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Classical Notes

Category Archive: In the media

Music for Remembering

Posted at 12:01 AM on January 27, 2015 by Luke Taylor (0 Comments)
Filed under: Events, In the media

Fountain of the Righteous outside the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill. (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

Before video-streaming services, people turned to television to view Rodgers and Hammerstein's telling of the Von Trapp family's musical ascent and their subsequent escape from Austria after the Anschluss. Nearly every year during my childhood, my family and I watched The Sound of Music on TV, captivated by the story and the songs.

One year stands out in particular. When I was about seven years old, the next morning after watching the film, I sat at our kitchen table with scrap paper and crayons. A confusing image lingered in my mind from the previous night's viewing, so I began tracing the jagged symbol I had seen in the film — something my childish brain took to mean not much more than "the bad guys." In the midst of this naïve artistic endeavor, my dad walked into the kitchen and stopped me. "We don't ever draw that," he said firmly.

Putting my crayons aside, he proceeded to explain — in terms perfectly tailored to a boy, aged seven — the Holocaust. He described how men, women and children were taken away and murdered for no other reason than for being Jewish. Because one of my very first friends was Ari, a boy in my neighborhood who often came out to play wearing a yarmulke, there was added poignancy to what my father said.

Since that early conversation with my dad, my grasp of the atrocity and scale of the Holocaust has been reinforced through reading The Diary of Anne Frank at school and by reading Elie Wiesel's Night and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning at college. I've been able to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and just last year, I visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill., for the first time.

The latter two articulated the fact that the Holocaust happened in modern times. Although people in the 1930s and '40s didn't carry smartphones, their lifestyle was a lot like ours: They listened to the radio. They went to the movies. They lived in cities and worked in offices and drove cars and used public transit and cooked dinner and washed dishes and went shopping and wore clothes not much different from our own.

And they listened to music.

January 27, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In his book, Desperate Journey, Auschwitz survivor Freddie Knoller describes growing up in Vienna and loving music. After the Anschluss, he fled his native Austria for Belgium, where he worked for a while as a cellist in a young people's orchestra. When Belgium was invaded, Knoller was forced to flee again, and advised to carry only the essentials. "My cello was not an essential, but how I hated leaving it behind," Knoller writes. "With its loss, I felt I was leaving part of myself, the part which tied me to my life in Vienna, to my parents. When I played, I always thought of home."

Knoller's parents died at Auschwitz. Knoller himself lived as a refugee for a few years but was ultimately transported to the death camp. By dint of his unrelenting survival instinct and no small amount of random luck, Knoller survives to this day.

Viktor Ullmann, a composer, conductor and pianist, did not survive. His music, however, lives on, as evidenced by this recording of his Violin Concerto No. 3, from the album, Uplifting Discoveries from a Generation Lost: Music of composers who died in the Holocaust (Centaur 2342). Ullmann's work is performed by the Colorado Chamber Players:

It stirs recollection of a lesson about the Holocaust from another family member, my maternal grandfather. During World War II, he had been part of an Allied railway brigade, charged with rebuilding the rail infrastructure as the Axis powers retreated from North Africa, Italy, France and ultimately, into Germany.

Sadly, Alzheimer's Disease mercilessly stole my grandfather's delightful wit and steel-trap memory in his final years, but there was a late moment of lucidity that remains permanently inscribed in my mind. It was something he had never told me before.

He and I were watching television, and a news story about a Holocaust commemoration came on. My grandfather spoke, his tone angry. "There are people who say that didn't happen," he spat incredulously. "But I saw it — I saw those people liberated from the camps. Their faces —" he gripped his own face and squeezed his cheeks together to describe the emaciated survivors' appearances. "I saw it. It happened. Don't forget that."

With stories and with ceremonies and with music, people the world over take time to remember.


Music world reacts to Paris attack

Posted at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2015 by Fred Child
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Police forces gather in street outside the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday, after armed gunmen stormed the offices. (Martin Bereau AFP/Getty Images)

On tomorrow's Performance Today, we're broadcasting a concert recording from Paris, from a venue very close to today's Charlie Hebdo attack.

Musicians are among the millions around the world who have reacted with shock, anger, and in many cases, with new resolve to the Charlie Hebdo attack.

American cellist Alisa Weilerstein tweeted "Long Live Freedom of Speech." And she used the hashtag "#JeSuisCharlie." I am Charlie.

Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola lives and works in Paris. He tweeted "with all my heart near my friends in Paris."

The Martha Graham Dance company tweeted: "We stand in solidarity with artists from all over the world: for freedom of speech and expression. #jesuischarlie."

How should … and how CAN artists respond … to violence?

Three days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, conductor Leonard Bernstein wrote: "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

And I'm reminded of a conversation I had recently with composer John Luther Adams. We talked about how artists respond to terrible events in the world.

He mentioned the great painter, Claude Monet. At the height of World War I, Monet retreated to the gardens of his home in the French countryside. Not simply as an escape: his own son was in the war. The front moved to within about 30 miles of the garden. But still — every day — Monet stepped outside … and painted water lilies. In full awareness of what was going on around him. Composer John Luther Adams picks up the story from there.

"He confided to a friend that he felt guilty pursuing his 'little studies,' as he put it, of form and color, while so many people were dying and suffering. The irony is that those last paintings of the water lilies were his greatest gift to a troubled world. So that spoke to me the imperative of art in our times … and in all times."

On behalf of each one of us at Performance Today: Je suis Charlie.

Piano stores closing as instrument sales plummet

Posted at 2:03 PM on January 5, 2015 by Jay Gabler (4 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

Piano 425.jpg

Between 30,000 and 40,000 pianos are now sold every year in the United States. That might sound like a lot given that each new instrument runs thousands of dollars, but it actually represents the bottom (for now) of a long-term decline for the past century-plus. 364,500 pianos were sold in 1909, when the country's population was much smaller: that was one new piano for every 248 Americans, whereas the current ratio is approximately one new piano for every 9,000 Americans.

The reasons for this decline are many, but piano retailers interviewed for a recent Associated Press report say that fewer and fewer kids are learning to play. "Computer technology has just changed everything about what kids are interested in," says one retailer. "People are interested in things that don't take much effort, so the idea of sitting and playing an hour a day to learn piano is not what kids want to do."

Of course, playing piano is just one side of the equation: the other is listening. 1909 was before the radio era, let alone TV and the Internet, so an evening of family entertainment was much more likely to involve live music than it does today. The electronic revolution has also led to the invention of a wide range of electronic keyboards that are more affordable and flexible than full-size acoustic instruments — so fewer pianos doesn't necessarily mean fewer pianists.

Still, the Associated Press report is getting a lot of attention from people who hope that, as America's pastimes change, live music will continue to be heard in the home — and school. Classical MPR has recently joined an initiative founded to raise awareness about the importance of music education; if the decline in piano sales troubles you and you'd like to ensure that future generations continue to have the opportunity to learn how to play musical instruments, visit the site for Music Makes Us Whole.


Rules are clarified for flying with instruments

Posted at 12:00 PM on January 2, 2015 by Luke Taylor (4 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

View while in flight (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final rule to implement section 304 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 regarding the carriage of musical instruments as carry-on or checked baggage on commercial passenger flights. The rule was published on Dec. 29, 2014, and signed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx; the rules go effective 60 days from that date.

According to the background information in the publication, Section 403 of the act already requires U.S. air carriers to accept musical instruments on flights as either checked or carry-on baggage, but acknowledges that musicians were encountering inconsistency while traveling. Members of the string ensemble Time for Three, for example, have experienced difficulties, as documented by violinist Nick Kendall and by bassist Ranaan Meyer. Other musicians, meanwhile, have brought instruments on board and have even performed while in flight.

To address all this, in July 2014, the DOT convened a "Flying with Musical Instruments" meeting to give airline representatives, musicians and government officials a way to share ideas about how to resolve challenges. The new ruling came out of those sessions.

Highlights of the new ruling include:

  • "… carriers must allow a passenger to carry into the cabin and stow a small musical instrument, such as a violin or guitar, in a suitable baggage compartment, such as the overhead bin or udner the seats in accordance with FAA safety regulations."

  • "For some musical instruments that are too large to fit in the cabin stowage areas … it is sometimes possible to secure them to a seat as 'seat baggage' or 'cargo in passenger cabin' … FAA safety regulations do not mandate that a carrier must allow in their carry-on baggage programs the stowage of a large carry-on item on a passenger seat … We do, however, encourage these carriers to consider modifying their programs to allow the stowage of large musical instruments at passenger seats, provided that all safety requirements are met."

  • "When assigning a seat that will be used to transport a musical instrument as cargo in the passenger cabin, carriers must not assign a seat where the instrument may obscure other passengers' view of safety signs that are required to remain visible."

  • "With respect to the cost to a passenger to transport a musical instrument on a passenger seat … carriers cannot charge the passenger more than the price of a ticket for the additional seat … However, this does not preclude carriers from charging standard ancillary service fees."

  • "… this rule requires carriers to accept musical instruments in the cargo compartment as checked baggage if those instruments comply with the size and weight limitations … we conclude that carriers may impose the same checked-baggage charges that apply to other checked baggage of that size and weight."

  • "The rule would require most covered carriers with specific policies about transportation of musical instruments to modify these policies to comply with the rule requirements; update written, electronic, and phone guidance provided to customers; and ensure that gate agents, flight crews, and baggage handlers are aware of these requirements."

The DOT publication also provides tips to musicians who are travelling with instruments; in particular, it encourages musicians who are hoping to travel with a carry-on instrument to arrive early for flights or even to pay for priority boarding on flights — especially since carry-on and on-board cargo space is offered on a first come, first-served basis.

Among the benefits of the new ruling, the DOT document states:

Beneficiaries of the rule would include professional and amateur musicians who travel with instruments, particularly large instruments that may be subject to more restrictive transportation limits under current carrier policies. Increased ability of these musicians to travel with their instruments could also potentially benefit owners and employees of establishments hosting musical events and people who attend events at which these musicians would be more likely to be able to play.

It also lists amateur musicians — particularly school musicians and music teachers — among the beneficiaries, as many school bands occasionally travel.

Airlines may experience some costs due to training staff people and updating printed and online documentation about the policies; the DOT document estimates those total industry costs to be "about $732,000."

In response to the new DOT publication, the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), AFL-CIO, issued this statement on Dec. 31, 2014:

"We applaud the efforts of Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and our AFM allies in Congress for the new administrative ruling on the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012," states AFM International President Ray Hair. "For many years, AFM members have been subject to very arbitrary and contradictory size and weight requirements imposed by each airline for musical instruments that are carried on board the airplane or checked as baggage. Airlines will now follow a consistent policy for all musicians traveling with instruments."

What are your thoughts on the new rules? Will they affect you? If you travel with an instrument, do you expect air travel to change for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


'Mozart in the Jungle' full season now streaming on Amazon

Posted at 10:31 AM on December 23, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Mozart in the Jungle 425.jpg

Here's your holiday TV binge, classical music fans: today, Amazon released the full first season of Mozart in the Jungle, their new original series based on the controversial 2005 memoir of oboist Blair Tindall.

The series stars Lola Kirke as a character based on Tindall: a talented young musician who lands a spot in a major orchestra in the midst of a leadership transition from a revered veteran conductor (Malcolm McDowell) to a hot young firebrand (Gael Garcia Bernal). A pilot episode was successful enough that Amazon commissioned an entire first season, which is now available for Amazon Prime members to watch online. (The pilot is still free to all.)

The new season will surely reignite debates over just how veridical the show's picture of the classical music world is. Tindall portrayed the world of high-powered classical musicians in the 80s and 90s as being rife with sex, drugs, and back-stabbing; all of the above make appearances in the series, which is set in present-day New York City. Pianist Andrew Staupe, writing for Classical MPR, called the show entertaining but "laughably absurd"; some readers responded that Staupe just wasn't going to the right parties.

Michael Barone charmed 'em in Los Angeles

Posted at 2:00 PM on December 2, 2014 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts, In the media

Disney Hall organ 425.jpg

For all who couldn't be there, Pipedreams host Michael Barone charmed the heck out of about 2,500 people at a standing-room-only Walt Disney Concert Hall on the night of Sunday, Nov. 23.

Michael BaroneThe organ celebrated its 10th anniversary that evening, and Michael, who'd been part of a consulting group for its original design, was master of ceremonies. He was masterful: funny, encylcopedically (yes, I just made that up), knowledgeable, passionate, and kept spinning the wheel of organists who came out to do increasingly dazzling things with the Disney keyboard.

For star power, Cameron Carpenter capped the evening, but St. Paul's Aaron David Miller stole the show with a jaw-dropping improv on the Superman theme, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," an original tune just submitted to him, and a few others.

At the party in Los Angeles, it seemed it was the stars from St. Paul — Michael Barone and Aaron David Miller — who shone brightest!

You can read more about the event in this recap by the Los Angeles Times' Mark Swed.

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?

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:

Minnesota Orchestra has a sense of humor about the name their CEO shares with a famous film director

Posted at 1:19 PM on November 13, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Kevin Smith Minnesota Orchestra.jpg

When it was announced yesterday that Kevin Smith would become the Minnesota Orchestra's new president and CEO, Minnesotans who hadn't been closely following Smith's career found their heads turning. Wait, that Kevin Smith? No, not the director of Clerks and Chasing Amy, the longtime leader of the Minnesota Opera.

I made a joke about the name via the @LocalCurrent Twitter account, and the Orchestra responded with a tongue-in-cheek tweet referencing a quote from Clerks. Given that a little confusion is inevitable, it's nice to know the Orchestra isn't averse to having some fun with it.

