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Classical Notes

Category Archive: Musical philosophy

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.

(1 Comments)

The Liberating Invitation from the Artworld

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

bidlo_not_warhol_1991.jpg

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


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


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


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


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

Celestial Altercation

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


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


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


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


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


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

(1 Comments)

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.


"SPIRITUAL" LOSS or MUSICAL GAIN?


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.


TRUE ACCESSIBILITY


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:

Song
Album
Artist
Writer

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:

Piece
Movement
Composer
Conductor
Ensemble
Soloist

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.


OTHER ISSUES


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.


CONCLUSION


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?

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?

Video Games and Classical Music - Industries in Parallel?

Posted at 5:04 PM on April 5, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Late last week I was reading a blog entry on Game Theory, a video game design site that I read frequently (I am a not-so-on-the-D-L Gamer.) The blog entry was by Nadia Oxford, who contends that social games (the newcomers to the video game world, often centered around mobile play and short gaming experiences,) suffer from Bad Imitation Syndrome because they aren't given enough room to breathe by the established giants of the industry (so-called "hardcore games" - long-play games on console systems.)

After finishing the post it occurred to me that this debate is familiar. On the suggestion of a co-worker, I paused, copied her post, and did a word replacement search to change phrases like "social gaming" to "New Music", and "game developers" to "musicians". After editing for grammar, a very familiar commentary on the New Music debate emerged in front of me.

New Music: Too Many Imitators
Originally Social Games: Too Many Imitators by Nadia Oxford, cut-up by Hans Buetow


There is a significant divide between core classical music listeners and New Music listeners. Though the latter doesn't pay much attention to the former, core listeners tend to regard New Music with scorn.

One reason can be narrowed down to a mild case of xenophobia. Our unfortunate human nature causes us to bristle when we believe someone is intruding on our territory and changing the landscape in ways we don't regard for the better.

But there's one other reason behind the criticism of New Music, and it's a valid one: Some of the more successful New Music ape ideas that were done earlier and better. Imitation music is inevitable regardless of the platform. But it's disturbing to see blatant rip-offs breed because New Music is in its infancy, and original ideas in the genre are already rarer than baby unicorns. Though it's not popular opinion, New Music deserves the chance to come into its own and flourish. Clones are certainly popular, and will make money-but they won't do much to help New Music grow to become a strong, healthy genre brimming with must-play music.

But it's also important to remember that there are musicians who sincerely love the idea of New Music. They want to help the genre grow, and they want to do it using their own ideas.

"We are not like them, and we do not come from that world," said Brenda Brathwaite, the COO of Loot Drop. "Like you, we want good music, we want compelling experiences, we want casual, and we want hardcore. We want to make great music for the 43-year-old Facebook Mom, because - damn it - she deserves great music, too. We are not the ones making what some of you call "evil music" but rather the first wave, the Marines storming the beach to take our medium, our culture, and our potential back."

"And as you look upon these musics and curse them, know that we look upon the very same horizon and see a great space of possibility. I hope you will someday be the occupying force."

Regardless of how you feel about New Music, it's going to stick around for a while longer-probably forever. And if you're worried about clones and copycats, fear not. Musicians who matter know the state of things, too, and they've decided it's unacceptable. Hopefully their works will rise above the undulating sea of imitators and deliver the medicine that will help ease New Music through its growing pains.

It is interesting, I think, to note that classical music is not alone in its debate to reinvent itself. Even something as ubiquitous as video games - arguably one of the largest cultural forces of the late 20th century - goes through the same arguments, trials, and growing pains.

And change can be difficult. Blockbuster games, the huge, multi-million dollar productions involving villages of developers, are scared of losing the stage to the younger generation of developers with small development teams, different aesthetics, and different ideas on form, vocabulary, textures, audience, and distribution methods. It's a debate familiar to Classical and New Music fans alike.

Here's your brain on improvisation...

Posted at 9:19 AM on January 6, 2011 by Alison Young
Filed under: Musical philosophy


What is improvisation? Isn't it just making things up as we go along? And that's what jazzers do, not classical musicians, right? Does it really make a difference in performance? How does it work and how does it sound?

Members of Cantus join me today to answer your burning questions and discuss the art of improvisation, how they use it and how it sounds when it's done right. Join us at noon on Classical MPR and get in on the discussion.

