performs 'Meow Mix' jingle

Posted at 12:58 PM on September 19, 2013 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Fun finds

Looking for a little levity in your day? Look no further.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has a segment that features suggestions from the audience — appropriately entitled "Suggestion Box" — and last night's segment featured a wish from Stephanie Ellis to hear the "Meow Mix" jingle sung by an opera singer.

Fallon was more than happy to oblige. He brought out Richard Troxell, best-known for his portrayal of Lt. Pinkerton in the 1995 film version of Madame Butterfly. And he delivered.

For those unfamiliar with the jingle, here's the original:

Showering with Beethoven, Headstands with Stravinsky

Posted at 8:23 AM on May 8, 2013 by Elena See (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Ludwig van Beethoven

A new book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work -- by Mason Currey, describes the habits of highly creative people.

Stuck on a big project? Need some creative inspiration? Take Beethoven's advice:

Beethoven would stand at the washstand and pace back and forth and then go back to the washstand and put water on himself. It was an essential part of the creative buildup, but it also made him hated as a tenant and neighbor because he was splashing water everywhere.

More artists and creative individuals profiled at the Fast Company website.


German Orchestra creates Star Wars theme flash mob

Posted at 11:57 AM on October 18, 2012 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Making the rounds at Classical MPR today is this little video gem.

Known for adept adaptations of 20th C. and contemporary music, the WDR Symphony Orchestra based in Cologne, Germany surprised passersby with a growing flash mob presentation of the theme from Star Wars.

A little bit of history on this particular orchestra: it was founded after World War II in 1947 by Allied occupation authorities.

More at their site: wdr.de. (Google Translate may be helpful)

Must-Listen: Unraveling Bolero

Posted at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2012 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

"Unraveling Bolero" by Anne Adams

Another great story from the folks at RadioLab. This one is about the amazing connection between Ravel's most well-known work "Bolero," and a woman, Anne Adams, who quit her job to become an artist -- a painter -- full time. She worked on a piece that ascribed colors, size and depth to the notes and their duration in "Bolero."

The painting was called "Unraveling Bolero"; what's most interesting is that both Adams and Ravel appear to have suffered from the same medical issues that caused them to lose their memories.

An enthralling listen; well worth 20 minutes of your time.

Reawakening the Sacred: A Jeremy Denk Book Review

Posted at 3:31 PM on April 16, 2012 by Samuel Kjellberg
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Fun finds, In the media

Jeremy Denk, the compelling and persuasive artist, American concert pianist, avid chamber musician, exploratory in his choice of repertoire has now moved from the ivory keyboard of his Steinway to his dimly lit laptop to become a writer for none other than the New York Times' book reviews.


Last Thursday (April 12th, 2012), Denk was published in the New York Times Book Review, an honor not stopping at simple publication. His review boasts the largest thumbnail picture on the page — the featured article!

The book: The Great Animal Orchestra written by Bernie Krause, a self-proclaimed child prodigy, folk musician, author and soundscape recordist in a newly coined term called biophony.

Krause's book comes years after his short stint with folk ensemble The Weavers, some exploration into electronic music, creating the synthesizer group Beaver & Krause (which you can hear with bands such as The Monkeys, The Byrds, The Doors and Stevie Wonder) and then years spent in the Muir Woods recording the sounds of nature.

Muir woods.jpg

As Denk puts it, the book "resembles a howl more than an argument" as Krause exposes our abandonment and exile of the world's sound. Krause uses scientific data, his own observation, and some hearsay in order to criticize our entire human culture as wall-building and ignorant of the beautiful array of sound in nature that is as much creative as it is practical.

This prominent review is no doubt a great honor for Jeremy Denk. But isn't this a story Westerners have been hearing about for quite some time — disillusionment and numbness to our world. As we continue down the overstated economic downturn, as education continues to be left to simmer on the back-burner, as our political system becomes unconscionably polarized (and no less corrupt), and as our religious and spiritual selves become bankrupt we are left with no choice but to turn toward nature, to seek refuge for some morsel of the sacred.

It is not as though our experience with nature is in anyway unique, quite the opposite. Rather, it seems a bit uncanny because of its nostalgia and necessity, a sort of overcompensation.

I can remember that during college the only refuge I had from the abundance of assigned papers, endless nights cut by the wedge of a coffee-induced stare, countless performances and the occasional breakdown was the soundscape piece by Steve Reich called "Music for 18 Musicians." This hour-long, harmonically swirling pulse would drive me into a trance. Often I would find myself with arms wide, leaning back, head held erect as I mentally wandered the mountain ranges of Montana (the place where I spent my summers), forgetting that I was sitting in a crowded computer lab lit by florescent bulbs.

Whether your experience with societal life is a positive or negative one, Jeremy Denk's review sheds light on the offerings of Bernie Krause's book The Great Animal Orchestra, a reawakening to the harmony and melody of nature.

After you peruse the review and maybe even the book, take time to notice the sounds of the world and think of your own refuge...

On a side note (and shamelessly promoting the Twin Cities music scene)... Jeremy Denk will be playing two separate concert series here in Saint Paul this weekend. The first, a series featuring works by Charles Ives, Mauricio Kagel and György Ligeti is showing from April 19-21. The second, featuring works by Edward Elgar, Hugo Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev, Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák showing from April 20-22. Get your tickets at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's website.

Simply Stupendous!

Posted at 1:36 PM on February 7, 2012 by Samuel Kjellberg
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, The blog

Since November of 1969 the children's program Sesame Street has brought the world educational television that uses the addictive powers of television to promote good — to be cliché — while preparing and educating children about school, morals and social practice.

A vast number of guests have graced the show's set, a list whose Wikipedia article requires its own alphabetical listing page. These visits typically will consist of some particular moral, grammatical, biological or social concept — I remember seeing Robin Williams explain what it means to be alive as he filled his own shoe with a banana, peanuts, confetti, water and dog food; in the end, the conclusion was that the shoe was not alive!

Recently — February 6, 2011 to be exact — world-renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel paid a visit to Sesame Street to help Elmo explain the word "Stupendous," which is taught to be something "very, very great and amazing!" Something Dudamel is most certainly aware of.


In this segment, Dudamel conducts three small chamber groups: a sheep playing a violin, an octopus playing percussion (pretty impressive section created by all its limbs), and finally a penguin choir singing the "Ode to Joy" theme from Beethoven's 9th Symphony, a fairly significant piece to Dudamel if you keep up with his El Sistema efforts and his film "Let the Children Play."

If you look closely, I believe Dudamel is mouthing the words:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

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.

Meet Bob Milne, Musical Genius

Posted at 5:24 PM on August 8, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: Fun finds

Our friends at Radiolab posted an amazing story last week about Bob Milne, a pianist from Michigan who has amazing musical powers. Bob, a renowned ragtime player, can carry on a full conversation while performing, something that neurologists say shouldn't be possible. The story gets really spectacular when the neurologists decide to test Bob's abilities clinically, pitting his skills against a famous conductor.