Vanessa-Mae banned from competitive skiing after rigged race

Posted at 8:24 AM on November 11, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Vanessa Mae 425.jpg

By any measure, Vanessa Vanakorn — known to classical music fans as violinist Vanessa-Mae — is a woman of many talents, a highly skilled athlete as well as a musician. She's not quite as multi-talented as Olympic officials were led to believe, though.

That's the ruling of a International Ski Federation (FIS) panel that found "violations" in her results at a January event that qualified Vanessa-Mae for the Sochi Olympics — where she ultimately placed last among 67 competitors, reports BBC Sport. The qualifying event, held in Slovenia, was held in untenable weather conditions, the panel found — and yet results were reported, rife with errors including the reported presence of a competitor who wasn't actually there and another competitor whose fall on the snow seems to have been forgiven, with ten seconds subtracted from her reported time.

The FIS has banned Vanessa-Mae and others — including five officials who presided at the event — from participating in competitive skiing for four years. The International Olympic Committee may also take action, after the FIS hears any appeals.

Update 11/17: Vanessa-Mae has announced that she plans to contest the ban, which she calls "nonsensical."

Last year, Vanessa-Mae announced that she was putting her successful music career on hold to pursue competitive skiing. "People are surprised when they see me skiing — a classical violinist," she said. "But it has been my dream to be a ski bum since I was 14. This is something I am determined to do."

In addition to her classical performances, Vanessa-Mae played violin on several tracks of Prince's 2003 instrumental album Xpectation, recording her tracks at Prince's Paisley Park studio in Chanhassen in 2001.

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.

Joshua Bell brings music to Union Station once again

Posted at 9:00 AM on October 1, 2014 by Fred Child
Filed under: Events, In the media, Musician stories

Remember this 2007 story that got everyone talking (albeit briefly) about classical music? Violinist Joshua Bell played incognito at a Metro station in Washington, D.C., during rush hour, in an "experiment" designed by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten:

Commuters brushed past one of the great musicians of our time — he was almost universally ignored — and Weingarten's WaPo story won a Pulitzer Prize.

On Tuesday this week, Joshua Bell got a do-over of sorts, playing a well-publicized event in the main hall of Washington, D.C.'s Union Station … and several thousand folks showed up. There are more details here from PBS's News Hour.

Said Bell to the crowd: "This is more like it!"

UPDATE: Minnesota Orchestra did not record a track for Prince

Posted at 7:50 AM on September 29, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Minnesota Orchestra Prince.jpg

The below post, originally published on Sept. 29, mentioned an AP report that has since been found to be incorrect. The Minnesota Orchestra has not recorded with Prince, but members of the orchestra — as well as members of other groups — constitute the group STRINGenius, which has recorded with Prince.

As Minnesota superstar Prince prepares to release a pair of new albums tomorrow, Sept. 30, the flamboyant but often reclusive performer has been coming out of his shell and talking to various reporters. One of them is Nekesa Mumbi Moody of the Associated Press, who recently visited Prince's Paisley Park studio in Chanhassen to interview the star and listen to a bit of music.

A fascinating tidbit from Moody's report: Prince "tapped" the Minnesota Orchestra to record music for at least one track, "a melodious instrumental track" with "lush orchestration." The track won't appear on the new albums: Prince hasn't written any lyrics for it yet. Its inspiration, reports Moody, was Dionne Warwick's 1965 song "In Between the Heartaches," which Prince also played for Moody.

Update 9/30: Minnesota Orchestra spokeswoman Gwen Pappas writes in an e-mail, "We'd love to collaborate with Prince in a recording session! The entire Orchestra hasn't actually done so to date — we suspect maybe some Orchestra musicians were involved in a pick up recording session which fueled this comments — but we'd be happy to collaborate in the future."

Yukie Ota, 'Madame Butterfly', takes 2nd place at Nielsen Competition

Posted at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2014 by Fred Child (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

First-prize winner Sébastian Jacot: "I didn't even think about winning … I have never won a competition or audition." (photo courtesy DR.dk)

Yukie Ota (she of the butterfly landing on her forehead during the first round, currently Principal Flute in the Kalamazoo Symphony) took second place this weekend at the Carl Nielsen Flute Competition in Copenhagen.

First place went to Sébastian Jacot, a 27-year-old Swiss flutist, who had his own adventures in the first round: Two hours before he played, part of his wooden flute broke. Jacot used his back-up … and prevailed.

Read more about first-place finisher Sébastian Jacot in this story by Anne Termanson.


No serenity means no Muti for Rome Opera

Posted at 1:30 PM on September 21, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Conductor Riccardo Muti

The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that Riccardo Muti has resigned as the regular lead conductor of the Rome Opera after ongoing funding, management and labor issues have continued unresolved.

In his resignation letter, Muti wrote he will not be conducting planned productions of Verdi's Aida or Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, the Sun-Times' Andrew Patner reports.

"There are no conditions [there] to ensure the serenity necessary to my leading successful productions," Muti wrote, according to the Italian national news service ANSA Sunday.

"Unfortunately, despite all my efforts to contribute to your cause," Muti wrote, problems of state and city funding, management authority and labor peace "have emerged [again] in just the last few days."

Muti said that he would dedicate his time "in Italy" instead to the Luigi Cherubini Orchestra that he founded for young professional musicians in his homeland.

The Naples-born conductor, 73, said he had reached the decision "with the greatest regret, after long and troubled reflection."

Muti continues as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a role he has held since 2010. The CSO just began its new season this past week.

Watch the winners of swimsuit competitions for opera conductors and singers

Posted at 3:08 PM on September 19, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Shirtless Conductor.jpg

Remember that opera conductor swimsuit competition we told you about last month? It's over, and a winner has been declared: none other than Maestro Bill Eddins, whose tongue-in-cheek entry impressed the judges. (The number of entries was not revealed.) Runner-up was Maestro Anthony Barresse (above) — artistic director of Opera Southwest in Albuquerque — who submitted photos of himself conducting on the beach, tossing aside his Nine Inch Nails t-shirt at a dramatic moment.

Impressively, Opera Candy was also able to award a winner of the opera singer swimsuit competition — and she didn't even need to record a separate video. Winner Sara Duchovany performed the role of Blonde in a Southern Illinois Music Festival production of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio that was inspired by Star Trek. Below, watch Duchovany perform "Durch Zärtlichkeit" in an out-of-this-world two-piece suit.

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)

BBC Music Magazine names Vanska's Beethoven symphonies among the very greatest

Posted at 12:36 PM on September 2, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Beethoven Symphonies Vanska 425.jpg

For the Building a Library feature in the September issue of BBC Music Magazine, writer Erik Levi takes on a daunting task: sorting through the dozens of recordings of Beethoven's complete symphonies to recommend a single best recording and three more "greats."

Riccardo Chailly's 2011 Decca set with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra comes out on top for its overall "engrossing nature," but our own Minnesota Orchestra, under the baton of Osmo Vänskä for their 2004-8 BIS set, earn one of the three runner-up slots — putting them in league with Wilhelm Furtwängler's iconic 1948-54 interpretations and John Eliot Gardiner's game-changing historically-informed 1994 set, vaulting Vänskä's Beethoven past heavyweights like Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti, and Simon Rattle.

"The Finnish conductor manages to capture the essence of Beethoven's thinking through his painstaking attention to inner details," writes Levi. (The article is not available online.) Vänskä, continues Levi, "has established a sense of partnership with a first-rate orchestra and secures urgent and incisive playing."

Improving your life with Mozart (and rap)

Posted at 9:00 AM on August 28, 2014 by Brett Baldwin (2 Comments)
Filed under: Education, In the media, Unexpected Classical

Kansas city-based rapper (and one time Rhymesayers recording artist) Mac Lethal catapulted into the spotlight with his incredibly popular, video singing/rapping "Look at Me Now" while making pancakes. That viral hit earned Mac Lethal press from The Washington Post and an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres's show … and a massive following on YouTube, which he encourages to email him with questions and comments.

His latest video may put him in the spotlight one more time. Mac Lethal posted this video on August 25th, 2014, responding to a letter he says he received from a teacher.

Dear Mr. Mac Lethal,

My name is Mrs. Francine, I'm a 53-year-old high-school music teacher, and I love your YouTube videos. The problem is I can't play them for my students because they contain too many bad words. Would you consider making a fast rap video for my students, to inspire them to be great? With no bad words?

Mrs. Francine

p.s. Do you like Mozart?

In response, Mac Lethal made this guide to life's best practices to the tune of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11, commonly known as the "Turkish March." See if you can keep up:

Mrs. Francine saw the video and wrote back that she and her students were "flattered beyond belief."

If you want to see what Classical MPR is doing to make classical music relevant to kids, please check out Music for Learning, our education site.


Watch: Maria Callas accepts the Ice Bucket Challenge

Posted at 1:58 PM on August 27, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media


It's unclear who nominated legendary soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977) to posthumously participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge — that is, to be doused with ice water to raise money and awareness to fight the disease ALS — but she has now done so, courtesy of Warner Classics, the label issuing a deluxe remastered edition of her recordings on Sept. 22.

Update 9/2: The video has since been removed from YouTube.

At the end of the video, the Callas cutout nominates "opera fans worldwide" to meet the challenge themselves, so you may officially consider yourself on the hook.

Steve Reich soundtracks Rick Rubin's Ice Bucket Challenge

Posted at 1:37 PM on August 26, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Rick Rubin Ice Bucket Challenge 2.jpg

Minimalist composer Steve Reich hasn't yet taken the Ice Bucket Challenge — that is, splashing himself with ice water to raise funds and awareness for the fight against the disease ALS — but in a sense he's done his part.

When music producer Rick Rubin shared a video of himself dunking into a bathtub of ice water (above), he soundtracked the video with a sound loop made famous in Reich's 1965 piece "It's Gonna Rain." Reich's 18-minute tape piece is based on a recording made by the composer the previous year in San Francisco as a Pentecostal street preacher held forth. The phrase "It's Gonna Rain," looped again and again in Reich's piece, became iconic.

Rubin isn't the only musician bathing in ice water for a good cause: Minnesota singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith did so as a (successful) challenge to the Current's program director Jim McGuinn.

Watch Maestro Bill Eddins's swimsuit competition video

Posted at 3:46 PM on August 15, 2014 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

Bill Eddins 425.jpg

Yesterday I posted news of an opera conductor swimsuit competition being held by the blog Opera Candy. It seemed unlikely that any serious conductor would accept the blog's invitation to submit a swimsuit video, but the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra's Bill Eddins has in fact tendered a submission. "This," Eddins writes on his Sticks and Drones blog, "is too good to resist."

I won't spoil the surprise at the end of this video, but I will say this maestro has some great gams.

Photo via Sticks and Drones


There's still time to enter this opera conductor swimsuit competition

Posted at 11:16 AM on August 14, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Noseland 425.jpg

Opera Candy — the blog dedicated to "anything sweet, yummy, or sticky about opera" — is holding what it considers (probably accurately) the "first ever swim suit competition for opera conductors." Conductors are invited to submit videos of themselves in action (presumably conducting) while clad in swimwear; the deadline for submission is September 1. The prize? "We do not provide money, but we will get you attention."

A new venue for the embrace (so to speak) of nudity at the performance hall, Opera Candy also maintains Pinterest boards for "Naked at the Opera" and "Salome Side Boob" (which features some hot Herods as well). Not a conductor, but want to flaunt your bod on the Internet? Fear not: Opera Candy is also conducting swimsuit competitions for opera singers, orchestra members, and artistic directors.

It seems unlikely that our own Maestro Vänskä will suit up for this competition, but we do know he looks good in bike shorts.

Update 8/15: Bill Eddins, music director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, has submitted a video for consideration in the competition. Watch it here.

Photo: a still from Noseland, courtesy SLfilm.at

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.

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.)

Local paper shines spotlight on Tesfa

Posted at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Choral Music, Classical hosts, In the media

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (far right) poses with Classical MPR's Brian Newhouse and with composer/conductor Eric Whitacre (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

Fans of Classical MPR's choral-music programming likely know of Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, having read his work in this very blog.

On Sunday, July 27, the Star Tribune's Kristin Tillotson published a profile about Tesfa. Entitled "Putting the Cool in Choral," Tillotson's article describes Tesfa's youth in Memphis, Tenn., his work as a teacher in Orlando, Fla., and his new career in Minnesota.

Tillotson writes:

Wondemagegnehu, a young black singer and conductor from Memphis … has wowed the Twin Cities choral scene since arriving in town last summer … when he accepted a job as assistant artistic director for VocalEssence. Not long after, he was hired to help program and promote Minnesota Public Radio's 24-hour streaming of choral music.

Last week, he went full time at MPR, where a new choral initiative will bring him to area schools for music outreach. He'll also head up a new group of young singers, the APM Radio Choir.

The article also makes reference to Tesfa's participation in the Dominick Argento "Seasons" premiere at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in Winona, an experience Tesfa shared in this blog post before the concert and in this post recapping the Twitter trends of the festival.

You can read all of Tillotson's article on the Star Tribune's website as well as in print editions of the Sunday paper.

What the Critics Say: Pet Shop Boys at the Proms

Posted at 3:30 PM on July 24, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Concerts, In the media, Reviews

Pet Shop Boys: Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (photo by John Wright).

Perhaps best known as electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe made their Proms debut as composers on Wednesday, July 23.

The BBC Proms, largely known as the world's greatest classical music festival, runs July 18 to Sept. 13, with concerts every day at the Royal Albert Hall in London and in other venues around the UK and Northern Ireland. (Classical MPR will begin broadcasting highlights of the Proms on Sept. 1, leading up to the Last Night of the Proms on Sept. 13.)

Tennant and Lowe's work, A Man from the Future, is a look at the life of Alan Turing, a cryptographer in World War II and a pioneering computer scientist whose work helped make possible the medium in which you're reading this right now. In 1952, a time when homosexuality was illegal, Turing was prosecuted for being gay; he received a posthumous pardon in 2013.