Traditions Old and New

Posted at 9:44 AM on December 30, 2010 by Kei Terauchi Furukawa
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Here's a note from Bob Christiansen on the great Messiah debate.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As the holiday season is winding down, I look at the traditions that I've
cobbled together from my childhood and my preferences. Christmas Eve
dinner, an echo of long ago, is a meal where I bring together my Danish,
Swedish and German roots (red cabbage, potato sausage and spaetzele) and
Christmas music, of course, always has to include Handel's "Messiah".

It's the music where things get really interesting because I love the old
Beecham recording (I know, I know, he uses 3 more orchestras and 6 more
choirs than he needs and even the arias can be heard in the Andromeda
Galaxy)! I don't care. Handel was announcing the birth of the ruler of the
universe, and the Beecham version proclaims that with gusto.

On the other hand, there is the pure, clear, crystalline recording with John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists; night and day. I love them both. I just alternate them from year to year.

Bob Christiansen

And all the choirs are above average??

Posted at 9:14 PM on December 21, 2010 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

What are the greatest choirs in the world?

The British magazine The Gramophone assembled an international jury to select the 20 greatest choirs in the world. Number 1?: the Monteverdi Choir, led by John Eliot Gardiner. Not surprisingly, more than half of the choirs on the list are British. Quite surprisingly, none of the choirs are American! The ranking includes a companion essay by American choral composer Eric Whitacre who describes "why British choirs are best."

Meanwhile, Minnesota choirs take a hit in a recent blog post by San Francisco music critic Chloe Veltman. She watched "Never Stop Singing," the documentary about Minnesota's choral tradition, and was not impressed:

"If you sing in a chorus in Minnesota, you will no doubt find the documentary deeply fascinating. But...'Never Stop Singing' couldn't be more dull for anyone who isn't part of the MN scene. The film devotes way too much time to talking about what makes MN such a happy place for choral singing and doesn't make any attempt to engage with the subject in an analytical way. It's largely a case of repetitive back-slapping and self-congratulation."

Nobody has commented on this review, so here's your chance.


(2 Comments)

Memories and music

Posted at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2010 by Melissa Ousley
Filed under: Musical philosophy

As Christmas Eve nears, it's hard not to look back on my childhood in Nyack, New York (just north of NYC). December in our home was an especially busy time for my father, an Episcopal priest with a loving parish and a wonderful music program. When my dad passed away in 2002, I soon discovered that one of the most powerful ways for me to feel close to him was through music - which enriched his life in many ways. I have often felt fortunate to have that connection.
It's likely that this time of year makes you recall your youth, too. If there are people or places that you miss, I hope music helps you hold on to those memories.

Sounds of my season

Posted at 3:56 PM on December 17, 2010 by Emily Reese
Filed under: Musical philosophy

I frequently go through different phases of musical interest, much like everyone else who's an avid music listener. I'm always in a Johann Sebastian Bach phase, although I guess that doesn't count as a phase... it's more of a state of being. My other favorites weave in and out of my soundtrack as often as my moods color my days. Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Holst, Elgar, Copland, Haydn, Shostakovich, Mozart opera, etc.

But this December, I'm listening to Björk and Gustav Mahler. Both answers raise eyebrows, depending on with whom I'm having the conversation. Mahler, a Jew who eventually turned Catholic so he could work in Vienna? At Christmas? Mahler, who toiled through the topics of life and death with his music, the guy who turned the French nursery rhyme, "Frère Jacques," into a sad, minor song? But when I think about how we're trained to hear certain musical cues and associate them with the holidays, Mahler is a perfect fit for me. Take the second movement from his First Symphony (right before the famed "Frère Jacques" movement). The instruments dance buoyantly through a joyous melodic landscape, colored by bells and triangles, trills, and rips. Festive dance music, complete with jingling bells, something Mahler peppers through his music as often as the theme of death, and rebirth. In my own musical mind, Mahler was brilliant at painting a melodic scene quite worthy of any holiday playlist.

Now, if you're wondering why I'd even mention Björk on our classical blog, and you feel adventurous, listen to her song Jóga; live strings often played by students from the classical music school she attended as a child. Happy Holidays!