The story is very well produced, putting you into Bob's head in a way that makes you rethink how you listen to music. Definitely worth a listen.

I'll Take the Taiwanese Blend, Please

Posted at 12:43 PM on July 28, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: Fun finds

With their ears all over the world, our listeners are forever turning us on to all sorts of great things to savor, delight, and astonish.

One such listener from South Carolina recently sent us information about Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, the first and only independent professional Chinese orchestra not run by the government in Taiwan, which she stumbled upon by accident.

These beautiful pieces are familiar in scope and form with western roots and orchestral setup, but because of the instrumentation they shimmer with a wash of sounds, colors, and expressions that form a remarkably palatable and interesting blend of East and West.

The term "blend of East and West" is often employed by musical groups who are in fact struggling to smash two traditions together, and not always gracefully. But the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, with it's Western setup and (mostly) Eastern instrumentation, executes the intent of the cliché so gracefully that it feels truly like the skeleton of a larger musical idea, no more possible to remove or overtly obvious than the bones that structure the body. This "modern Chinese music orchestra" as they call themselves, "perform Chinese music as [they] think it should be performed. Normal si-zhu orchestras are restricted to traditional si-zhu forms, but the idea of [their] programme is to exploit different environments and opportunities in order to demonstrate the full range of possibilities of the beauty of Chinese music."

Such beauty, indeed.

Cat + Film Score

Posted at 8:43 AM on July 12, 2011 by Daniel Gilliam
Filed under: Fun finds

Oh, and listen to Roll Credits, with Bill Morelock and Lynn Warfel, on Mondays at 8pm

Bach You Very Much, Mr. Sharp Nelson

Posted at 4:16 PM on July 6, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: Fun finds, Johann Sebastian Bach

I grew up playing the 'cello.

And as anyone who has spent any time playing the 'cello, I played the Bach 'Cello Suites.

Maybe more than any other group of pieces in the world, these 6 pieces are in my ears, fingers, and psyche.

But never, not ever, have I dreamed of playing those pieces like this.

Make sure to pay special attention at 3:21. THAT is something I did (and still do) dream of doing.

Yo-Yo Ma, Lil' Buck & Spike Jonze

Posted at 3:19 PM on April 20, 2011 by Daniel Gilliam
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

via Spike Jonze

Eat, Listen and Be Merry

Posted at 1:02 PM on January 10, 2011 by Elena See
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Here's a weird question: What does the most delicious pizza (or steak or pasta or cheesecake or ice cream - insert your favorite here) you've ever eaten have in common with Samuel Barber's music?

Answer: Both pizza and Barber will make you happy. Well, of course, you say. Pizza tastes good and Barber sounds good. So, sure, yes, they'll both make me happy. What's the big deal?

The big deal is that now science has proven that music makes you happy. According to Malcolm Ritter and the Associated Press, "people like music for the same reason they like eating or having sex: It makes the brain release a chemical that gives pleasure."

That chemical is dopamine and the music that resulted in the greatest increase in dopamine production? Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, Claude Debussy's Claire de Lune and the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

The study used PET scans and MRI scans to track the increase, release and flow of dopamine. More dopamine was released when study participants were listening to their self-acknowledged favorite pieces of music than when listening to other music and the study only used instrumental music - not vocal music. Who knows what might happen when the divas start to sing.

Eat on! Listen on! Be happy!

Jay Leno meets Gustavo Dudamel

Posted at 11:22 AM on January 5, 2011 by John Birge
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

The Tonight Show host welcomes the LA Philharmonic's Music Director, and learns about trombone, a puppet orchestra, and The Dude's Hair, a la Justin Bieber. Queen Latifah is amused as well:

Mahler and Schreker separated at birth?

Posted at 12:02 PM on January 5, 2011 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media


Gustav Mahler put the finishing touches on his masterpiece Das Lied von der Erde in the final year of his life. It was published and premiered posthumously.

His funeral was only a short-lived memory when his wife Alma - in the prime of her life and well-off - began a torrid affair with a married composer and conductor Franz Schreker.

Things started off with him sending a photograph of himself to her. (Mahler is on the left, Schreker on the right)

"Ah, why DID you leave me your picture? - now I'm done for..." she writes. Likely it was the fact that he looked so much like her late husband, she could not resist.

The affair was intense but short-lived and didn't end before Schreker would irritate both his wife and Alma's new lover by dedicating his latest opera to Alma.

Both composers will be represented on this week's SPCO concert broadcast live on Classical MPR at 8:00 this Saturday including one of the greatest pieces in classical music - a song-symphony, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde.

First the paint and now the podium...

Posted at 3:14 PM on December 23, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

So, let's review - (from my buddy Hans Buetow)

7 feet, 1inch, and 325 pounds of basketball playing fury with five studio albums, 11 movies, and his own reality show. He's had a record go platinum, has been nominated for a Razzie (in 1997 for Steel), is a reserve officer with the L.A. Port Police and Miami Beach Police, and an honorary U.S. Deputy Marshal.

But never has Shaquille O'Neal had such success as when he recently conducted the Boston Pops in a rendition of both Sleigh Ride and Queen's We Are the Champions.

Conducted, you say? Like, with a baton?

Yes, indeed - a baton, tails, and a heap of head-bobbing, arm-waving, and finger-wriggling. Staring down the orchestra with an expression normally reserved for charging point guards, O'Neal controls and excites both the players and the audience, leaving us all with the obvious question: is there anything that Shaq CAN'T dominate?

To Your Health!

Posted at 4:56 PM on December 9, 2010 by Steve Staruch
Filed under: Fun finds

I have to admit that one of my favorite sounds this season is the opening timpani "roll" at the beginning of the Bach Christmas Oratorio, especially as I read recently from a treatise on how to play the instrument published in Bach's day that a new timpani head should be rubbed with raw garlic and doused with brandy!

I'll raise my glass to YOUR health when you describe some of your favorite sounds this season. Viva Bach!

Nearly Half a Century for Minnesota Orchestra and Messiah

Posted at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2010 by Ward Jacobson (3 Comments)
Filed under: Events, Fun finds, Musician stories

For the 45th consecutive year, the Minnesota Orchestra presents Handel's oratorio, Messiah this week. Three performances are scheduled at Orchestra Hall (11am Wednesday, 8pm Friday and Saturday) and one performance at Cathedral of Saint Paul (7:30pm, Thursday). For the first time, Osmo Vanska will conduct the performances that also feature soloists and the Minnesota Chorale.

As always, Friday night's performance will be heard live on Classical MPR.

For me, there are several Messiah moments that I most look forward to (nothing gets the blood pumping like a rousing rendition of the bass air, "Why do the Nations Rage?").

So what about you?


I've Got a Little List

Posted at 2:41 PM on November 4, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

In the news: the historic Savoy Hotel in London has been renovated and newly re-opened, in the presence of the Prince of Wales and other notables.

For music lovers, its name will always be associated with the adjacent Savoy Theatre, the home of Gilbert and Sullivan. In honor of the occasion, here's a clip from a Savoy opera, as they're called--although the star performer here comes from a different performing tradition. . . .