"Turing was way ahead of his time in the realms of both technology and sexuality," remarked Tennant and Lowe in a statement ahead of Wednesday's concert. "His open expression of his homosexuality was astonishingly brave and forward-looking at a time when gay men were relentlessly persecuted by the government."

The Proms concert featured Tennant and Low, as well as Chrissie Hynde (the Pretenders) on vocals, as well as the BBC Singers and the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler. Actress Juliet Stevenson — whom you may recognize from her role as the mother to Keira Knightley's character in Bend It Like Beckham — provided narration.

Enjoying a Proms premiere is one more accomplishment for Pet Shop Boys, who have also scored films and composed for ballet and musicals. "This is proof of why these two gentlemen are more than just an '80s throwback synth-pop band," says Jake Rudh, host of Transmission on Classical MPR's sister station, The Current.

In the wake of the premiere, reviews of the concert have been largely positive; here's a roundup:

Kitty Empire, The Guardian:

What are we to call A Man From the Future … A pop oratorio? A classical audiobiography?

His tale works as an operatic tragedy and this piece is extensively sung: by the BBC Singers, augmented by Neil Tennant … This tribute is lavishly orchestrated. The BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler, is doing the heavy lifting …

Turing's story is deeply affecting, and the telling of it by an establishment organisation (the BBC, which runs the Proms) in an establishment venue (the Royal Albert Hall) in an establishment idiom (classical) is cause for celebration.

But we really could have done with more from Lowe, and modernity more widely. Turing was, after all, a man from The Future. Even given the operatic nature of his tale and the rarefied Proms setting, wrapping this man up in strings seems a contradictory impulse.

Nick Hasted, The Independent:

… Getting the tale of Turing's singular genius and representative tragedy across seems to outweigh the balance between words and music. "Conform, rebel or withdraw" are the choices the public schoolboy Turing is presented with, as ominous strings close in to cage him.

The remorseless glide of laptop-generated synth washes signal the machine-dreams which led him towards the computer's invention. The BBC Singers then give the sensation of a dying fall, as the backroom heroism which turned the U-boat tide at Bletchley Park is passed over in a sentence. Tennant and Lowe aren't interested in what Turing is belatedly honoured for now, but his shadow-life then.

Bursts of hot, frantic swing follow him mentioning his homosexuality, and the furious swell of the choir's baritones greet his downward spiral towards chemical castration by the state. His hot blood and mechanistic visions' merging is expressed in the orchestral-laptop score. It is always, though, subservient to the verbal tracing of Turing's fate.

John Aizlewood, Evening Standard:

The 45-minute extended song-suite had its clunky moments but it was joyously light on its musical feet, encompassing sublime Kraftwerkian wonder, the sheer power of orchestra and choir at full pelt.

The sheer scale required to perform it may mean A Man from the Future is consigned to history. Let's hope not: it deserves better.

Adam Sweeting, The Telegraph:

Who knows what the appropriate term would be to describe A Man From the Future … The text combined his scientific brilliance with the outspokenly gay sexuality that cost him dearly in the censorious Fifties.

Musically, the piece skilfully blended orchestral writing with shifting electronic layers, masterminded by a suitably enigmatic Chris Lowe. Turing's fascination with a "universal machine" was evoked by a slice of dreamy electronica, though elsewhere there were witty interpolations of Fifties-style sci-fi effects or dark string passages.

Orchestrator Sven Helbig conjured a dazzling spectrum of colours from the orchestra and the BBC Choir, although powerful melodic ideas seemed thin on the ground. Whether including a recording of Gordon Brown's apology for Turing's appalling treatment (which included chemical castration), will enhance its box-office appeal, I wouldn't like to say.

Neil Smith, BBC News:

Divided into eight sections, the Pet Shop Boys' ambitious, sometimes atonal work marked a departure from such radio-friendly tracks as It's a Sin and West End Girls.

Yet it still contained elements of the group's recognisable computerised sound, alongside contributions from an 18-member chamber choir.

Now that you've read what the critics have said, you can listen to the music for yourself. BBC Radio 3 has made this Prom available for listening for 30 days. Launch the BBC iPlayer via this link.

Classical MPR will highlight performances from the Proms starting Sept. 1, leading up to the Last Night of the Proms on Sept. 13; listen for those Proms highlights each day at 10 a.m. and at 10 p.m. CDT on Classical MPR.

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:

How many ways can you hold a violin in a promo shot?

Posted at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2014 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

You can stand ready to play your violin...

Violin 01b.jpg

...or you can actually play it.

Violin 02b.jpg

You can cradle it in your arm...

Violin 03b.jpg

...or you can just relax with it...

Violin 04b.jpg

...or you can really relax with it.

Violin 05b.jpg

You can hold it over a giant countertop...

Violin 06b.jpg

...or you can sling it over your shoulder like a Continental soldier.

Violin 07.jpg

You can peek over the top of it...

Violin 08b.jpg

...or around the side of it...

Violin 09b.jpg

...or around the other side of it...

Violin 10b.jpg

...or around the side of it upside down.

Violin 11b.jpg

You can cuddle up with it...

Francesca Anderegg.jpg

...or, you can just turn it around and cradle its strings to your heart.

Violin 12b.jpg

Photos, top to bottom: Sonja Harasim, photo by Richie Hawley; Nigel Kennedy, photo by Paul Marc Mitchel for Sony Classical; Hilary Hahn, photo by Michael Patrick O'Lear; Ray Chen, courtesy the artist; Rachel Barton Pine, photo by Andrew Eccles; Capucon Brothers, linternaute.com; Pinchas Zukerman, photo by Paul Labelle; Pamela Frank, courtesy IMG Artists; Jennifer Koh, courtesy Hemsing Associates; Nicola Benedetti, courtesy the artist; Francesca Anderegg, courtesy the artist; Sergey Khachatryan, photo by Marco Borggreve


Daniel Barenboim and Mariam Said issue joint statement on Israel and Palestine conflict

Posted at 1:41 PM on July 23, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

West Eastern Divan Orchestra.jpg

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded in 1999 by Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said as a youth ensemble uniting musicians from countries across the Middle East and Europe, aiming to promote intercultural understanding. Via Facebook, Barenboim and Said's widow Mariam have issued a joint statement on current events in Israel and Palestine.

"We are deeply saddened and concerned by the news reaching us from Israel/Palestine and share the worries of our members. During these trying times, we must stress the importance of the art of listening. Listening skills are learnt and perfected by playing in the orchestra. We must remember how important it is to apply what we learn on stage to other aspects of our lives as well. To quote Schopenhauer, 'Nothing will bring us back to the path of justice so readily as the mental picture of the trouble, grief, and lamentation of the loser.' In this conflict, both sides are losers. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a community that is built on trust, respect, empathy, and a culture of listening and understanding. These values are the core of our work together. That is why the Divan is a beacon of hope for all."

Hear the orchestra play Beethoven's ninth symphony last year at Carnegie Hall, in a broadcast co-produced by WQXR and American Public Media:

Osmo Vanska to be a welcome guest in Reykjavik

Posted at 5:14 PM on June 19, 2014 by Luke Taylor (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Osmo Vanska

Osmo Vänskä (photo by Kaapo Kamu)

We're not sure if Osmo Vänskä is a member of the Icelandair frequent flyer club, but he may soon be.

This week, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra announced it had appointed Vänskä its principal guest conductor starting in the 2014 - 15 season.

Founded in 1950, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra consists of 90 full-time members and gives approximately 60 concerts each season, a number that includes its concerts at home in Reykjavik as well as its international tour dates. The music director and chief conductor of Iceland Symphony Orchestra is Ilan Volkov.

According to Vänskä's management agency HarrisonParrott, Osmo is no stranger to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra; he was its chief conductor from 1993 to 1996, and he conducted its Carnegie Hall debut in 1996. Vänskä has made annual guest-conductor appearances with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra since 2010.

Vänskä's first appearance in Iceland under his new title is scheduled for February 2015, in a concert featuring music by Bruckner and Sibelius.


Tenor Bradley Wisk is off "The Bachelorette," despite his best vocal efforts

Posted at 9:37 AM on June 2, 2014 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

Photo courtesy ABC

Bradley Wisk.jpg

On the last season of ABC's The Bachelor, soprano Sharleen Joynt made a strong impression not with her voice — she was reluctant to sing on the show, lest she be pigeonholed, she told Fred Child — but with her strong personality, especially when she made the unusual decision to leave the reality TV show of her own volition after failing to strike sparks with former pro soccer player Juan Pablo Galavis.

Andi Dorfman, another of Galavis's would-be suitors who took a pass on riding the love match out to its conclusion, is the eponymous Bachelorette in the current season of the show that alternates seasons with The Bachelor and operates under the same premise. There's an opera singer on Dorfman's season too: Bradley Wisk, a 32-year-old tenor from Michigan who told ABC that if he could have lunch with one person, it would be "Pavarotti, one of the greatest tenors of all time. Talk about what he had to do to fulfill all his dreams."

Well...there was an opera singer on Dorfman's season. On last night's episode, Wisk was one of two contenders who failed to receive a rose from Dorfman, which per the terms of the show required his immediate departure. Wisk was tearful as he left, understandably disappointed given that last night's "group date" activity involved singing with R&B group Boyz II Men.

Despite the fact that Dorfman's other suitors were shown to be almost uniformly terrible at singing, Wisk still ended up with the short end of the stick, as the show's directors made merry with his nervous resolve to impress with his vocal gifts. One moment, where Wisk erupted in full-throated, vibrato-laden glory, was shown in several teasers — teasers that then cut to a member of Boyz II Men wincing.

In the end, though, Wisk — whose experience is much more wide-ranging than his portrayal on The Bachelorette would suggest — looked to walk away a winner, his heartfelt avowal that he's ready for a real love contrasting sharply with the smug grin of another contender who remained on the show despite the revelation that he'd been flirting with a restaurant hostess even while he sought Dorfman's roses.

If there's any moral to this story of lost love, it's that Sharleen's instinct was right: when it comes to an operatic vocal gift, sometimes it's best to save the singing for the stage.

Update 6/5: As Wet Paint noticed, Sharleen has in fact been shading Bradley on her blog.

"You can sing when you're meant to but he just breaks it out everywhere," writes Joynt, "always with that look on his face that is devoid of self-awareness or humor. Some may think I'm being harsh, but I promise: If there was the slightest shade of irony in him, or a twinkle in his eye while he did this, I'd probably be a lot more receptive. But it's a painfully blatant and literal belt for attention that I just can't deal with."



Joyce DiDonato to aspiring artists: "The world needs you"

Posted at 3:04 PM on May 29, 2014 by Julie Amacher (1 Comments)
Filed under: Education, In the media, Musical philosophy

Joyce DiDonato (Simon Pauly)

When I spoke with Joyce Di Donato just before her last performance as Cinderella in the Met Opera production of Rossini's, La Cenerentola on May 10, she also told me she had butterflies about her upcoming commencement address at the Juilliard School of Music on May 23. Those butterflies turned into sage advice for those young musicians, and for all of us.

On June 15, my daughter will graduate with a degree in vocal performance from the music conservatory at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. She's on her way to pursuing her dream of becoming an opera singer. While some parents are hesitant to encourage their children to pursue the arts because it's a long, hard, competitive road, with often little compensation, my daughter is fortunate. Her parents understand that for her, there is no other option. Since she was six years old, she's told us singing is her passion. She can't imagine doing anything else. She is completely committed, and we believe in her.
"We need you to make us feel an integral PART of a shared existence through the communal, universal, forgiving language of music, of dance, of poetry and Art — so that we never lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together and that we are all deserving of a life that overflows with immense possibility, improbable beauty and relentless truth."
— Joyce DiDonato, in her address to the Juilliard School's class of 2014
As Joyce DiDonato points out in her commencement address, the world needs my daughter, and all the artists who are committed to this journey because it's the artists who help us remember who we really are, and that we're all in this together.


Criticizing the Critics

Posted at 3:36 PM on May 21, 2014 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Opera, Reviews

Mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught (photo courtesy IMG Artists)

Here's the story that's been tearing up the Internet in the last day or so — at least in the classical music department. It even shows up on the News Cut blog from MPR's Bob Collins.

The Irish singer Tara Erraught recently appeared in the title role of the opera Der Rosenkavalier. As Bob notes, "five different male writers used stocky, chubby, puppy-fat, scullery maid, unsightly, and unappealing to describe her 'performance.'"

Did the critics cross a line? Were their editors asleep at the switch? Would a male singer have been treated differently?

As this summary in The Telegraph suggests, opera singers, music writers, and the opera-loving public have not been slow to join the debate.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

3D Tactile Stave Notation

Posted at 9:56 AM on May 13, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Education, In the media, Musician stories

Yeaji Kim's fingers dance across the piano keys with the grace and precision one would expect from such a highly accomplished pianist.

Kim, who was born with limited vision and has been completely without sight since age 13, has faced difficulty when discussing printed scores at an advanced level with her sighted teachers. Braille scores didn't quite bridge the gap, with teacher and student often needing to interpret for one another. And the ability to discuss music at a high level is vital to Kim; she's pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Music.

On a Wordpress site that describes Kim's studies, UW-Madison Professor Todd Welbourne says, "Blind pianists in the classical world need braille to succeed. They don't get very far learning things by ear."

But Braille has its limits. According to the same site, Professor Welbourne says there are some important musical elements that don't translate well in Braille, e.g. timing, piano pedal markings and other performance notation.

That's why Kim has worked to develop a method of teaching music that works for teachers and students alike, regardless of sight. It's the basis of her doctoral thesis, which she'll complete this month.

Here's a video that describes Kim's project, which was brought to our attention by our friends at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

Read more about Kim's project — as well as details about her life as a performer and a profile of her service dog, Chan Mi — on this dedicated Wordpress site.