Too Many Messiahs

Posted at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2010 by Steve Staruch (4 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

I recently received an email request from a new listener to Classical MPR. The listener wanted a recommendation for the "perfect" Messiah recording. My response was that I have several favorites, that there is no "perfect" Messiah and that my recommendation for a first Messiah purchase would be a newer recording. I recommended a very clean, clear sounding small ensemble CD with the Dunedin Consort and Players. (Linn 285). What catches my heart with this recording is that it is a Messiah for a hall like the Fitzgerald Theater, intimate and sweet. Nothing is forced in this performance and the words take center stage. Right after mentioning this on-air I received the following from Bruce in Stillwater:

"Steve - I was just listening to your comments about a listener who asked for your favorite Messiah performers, and while I enjoyed the ones you played for her I would like to share mine with you. I agree - I hate it when the sopranos sing with a mouth full of mashed potatoes or the bass gets tangled up in his shorts, but years ago I found a recording of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Kiri Tekanawa, Anne Gjevang, Keith Lewis and Gwynne Howell, conducted by Sir George Solti on the London label - it's the best I've ever heard and I listen to it several times all year long. It's a winner, as was GF Handel"

Let the discussion begin! What's your favorite Messiah performance?

(4 Comments)

The Best of the Best of the...Best?

Posted at 2:48 PM on December 10, 2010 by Elena See
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Musical philosophy

What happens when you've got a list of 20 and 13 all come from the same geographical area? Well, in the case of choirs and choral ensembles - you make a statement like this: British choirs are the best in the world! And not only are British choirs making that statement - the editor of a major classical music magazine has made that statement and so has American composer Eric Whitacre.

Gramophone, the classical music magazine that proclaims to be "the world's authority on classical music since 1923," asked an international jury to name the world's leading choirs. 13 of the 20 on the list are British ensembles and according to composer Eric Whitacre, there are several reasons why this is true, including excellence in sight reading, brilliant and crystal clear tone and an in-depth and thorough education in the history and technique of music.

So, what do you think? If you had to list your top 3 or 5 or 10 - would they be Minnesota groups? American groups? European ensembles? And why?

Bill Morelock's Autumn Reflection

Posted at 3:10 PM on November 8, 2010 by Kei Terauchi Furukawa
Filed under: Musical philosophy, The blog

A shorter version of this gorgeous reflection on the season by Bill Morelock is in this week's e-newsletter coming out on Wednesday. Here's the full-length original. Enjoy!

****************************************************************


All summer long, after midnight, Jupiter played tag with the moon. The latter, whimsical, would occasionally change the game to hide and seek, and disappear for days at a time.

It was a pleasant entertainment after evenings on the air. I felt less like a modern than an ancient devotee of Diana, noticing, affected by, even irritated at the moon's absconding. "The inconstant moon!" Bach preludes still echoed from hours earlier, or the strangeness of a medieval plainchant.

As I sat on clear nights and watched the show in a burgeoning, greening garden of corn and potatoes and beans, I was treated to a rare thought. The moon was personified, unreliable, and I missed it when it wasn't there. I'd slipped the noose of the impulse to accuracy. The need to be constrained by mechanics, the obligation to realize the moon is, after all, reliably unreliable.

This was an intimation of something ineffable. Yet, why could I feel my feet beneath me more solidly than at any time during the day? Music, the earth, the sky. All phenomena. All studies. But for a few moments I felt five thousand years old, when their magic was science. Not a place one can stay for long, but the impression, a truism, sticks: our Understanding, essential to our existence, has come at a price.

Now the potatoes are dug, the corn's in the freezer, and the black beans are soup or next year's seed. There's a gratitude for this beyond good compost and sufficient rain. And if this weather hangs on I might be able to to keep watch for the vagrant moon's return one more time. Maybe Rusalka, in her song, can bring it back the sooner.

ok, sure, but is it ART?

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

This from Valerie Kahler ---

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


Virtual Sing-a-long

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hardest piano piece?

Posted at 4:49 PM on July 11, 2010 by Alison Young (3 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

The other morning, I played a Tanglewood performance by Lang Lang of Mily Balakirev's "Islamey."

It reminded me of some pianist friends saying it is the hardest piece written for the piano.

Only to be countered by a few other friends who said that wasn't right. That it's actually "Ondine" from Maurice Ravel's 'Gaspard de la Nuit.'

Well, which is it?

And, I wonder if we should we care about what is the "hardest" piece since music is about more than just technique...

(3 Comments)

Facts vs. feelings

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

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

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

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

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

(6 Comments)

Don't Just Sit There, Do Something!

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

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

Or should they really get into it?

