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!(0 Comments)
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?
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.
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.
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:
Composing for an ever-changing series. http://t.co/wgxil11qns— John Lunn (@jlunn13) March 11, 2014
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.
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.(1 Comments)
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.)
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:
No 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.
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.
(And btw, Ida's husband is Steven Tenenbom, violist in the Orion String Quartet. He's as much into the family dogs as Ida...)
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 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."
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
Mrs. Hughes: Grace Williams
Mr. Molesley: Gian Carlo Menotti
Mr. Carson: Maurice Duruflé
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.
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.
A FILCHED DERRIERE GONG
HERBAL DINGDONG VINE
GAGA FEZ WARMS LOAM DONUT
EXPERTS VIEWED LLAMA
HENS HARM BANJOS
NEON CRABS THRUM
OUR NICE BIG CHILI
A GLUM HARVEST
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
"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.
Mark 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.
Another 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."
Mark 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.(5 Comments)
Benjamin 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!
Rosza Center for the Performing Arts in Houghton, Mich. (photo by A.K. Hoagland)
For mid-November, it's a nice day for a road trip. That's good for Classical MPR's Jeff Esworthy, who today is heading up to Houghton, Mich., for a performance of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce Of 1914 by Twin Cities-based male vocal ensemble, Cantus. The performance takes place Saturday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m., at the Rosza Center for the Performing Arts.
In addition to conducting a pre-concert interview and introducing Cantus to the stage on Saturday night, Esworthy is interested in learning more about Houghton. "I want to check out the copper-mining history," Esworthy says. "The Native people used to mine it before Europeans came, and legend has it that you used to be able to just pick up raw copper off the ground."
Are you in Houghton? What would you recommend Jeff Esworthy do to take in some local history and local flavor? Share your comments below.
History seems to be the theme for the weekend. The production by Cantus, All Is Calm, recalls the remarkable World War I truce that occurred between Allied Forces and German soldiers on Christmas eve, 1914. The production is loosely based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noël, which tells the same story. Here's that film's trailer:
The 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.
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:
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:
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!)(1 Comments)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Jeremy Denk, the compelling and persuasive artist, American concert pianist, avid chamber musician, exploratory in his choice of repertoire has now moved from the ivory keyboard of his Steinway to his dimly lit laptop to become a writer for none other than the New York Times' book reviews.
Last Thursday (April 12th, 2012), Denk was published in the New York Times Book Review, an honor not stopping at simple publication. His review boasts the largest thumbnail picture on the page — the featured article!
The book: The Great Animal Orchestra written by Bernie Krause, a self-proclaimed child prodigy, folk musician, author and soundscape recordist in a newly coined term called biophony.
Krause's book comes years after his short stint with folk ensemble The Weavers, some exploration into electronic music, creating the synthesizer group Beaver & Krause (which you can hear with bands such as The Monkeys, The Byrds, The Doors and Stevie Wonder) and then years spent in the Muir Woods recording the sounds of nature.
As Denk puts it, the book "resembles a howl more than an argument" as Krause exposes our abandonment and exile of the world's sound. Krause uses scientific data, his own observation, and some hearsay in order to criticize our entire human culture as wall-building and ignorant of the beautiful array of sound in nature that is as much creative as it is practical.
This prominent review is no doubt a great honor for Jeremy Denk. But isn't this a story Westerners have been hearing about for quite some time — disillusionment and numbness to our world. As we continue down the overstated economic downturn, as education continues to be left to simmer on the back-burner, as our political system becomes unconscionably polarized (and no less corrupt), and as our religious and spiritual selves become bankrupt we are left with no choice but to turn toward nature, to seek refuge for some morsel of the sacred.
It is not as though our experience with nature is in anyway unique, quite the opposite. Rather, it seems a bit uncanny because of its nostalgia and necessity, a sort of overcompensation.
I can remember that during college the only refuge I had from the abundance of assigned papers, endless nights cut by the wedge of a coffee-induced stare, countless performances and the occasional breakdown was the soundscape piece by Steve Reich called "Music for 18 Musicians." This hour-long, harmonically swirling pulse would drive me into a trance. Often I would find myself with arms wide, leaning back, head held erect as I mentally wandered the mountain ranges of Montana (the place where I spent my summers), forgetting that I was sitting in a crowded computer lab lit by florescent bulbs.
Whether your experience with societal life is a positive or negative one, Jeremy Denk's review sheds light on the offerings of Bernie Krause's book The Great Animal Orchestra, a reawakening to the harmony and melody of nature.
After you peruse the review and maybe even the book, take time to notice the sounds of the world and think of your own refuge...
On a side note (and shamelessly promoting the Twin Cities music scene)... Jeremy Denk will be playing two separate concert series here in Saint Paul this weekend. The first, a series featuring works by Charles Ives, Mauricio Kagel and György Ligeti is showing from April 19-21. The second, featuring works by Edward Elgar, Hugo Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev, Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák showing from April 20-22. Get your tickets at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's website.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
via Spike Jonze
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!
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:
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.
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?
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!
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?(3 Comments)
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. . . .
Thanks Brian Newhouse for sending this amazing animated short my way. It once again underscores the power of music!
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!
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.
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.... :-)
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.
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)
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!(2 Comments)
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.
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."
OK, class. The death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was caused by:
c. Cardiovascular disease
d. Kidney failure
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.)
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!(2 Comments)
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.
Christine Sweet shared some music-themed postage stamps from around the world with me.
I had no idea Suriname was so into Beethoven!
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?(1 Comments)
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."
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!
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.
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!"
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.(1 Comments)
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.
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.(1 Comments)
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.
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.(1 Comments)
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.
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).
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)
The things you find on the Web . . . . Here's the Case of Mozart and the Crushed Corpse.(1 Comments)
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.
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!
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.
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.(1 Comments)
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.
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.)
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.(1 Comments)
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.
(Thanks to Michael Barone for making me laugh this morning)
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
(The music isn't necessarily that simple either. Take a look at the orchestration of one of the scheduled pieces, Also sprach Zarathustra.)
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.)(1 Comments)
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.
I refer of course to tonight's appearance by violinist Hilary Hahn (assuming no last-minute changes. . . .)
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...
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.
First, Jay Leno spoofed Chanticleer's performance on the Today Show. Then Chanticleer spoofed back!!
"Gigantic Chin," indeed.(7 Comments)
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.
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!(1 Comments)
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.
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.(1 Comments)
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.
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!
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.(2 Comments)
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!
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!"
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!
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...)
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.
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!
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.)
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)
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!"
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 . . .
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!
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.(1 Comments)
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.(1 Comments)
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?)
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!
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!
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."
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.
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.
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!
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.)
What is the sound of 1000 ukuleles playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy?
Well, it's quieter than you might expect.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Thanks to Performance Today's Suzanne Schaffer for the tip.
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.
Thanks to my friend N. Jeanne Burns and her friend Elliot for the tip.(2 Comments)
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.(1 Comments)
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!
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).
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.
Nora, the piano-playing cat? An orchestral background written (quite skillfully) around her tentative pawings?
This one's making the rounds.
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...(1 Comments)
According to one musician who met him earlier this year, Michael Jackson had more interest in classical music than you might expect. Details here.
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.
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.