The Pipe Organ saves the day...

Posted at 9:29 AM on October 29, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds

Thanks Brian Newhouse for sending this amazing animated short my way. It once again underscores the power of music!

"A special and unique type of talent..."

Posted at 1:23 PM on October 28, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

When I was in 6th grade, we had a contest in band to see who could play all their major and minor scales the fastest.

I love a challenge, so I worked them up and went for it.

After creating a kind of scale "smear" - I won! (I think the prize was a pile of candy...oh, well)

I'm not sure what exactly is going on here with violinist Anna Karkowska - is she for real? Is this a kind of Borat comedy-thing, as one of my colleagues suggests or does she just have some wealthy patron hiring her the London Symphony Orchestra for a few days?

You tell me!


ok, sure, but is it ART?

Posted at 2:23 PM on October 25, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, Musical philosophy, Musician stories

This from Valerie Kahler ---

Violinist Oliver Lewis sets a new world record by performing Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" in 1 minute, 3.356 seconds -- a full second faster than the previous record holder.

Bah, humbug! This just in from Michael Barone...

Posted at 1:37 PM on October 25, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

For some, the idea of wall-to-wall-Christmas music - spewing forth from the day after Thanksgiving up to but not beyond December 25 - borders on the offensive, even the intolerable.

The First Noël is fine enough, but by the 100th iteration, is not the message somewhat blunted?

After all, not everyone is a Christian, and though plenty of opportunity exists to ramp up and get in the holiday spirit, even for those who are Believers, must this happen in such a way that the liturgical season of Advent - formerly a time of introspection and preparation - becomes obliterated amidst the commercial urgings to buy, buy, buy?

Even the twelve-days-of-Christmas, that take us from the Nativity to the visit of the Wise Men on January 6 - Epiphany, the real gift-giving in the Christmas pageant - virtually disappear from notice, since once we've hit the goal of December 25th, all is over (except the post-Christmas sales).

With typically cheeky insolence, a movement is afoot in Britain to provide for a true 'silent night', and a campaign Cage Against the Machine is underway to make John Cage's legendary piano piece, 4'33" the number one Christmas hit in the UK.

It does give one pause.... :-)

Michael Barone


Let's Make an Opera

Posted at 3:39 PM on October 13, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

The dynamics of interactivity are penetrating even the world of opera.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland will be producing a new opera-- "Opera by You"--which anyone can join in creating. This is all happening online, it is needless to say. The project launched earlier this year, and the basic story line has already been selected, but there's still time to help write the libretto, compose the music, design costumes, etc., before the 2012 premiere.

The plot, which is suitably ambitious, revolves around God's displeasure with the misery that humans have created on earth. Accordingly, three remarkable figures from the past are selected to--well, I don't want too give to much away, but you can check out all the details, and participate yourself, at their site.


Virtual Sing-a-long

Posted at 11:30 PM on October 5, 2010 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Fun finds, Musical philosophy

Remember the old Coca-Cola commercial, "I'd like to teach the world to sing?" Well, American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has taken it a step further - inviting the world to sing-a-long online in an attempt create the world's largest virtual choir.

The Juilliard-trained Whitacre, whose first Virtual Choir became a hit on YouTube, aims to combine thousands of individual choral parts sung by people around the world and submitted as video clips for his composition "Sleep."

"I'm delighted to lead what I anticipate to be a big step forward for classical -- and indeed, all -- music," Whitacre said in a statement on record label Decca's website. "I hope this will be a moment in music history for the YouTube generation."

Whitacre's original Virtual Choir became a YouTube hit, receiving 1 million hits in just 60 days. While that project included many professional singers, this is the chance for everyone and anyone to become involved.

Entries to the record attempt will be via YouTube and will include an online tutorial explaining how to record and upload their chosen part. The closing date for entries is the end of 2010.
(thanks to Reuters and my colleague, Julie Amacher)

Magic Number 2. Music to the Ears of Twins Fans

Posted at 2:48 PM on September 21, 2010 by Ward Jacobson (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

The Minnesota Twins (specifically slugger Jim Thome) are on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. Pretty cool if you're a Twins fan, like me - even if there is that dreaded S.I. cover jinx (let's not think about that).

As the Twins sit poised to clinch the American League Central Division title on this final full day of summer, here are just a couple joys of baseball and how they relate to music.

What other sport lets the crowd sing in unison during the game? Gotta' love the 7th inning stretch. Just about everyone seems to enjoy doing this, whether they can carry a tune or not.

By the way, did you know you can mingle with the Twins organist at Target Field? You can, and she's a gem.

And just one more - earlier today, Julie Amacher shared the story about how violinist Gil Shaham (just here over the weekend with the SPCO) once broke his violin bow as a kid using it as a baseball bat. He told his parents he sat on it. Hmmm...knowing how well Shaham uses that bow with the violin, I bet the kid went 4-4 at the plate that day.

Go Twins!


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.

Opera at 30,000 Feet

Posted at 11:32 PM on August 24, 2010 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

And now for something completely different.

On a flight from Manchester to Prague, U.K. based Bmibaby airlines invited members of the Prague State Opera to perform. Check out the video below as soprano Vera Likérová did the honors.

From the Musical America website:
"The spectacle was the first event in the airline's 'enterplanement' season," reports The Telegraph, "which will showcase the best acts from its European destinations over the coming months."

Mozart Mortality: Multiple Choice

Posted at 12:58 PM on August 24, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

OK, class. The death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was caused by:

a. Poisoning
b. Infection
c. Cardiovascular disease
d. Kidney failure
e. Other

What's the right answer? Actually, there's no clear consensus, but one researcher has at least grouped the various conjectures--over 100 of them-- into the five main categories above. Check out this New York Times article for all the theories that are fit to print. (Registration required.)

(By the way: the Austrian National Library has put a huge amount of its newspaper holdings online, going back to the 18th century. You can go to this page to see the death notice for "Hr. Wolf. Amadeus Mozart" on December 5, 1791, the fifth line down. It's in the old blackletter type--harder to read, but for modern eyes, it only adds to the somber mood.)

Friday the 13th fact

Posted at 9:51 AM on August 13, 2010 by Alison Young (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

Gioachino Rossini was one of the millions haunted by the number thirteen and Friday - especially in combination.

In fact Italians for many generations before him saw these two entities as unlucky.

But any fear of the specific day "Friday the 13th" was not recorded until Rossini declared it so, making his claim the earliest reference to this day of bad luck.

So it's rather remarkable that Rossini would leave this earth on a Friday, the 13th in one November back in 1868.

Coincidence? Who knows!


A Mozart Piano?

Posted at 3:50 PM on August 10, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

In a somewhat Antique-Roadshow news story, an 18th-century piano, owned by a German instrument builder, may now turn out to be a piano that Mozart played.

Of course, if that turns out to be so, the price that it could fetch will go up, many times.

There's no question of its age, but the Mozart connection remains to be firmly established. See the whole story here.