Additional frequency for improved reception in Minneapolis

Posted at 4:23 PM on May 2, 2014 by Luke Taylor (2 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, The blog

Up to now, some Classical MPR listeners in Minneapolis may have experienced less-than-perfect reception of the Classical MPR signal on 99.5 FM.

Starting today, in addition to the 99.5 FM station, Minneapolis fans of Classical MPR can now also choose to tune in to Classical MPR at 91.9 on their FM dials.

According to the official MPR press release, this new frequency "improves the signal in several neighborhoods, including downtown, Loring Park, Uptown, Kenwood and the Chain of Lakes area as well as portions of north Minneapolis and the east side of St. Louis Park."

If you've previously experienced fuzzy reception while listening to Classical MPR in Minneapolis, give the new frequency a try. And thank you for listening!


Lending new meaning to "high notes"

Posted at 12:23 PM on April 29, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Concerts, In the media

Homer Simpson, making a case for his fandom of the band Grand Funk Railroad, extols "the bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher."

Soon, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's Karl Fenner and his colleagues may join the ranks of bong-rattling bassists.

The Denver Post reported today that the Colorado Symphony Orchestra announced a series of performances sponsored by that state's legal cannabis industry:

The concerts, organized by pro-pot promoter Edible Events, will start May 23 with three bring-your-own marijuana events at the Space Gallery in Denver's Santa Fe arts district and culminate with a large, outdoor performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 13. They are being billed as fundraisers for the CSO, which will curate a themed program of classical music for each show.

In a refrain that is common among many orchestras, the CSO's executive director Jerry Kern says the concerts are also intended to reach new audiences. "We see ourselves as connecting classical music with all of Colorado," Kern told the Denver Post. "Part of our goal is to bring in a younger audience and a more diverse audience, and I would suggest that the patrons of the cannabis industry are both younger and more diverse than the patrons of the symphony orchestra."

Details about the concert series, dubbed "Classically Cannibis," have been posted to the CSO's website. The evening's many food offerings are listed (as the attendees may likely develop an appetite), and prospective ticket buyers are told explicitly "This is a cannabis-friendly event being held on private property. But cannabis will NOT be sold at this event; it's strictly BYOC (bring your own cannabis)."

The CSO's event page includes a 223-word disclaimer; concertgoers are encouraged to avoid driving to the event, they must be 21 or older to attend, and there is a well-meaning-albeit-broken hyperlink to the state of Colorado's website that describes the health effects of using marijuana.

Orchestras working to reach new audiences is nothing new; the Minnesota Orchestra, for example, has concerts planned for this summer that feature repertoire from Bugs Bunny cartoons, Broadway musicals and from Pixar films, as well as its usual offerings of Young People's and Friends & Family concerts.

The CSO's Classically Cannabis concert series stands among that organization's similar efforts to connect with its local audiences. "Denver is a different kind of city," trumpet player Justin Bartels told the Denver Post, "and you have to program your orchestra for the community you're in."

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Beloved as he is in Minnesota, Osmo Vanska still needs a job

Posted at 3:39 PM on April 22, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: In the media, Osmo Vanska

It's fair to infer Osmo Vänskä is earning plenty of frequent-flyer points.

In January alone, the former music director of the Minnesota Orchestra conducted the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv, and the Orchestra National de Lyon in its eponymous city in France. A little more than a week ago, Vänskä was in Amsterdam to conduct the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. And this week, as the Washington Post's Anne Midgette reports, Vänskä is in Washington, D.C., to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra.

Osmo Vänskä has been seeing his fair share of airports lately (MPR file photo/Minnesota Orchestra)

Freelancing has its benefits. "There is a temptation to think about doing only guest conducting, because you don't need to take all the headaches that the music director has to," Vänskä told Midgette.

But there was a suggestion the man would prefer a full-time job. "I have always had an orchestra," Vänskä said to Midgette, "let's call it my own orchestra, since '85."

In Midgette's article, Minnesota Orchestra Principal Trombonist Doug Wright describes Vänskä as "a good fit" and says life would be "easier and better all around" if Vänskä did return to his former post in Minneapolis. But Wright acknowledges, "Obviously, if he doesn't come back, we will go find a new music director."

Add to this speculation the recent news reported in The Guardian that the Royal Concertgebouw's current director, Mariss Jansons, announced he will resign his position as chief conductor of that orchestra after its 2014-15 season.

Could the prestige of the Royal Concertgebouw, the excellent quality of life in the Netherlands, and the shorter trip back to his native Finland be enticements to Vänskä?

"It's obvious that I am still living with many question marks," Vänskä told the Washington Post's Midgette. "I need to get more answers to those questions. When I get those answers, then it's time to make decisions."

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.

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."

Strings and shotguns: Benelli uses violins to sell "elegant" firearm

Posted at 3:55 PM on January 21, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Classical music and gunpowder have a relationship stretching back at least to the 1812 Overture, but even so, violins haven't typically been the go-to instruments for advertisements of firearms.

Benelli, an Italian manufacturer best known for its M3 shotgun widely used by SWAT teams, has just released a new 12-gauge shotgun it calls ETHOS: "classic form married to modern design."

As part of its advertising campaign, Benelli has created a video advertisement featuring an elegant string duo who wouldn't be out of place in a concert hall. "The perfect balance of art and technology," murmurs a voiceover, "that was once an idea...has become an ETHOS." Strings also appeared under ETHOS auspices at the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.

As of posting time, I've not yet received a reply to a January 17 e-mail requesting an interview with a Benelli representative.

Read Nico Muhly's epic analysis of the new Beyonce album

Posted at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

"I had a series of disjointed thoughts about that Beyoncé album," tweeted Nico Muhly, sharing a link to an epic 4,000-word analysis of the pop star's new self-titled album — a detailed and hilarious document referred to by the writer Emily Gould as Muhly's "Beyoncéxegesis."

Though Muhly is one of the world's most acclaimed young composers, his essay on Beyoncé is more emotional and impressionistic than technical. Still, he calls out multiple "missed opportunities" where he would like to have heard real instruments rather than synths and samples. "If somebody had dug up, like, four extra thousand dollars, they could have had a really 3-D string arrangement and gone for it," Muhly writes about the song "Superpower."

"The credits, tellingly," Muhly writes about the album's concluding track, "reveal a 'violin' arranger; but surely this is a woman whose voice requires not just violins, but violas, cellos, basses, violas da gamba, trombones, zithers, hurdies-gurdy, the works!"

Read Muhly's entire analysis — which, heads-up, includes some NSFW language — at the Talkhouse.

A pianist at the barricades: An inspiring photo from the Ukraine protests

Posted at 9:46 AM on December 13, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

Ukraine Protests.jpg

For the past three weeks, Ukrainians have been in violent dispute over the future of their country; specifically, its relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. When the Ukrainian government pulled back on preparations to make an association and free trade agreement with the European Union, protests in Kiev began and have continued to grow. Many protesters are calling for the replacement of the government.

The above photograph was posted on Facebook on December 6 and has since been shared over 1,800 times. The woman who posted the photo, Anastasiia Bereza, says the pianist "charmed everyone" with Chopin and other music, at least temporarily lowering the temperature of a tense confrontation.

Here's video of the piano being played elsewhere in Kiev:

"Mozart in the Jungle": The scandalous world of classical music, coming to an iPad near you

Posted at 1:20 PM on December 12, 2013 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

Mozart in the Jungle book.jpg

Anyone who's spent time in the classical music world knows that just because someone can sing like an angel, that doesn't mean he or she acts like one...but Amazon is hoping that the frisson of classical musicians partying like rock stars will attract viewers to Mozart in the Jungle, an online video series that's currently in development, reports the Wall Street Journal. A recently-filmed pilot episode, which will be available on Amazon early next year, features Malcolm McDowell as a conductor, with a cameo by (natch) Joshua Bell.

The inspiration for the series is the 2005 book Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, a memoir by oboist Blair Tindall. The Ball Four of classical music, Mozart in the Jungle describes a New York scene where players will do whatever it takes to get a good gig — and will take whatever people are doing.

Of course, no matter how sordid the true story behind the symphony is, Tindall is in a league of her own when it comes to extracurricular pursuits. After the acrimonious end of what she described as a "faux marriage" to Bill Nye (yes, that Bill Nye), Tindall dumped toxic solvent in Nye's flower bed, and the Science Guy felt the need to file a restraining order.

So far, there are no reports of Nye making an appearance in the Amazon series...but then, they have to save something for the second season.


Lorin Maazel shares his thoughts on Kim Kardashian's selfie

Posted at 9:46 AM on December 5, 2013 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

"Living in the backwaters of the Arts," writes venerable maestro Lorin Maazel, "I have to rely on services that inform the public about things that matter, like Yahoo's 'Trending Now.' I thus can keep abreast of significant events such as Kim K. not wearing underwear."

Kim Kardashian.jpg

To the surprise of the classical world, the 83-year-old conductor not only took notice of a recent self-portrait snapped by the formerly-quasi-Minnesotan celebrity with her beau Kanye West standing creepily beside her, Maazel shared his thoughts on the picture in a sarcastic post on his blog.

"How comforting to know that there are millions out there who tremble at the very thought of KK's skin, her every word, her boy friend. How foolish I feel never having heard of the lady until a few weeks ago."

Explaining that he's more interested in Richard Strauss, the former music director of the New York Philharmonic concludes, "I'd like it to be known that as admirable as underwear-less Kim's moving through the ether of the real world may sound, there are still a few of us who march to different tunes."

Good to know, Mr. Maazel. Please carry on.


John Birge saw a "Da Vinci keyboard"...in 1984

Posted at 12:24 PM on November 21, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: In the media

In an e-mail to the Classical MPR team, host John Birge shared a story about his personal experience with what's become Internet-famous as "the Da Vinci keyboard." With his permission, I'm sharing it here.

"Since David Letterman spoofed the CBS news coverage of 'the Da Vinci keyboard,' this classical music story has now officially gone mainstream. When the story broke last week, it touched a dim memory, but I couldn't figure it out exactly what, until Norman Lebrecht posted this article.

"Aha! That's when it came back to me: I actually saw one of these instruments back in the summer of 1984 on vacation in Brussels, at the fantastic musical instrument collection there. I dug around my old photos and found a postcard image from the museum store (above), and a personal snapshot--which shows the instrument in a less handsome state.

Da Vinci Keyboard.jpg

"It wasn't in any way playable, so the video making the rounds this week is wonderful to hear as well as see!"

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.

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:

Editorial Fallout from the Minnesota Orchestra Disaster

Posted at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2013 by Emily Reese (17 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

Image of The Telegraph article

It took me a while to find the last word for that 'headline'. The word 'disaster' seems histrionic, but only in a larger context of tragic world events. In terms of American orchestras, and the larger culture of orchestral music, it is, indeed, a disaster.

There is no shortage of editorial fallout from the events over the last year, especially since Maestro Osmo Vanska announced his resignation from Minnesota Orchestra early Tuesday morning.

One such article surfaced overnight Wednesday, from Ivan Hewett, a writer for The Telegraph. The title alone, "US orchestras are greedy and overpaid", is incendiary.

Now let me tell you why, even if Ivan Hewett is right, he is wrong.

A quote from Hewett: "none of the commentary in the US points to a single overwhelming fact that to an outsider appears blinding obvious: the top tier of American orchestras overpays its players."

It does not matter if it's true. It just doesn't. We've created a culture in America where musicians have the potential to be rewarded well for their tens of thousands of hours in a practice room. And at that, it's a small, hand-picked number of musicians who are rewarded as such, in a small number of orchestras in the country.

These players are the best of the best. And all most of us want is to be paid, or compensated, for our skills and talents. Yet we never miss a chance to freak out whenever someone gets paid a lot of money.

There are plenty of job fields where people are rewarded more for less. Executives and managers all around the world are grossly overpaid, probably in your own place of work. And what, exactly, does the public receive from their over-compensation? Not much. Yet, when I hear the Minnesota Orchestra, I'm treated to aural magic.

I used to be, anyway.

Similarly, there are just as many occupations in which people are paid far too little for doing so much, like nursing, teaching or social work. Even veterinarians earn far less than human doctors. And vets save a whole lotta lives, too.

It defeats the purpose to point fingers and say, "You make too much," which roughly translates to "You do not deserve this."

Can we stop quibbling about how much these folks make, or used to make, or might potentially make? The fact remains that this is the orchestral culture of America. Just because it's different in the UK doesn't mean it's wrong. It just is.


Are music lessons for everybody? Should they be?

Posted at 3:45 PM on October 2, 2013 by Alison Young
Filed under: Education, In the media

stylised image from SymphonyCast Facebook page

This recent piece in the New Republic generated a lot of conversation on our SymphonyCast Facebook page. I wanted to be sure you were invited to participate in the conversation.

Clearly, music education is important to me both personally and professionally. In fact, one of the most important pieces of our mission at Classical MPR is music education on all levels, from helping budding musicians take their very first baby steps with their own instrument in our Play it Forward program, to showcasing the most talented around with Minnesota Varsity, to the continuing-education aspect of Emily Reese's Learning to Listen.

But that doesn't address the gist of Mark Oppenheimer's article and why it gets so deeply under my skin. And I guess what is most upsetting is his smug, out-of-hand dismissal of music lessons for the average, i.e. for those not expected to become professionals. I did have a momentary reflective moment asking myself if we in the music business simply have an ulterior motive of training young musicians so we'll have a future audience.

a sample of Facebook comments

But quickly, I thought that conclusion is not only bleak, but misses the entire point of what makes music — and music making in particular — so life-changing and life-enhancing. Simply look at the incredible success of a program like Venezuela's El Sistema, which uses the very act of becoming proficient in music to add hope to a child's life, which may be one of poverty, not just financially but in spirit. These children don't all go on to be Gustavo Dudamel; most of them simply become better citizens, but their lives are forever changed by the discipline, the self-reliance and teamwork required to become a musician, not to mention the whole world opened to their ears of the greatest music ever written.