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

Hear the music of the future!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

What does classical music mean to you?

Posted at 9:31 AM on October 23, 2009 by Alison Young (1 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy, Programs

We're in the thick of our fall fund drive - audible groan - but even amidst the interrupted programs, the extra shifts and my stumbling over the myriad different ways of saying the same thing (that we need your support to keep the music you love on the air) an odd and glorious thing happens: listeners tell us WHY they listen. Just yesterday I read thank-yous from as far away as Anchorage and Dubai saying classical MPR is their "refuge," it keeps them sane, it's a place to feel free, energized and inspired. And the odd thing is that after reading these words, I begin to remember the reasons why I also need to be surrounded by classical music. Thanks for supporting the music - but most importantly, thanks for sharing with me what the music means to you!

(1 Comments)

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.

(1 Comments)

Improv

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?)

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.

This is Your Brain on the Pentatonic Scale

Posted at 10:55 AM on August 11, 2009 by Gillian Martin (2 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, Musical philosophy

The pentatonic (five note) scale (e.g., just the black notes on a piano) shows up in indigenous folk music from all over the world, from the British Isles to West Africa to Asia.

The scale seems to be hard-wired into the human brain--or so this video suggests. It features Bobby McFerrin, former Creative Chair for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, at this summer's World Science Festival in New York City.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Thanks to my friend N. Jeanne Burns and her friend Elliot for the tip.

(2 Comments)

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.

(1 Comments)

Who's That Guy Up There With Anne-Sophie?

Posted at 12:27 AM on April 23, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

MPR's library has a lovely box set of Beethoven Sonatas recorded by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis - a souvenir of their amazing 1998 world tour. At each venue, they played all ten Beethoven sonatas over the course of 3 nights.

It's clear that Lambert Orkis is a phenomenal pianist and a gifted interpreter (of everything from Bach to Crumb, according to his website!) and yet, he is relegated to "accompanist" in almost every single web mention of the Beethoven sonatas. In defense of all those websites, it's probably because the CD cover has a huge picture of Anne-Sophie plastered next to the words "Beethoven: The Violin Sonatas."

"So what?" you may be asking. Well, let's have a look at Beethoven's manuscripts, shall we? Ten Sonatas "For Piano with Violin." It's extremely rare, however, to see that phrase on a published score these days. You can find a few versions "For Piano and Violin" and plenty "For Violin and Piano." And yet, when it's time for the recital or the recording, it's billed as a Violin Sonata.

I suppose I played too much chamber music in college to ever take a pianist for granted. (I was a little afraid of them in general. I think they like this.) I saw firsthand that the piano parts in a Schubert quintet or a Shostakovich trio were not "accompaniment." Why should the piano part in a Beethoven (or any other) sonata be classified as such?

Susan Tomes, writing for The Guardian, riffs on this very subject here.

Her hope is that we can begin to reclaim that lost territory for the pianists of the world simply by watching our phraseology.

Tune in Tuesday night at around 11:30 to hear Beethoven's Sonata No. 2 for Piano and Violin. Pianist Lambert Orkis with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter!

(1 Comments)

Note to Self:

Posted at 12:43 AM on April 19, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

"The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everyone sees." - Arthur Schopenhauer

As (almost) the baby of the MPR classical music family, even I have been doing the classical radio thing for nigh on 20 years. So, sometimes it's a challenge as an announcer to face that Haydn symphony or Beethoven quartet one more time. It helps that Rex & Melissa do such a loving job of crafting the playlists...and that I love the music. I wrote a fundraising spot about it a few years ago, as much to remind myself as to encourage more seasoned listeners to remember that someone's always hearing that "old chestnut" for the very first time.

My task, then? Not so much to hear what no one yet has heard, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everyone hears.

(1 Comments)

The Cruelest Month

Posted at 12:29 AM on March 15, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (2 Comments)
Filed under: Musical philosophy

While TS Eliot said April is the cruelest month, City Pages restaurant reviewer Dara Moskovitz had this to say:

February [is] the cruelest month. Yeah, I know it's supposed to be April, but this is Minnesota, and our winter is so, so long that I've contacted the legislature about some updates. Let's call February the Cruelest Month, if only so we can call April "I'll Kill You, I Swear to God, If You Don't Give Me the Remote, I Am Not Even Kidding, You Are Just Like Your Mother, Just Give Me It, Quit, I Said, Quit It."