Put your stamp on music

Posted at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds

Christine Sweet shared some music-themed postage stamps from around the world with me.

I had no idea Suriname was so into Beethoven!


Classical Games

Posted at 4:18 PM on August 6, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

Anne Midgette has an interesting column on a new trend: the orchestra concert devoted to video-game music.

As Midgette notes, "It's striking that video games, the ultimate pop medium, continue to rely on orchestral sound" -- as opposed to the hip-hop or rock that you might expect. She doesn't offer any theories why this is so, and as someone with little exposure (OK, no exposure) to the world of gaming, I can only guess. Something to do with Hollywood? Comments or explanations, anybody?


Perfect pitch

Posted at 10:23 AM on August 5, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

What do you call a 150-ton diva who lives underwater and never sings off-key?

A Northern Blue Whale.

Science News reports that whales found off the coast of California hit the pitches of their mournful songs with better accuracy and more consistency than opera singers.

The results published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America conclude "blue whales are capable of very fine control over the pitch of their call -- both in reproducing their call at the same pitch every time and in synchronizing their pitch with others."

Music Therapy

Posted at 11:20 AM on August 4, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Listening to Mozart may not make you smarter, but a new study says it can make you happier.

Sergio Castillo-Perez headed up the research at the University of Oaxaca in Mexico and says, "Music offers a simple and elegant way to treat anhedonia, the loss of pleasures in daily activities."

As well, music aids in pain management, though several patients at first weren't interested in music. But in time - and as their symptoms improved - they asked for more music.

Bring it on!


Experienced voices

Posted at 12:25 PM on July 30, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

Did you sing in a high school or college choir and then watched as your singing life slipped away while you started a career, got married and raised a family?

With your AARP card comes a chance to sing again. Voices of Experience is a choir for singers 55 and above, with or without experience.

If you're tired of just being asked to support the arts, this is your chance to BE the art.

Auditions are late August and early September. Call 612-321-0100.

The 260th anniversary of Bach's death

Posted at 12:32 PM on July 29, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

July 28th was the 260th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach.

To celebrate and honor "The Great One" Michael Lawrence - the producer of BACH & friends - shared a new segment not on the web nor in the film - Zuill Bailey's performance of the Saraband from Sebastian's 6th suite for unaccompanied cello (BWV 1012).

Mike writes "Bach's remains may be buried in Leipzig but his music is alive and resonating from the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, Maryland!"

All About the Halls

Posted at 3:22 AM on July 21, 2010 by Ward Jacobson (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

Walking around Boston on a muggy Wednesday morning last week, I made my way to Symphony Hall. Alas, the doors were locked tighter than a clenched fist. All I wanted was a quick glimpse of the place, just a peek inside. But there was no getting in that day.

So I'm curious, oh mighty Classical Notes blog-reader - what's the coolest concert hall you ever set foot in? Details, please.


George Steinbrenner, Opera Fan: 1930-2010

Posted at 9:21 AM on July 13, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

New York Yankee's owner George Steinbrenner has died, nine days after his 80th birthday on the Fourth of July.

Thanks to the Opera Chic blog, we learned then that Steinbrenner was not only one of the most successful owners in baseball history, but also a big opera fan. Check out her blog for a great photo of George conducting the New York Pops Orchestra.

LeBron Likes Classical Music?

Posted at 1:48 AM on July 9, 2010 by Ward Jacobson (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Seems the HEAT has been very much in the news this week. First you had those triple digit temperatures from Washington D.C. to Boston. Then there was the Miami Heat, and their newest superstar, NBA king LeBron James. Maybe you heard about that Thursday.

Well, even though it never came up on last night's hour-long show announcing the team James would play for next year (although having to fill an hour on a ten-second announcement makes me wonder why it DIDN'T come up!), it turns out there may be a little Mozart and/or Beethoven on LeBron's ipod.

Check it out here.


"Mozart Effect, Schmozart Effect"

Posted at 12:23 PM on June 30, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

The saga continues on whether playing classical music has any real effect on the intellect.

Turns out that all music stimulates the brain - so if you love Mozart, your brain will love it too and hence focus a little bit better.

Then again, if Nine Inch Nails is your soundtrack choice, you will experience a similar effect.

Classical Vuvuzela: It's about time!

Posted at 7:51 PM on June 23, 2010 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

With all the fuss about the annoying sound of the Vuvuzela at the World Cup in South Africa, it's high time we heard it put to other uses.
A tip of the hat to the Opera Chic for listing this today, and to the trombone section at the Berlin Konzerthaus:

Meanwhile, some other wacky German Vuvuzelaphiles in Hamburg, test the acoustics of the spectacular new concert hall that's under construction in Hamburg, and designed by Herzog and De Meuron, the architects that gave us the new Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.


There's "Baby Mozart" and now there's "Microbial Mozart"

Posted at 10:49 AM on June 3, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

We may or may not think playing Mozart to our babies makes them smarter, but in Berlin, it's all about the dulcet tones of Mozart making biomass-eating microbes at a sewage plant work harder.

This is no joke! If their theory works, the facility can save about 1,000 Euros per month.

On Your Metal

Posted at 11:19 AM on May 12, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

Top ten lists are always fun. Here's one that lists classical music's ten most metal pieces (as in heavy metal rock). The writer even pairs specific songs by Metallica, Black Sabbath, etc., with classical pieces by such proto-metal masters as Richard Wägner, Antönio Vivaldi, and Dmitri Shostakövich (sorry, couldn't resist).

The Latest Thing from Google

Posted at 10:53 AM on May 7, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

Check out today's design of the Google logo--once again they've customized it to observe a special day.

If you're a fan of this composer, you'll be glad to see him recognized. If you're a fan of design, you may be amused that the artist handles the word "Google" in a way that almost makes it disappear. (It's there, though.)

(Hat tip to Julia Schrenkler of Digital Media)

CSI Vienna

Posted at 10:38 AM on March 26, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

The things you find on the Web . . . . Here's the Case of Mozart and the Crushed Corpse.


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.

Sticky melodies

Posted at 12:35 PM on March 18, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Why is it that I oftentimes immediately forget the name of someone who has just introduced themselves to me, but not for love or money get a commercial jingle out of my head?

A recent Q&A on the New York Times website points to the success of "earworms." It's "music characterized by simplicity, repetitiveness and incongruity with listeners' expectations is most likely to become 'stuck.' "

Good news for advertisers I would think!

Confessions of a Drum Dork

Posted at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2010 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Fun finds, Musician stories

When Jauvon Gilliam heard that the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., was looking for a new timpanist, he wanted that job. Bad.

So on the 26-hour drive from Winnipeg, he called up other professional timpanists along the way and asked to play for them, so that he could get used to playing nervous and in unfamiliar settings.

The prep paid off, and he got the job. Read more about this self-identified "drum dork" and get a peek into a timpanist's world here.

Applause, Applause

Posted at 4:17 PM on March 10, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

When to applaud at classical concerts . . . when not to applaud . . . are there rules, and where did they come from--all this makes for an recurrent and robust theme of discussion in the classical world.