That's my two cents, and I certainly welcome yours. And if you're finished studying an instrument for the time being and want to donate yours to a young eager musician, you know who to call!

Gravity: Spiegel im Spiegel in (Outer) Space

Posted at 8:45 AM on October 4, 2013 by John Birge
Filed under: In the media

Has George Clooney discovered the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt? If not George, then somebody else connected with his new move "Gravity" has; listen to the trailer soundtrack for the gorgeous piece "Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror):

Or enjoy the entire celestial piece here:

Orchestras take on The Harlem Shake

Posted at 11:46 AM on February 21, 2013 by Fred Child
Filed under: In the media

If you live within 50 miles of this wacky thing called "The Internet," good chance you're aware of the latest meme, the Harlem Shake. (According to our friends at YouTube, as of last week about 4,000 Harlem Shake videos were being uploaded to their site...every day.) The videos are usually 33 seconds long, beginning with one crazy dancer who goes unnoticed by the rest of the crowd. At a particular moment in the song there is a sudden cut, and everybody is dancing wildly, often in costume. Several orchestras have contributed recently, including The Knights (a chamber orchestra based in New York):

Now watch it again, and notice...what appears to be Frieda Kahlo, sitting perfectly still in the lower left. (That's flutist Alex Sopp, in full Kahlo regalia.)

How about an orchestra from Puerto Rico?

(again, with reference to a famous painting in the lower left!)

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)

On the Air This Week

Posted at 4:09 PM on October 2, 2012 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, On the air

Highlights from Oct. 2 to 9

Wednesday, 6 pm: Carnegie Hall Live: Live from New York, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Orff's Carmina Burana.
Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: pianist Ivan Konev and violinist Natalia Moiseeva play Beethoven.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Some Last Curley Cues.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Minnesota Orchestra, playing Kernis, Beethoven, and Sibelius.
Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: two Brandenburg Concertos and Stravinsky's Pulcinella (complete ballet version).

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.

New DVD shines light on Mozart's Sister

Posted at 12:16 AM on February 14, 2012 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, In the media

Hilary Hahn, Hélène Grimaud, Dawn Upshaw, Sarah Hicks, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Alison Balsom ... the list of female luminaries in classical music stretches endlessly. But there was a time in the history of classical music when most women would have been discouraged -- if not excluded outright -- from pursuing a musical career.

Mozart's Sister, a 2010 film by French director René Féret, explores one such story. Distributed by Chicago-based Music Box Films, Mozart's Sister gets released on DVD in the United States today.

Actress Marie FéretMozart's Sister re-imagines the story of Wolfgang's elder sister, Marie-Anne, familiarly known as Nannerl (and played by director Féret's daughter, Marie Féret). The film is loosely based on the Mozart family's 1770s visit to the royal court of France. Nannerl is known to have accompanied her younger brother in performances, and historic correspondence suggests Nannerl may have even composed music herself. Sadly, none of her compositions are known to exist today; in Mozart's Sister, writer/director Féret attempts to answer why that may be.

One explanation Féret offers is the sexism endemic to the 18th century. In a moving scene, Leopold Mozart (Marc Barbé), the father and music teacher of Wolfgang and Nannerl, offers composition lessons to his son but refuses his daughter's request for instruction. "You must know the rules of harmony and counterpoint," Leopold tells her dismissively. "These are beyond most people, especially women."

Despite her father's discouragement, the teenage Nannerl can't ignore her inexorable urge to compose; director Féret even suggests some of Wolfgang's works were actually penned by her. Féret also hazards a heartbreaking supposition as to why Nannerl's manuscripts have not survived. Nannerl's best friend in the film, a royal princess, offers scant consolation when she posits, "Imagine how different our destinies would have been had we been boys ... We would both reign."

Wolfgang and Nannerl MozartUltimately, the film is about a teenager struggling with her identity and her role in life in the face of the realities that surround her, which places Mozart's Sister on similar thematic ground as 2010's Winter's Bone. Certainly Nannerl enjoys much more love and security than Winter's Bone protagonist Ree, but her circumstances are no less crushing.

Variety described Mozart's Sister as "a treat for classical music lovers and cinephiles alike." Indeed, film fans will likely enjoy the period costumes and ornate sets (much of the film was shot on location at the Palace of Versailles).

For classical music lovers, the original music by Marie-Jeanne Séréro -- who bravely accepted the task of imagining how Nannerl Mozart's compositions may have sounded -- is certainly beguiling. And soprano Morgane Collomb, a student at the prestigious Académie Vocale de France, supplied the singing voice for actress Marie Féret. But the vocal dubs are obvious, as are the clearly pantomimed music-performance scenes. For a film so steeped in music, it's regrettable the musical sequences may elicit winces from classical aficionados.

Despite that vital shortcoming, Féret tells a compelling story that leaves viewers musing on the life and talents of Nannerl Mozart ... and what might have been.

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!

The Liberating Invitation from the Artworld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

You Buy It, You Break It

Posted at 10:31 AM on January 4, 2012 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: In the media

A startling story emerged late last night about an eBay purchase that ended with the destruction of an antique violin.

It's hard to know what's worse - the circumstances, the PayPal policy that led to the destruction, the apparent relish the destroyer showed, or the photo.

A Twist of Xmas

Posted at 4:56 PM on December 16, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: In the media

This time of year, when even the moments of quiet contemplation are bought and paid for by a car manufacturer or jeweler, where does one go for some real Holiday feeling? Where are moods that reach beyond jolly?

twist of x-mas.jpgCollin Rae, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Naxos, has an answer. He and his team have combed through more than 2,500 recordings to gather together a truly lovely disc of music - A Twist of Christmas - that won't make your tummy ache from the sweetness.

Although, looking at the cover, you can't be exactly sure what it will do to your tummy. This is, you will quickly note, not your typical Holiday CD.

"I think the cover art infuses the 'darkness' I was pulling from the music, while it also infuses a cute sense of humor as well," says Rae, who feels that, in our world of "dark cartoon culture," these two extremes go together well.

Darkness is, indeed, the focus of the disc, with candles to light our way instead of blinking neon signs. The album moves beautifully through the centuries and across a range of textures, highlighting the essence of a season dedicated, at its core, to embracing both the darkness in the world and the brightness of the creative and emotional mind. "It leans," says Rae, "towards dark and somber beauty without the jarring and scary elements."

Rae and his team achieve this blend, moving deftly among Tchaikovsky's seasonal Classics, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, Arvo Part, and even Krzystof Penderecki. "I can hear the sounds and pick the century of music I want to use to achieve that sound and flow," says Rae. "I think the severity of the stylistic differences placed side by side, flowing into one another, made this haunting and effective. It won't always work, but when it does, it's magnificent."

A Twist of Christmas is a follow-up to the well-received Naxos release Music for the Zombie Apocalypse, a beautiful and haunting collection born of Rae's deep and lasting love of horror films and Zombies that started when his father took him and his siblings to a midnight showing of The Night of the Living Dead in the 1970's.

As with A Twist of Christmas, the Zombie-inspired disc shifts across the centuries; with tone, feeling, and character all nicely blended and shifted to create an engaging and interesting listening experience. This matching of sounds is necessary for Rae's vision, as "It needed to flow from the stark beauty of Faure, Mozart, and Rutti to the fierce and darker works or Coates, Penderecki, and Schnittke. I've seen people purchase this who would have never bought a recording by, say, Gloria Coates, or Penderecki, or even Faure. I find this very, very encouraging."

Exposure to new kinds of music is important to Rae, who spent several decades in the record business building a love of a wide range of musics. Included in his lists of influences are (mostly European) soundtrack music from the 60's and 70's, electronic music, noise, jazz, punk, post-punk, and all those old cartoons. "I'm hoping that not only lovers of deep and more obscure pieces will gravitate towards this, but also those who were into the zombie album. It's for people who are truly tired of the same old Christmas collection, and in my mind it's great music for a get-together, or even Christmas dinner."

Celestial Altercation

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

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

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

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

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

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


CSI: Minnesota?

Posted at 3:44 PM on November 30, 2011 by Samuel Kjellberg
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Stradivarius Recreate.jpg

Radiologist Dr. Steve Sirr has been using the process of medical forensics scanning to record and analyze stringed instruments for close to 22 years now. But recently, Dr. Sirr has teamed up with St. Paul luthiers Steve Rossow and John Waddle of John Waddle Violins Inc. to use the radiology process of CT scanning and analyzing to recreate one of the world's most famed violins, the 1704 "Betts" Stradivarius.

In essence, this is a cloning process. Like DNA, a violin can be scanned and analyzed for its physical structure — shape, density, wood type, etc. — and with that knowledge, specialists can essentially recreate any violin.

Setting aside all fantastical images of cloning we see from the sci-fi films, we need to know that these are not exact copies. The replicas are not time-traveled and perfectly molded, but are modern instruments that take into consideration the luthier techniques, shape, style and wood type of the famed violins throughout history.

All instruments leave fingerprints and a bread crumb trail. Like crime scene investigators, the scanning process exposes that history and tells the unique and individual story of each of these instruments. The methods can then be used to ensure the preservation process of these remarkable instruments.

While you further your reading, what I might challenge you to keep in mind are the implications of what may come from this ongoing project. Prior to this point in scientific history, the highest quality violins, namely those in the Stradivarius catalog, have been reserved for the extremely wealthy or the musically accomplished that can be financially supported in obtaining them.

What Dr. Steve Sirr, Steve Rossow and John Waddle have done is narrow the gap of accessibility to quality. They are offering replicas of world-class instruments at more affordable prices that will empower and enrich the playing of young beginners and amateurs.

Spotify: Aesthetics and Accesibility

Posted at 4:51 PM on September 2, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: In the media, Musical philosophy

On Wednesday we talked about what Spotify is, and then yesterday we outlined some of the financial issues that Spotify raises for Classical composers.

Today we will explore some of the more abstract issues surrounding Spotify.


Pipedreams host and executive producer Michael Barone said in a meeting the other day that "there's no such thing as too much good music." But, is that true? Spotify has resurrected exactly that conversation amongst some classical music composers and bloggers recently.

On one side you have the argument that this emphasis on access devalues the music, making it harder to listen to anything at all. Turning music into wallpaper and taking away the incentive to value it through a transaction is, according to some, surrounding us with more music that we can use - I once knew a man who had collected so many chairs in his house that you couldn't find a place to sit.

Gabriel Kahane, son of virtuoso pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane and hugely talented musician in his own right, illustrated this point of view earlier this week on his Tumblr blog.

The next day, a blogger with the handle ulyssestone posted a response from the other side, saying that the world has changed, and that no one benefits from bemoaning the loss of the old ways. Ultimately, he seems to conclude, we should embrace the shake-up that the access to music that Spotify presents.

Kirk McElhearn, another blogger, also weighed in on the subject, engaging Gabriel Kahane in a back-and-forth where his main original point, taking issue with Gabriel Kahane bemoaning the degradation of "serious" listening, caused Mr. Kahane to amend his post to remove the word.


The question still remains, though, about how accessible the music really is on Spotify. Sure, there might be a lot of classical music on Spotify for us to listen to, but another complaint about Spotify echoes an old complaint about most digital music services - how on Earth do you find what you're looking for?

The particular problems of classical music taxonomy are unique in music, and have yet to be adequately addressed by everyone from Google to Apple to Spotify. We here at MPR deal with this problem every day, as classical music requires far more variables than most music software can handle, thereby making it difficult to adapt tools for use with the music.

The problem stems from the relationships between the many parts of a classical piece of music. In every other type of music besides classical, there are only 4 major considerations for organizing a song:


Nearly all digital music management software is set up along these lines - just look at iTunes - and it works great. The problem is when you try to fit into those categories most classical music, which uses 6 related, but ultimately different organizational elements:


You see this problem constantly when labels are forced to merge "Piece" and "Movement" into the slot for "Song". And, of course, there is the perennial problem of who belongs in the "Artist" category - the composer, conductor, soloist, or ensemble? Different labels tackle that question in different ways, with some even putting all four into that one field.

It is this difference of structure, combined with a lack of standards amongst labels, that can make searching for a particular recording a difficult and sometimes frustrating activity.

Steven Smith, critic from the New York Times, fills us in on how Spotify stacks up on this issue.


There are, of course, other issues that have been raised about Spotify by classical musicians, composers, and audience members over the last two months, but they live in the technical realm, and will probably be addressed in subsequent updates to the service.

1. Playback is not gapless (there is an ever-so-brief pause between each track), which is not how many Classical tracks are designed to be consumed.

2. Sound quality is an issue for some audiophilic Classical fans, as free accounts can only stream at a maximum of 160kbps (a CD is around 320kbps.) This is not as much of an issue if you want to put up $9.99 per month for the Premium service that allows you to stream at the coveted 320kbps, except that reports are that only about 30% of available music is offered at that higher quality.


At the end of the day, streaming services like Spotify have come, in the last few years, to signify a new dominance in music distribution. While it may not mean the end of the physical musical object, or of the composer, or of the audience, it feels to many like the musical landscape is shifting, and will continue to shift as we intuit our way forward. As with previous models for distribution, the unsustainable portions will hopefully be identified and addressed with an attention that comes from exactly this conversation.

A new way of consuming music, and of having your music consumed, may ultimately affect the music itself. This is a necessary adaptation that is the natural byproduct of any intersection of technology and art. How we address that issue, when it starts to become apparent to us, will shape a new generation of musicians, and will hopefully give us all a new way to listen.