Critic Alex Ross has given this some thought, and in this recent speech, gives some history, some personal observations, and some suggestions.


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 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.

Violin Not a Diva

Posted at 8:11 AM on March 4, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

Today's the birthday of a certain composer, very well-known and frequently played. Google is honoring this person with one of their customized logos.

Go to their page and see if you can figure it out from the artwork. (As always, you can float your cursor over the logo to see the answer.)

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.


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


Piano recall?!

Posted at 12:23 PM on February 19, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds

A Japanes piano-maker has recalled 30,000 pianos due to a problem with pedal sticking, causing pianists to play faster than they normally would, resulting in a dangerous number of accidentals.

Bah-dum- chhhh

(Thanks to Michael Barone for making me laugh this morning)

50 Great Voices

Posted at 4:17 PM on February 17, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

You might just remember that at the end of last year, NPR was soliciting ideas on singers--the greatest, the most distinctive, the most important, etc.--which they would then boil down to a list of 50, to be presented on the air.

Those 50 great voices are now being rolled out, and the choices so far include one very well-known opera singer.

There's a member drive going on--thanks to all of our contributors!

Tenor Fail

Posted at 8:41 PM on February 15, 2010 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

Thanks to Jeff Esworthy for passing along this audio clip, which brightened my day immeasurably! Perhaps we show our humanity at its best when making glorious mistakes like this one. No pussyfooting, just go for the high note:

And to hear how it's really done, here's Luciano; the moment is about 1:10 in:


Mozart and Schubert in Super Bowl Ad

Posted at 2:25 PM on February 9, 2010 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Personally, I think the Super Bowl ad phenomenon peaked about five years ago, but I did take notice of Hyundai's shout out to Mozart and Schubert in one of their 30-second ads promoting the new Hyundai Sonata. The ad referenced both Mozart's B-flat major piano sonata and the Schubert A-minor piano sonata. They chose the 2nd movement Adagio from the Mozart to back the commerical. Don't know if they won any "Best Ad in the Super Bowl" award, or if they'll sell any more cars because of it, but it was nice to hear the music.

Mozart's "The Magic Root Beer Bottles"

Posted at 11:13 AM on February 4, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

Here's a YouTube clip that's currently making the email rounds.

I give this guy a lot of credit, not just for his musical and production chops, but also for not choosing one of the same old classical favorites that gets re-arranged over and over(William Tell, Hallelujah Chorus, Fur Elise. . . .) Actually I give him credit for what he did choose--a section of the Magic Flute overture--since in that opera, panpipes appear, and the instrument that he's playing on is, in effect -- well, just take a look.

Fantasy Bassoon Camp

Posted at 3:13 PM on February 1, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Events, Fun finds

Or viola, or percussion, or piccolo. . . .

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is launching a summer camp for amateur adult instrumentalists. Brush the dust off that old bassoon, and you too could be playing Respighi and Strauss with professional members of the orchestra, under the direction of Marin Alsop.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. Here's more background from the Baltimore Sun and an application.

(The music isn't necessarily that simple either. Take a look at the orchestration of one of the scheduled pieces, Also sprach Zarathustra.)

Most Performed Composers

Posted at 5:11 PM on January 29, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Here's a list for your Friday. Like a lot of lists, it's interesting, puzzling, objection-provoking .... So with that caveat:

A media company called Instant Encore has surveyed classical performances during the past year and calculated composers who were played most often. You can find a few details, and the list itself here.

No surprise that Beethoven and Mozart rank high. I'm a little surprised to see a composer like Bohuslav Martinu come in fairly high. He never composed a "bestseller," though he does have a long list of pieces to his credit. Leonard Bernstein, who does not have a huge list of sonatas, symphonies, chamber works, etc., also shows up fairly high--maybe all those Broadway performances of "West Side Story"? Anyhow. I'm quibbling, so maybe the list is doing its job.

(Disclosure: We sometimes partner with Instant Encore in offering downloads to you, such as this recent recital by Susan Graham.)


It's pays to be nice!

Posted at 12:46 PM on January 15, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

How cool is this - to have your kind words on using kind words get picked up by the Wall Street Journal?

That's what happened to Minneapolis-based flutist Linda Chatterton. Her techniques on using kind, true and helpful words with students and avoid gossip ended up in a larger piece by WSJ Senior Writer Jeff Zaslow.

Conan O'Brien News

Posted at 8:44 AM on January 14, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

I refer of course to tonight's appearance by violinist Hilary Hahn (assuming no last-minute changes. . . .)

Got someting to complain about? SING about it!

Posted at 11:56 AM on January 7, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

There's never been a better time to complain than now - heaps of snow, followed by rain, followed by below zero temps, followed by impossible-to-navigate ice mountains. I can't stand it!

Well here's a creative way to let loose on all my complaints- a complaint choir.

There's even a movie in the making...


From the Hand of Handel

Posted at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

Just in time for tonight's Minnesota Orchestra broadcast of Handel's Messiah, the British Museum has placed their original manuscript draft of the work online.*

There's lots to explore: not just the notes, but audio narration and music samples, program notes, and Handel's own jottings, crossings-out, and a spectacular ink blob on p. 22.

*Plug-in installation may be required.

Jay Leno v. Chanticleer

Posted at 7:10 AM on December 17, 2009 by John Birge (7 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

First, Jay Leno spoofed Chanticleer's performance on the Today Show. Then Chanticleer spoofed back!!

"Gigantic Chin," indeed.


More on the "Is Mozart good for you?" debate

Posted at 7:26 AM on December 13, 2009 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Researchers may argue over whether listening to Mozart makes one smarter, but a new study shows it helps preemies thrive.

Israeli scientists found that playing "Baby Mozart" helped slow premature babies' metabolism, therefore enabling the infants to gain weight.

But what's not clear is whether it's Mozart in particular or classical music in general that is to be credited.


Minnesota, where the support of arts is above-average

Posted at 9:33 AM on December 11, 2009 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

A piece in the Star Tribune caught my eye this morning. A recent survey reports Minnesota ranking high in arts patronage.

But watch out, we're getting edged out by our neighbor to the west!


Workout Tips from the (Opera) Stars

Posted at 3:04 PM on December 10, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

Here's an article on singer Nathan Gunn and the things he does to stay in shape. It's a pretty good workout plan, from the looks of the photos.

No prizes, but do you think it appeared in:

A. Opera News?
B. Men's Health ?
C. Wall Street Journal?

For the answer, and all the details, click here.

Conductors and Batons

Posted at 1:41 PM on December 10, 2009 by Gillian Martin (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

No matter what your line of work, just the right tool can make a big difference in how you perform. For most conductors, that tool is the baton:

The baton is a "living thing, charged with a kind of electricity," Leonard Bernstein once said, "which makes it an instrument of meaning in its tiniest movement."

Read more about conductors and their intimate relationships with their batons in this article.