Spotify: The Money Problems

Posted at 4:54 PM on September 1, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: In the media, Musical philosophy

Yesterday, we outlined what Spotify is, and why it's pretty cool. There have been, however, some classical music composers, players, bloggers, and audience members who aren't so thrilled.

Any new technology has its naysayers. The written word was heralded as The End, as was the printed word. Sheet music was seen as an encroachment, and recorded music in each of its many and varied delivery systems over the years has been criticized as being the death of an art form.

And it's true that with every technology there is a give-and-take that occurs with the old paradigm. With Spotify, the argument of its detractors is that the take is a lot more than the give.

As with most things, it all comes back to money. One of the largest and most vocal criticism of Spotify since it landed in July has been the compensation model that it uses for artists.

Here's how that model works:

Every time anyone plays enough of a track to be considered a "play", Spotify pays that record label (reportedly) one-third of one cent. That record label then pays the composer and the artist their share from that one-third of that one cent.

It seems like a pretty straightforward they-pay-as-you-play model, but when you look closer you see that the formula heavily (some would say cripplingly) favors major pop labels at the sacrifice of the rest of musicdom.

To elaborate --

Major Labels:

It's a simple issue of scale.

In its first week of sales in early May, the new Lady Gaga album, "Born This Way," sold 1.1 million units. Contrast that with the statistic that only around 25 classical records (not including crossover) have ever, in the history of recorded music, topped a million in total sales over the entire lifetime of the album.

With such a small per-play rate, you need to have millions of listens in order to make any meaningful amount of money. Small, and even mid-sized independent labels, who don't get those mega pop star numbers, are looking at paltry returns on their investment.

Additionally, as some those smaller labels would argue, each of those plays on Spotify for which they get so little represents one CD - the current "model of sustainability" with it's $9 price point - that they weren't able to sell.

Pop Labels:

Think about this - classical tracks can run 30 minutes, for which the label gets $0.0033 for every play. A pop tune lasts 2-4 minutes, for which the label gets $0.0033 for every play. Therefore, if you were to play a full Beethoven symphony (4 tracks) on Spotify, the label would get $0.0133 (or, more dramatically - one and one-third cents) for your listen. If you were, however, to play that full Lady Gaga album with 14 tracks, the label would get $0.0462 (or just about four-and-a-half cents).

Further Reading:

Brian Brandt from Mode Records outlines his frustration with the Spotify model and why he doesn't want his label to be a part of it.

A breakdown of what an artist earns through various sales media.

TOMORROW: How well does Spotify actually work? And are we better listeners for having this much access to music?

Spotify: An Introduction

Posted at 4:44 PM on August 31, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: In the media, Musical philosophy

Spotify is something you may have heard about. For some, it is a long-awaited music streaming service. For others, it's just something else they don't use that might or might not (and who really cares?) be like Pandora, Rdio, iCloud, Jango, Slacker, Maestro, Grooveshark, last.fm, MOG, or Turntable.

But whether you are excited about it or ambivalent towards it, Spotify is here, and Spotify is changing music distribution.

That change has been met, as all changes are, with skepticism, anger, elation, and all of the other reactions produced by the friction of that change. The rub from Spotify has been keenly felt, and discussed, in the classical music community recently, causing conversations and even arguments in the Twitter and Blog-spheres for months.

So, for those of us who aren't following the exact conversation, what exactly is Spotify, and why is it causing all of this hubbub?

For the next three days, Classical MPR will explore those questions and hopefully give some clarity about what Spotify is, why people are upset, and why others think it's great.

So, let's start with a little context.

First, what is Spotify?

In short, Spotify is an online music library that you can access, completely free of charge. Think of it as an iTunes account that has been pre-populated for your use by several major record labels (including Universal, Sony, EMI, and Warner Music Group) with their music catalogues. Imagine, if you would, waking up tomorrow to find that overnight your iTunes library had been expanded to include a large portion of all recorded music. Well, imagine no longer, because that is the reality of Spotify.

Once you sign up, which you can do with a free, but limited, account, you can search out and immediately stream (to your computer) any song or piece of music that has had rights cleared to be in the database. That database is currently over 15 million songs, and is growing every day.

There is a social element to Spotify as well, which can link to your Facebook and Twitter accounts to share playlists with friends. Through Facebook you can even "send" songs to friends, highlighting for them something you've just discovered, or an old favorite you love. You can also collaborate on playlists, allowing multiple people to add songs to the same playlist.

So, Spotify is a huge collection of recorded music that I can listen to at any time for free? That sounds pretty cool.

TOMORROW: So, why are people so upset about Spotify?

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.

Is Andre Rieu Amazing?

Posted at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: In the media, Musical philosophy

In the great debate of integrity and relevance, every art form has its pulp and its grit.

Recent cinema releases include both Tree of Life and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Restaurants flourish that feature Tater Tot Hotdish on a paper plate and others that showcase a slow-cooked short rib, hand-picked baby green bean, porcini béchamel, and hand-made "tater tot" hotdish deconstruction.

You can find in your local Big Box Book Shop both David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino's Here's the Situation: A Guide to Creeping on Chicks, Avoiding Grenades, and Getting your GTL on the Jersey Shore.

And in the Classical Music world, we have Andre Rieu.

Andre Rieu does not, and will not (as far as I've been told) publicly perform the Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin in D Minor by Bach, Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, or Beethoven's Violin Concerto. These are, some would argue, serious pieces that take some serious listening.

He will, however, premier a new Waltz by none other that Sir Anthony Hopkins. Yes, the guy who played Hannibal Lecter.

Notice how genuinely happy Sir Anthony is with Mr. Rieu. Notice the tear shed by his wife as she is genuinely moved by the moment. Then go to YouTube and watch an endless parade of clips from stadium concerts full of chanting, singing, dancing fans being equally moved by Andre Rieu's version of Classical Music.

Which leads me to the question - is Classical music a serious business?

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

Debussy on Mercury

Posted at 10:38 AM on March 30, 2011 by Daniel Gilliam
Filed under: Claude Debussy, In the media

I don't know if you've followed the Messenger mission, but it's the first spacecraft dedicated to orbiting Mercury - our innermost planet. It was launched in 2004, and just a week ago made it into orbit.

The first pictures arrived yesterday, and I was fascinated by the choice of Messenger's first photographic return: "Debussy and Its Hundreds of Miles of Raysdebussy_2.jpg." "Debussy," in this case is a crater, with prominent rays that extend hundreds of kilometers out.

Your Top 10

Posted at 4:33 PM on January 11, 2011 by Daniel Gilliam (7 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

New York Times writer Anthony Tommasini has opened the flood gates on public opinion. In his January 7th article, he imagines creating a Top 10 list of composers of all time and starts pitting Bach against Handel (assuming only one could make the list). In his follow-up he names the "Vienna Four": Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. With no lack of space in the digital world, comments on Facebook, Twitter and emails Classical MPR hosts have already begun flowing. So here's your chance: What does your Top 10 list look like? Don't be shy!

Update: Who will make the 20th Century list?


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:

Classical Music Busking

Posted at 3:35 PM on January 3, 2011 by Elena See
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

It seems like it's not an unfamiliar news story these days: a musician (sometimes famous, sometimes not) sets up shop in a public place, usually near some kind of public transit, opens his or her (or their) case and starts to play. Some of them do it for money, some of them just do it to do it and some music students do it for practice.

Cellist Dale Henderson is the latest in the series of musicians who have been profiled in news articles. His area of choice? The subway system of NYC. And his music of choice? "I could sit alone on top of a mountaintop playing the Bach suites and be happy. They're like the Bible for cellists," he said.

So, I know it's something we've probably all read about before...but on this snowy January day in St. Paul, it just really felt like an encouraging story to share - classical music is alive and well in the world! And you don't have to go to a concert hall to hear it.

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?

Caroling Caroling through the ages

Posted at 8:53 AM on December 20, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Events, In the media, Musician stories

Yesterday morning Philip Brunelle, director of the VocalEssence chorus in Minneapolis, was on NPR's Weekend Edition talking with host Liane Hansen about Christmas carols.
Where did Christmas carols come from? How did they start? And how have they evolved?
Here's a link to their conversation.

And tune in tonight at 8:30p to hear Philip Brunelle conduct VocalEssence in the annual "Welcome Christmas!" concert. It's a tribute to the great composer John Rutter. Here's VocalEssence singing one of Rutter's most famous carols:

My Top 5 Contemporary Picks

Posted at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2010 by Daniel Gilliam
Filed under: In the media

TROY1178.jpgIf you're looking for that last minute gift for the new music enthusiast in your life, here are my recommendations. Our friends at NPR Music provide sample clips, and some brief words from me about why I chose these five discs.

What are your picks?

A 3D Holiday Classic

Posted at 2:26 PM on December 16, 2010 by Elena See
Filed under: Events, In the media

For a lot of us, it's a Christmas tradition - listening to the music from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" or, if we're lucky enough to have a ballet company near us, going to see it.

If you're not familiar with the story, here's a very brief synopsis (with thanks to the Houston Ballet's website): It's the story of a little girl named Clara who wakes up one night at midnight to find herself being attacked by giant mice. Life-size toy soldiers come to her rescue and they are led by a Nutcracker who, after he wins the battle with Clara's help, turns into a prince.

After the battle, the Nutcracker Prince turns Clara's house into the Land of the Snow and we meet the Snow Queen and the Snowflakes. Clara and her prince jump into an enchanted sleigh and head toward the Kingdom of Sweets. When they arrive, they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy who arranges for dancers to entertain them while they feast. Eventually, Clara drifts off to sleep...and when she wakes up, she's back in her bed.

Sounds like just a lovely tale, doesn't it? And Tchaikovsky's music is beautiful. So I admit I was intrigued when I heard that director Andrei Konchalovskiy was making a movie based on the ballet, The Nutcracker in 3D. With the addition of several storylines, lyrics by Tim Rice (some set to Tchaikovsky's music) and some pretty heavy political satire, the reviews have not been great. So it brings up a question: Mess with a classic? Or just leave it alone? And if you've seen it - well, what did you think?

Dear Nutcracker: Does this tutu make me look fat?

Posted at 5:47 AM on December 14, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: In the media

'Tis the season for Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, and George Balanchine's Nutcracker at New York City Ballet is causing a bit of a scandal, after the New York Times dance reviewer criticized one of the dancers for her weight. Alastair Macaulay said ballerina Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, "looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many."
The fact that Jennifer Ringer has been public about her history of eating disorders started a lively discussion about ballet and body image.
Here's a link to the brouhaha, including a Today Show television interview with the ballerina - and critic Alastair Macaulay's excellent, nuanced response.

The whole incident brings to mind the Royal Opera's firing of soprano Deborah Voigt when she couldn't fit into the cocktail dress.

Brave New World

Posted at 4:58 PM on November 19, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media

Here's an article that's making the rounds: advice to classical musicians on how to remake themselves to compete in the new marketplace. For starters, don't plan on lifetime employment with a major orchestra. The full story, and readers' comments here.

Alex Ross blogs about the MSO concert this weekend

Posted at 9:01 AM on November 18, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Alex Ross - Music Critic at the New Yorker - writes today on his blog about the upcoming concert of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra - a tribute to American jazz great Dave Brubeck and a 90th birthday celebration.

Dudamel on the Big Screen

Posted at 9:04 AM on November 10, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media

By a funny coincidence, two of the day's most emailed stories in the New York Times have to do with what could be loosely called the visual side of music.

It seems like an unlikely concept, but obviously it's popular.

One story is on a music publisher's archive, the other --and this has a bigger classical connection -- is about showing orchestral concerts in movie theaters, using High Definition technology.

Would you go to such a broadcast? How much visual sizzle would it need to have?

While you're pondering those questions, here's a pretty famous combination of music and video, from the pre-HD days.

More Cancellations in Detroit

Posted at 10:49 AM on November 9, 2010 by Ward Jacobson (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has canceled three additional weeks of concerts due to the musicians strike, beginning with four classical performances Thursday through Sunday that were to have been conducted by music director Leonard Slatkin.

In addition, Pops Series concerts next week and an additional weekend of classical concerts Nov. 26-28 have been canceled. A total of 27 concerts have now been canceled since the five-week old strike began Oct. 4.

Read more about it here.

Meanwhile, Viktoria Mullova plays Beethoven this week with the Minnesota Orchestra.


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. . . .

Alice Dancing under the Gallows

Posted at 9:24 AM on November 3, 2010 by Alison Young (3 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The oldest Holocaust survivor in the world considers herself lucky - she has friends, her health, an optimistic outlook, and her music. Watch this spectacular short film about 107-year-old Alice who gave over a hundred concerts in Theresienstadt, a place where music became more than mere entertainment, it became a religion and beacon of hope.


Renee Fleming drops a few octaves to sing pop covers

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

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

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

It's a job. It's a sign of the times. It's weird.

Posted at 1:17 PM on August 25, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

I've been closely following the unfolding drama in Cleveland over the re-assignment of Donald Rosenberg - the senior music critic for the Plain Dealer after he wrote a series of scathing reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra's Music Director.

Sadly, the job of music critic for many papers around the country has all but disappeared. But in an unusual twist Timothy Mangun of the Orange County Register will be moved off the classical music beat to cover the "People" section of the paper.

He writes on his blog "I'll be covering the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dr. Laura (did I spell those right?) and all the other worthies whom readers can't get enough of. Drunken tirades, courtroom dramas and sex scandals will be the grist of my mill. No joke."

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.)

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.

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!


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!"

Daniel Schorr, Music Critic

Posted at 12:35 PM on July 23, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The death of Daniel Schorr reminded me that he briefly thought of being, not a news reporter, but a classical music reviewer.

That revelation appeared in this interview with Robert Siegel. (It's under six minutes, but the classical part begins at about three minutes in.)

Minnesota Mahler?

Posted at 3:54 PM on July 21, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media

It was a nice surprise to open the Star Tribune, and see not one but two letters to the editor on musical topics.

The topics were both stimulating ones: music education for kids, and suggestions as to what the Minnesota Orchestra should record next. The writer put in a plug for Mahler, as you'll see here.

A Haiku for Anne Akiko Myers

Posted at 11:04 AM on July 16, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

It's not just rock bands who are using social media to reach out to their fans, and let their fans reach back.

The violinist Anne Akiko Myers is asking her fans to listen to a cut from her upcoming album--and respond with their poetry.

Read all about it, and maybe even contribute, here.

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.


Being Pavarotti

Posted at 6:25 PM on June 8, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Christine Sweet recommends a wonderful new film Being Pavarotti

She writes: "I have a bad habit of turning on the TV late Sunday nights when I should be getting ready to turn in. Last year on one such occasion I stumbled upon a documentary film in progress on PBS and stayed up way too late to watch the rest of it.

Now I'm an easy mark for a true story about someone who pursues a life of music against difficult odds. But this film captivated me with a context outside my experience and imagination.

Elton, a South African teenager from a poor family is given a Luciano Pavarotti cassette by his cousin, falls in love with the voice, and is determined to "be" Pavarotti."

The film is available for stream on-line

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.

Dudamel on 60 Minutes

Posted at 1:19 PM on May 17, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel is not exactly an unknown figure in the classical music world. Still, it's safe to say that last night's story on 60 Minutes introduced him to a whole new audience.

(And if that piqued your interest in the Venezuelan phenom, check out Julie Amacher's New Classical Tracks feature on his "Discoveries" CD .)

Violinist's career saved

Posted at 11:25 AM on May 13, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Roger Frisch is the Minn Orch's associate concertmaster and a couple of years ago he was diagnosed with Essential Tremor - a career ender.

But thanks to the Mayo clinic - and a device from Medtronic - he's back playing.

Here's the story (and video with Roger playing his violin while in surgery!)


Italian Opera on the Picket Line

Posted at 4:25 PM on May 6, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Labor. money, and turf issues are closing down opera performances in Italy, the land where opera was born. This New York Times article* has details, and in the headline, one of the stereotypes that refuses to die.

*Registration required


Minnesota Orchestra's latest disc wows the Brits

Posted at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, In the media

Reviews from London are in and Osmo, the Minn Orch and Stephen Hough get high marks.

The London Times writes "Every concerto features incisive conducting from Osmo Vanska and the chiselled splendour of his Minnesota Orchestra."

The London Observer: "Osmo Vanska's suave direction of the Minnesota players allows Hough's brilliance to shine through."

You can listen to a re-broadcast tonight at 8:00 of one of those live sessions with Stephen Hough playing Tchaikovsky with the Minnesota Orchesra.

Met Opera GM Rolling the Dice

Posted at 1:10 AM on April 8, 2010 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: In the media

The latest edition of Vanity Fair magazine examines the challenges facing New York's Metropolitan Opera, specifically a $47 million deficit. General Manager Peter Gelb isn't backing down though. Read more about it here. Some fascinating insights on how the world of opera functions on its greatest stage. So what do you think? Is Gelb going about it the right way?

Villazon Is Back; RIP Blanche Thebom and Susana Walton

Posted at 4:51 PM on March 24, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

Some classical news stories from the last few days:

Rolando Villazon, whose vocal problems had forced him to take a hiatus, is back --triumphantly back--on the opera stage.

Blanche Thebom, the American mezzo, is dead at 91. She may be most remembered for participating in the classic Wilhelm Furtwangler recording of Wagner's Tristan, where she took on the secondary, but indispensable role of Isolde's lady-in-waiting.

Let's also note the passing of Lady Susana Walton, widow of composer William Walton. After her husband's death, she devoted herself to the spectacular gardens at their home in Italy--check out these photos.


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.

Dr. James Black: Saving Lives, and Saving Symphonies

Posted at 9:29 AM on March 24, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: In the media, The blog

The New York Times says "[His] discoveries are considered among the most important medical advances in the 20th century, and the drugs have been among the most prescribed in the world."

Nobel Prize-winning pharmacologist Dr. James Black died March 22, at age 85.
He developed two of the world's most important medicines - H2 antagonists, used for treating gastric ulcers, and beta-blockers, effective against heart disease.

But there's more to beta-blockers than heart disease. They're also widely used by professional musicians for treating symptoms of stage fright. A survey by the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians revealed that 27% of the musicians in the 51 largest orchestras in the United States had used beta blockers for performance anxiety related issues.

In 2004, the New York Times reported on this phenomenon, with stories from many distinguished musicians who find beta-blockers to be an invaluable tool in an extremely high-stress profession where missed notes can cost you your job.

So next time you're at a symphony orchestra concert, enjoying a highly polished, musical performance, there's a good chance that some of the credit goes to Dr. James Black.

Good News for Ogren, Bad News for Levine

Posted at 8:50 AM on March 23, 2010 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Conductor James Levine, who missed the beginning of the 2009-10 season due to health problems, will now miss the final weeks as well. While that's bad news for him, it gives a high profile gig to St. Olaf College alum Jayce Ogren, who will replace Maestro Levine in a world premiere performance this weekend with the Boston Symphony.

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!

The Greatest Orchestra in the World

Posted at 5:08 PM on March 16, 2010 by Gillian Martin (2 Comments)
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, In the media, Musician stories

You may have heard us congratulating the Minnesota Orchestra for their fabulous review in this week's New Yorker.

Music critic Alex Ross wrote about the large number of different orchestras which had performed in Carnegie Hall recently, and concluded the piece with this bold statement:

For the duration of the evening of March 1st, the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world.

You can read the whole piece here.


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.


The Skaters Waltz

Posted at 12:20 PM on February 26, 2010 by Alison Young (5 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

As Fred Child pointed out Friday on Performance Today, while the classical music chosen for many of the Olympic ice skaters was wonderful, the music got so chopped up it almost loses its meaning.

It's hard to fit a 45-minute symphony into a 4 ½ minute program, but for me the skaters that used bona-fide classical music in their presentations really made an artistic statement - and I think it just might have given them the edge they needed to win.

I already wrote about Evan Lysacek skating to Stravinsky's Firebird, and then he went on to win gold with selections from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade." Yu-Na Kim pulled off the highest score ever and dazzled us with the dazzling "Concerto in F" by Gershwin. The Canadian Ice Dancing pair skated to one of the most profound works in ALL classical music, Mahler's "Adagietto" from his fifth Symphony.

Anne Midgette of the Washington Post has a lot to say on the matter. How do you feel?


I've listed the medal-winners below who used classical music and what those pieces were:


Gold: Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China used Albinoni's Adagio in G minor in the free Skate
Silver: Pang Qing and Tong Jian skated to "The Impossible Dream" but then used Bizet in the short program, 'Je crois entendre encore' from "The Pearl Fishers"
Bronze: Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany started off with Stephen Sondheim and ended with film music by John Barry from "Out of Africa."


Gold: Evan Lysacek blew me away skating to Stravinsky's 'Firebird' and Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Scheherazade'
Silver: Evgeni Plushenko skated to the slow movement from Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" in his first place short program.
Bronze: Couldn't keep my eyes off Takahashi Daisuke skating to 'La Strada' by Nino Rota in the free skate.

Ice Dancing:

Gold: Canada's Tess Virtue and Scott Moir were so elegant in a flamenco dance played by Pepe Romero but brought us to tears with Mahler's' Adagietto' from the Fifth Symphony.
Silver: Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States used selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" for the free skate.


Gold: Kim Yu-Na of Korea started out with music from James Bond, but then classed up with a Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F for her free skate.
Silver: Japan's Mao Asada skated her short program to selections from Khachaturian's "Masquerade" and later Rachmaninoff's Prelude in c#, also known as "The Bells of Moscow".
Bronze: Joannie Rochette of Canada skated an emotional free skate to selections from Camille Saint-Saens' "Samson and Delilah,"including the "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" and the "Bacchanale."


Bernstein on TV

Posted at 2:18 PM on February 22, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Leonard Bernstein's initial outings on TV are well-known--the famous image is of him and his musicians, standing on a huge blow-up of the score of Beethoven's Fifth. But they haven't been widely available on video till now. This New York Times article* recalls those golden days of television.

(Check out the video clip of Bernstein the vocalist, doing lines from "Macbeth" in the style of a blues.)

*Registration required

Skating to Stravinsky

Posted at 2:58 PM on February 18, 2010 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

I'm an Olympics junkie - and maybe even more - a skating junkie.

So I was blown away by American skater Evan Lysacek's short program accompanied by a highly-condensed version of Stravinsky's "Firebird."

The video is here - it's AMAZING!

It's true the music was written to dance to - but what was required by this athlete was to communicate that he understood the music - its structure, its surprise, its depth.

The music might threaten to be too big and overwhelming and Evan's triple lutz and triple toe loop combinations would end up being like so much baggage attached to something more meaningful than merely a sport.

Lysacek's ability to "get" the music and internalize it physically enhanced his performance for me - it was truly a wonder and I can't wait to see what he'll do tonight.

He's currently in second place by a just a smidgen.


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!

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.

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.)


James Galway Can't Play the Flute

Posted at 12:35 PM on January 27, 2010 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Well, not with two broken arms, he can't.

Apparently Sir James took a nasty fall around the start of the New Year, shattering the elbow on one arm and breaking his wrist on the other. Ouch.

While he's cancelled all his February performances, he hopes to be back in the game by March, according to a statement on his website.

When he gets to Michigan in early March to play with the Detroit Symphony, I'm sure he and conductor Leonard Slatkin will compare notes about unexpected medical leaves.

Minnesota Opera Gets it Right

Posted at 8:14 PM on January 25, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: In the media

Anne Midgette, classical critic of The Washington Post, highlights Minnesota Opera as a success story. She gives credit to "staying true to artistic soul" in the recession, and she calls Minnesota Opera unique in its investment in new opera. You can listen to Anne's comments here.

And to whet your appetite for this week's MN Opera opening of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, check out the great Slovak soprano as Queen Elisabeth going to pieces in the final scene of the opera. Out of jealousy, she's ordered the execution of the (much-younger) man she loves, and "wigs out" -- literally! -- in a tidal wave of remorse and resignation to her age and her fate. Watch through the 4-minute mark! Then continue to the end to relish the transformation on the face of the new heir-apparent, James of Scotland:

Classical on the Small Screen

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

A couple PBS specials of note, tonight and tomorrow.

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

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

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

Cleveland Orchestra Strike OVER

Posted at 2:25 PM on January 19, 2010 by Ward Jacobson (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

It looks like the Cleveland Orchestra strike was short-lived.

For what the New York Times had to say, click here.


Cleveland Orchestra Musicians Go On Strike

Posted at 1:48 AM on January 18, 2010 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

"We may be considered to be amongst the best in the world musically, but we are a far cry from being compensated that way or treated that way," say the musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The orchestra's board of trustees, on the other hand, said it recognized the musicians' "incredible artistry" but was committed to "ongoing prudent cost control."

That disagreement led the musicians to go on strike as of midnight Sunday night. Read more about what both sides have to say here.

On a facetious note, as the musicians picket in the chilly Cleveland weather this week, I wonder how many of them will wish they'd waited to strike until after their Miami residency?

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. . . .)

Are we in danger of losing Burt Hara?

Posted at 1:43 PM on January 13, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Clarinetist Stanley Drucker retired from the New York Philharmonic last year to huge fanfare since he had been playing magnificently with the band for 60 years.

How can one replace a legend? Well, the NY Phil has had a tough time, so after many rounds of auditions they are now inviting Principal Clarinetists from around the country to sit in with the Phil - though they don't want anyone to know who they are.

None-the-less, our very own Minnesota Orchestra Principal Burt Hara was a real stand-out in a recent concert and got a write up in the Times.

Vancouver Symphony Just Says No to the Olympics

Posted at 10:11 AM on January 5, 2010 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Remember the fuss when the big name classical performers at President Obama's inauguration did not play live at the event, but mimed to a recording of themselves?

Or the lip-synching controversy that erupted after the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics?

My personal view is, "Well, that's show biz," at least when it comes to enormous public events in which music is only one small part.

But Bramwell Tovey, conductor of the Vancouver Symphony, took a much harder line when the organizing committee for the upcoming Winter Olympics asked the orchestra to pre-record. See what he had to say here.

Caroling, Caroling...

Posted at 2:38 AM on December 23, 2009 by Ward Jacobson (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Is Christmas caroling a lost tradition in this fast-paced, instant gratification, digital world we live in? Maybe not - at least not in the Twin Cities. On three different nights this past week I've spotted carolers out and about, braving the cold. One group even had luminaries! What a wonderful holiday tradition carried out by some hearty and musical souls.


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.


Rachel Barton Pine...Die-Hard Metalhead

Posted at 3:34 AM on December 10, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Heavy metal. Yep, it's hardcore, down and dirty and classical violinist Rachel Barton Pine absolutely LOVES it. As she puts it, "metal grabs you by the throat, hits you in the gut, tears you down, lifts you up, and makes you feel ALIVE."

She's even in her own metal band. (They're playing in Chicago and Milwaukee this weekend)

Check out Rachel's blog for Decibel Magazine's website on The Top Five Most Metal Pieces of Classical Music. Works by Bartok, Stravinsky, Mahler and even Beethoven crack her Top Five.

Our own Julie Amacher will have more on Rachel Barton Pine in the days to come, and probably not so heavy on the metal.

Iraqi musicians swept up in recent violence

Posted at 4:31 PM on December 9, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The Iraqi National Orchestra director Karim Wasfi told an audience just last week that "you have a choice in life. You can choose a weapon, a Kalashnikov, or you can try a musical instrument."

But the orchestra itself has been in the middle of the renewed violence in Baghdad, including the most recent suicide bombing that claimed 127 lives on Tuesday.