Warning to the grammatically sensitive: In the course of this article one esteemed conductor uses the word "architect" as a verb. Just so you know.


It Wasn't the Varnish

Posted at 1:19 PM on December 7, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

One of the persistent questions about the sought-after string instruments made by Antonio Stradivari has to do with the varnish. Why are Stradivari's violins prized above all others? Could it be the varnish had some secret ingredient, some special blend whose mystery died with Stradivari himself?

One more myth has been punctured: we're now told that the varnish itself was nothing out of the ordinary; more details here.

There's an interesting quote buried in the article: "He was an outstandingly skilled craftsman who had mastered the art of violin making." In other words, the reason that Strads are so good could be the same reason that Mozart symphonies are good: they're made by someone who was very, very good at making them.

That said, I suspect we haven't heard the last about varnishes, glues, the quality of 17th century wood, etc., etc., etc. The idea of the "secret of Stradivari" may be too enticing to let go.

Using Handel to get out of a tight situation

Posted at 9:00 AM on December 2, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds

An 80-year-old ex-chorister put his pipes to good use, singing the "Halleluiah Chorus" to get the attention of someone who might help him out while he was in the hospital.

Thanks to Jeff Esworthy for sharing this and making me laugh this morning!

VocalEssence: The Twelve Days of Minnesota

Posted at 10:20 PM on November 30, 2009 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Programs

Our friends at VocalEssence, with help from Target, are ringing in the season with a new take on an old carol:

Twelve trucks a-towing,
Eleven plastic Santas,
Ten thousand lakes,
Nine warming houses,
Eight skaters skating,
Seven Snoopy statues,
Six loons a-laying,
Five hours of sun,
Four Fargo jokes,
Three salt bags,
Two "ya, you betchas,"
and a giant cherry on a huge spoon!

BTW, Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence join Kerri Miller December 2nd at 10a on MPR News. They'll broadcast from the Maud Moon Weyerhaueser Studio with a sneak preview of their "Welcome Christmas" concerts which begin this Sunday. And I'll be doing pre-concert conversations with this years' carol contest winners before the Welcome Christmas concerts on December 6 and 13. And of course we'll broadcast our annual Welcome Christmas holiday special on Classical MPR December 16 at 7pm. But if you want to listen early, it's already online here.

Meanwhile, the CPI is out: the Christmas Price Index.
Each year PNC Wealth Management tallies up the price all the items in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." This year, the bad economy is good news for your true love; the Christmas Price Index increased by a modest 1.8% compared to last year.

The Partridge in a Pear Tree is down 27% percent to $159.99.
Six Geese-a-Laying are down a sizable 38% percent at $150.00.
Four Calling Birds were unchanged, while Three French Hens gained 50%.

The eight Maids-a-Milking received an automatic raise for the third straight year due to another increase in the federal minimum wage.
Rising unemployment held wages steady for Drummers Drumming, Pipers Piping, and Lords-a-Leaping, while Ladies Dancing increased 15% percent to $5,473.07.

The sharp rise in gold prices pushed Five Gold Rings up 43% to $499.95.

This year, buying everything in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" carol will cost you $21,465.56, just $385.46 more than last year.

You can read the details, and download the complete spreadsheet, here.


Music for Black Friday

Posted at 7:22 AM on November 26, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds

Just a little silliness, but you may find yourself singing this if you find what you're looking for at the price you want on Black Friday. Enjoy!

Don't Just Sit There, Do Something!

Posted at 12:37 PM on November 23, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, Musical philosophy, Musician stories

When you go to a concert, do you want to see the musicians comporting themselves in a dignified fashion, with no more bodily motion than the minimum required?

Or should they really get into it?

At least in a teaching situation, Sir Simon Rattle favors the latter option. Read this account of his master class where he tells the young orchestral players, "You cannot sit there like lumps!"

Virtuoso or "finger-merchant?"

Posted at 10:33 AM on November 6, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musical philosophy

Just read an interesting piece about pianists as super-heroes, raising the issue of whether a piano soloist's job is to wow us with pyrotechnics or make beautiful music (hopefully both.)

It brought to mind a conversation I had with the visiting artist Kirill Gerstein about playing even etudes musically!

Classical Grrl Power

Posted at 9:43 PM on November 4, 2009 by John Birge
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

The BBC reports that Durham Cathedral, one of the England's oldest and largest, has admitted girls to its traditional choir of men and boys. The girls sang Evensong last Sunday. Going forward, the choir will have 20 boys and 20 girls, most girls between the ages of nine and eleven. It's the end of a tradition that goes back to the year 1640, and as The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove put it: "It is not often that we can genuinely say that we are making history in a cathedral as old as this."

From 1703 to 1741, Antonio Vivaldi spent the last 38 years of his life as teaching and conducting the all-girl orchestra at the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice. It was a home for orphaned, abandoned, or illegitimate girls. Music was a primary activity, and the level of instruction was so high that some parents would try to pass off their legitimate children as illegitimate in order to get them in! A plaque outside Vivaldi's school warned that anyone who attempted this fraud would be struck by lightning.

The Seika Girls' High School Band of Japan isn't restricted to orphans, but it's one of the best in the world. Hey, forget the Supremes and all those other Girl Groups of the '60s; the precision and passion in this video is stunning. Check out the powerful low brass section; they put many college-age bands to shame. (BTW, props to my old friend Aaron Brask of the Jacksonville Symphony for passing this along...)

"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.

Messiaen as performance art

Posted at 2:47 PM on October 23, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

When Olivier Messiaen was a prisoner of war, he composed one of the most astonishing pieces of music of the 20th century: "The Quartet for the End of Time."

It's said that Messiaen suffered from Synesthesia - the neurological condition that blurs the senses. Messiaen called it "colored hearing." So it seems only natural that the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center would create a music video of painters in the act of creating vivid and colorful art to the music of Messiaen.

Thanks to Michael Barone for finding this video!

First Listen to Cecilia Bartoli, via NPR

Posted at 4:05 PM on October 20, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Cecilia Bartoli has a new disc coming out, and NPR is offering listeners a chance to listen, and to download a track: the aria "Ombra mai fu," also known as""Handel's Largo."

(This disc is meant to be noticeable not just musically, but also visually--check out the cover art.)

When in Stockholm, Take the Stairs

Posted at 9:14 AM on October 20, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

There's a subway station in Stockholm that's making it much more interesting to take the steps instead of the escalator.

Volkswagen came up with the idea in an attempt to get more people to exercise. The subway stairs have been transformed into a giant, functioning piano keyboard, like the one made famous by Tom Hanks in the movied BIG.

Check it out for yourself here.

A full subway recital by some nimble musician can't be far behind. Stay tuned.

(thanks to Blythe Riske for sharing)

Classical is back, baby!

Posted at 12:35 PM on October 18, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

The "dude's" in his new gig and the city of angels is going wild.

Quincy Jones offered his opinion: "Gustavo is the ultimate classical rock star. What he brings to Los Angeles is a transcendence of musical talent. Classical is back, baby!"

Who Cares if You Boo?