As of this writing, it is unlcear if any musicians are among the dead.

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.

High Prices Keeping You Away?

Posted at 5:28 PM on December 3, 2009 by Rex Levang (5 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, The blog

Our colleagues, over on the MPRQ site, pose a Question of the Day, and today the question was: Does the price of a ticket keep you from attending classical music concerts?

(As Gillian Martin recently noted in this space, pop music events can come with a high sticker price too. But in light of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's news about lowering prices, that's how the question was framed.)

Read the responses here.


Classical Grammy nominees

Posted at 10:43 AM on December 3, 2009 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, In the media

This year's Grammy nominees were announced this morning. Putting aside Beyonce for the moment, the Classical music categories include some musicians with strong Minnesota ties, including pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (former St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Artistic Partner), guitarist Sharon Isbin (St. Louis Park native), and the Enso Quartet (in residence last year with the SPCO).

Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra:
Bartók: 3 Concertos
Pierre Boulez, conductor (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Yuri Bashmet, Gidon Kremer, Neil Percy, Tamara Stefanovich & Nigel Thomas; Berliner Philharmoniker & London Symphony Orchestra)

Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra):
Journey To The New World
Sharon Isbin (Joan Baez & Mark O'Connor)

Best Chamber Music Performance
Ginastera: String Quartets (Complete)
Enso Quartet

Also noted and nominated:

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham's new French recital CD w/ Malcolm Martineau, much of which they performed at the Ordway in St. Paul just last night!

Pop trumpeter Chris Botti, who plays Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis this weekend.

Jazz singer Kurt Elling, who recently performed at his MInnesota alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College.

Winners will be revealed on January 31. Complete list of nominees in all 109 categories here.


A Trailblazing Music Scholar

Posted at 5:05 PM on November 24, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media

The death of H. C. Robbins Landon has just been announced. His name may not be current in every household, but lovers of the Viennese classic composers, especially Haydn, are in his debt for the scholarly work he did. This Telegraph obituary focuses (maybe too much?) on one incident in his career that he no doubt would have liked to forget, but also suggests the range and importance of his work.

The Myth of High-Priced Tickets

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

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

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

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

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


Melbourne Symphony Wonders: Is Music Director Necessary?

Posted at 1:14 PM on November 16, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The Melbourne Symphony recently parted ways with its Music Director, Oleg Caetani, a year before his contract ran out.

This fact, and the success of a recent guest conductor, has the orchestra's president wondering if they need a single music director at all. Wouldn't a series of specialists be better?

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra asked the same questions a few years ago, and came up with an answer that works very well for them.

And by the way, the SPCO welcomes its newest artistic partner later this month.

Time to Weigh in....

Posted at 4:34 AM on November 14, 2009 by Ward Jacobson (10 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, The blog

My colleague Julie Amacher shared this entry from Friday's Arts Journal website.

The question? Which 10 living composers will still be played in 50 years' time? The Arts Journal site paired it down to five locks: Birtwistle, Boulez, Rautavaara, Reich and Sondheim. Then came the probables, followed by the possibles.

So what do you think? We'd love to see YOUR top 10.


Can orchestras survive with "business as usual?"

Posted at 8:52 AM on November 12, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Earlier this fall, Michael Kaiser, the President of the Kennedy Center, made his way to Saint Paul to talk with about 250 arts presenters. Many of those anxiously hung on every word of the Turnaround King's advice for staying in business in this economy.

Michael Kaiser's pep talks come from his own experience on saving organizations on the brink of collapse. But recently in his blog in the Huffington Post, he admitted some groups are just going to fail.

Oldest Orchestra West of the Rockies Files for Bankruptcy

Posted at 4:49 AM on November 9, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The Honolulu Symphony had struggled financially for the last couple of years. Its musicians have sometimes gone months without paychecks.

Now its board has cancelled the rest of its 2009 concerts and filed for bankruptcy.

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!

Composing Well Is the Best Revenge

Posted at 5:39 PM on November 4, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The financial and legal ordeal of composer Peter Maxwell Davies, who had been defrauded by his former manager, has reached some kind of closure. Details here, including the revenge that the composer is mulling over.

Another American Conductor on the Disabled List

Posted at 11:26 PM on November 3, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

While conductor James Levine's medical leave keeps getting longer, another American conductor has cancelled a couple of weeks worth of concerts.

Current Detroit Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin gave new definition to the phrase "the show must go on" Sunday night in Rotterdam.

He suffered a heart attack, but managed to finish the concert before undergoing surgery later that night. Read more about it here.

Interactive Ives

Posted at 4:58 PM on October 23, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

If you remember our series The MTT Files (MTT being conductor Michael Tilson Thomas), you'll be interested to know that new episodes of the related TV series, Keeping Score, have now been released.

They're accompanied with abundant amounts of online information--text, images, video, and interactive pages. Here's one that lets you be your own Charles Ives. It combines Taps, played by a single trumpeter, with a marching band. The trumpeter stands in a skiff on a New England pond; with your mouse, you can place him off in the distance, or bring him in to shore, as the band plays on (or not). Charles Ives had a fondness for this kind of aural scene-setting--give it a try for yourself.

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!

Levine: The Arrangement is Perfect

Posted at 4:32 PM on October 22, 2009 by Gillian Martin (2 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Conductor James Levine found himself taking an unexpected medical leave a few weeks ago, as we reported previously on Classical Notes.

He was supposed to be back in action tonight with the Boston Symphony, but now he'll wait until October 30th.

With this being his third medical leave in the last five years, some wonder if his jobs as music director of both the Metropolitan Opera (in NYC) and the Boston Symphony are too much for him to handle, but he says no:

"The way it works is much more stimulating and much more in balance in terms of artistic growth and artistic content than it would be if I did one or the other."

Compared to holding jobs in New York and Munich, as he used to do, it's a piece of cake. And everybody else is doing it. Read more about it here.


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 . . .


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.

You can't please 'em all

Posted at 12:18 PM on September 27, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Programs

I was subbing for Steve the other day on Friday Favorites. I love hosting that show because it's always interesting hearing what you like (and what you don't like!) and what you want to hear more of.

One gal wrote a long missive begging us (with lots of explanation points and all-caps) not to play "On the Trail" from Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" but to PLEASE play one of the other movements. "Help me get that donkey song out of my head!!!!" she wrote.

Another listener asked us to play a very long piece by John Adams that he heard for the first time as a teenager and ever since has been a new music afficionado. Needless-to-say e-mails poured in from those not quite as eager to hear 20 minutes of Adams.

So I laughed when I read this in the Times this morning about other displeased audiences.

Boos at Met Opera's Opening Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancin' with the Opera Stars

Posted at 9:25 PM on September 21, 2009 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories, The blog

A recent New York Times profile calls her "Opera's Coolest Soprano."

While I'm always a little suspicious of the press-agency hype lurking behind such epithets, Danielle de Niese certainly is a performer of charisma and pedigree. She just released a new Mozart CD, and this summer found her back at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, where in 2005 she showed off not only her ability to fearlessly tackle Handel's soprano fireworks, but also to do so while showing off her considerable Terpsichorean skills. The New York Times profile mentions that she travels with 20-30 pairs of shoes. Presumably some of those are dancing shoes. Check out the moves:


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.



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?)

Hooray for the Home Team!

Posted at 10:28 AM on September 16, 2009 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

He's not just an American in Paris - but a Minnesotan in Paris!

Organist Joseph Ripka is from Cambridge, Mn and studied at St. Cloud State. He won the Dublin International Organ Competition last year and is playing on the 5-manual, 100-stop, 1862 Cavaillé-Coll organ at St. Sulpice in Paris - the same organ played by Widor and Dupre.

Check out how the stops have to be manipulated by an assistant (resident organist Daniel Roth) and the conversation never stops throughout the performance!

Thanks Michael Barone for telling us about this cool behind-the-scenes video!


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.

Nadja and Conlon cut to save money

Posted at 1:00 PM on August 25, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Yesterday the Star Tribune reported the Minnesota Orchestra would cut James Conlon's October concerts and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's February concerts "for budgetary reasons."

Read more here.

Gramophone Awards--The Nominees

Posted at 11:13 AM on August 25, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, In the media

The nominees for this year's awards (including the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska) are now online.

Imani Winds on SPS and in the WSJ

Posted at 10:32 AM on August 23, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories, Programs

Great article in the Wall Street Journal about our featured guests on Saint Paul Sunday .

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.

Adulation for Osmo

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

"The high quality of the Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä's work is beyond dispute."

That's the kind of review anyone would be proud to send home to mother, and it's the opening sentence in today's New York Times review of the Minnesota Orchestra music director's gig at the Mostly Mozart Festival this weekend.

The review is not just a gush-fest, though. Read the whole thing here (registration required).

"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.

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:

Music soothes during tough times

Posted at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media

Orchestras left and right are cutting budgets, slashing wages, reducing pension contributions and putting the freeze on hiring, when all the while more and more people are listening to classical music.

At least in England. Their radio stations Classic FM and BBC Radio 3 have both benefited from stressed-out audiences turning to the soothing sounds of music as respite from the pressures of this recession.

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!


More Signs of the Recession

Posted at 3:14 AM on August 1, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

The recession has hit the arts hard, and things could get worse as funders, audiences and sponsors continue to reassess their own financial positions.

Here are a couple of recent examples:

In Baltimore on Thursday, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony accepted a significant pay cut--not their first concession this year.

In Ireland, the Arts Council has proposed cuts that would eliminate the country's three existing opera companies, and replace them with a new one: but "staff in the existing companies would not automatically transfer to the new company."

Do music and sports mix?

Posted at 11:32 AM on July 30, 2009 by Alison Young
Filed under: In the media

Omaha's only full-time classical music station has found a way to both balance their books and stay local and relevant: beginning in August, they'll broadcast football, hockey and basketball games from the University of Nebraska.

Although the change in programming will provide students a way to catch live games outside the arenas as well as provide an influx of cash to the KVNO coffers, airing sports has unleashed a backlash from longtime listeners.

That may be because no one bothered to mention to listeners what was coming up next...

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).


Remembering Michael Steinberg

Posted at 2:32 PM on July 28, 2009 by Rex Levang (2 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

As you probably know by now, Michael Steinberg died over the weekend. He had been a critic, an artistic advisor to orchestras and festivals, and above all, a writer whose books and program notes set the standard for knowledgeable, elegant writing on music. He was a revered figure (and these words somehow fail to do justice to that).

Here in Minnesota, where he made his home, he was more than that. For many, he was a personal friend. For many of us who didn't know him personally, he was still a kind of personal presence: as a lecturer at Orchestra Hall, as a guest on MPR, or sometimes just a fellow audience member, since his attendance at musical events was indefatigable.

Online remembrances and obituaries have begun to appear, with more to follow: here's just one, that blends the professional and personal nicely.

Do you have your own recollections of Michael Steinberg, or thoughts on the contribution he made? Share your memories below.


Classical Cronkite

Posted at 11:03 PM on July 21, 2009 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: In the media

Eleven years ago, I did a half-hour interview with Walter Cronkite. It is one of the highlights of my career.

Lost in all the talk this week of his epic work for CBS news is the fact that Cronkite was a big fan of the arts.

A private funeral service for the legendary CBS anchorman is scheduled for Thursday at St. Bartholomew's Church in New York.

A memorial is to be held within the next month in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, according to his longtime chief-of-staff Marlene Adler.

Oh, and by the way....Cronkite will still introduce "The CBS Evening News" after his death. That decision was made earlier this week.

Fickle Finger

Posted at 4:03 PM on July 21, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Here's wishing a full and speedy recovery to Andrew Litton, conductor, and particularly pianist, after a recent injury to his finger.

Wagner Controversy at LA Opera

Posted at 10:42 AM on July 20, 2009 by Gillian Martin (2 Comments)
Filed under: In the media, Musician stories

Opera companies must plot seasons out years in advance. So when Los Angeles Opera puts up its new production of Richard Wagner's 4-part Ring cycle next spring, and the two-month long, region-wide cultural festival associated with it called Ring Festival L.A., you know the plans have been in the works for quite some time.

But some in LA want a change of plan. Last week, an LA county supervisor called for LA Opera to "delete the focus on Wagner and incorporate other composers."

Read more about the controversy here.

Read a response from the music critic of the LA Times here.


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...


Handel Controversy at Edinburgh Festival

Posted at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2009 by Gillian Martin (1 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

One might expect some experimental new piece of music to cause controversy among audience members. But at this year's Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland, a 262-year-old Handel oratorio has some Festival regulars "quite disturbed."

It's not the content but the context of the piece that they're angry about. Find out why here.


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.

Is it live, or is it Memorex?

Posted at 10:46 AM on July 9, 2009 by Alison Young (2 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

I may be showing my age by quoting that ad for a cassette tape, but it was the first thing that popped into my mind when I read a piece today about a man who sued for live music, and won.


I know, I know that's the ad for Maxell, not Memorex...it was a good one, but I digress. The story takes place in Manchester, England with a father taking his kids to see "The Wizard of Oz." The singers were live, but the orchestra was taped.

He felt he'd been misled into believing that all players would be live. While this fellow was the only one who filed suit, the judge in the case used the Trade Descriptions Act as precedent and ordered the theatre to refund the plaintiff's money.

I wonder if the many ballet companies and other musical theatre companies in the United States moving towards taped performances will see similar backlash?


Recovery Money Stimulates MN Arts

Posted at 9:26 PM on July 8, 2009 by Gillian Martin
Filed under: In the media

Remember the political fight back in February about including additional funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in the stimulus package? Eventually the legislation included $50 million for the NEA.

Well, yesterday the Endowment announced the recipients of its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Direct Grants, and just over $1 million of that money will stimulate the economies of 26 Minnesota arts organizations (including MPR).

You can see the whole list here.

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