Posted at 2:28 PM on October 15, 2009 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

Here's a note from the website of conductor Leonard Slatkin, about "change in the air" at the Detroit Symphony.

It dates from September 23--but there's more than a whiff of April 1 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.

Sing Outside the YouTube

Posted at 6:37 AM on October 5, 2009 by John Birge
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

Along with the start of their new season, the Minneapolis choral ensemble VocalEssence just unveiled a new video to communicate the essence of their artistic mission: Sing Outside the Box:

Meanwhile, as reported earlier in this space, the Minnesota Opera also has viral video aspirations, except they prefer to Sing Inside the Shower:

The Metropolitan OPRAH?

Posted at 4:04 AM on October 2, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

This is not a quiz - but I'm guessing just about everybody reading this is more than a little familiar with the term opera.

Across the pond though, it seems the average Brit's ignorance of classical music has been exposed. In fact, according to a new survey, over half the people of Blackpool (population 150,000) think opera is the name of an American chat show host. Turns out, all but 25% of the U.K.'s entire population has not been to a live opera.

Oh, but there's more. Like Beethoven....a mutt?

Read more about it here.

There's only one thing to say:

Posted at 2:08 PM on September 29, 2009 by Alison Young (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds



Stephen Hough: Foot Fetish?

Posted at 8:49 AM on September 29, 2009 by John Birge
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

You might wonder, after reading recent blog posts by this superb English pianist currently performing in Minneapolis.

Last week, he featured the fashion-forward feet of friend and former Juilliard colleague Bob Neu, now VP of the Minnesota Orchestra:



A few days later, Hough featured his own feet -- au naturel, this time -- at a local Nicollette Avenue pedicurist:


Be sure to tune in for Hough's live broadcast this Friday night at 8p on Classical MPR!

Report from 10th and Marquette

Posted at 3:41 PM on September 23, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

Pianist Stephen Hough is blogging about his travels, and specifically--since he's back in our area, preparing for the opening weeks of the Minnesota Orchestra's season--what he's encountering in downtown Minneapolis. The sights! The tastes! The socks!

How Long Have You Been a Fan?

Posted at 4:22 PM on September 21, 2009 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musical philosophy

When did your interest in classical music begin? Childhood? Late in life? In between?

Here's an article by Matt Aucoin, a nineteen-year-old college student, who goes to symphony concerts (when not listening to Radiohead and Arcade Fire), and asks that question of his fellow concertgoers. The answer he gets prompts his own thoughts on the much-debated theme of the "graying of the audience" -- and his own recommendations.


New from Nouvel, and only $600 Million!

Posted at 9:21 PM on September 16, 2009 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds

The world's most expensive concert hall has just opened in Copenhagen with a price tag of nearly $600M! That's nearly five times the amount spent on the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which was designed by the same architect, Jean Nouvel.

The Copenhagen Concert Hall was built for Danish Radio, the public broadcaster in Denmark. The New York Times calls it "beautifully resilient emotional sanctuary... a little corner of utopia in a world where walls are collapsing."


And it's getting good reviews for its sound as well. Click here for a review, and interior photo.



Posted at 4:33 PM on September 16, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musical philosophy

Andrew Sullivan's page at the Atlantic Monthly tends to be about things like foreign policy and health care, but a recent entry by Jonah Lehrer (prompted in turn by an Alex Ross article) is about musical improvisation.

If I get his point about the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and so forth, improvisation is less about "just playing something" than being in a "unique mental mode." (Which makes sense--otherwise couldn't we all be Mozarts and Miles Davises?)

Music from the birds

Posted at 1:26 PM on September 16, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds

It wasn't Hitchcock Brazilian composer Jarbas Agnelli was thinking when he saw this picture in a newspaper. It was a stave and the melodies and harmonies the birds had "written." The composer promises no photoshop was needed!

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Fur Elise = Found Elise

Posted at 8:13 AM on September 8, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

If you know any classical piano pieces at all, you're likely to know Beethoven's "Fur Elise" ("For Elise").

But who was this Elise for whom the piece was written? No one knew for sure. The most widely held theory (promulgated in this space, in fact) was that she was a friend of Beethoven's, actually named Therese.

Now a German musicologist has a new explanation. She was an acquaintance of Beethoven's who has been overlooked till now, and her name was Elise after all (or pretty close).Read all about it!

It's easy being green

Posted at 6:16 PM on September 6, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Microsoft and Intel are behind a new study that found that downloading music is substantially better for the environment than buying compact discs.

In fact, one can reduce her carbon imprint by 40 to 80 percent.

But that would be if she drove her car to the store. If she preferred to bike or walk, the carbon offset of buying vs. downloading is "nearly equivalent."

Boheme, Two Ways

Posted at 1:57 PM on September 2, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Glimpses at two very different cinematic takes on La Boheme.....

This first one, due for US release this month, has a traditional look and a starry cast (Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon).

Meanwhile, director Werner Herzog contrasts Puccini's music with images of Ethiopia and the Mursi people.

Listening to music is just monkey-business

Posted at 1:37 PM on September 2, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musical philosophy, Musician stories

He's a cellist and composer but his study has all the hallmarks of scientific research.

David Teie is working on a theory that explains the effect of music on emotions.

It sounds simple enough: we react to music that reminds us of familiar sounds like laughter, heartbeats, or a mother's cooing. But he's not using humans to prove his theory, rather he's using our ancestors, monkeys.

Austrian town of Mozart 's pit-stop celebrates with festival

Posted at 12:44 PM on August 27, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Fun finds

Washington may have slept here and Lincoln had lunch there, but Lower Raschala in Austria has the claim to fame of Mozart making a pit-stop to relieve himself.

Though the town plans to have a song festival - with lots of drinking - they have asked visitors not to use their monument (the "Pinkelstein") as Mozart did in the hopes of showing a little bit more respect for the great man.

Thanks to Jeff Esworthy for sharing this article!

Sounds of the Fair, Online

Posted at 10:57 AM on August 26, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Events, Fun finds

Going to the State Fair? Or maybe you're part of the Minnesota diaspora, and are thinking State Fair thoughts even though you won't be getting up to Falcon Heights in person?

To go with this time of year, Bill Morelock has put together a Minnesota music mix that you can listen to online. Mark Wheat of the Current and Dale Connelly of Radio Heartland have contributed their lists too--scroll down to find Classical.

Minnesota composers, Minnesota groups, Minnesota soloists. . . . (And what, you may ask, is Copland's "El Salon Mexico" doing on a Minnesota playlist? Listen, and find out.)

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.

A Handy Man for Classical Music

Posted at 1:19 AM on August 20, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

I have always been a big fan of James Taylor.

Now I'm an even bigger fan.

The singer/songwriter plans to donate his $500,000 in earning from a five-day music festival at Tanglewood next week to the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The Boston Globe reported that Taylor decided to donate his earnings because he and his wife are concerned about diminishing support for classical music. The couple also donated over $700,000 between 2005 and 2008 to the orchestra, which makes is summer home at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts.

Bravo, JT.

Understanding Tone-Deafness

Posted at 8:37 PM on August 18, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

If a person can't carry a tune, it's not the ears that are at fault, but the brain--or so a new study suggests.

Read a layman's version of the results here, or a more sophisticated version here.

Mozart's Death: Strep Throat?

Posted at 8:51 AM on August 18, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

There has been plenty of speculation about what caused the premature death of Mozart a month short of his 36th birthday in 1791. Watch the 1984 movie Amadeus and you may come away thinking Mozart was poisoned by Antonio Salieri. Personally, I never bought into that. The latest theory? Perhaps it was a bad case of strep throat that ended Mozart's life. Thanks to Performance Today's Suzanne Schaffer for the heads up.

What do you get when you stuff over 2,000 flutists in one room?

Posted at 12:42 PM on August 16, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Fun finds

A world record!

The National Flute Association e-mailed me over the weekend to tell me they did it: broke the record for largest flute ensemble at their convention in New York City.

I don't have any official numbers just yet, but they say they beat out the Chinese record set in July of 1,975 flautists.

I'll post something official when I get it, but for now here's what the warm up sounded like:

"Is there a pianist in the house?!"

Posted at 9:19 AM on August 14, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

For your Friday, a heartwarming story of how conductor Bramwell Tovey saved the day for one grateful young couple.

Thanks to Performance Today's Suzanne Schaffer for the tip.

This is Your Brain on the Pentatonic Scale

Posted at 10:55 AM on August 11, 2009 by Gillian Martin (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Musical philosophy

The pentatonic (five note) scale (e.g., just the black notes on a piano) shows up in indigenous folk music from all over the world, from the British Isles to West Africa to Asia.

The scale seems to be hard-wired into the human brain--or so this video suggests. It features Bobby McFerrin, former Creative Chair for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, at this summer's World Science Festival in New York City.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Thanks to my friend N. Jeanne Burns and her friend Elliot for the tip.


Grand Opera, from the Shower to the Soccer Stadium

Posted at 8:54 PM on August 10, 2009 by John Birge
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, The blog

Sure, the Three Tenors started out at the 1990 World Cup soccer finals.
But when it comes to soccer, they've got nothing on these opera stars from down under:

And as a bonus, a slightly more, um, intimate operatic television spot from our friends at Minnesota Opera, featuring the sudsy tenor James Valenti.
Call this one a soap opera:

Mark O'Connor's Americana

Posted at 10:27 AM on August 10, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

Maybe you've heard us play some of fiddler Mark O'Connor's Americana Symphony on the air. Here's a link to a video that tells you a little more about the man and his music.

Thanks to Michael Barone for the tip.


Posted at 9:15 AM on August 5, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

Some inadvertent humor in this headline:

"Man Pleads Not Guilty in Stolen Violin Case"

Full story here. (Tip of the hat to Fred Child on this one.)

Hear the New Mozart

Posted at 1:21 PM on August 4, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Programs

In case you missed it: some recent discoveries of music by the young Mozart got a lot of press over the weekend, when the "new" pieces were performed for the first time in Salzburg. To hear them, go to the Performance Today Web site.

We sing how we feel

Posted at 9:17 AM on August 4, 2009 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musical philosophy

Playing one of the most tender songs by Schubert this morning with words that celebrate music itself, I happened to glance at the New York Times and noticed an article in the Health section: Does a Nation's Mood Lurk in Its Songs and Blogs?

New research from the University of Vermont argues that studying lyrics give us clues as to a nation's well-being.

For Americans, analyzing the lyrics from pop-culture might give us a different result than from the classical world. Think Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" or Charles Ives "He is There!" or Old American Songs arranged by Aaron Colpand; all filled with optimism, wonder and a little humor.


Mozart can make you smarter, but only if you're not a musician

Posted at 11:35 AM on August 3, 2009 by Alison Young (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

Eating my lunch in Saint Paul's Mears Park the other day, I was accompanied by a bubbling brook and a Mozart concerto from the loud-speakers. It certainly made me feel relaxed and focused, but not a whole lot sharper.

This is because the whole "Mozart Effect" - that listening to Mozart would make children progress quicker, students study harder and everyone just a notch above-average - has been proven to be bunk.

But a new study out by researchers in London says "stop the music!" There is indeed a Mozart effect, just not quite what was once expected. Only non-musicians experience better cognitive skills (at mental rotation tasks) after listening to Mozart. Musicians notice no change because they're already more proficient in those tasks than those who don't make music.

So maybe you should take up those singing lessons afterall!


Mozart's Magic Bells

Posted at 5:21 PM on July 29, 2009 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

An Australian ensemble has "rediscovered" the sound of the bells that play a big part in Mozart's "Magic Flute"--a sound which, it's claimed, has been lost for generations.

How to be certain that this is the same sound that Mozart knew? .... Well, I suspect there's a lot more scholarly research behind this than this article can go into. Meanwhile this instrument is fun to hear and to look at (check out the slide show and audio).


New Mozart!

Posted at 12:29 AM on July 28, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

A busy (and prolific) composer like Mozart was writing for the moment, not organizing his papers for posterity. So it's not surprising that a few things got lost or forgotten along the way.

The International Mozarteum Foundation announced last week that two previously undiscovered piano pieces by Mozart had been found. They're being closed-mouth about the details right now, but all will be revealed next week, when pianist Florian Birsak performs the pieces in Mozart's hometown of Salzburg.

Thanks to webmaster Michael Wells for the tip.

Kitten on the Keys

Posted at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds

Nora, the piano-playing cat? An orchestral background written (quite skillfully) around her tentative pawings?

This one's making the rounds.

Music & Medicine

Posted at 3:12 PM on July 16, 2009 by Gillian Martin (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

At the risk of getting the FDA involved, I wanted to point out a couple of recent articles about the health benefits of listening to music. Any kind of music, not just classical.

One study shows that listening to music can help stroke patients more quickly recover their memory and their ability to concentrate.

In another study, surgical patients who listened to music post-operatively spent less time in intensive care.

The doctor in the second study concludes, "The financial cost of utilizing music with ICU patients is relatively small compared to the potential economic benefits." Maybe classical radio stations can get in on health care reform somehow...


Michael Jackson and Classical Music

Posted at 10:51 AM on July 13, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

According to one musician who met him earlier this year, Michael Jackson had more interest in classical music than you might expect. Details here.

Another Good Year for MN Opera

Posted at 6:25 AM on July 12, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, Musician stories

At a time when so many arts organizations around the country are folding, or on the brink of doing so, I was excited to see that the Minnesota Opera finished its fiscal year in the black yet again. Read more about it here.

Another Opera Mishap

Posted at 10:52 AM on July 10, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Fun finds, Musician stories

From the accident-prone world of opera comes news that while singing Rossini's Barber of Seville, mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato broke one of the bones in her leg -- but carried on and completed the performance.

And if that suggests any plays on words. . . . well, they've been thought of already. Here's her own account of that night, puns and all.

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