Given this weeks meteorological unpleasantness, Im casting my Cruelest Month vote for March. I mean, it was FIFTY-SIX degrees last week. And then a foot of snow? Thats just mean.

Every winter, I make it through the first few months thinking, Well, this isnt so bad! Here it is February already were almost out of the woods. How can I forget about March EVERY YEAR? But forget I do, so the spiteful late-winter snows catch me unawares.

Ah, but theres always a silver lining. Two, in this case. 1. Because snow shovels are SO last season, I was able to procure one at a steep discount. 2. A springboard, if you will, for a discussion of seasonal music. My husband and I were talking about this very thing a few days ago. Now, I dont mean seasonal music like a Christmas carol or an Easter mass. I dont even mean seasonally-titled music (Four Seasons, Summer Music, etc). No, what were getting at here is something much more ephemeral and subjective: music that feels seasonally appropriate to you, for whatever reason. For example, my husband said that every year as winter creaks into spring, he gets an itch to listen to the Rolling Stones. A teenage boy who was around for the conversation agreed, saying his fondness for techno was entirely winter-specific. An old orchestra colleague of mine always associated Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 with summer gardening. For me, Bach is a year-round favorite but I usually reach for the Cello Suites in early spring. I also have a perverse need to listen to Duran Duran when I spring clean. I dont quite understand it I think it has something to do with my college years and operant conditioning.

What about you?

(2 Comments)

Signatures

Posted at 3:32 AM on March 13, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Ever wonder what occupies the mind of a radio host at 3 in the morning? Read on:

Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in almost all of his movies, and after the birth of his daughter Nina in 1945, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld began hiding her name in each of his drawings.

But - even without these obvious and characteristic insertions, we would still recognize the stamp of these artists. Youd probably know a Hitchcock film from his camera angles or the way he used shadow. The fluid, spare lines of this illustration spell out Hirschfeld clearly enough.

What about Sergei Rachmaninov? He worked the Dies Irae into a surprising number of his compositions...but what about when he didn't? Can you recognize a Rachmaninov from its angles, shadows, lines?

Ill never mistake a Stokowski transcription for anyone else's. I know Tchaikovsky when I hear him. Same for Satie and Vivaldi and Bach. Beethoven? Does he have a signature, or have I just learned which stuff is his?


Lexicon

Posted at 12:40 AM on March 8, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Whether you're an artist, a musician, a computer programmer, a mechanic, a chef or a housepainter, you become fluent in a certain language one that has its own vocabulary, shorthand, even slang. My husband speaks Art fluently, while Music is my second language. Often, applying one lexicon to the other's medium leads to revelation for both. I'm unable to describe an art piece in artists' terms of light, composition, color, etc., but it's natural for me to think of it in terms of music. For example, the stark dissonance of Picassos "Guernica," or Gerrit van Honthorst's "The Denial of Saint Peter," which feels as though it's almost in a minor key, but temperedsweetened by the sympathy of the handmaiden. Dorian mode, then? And so on.

This crossover of lexicons led to an interesting conversation at our house the other night

My husband has long been a fan of Arvo Prt, but had a watershed experience listening to a Prt CD a few days ago. He described it so lovingly and thoroughly and evocatively that I wanted to stand up and applaud.

Using his artists lexicon (which in itself co-opts writers vocabulary) he described the music in terms of its "narrative structure." There are tropes: heres the heroic bit, here you have pathos, etcbut how theyre connected is completely unexpected, unique, unfamiliar. He went on to talk about how Prt laid down a layer of flute, and then brought the cello in, "tapping" on the flute with its different timbre and gentle dissonance. How he used silence - the space between notes - like an artist uses white space. How it became clear to him that Prt creates his works with the same consideration of materials and placement and palette that an artist does.

He's decided that Prt is a painterand it's hard to disagree with his thesis.

And the Laminees are...

Posted at 1:28 AM on March 6, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Im riding the Oscar wave with my own nominations for The Laminated List (see John Zechs post of 3/3).

JS Bach: Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. Okay, yes, Ive already mentioned Yo Yo Mas 1998 recording of the Bach Suites this week, but I can't help it. Talk about dishy! Its the perfect soundtrack for road trip or river trip...the perfect background for sweeping the floor or foreground for clearing out the mental cobwebs...the perfect companion to ibuprofen and lavender eye-pillow for migraine relief.

Mahler: Symphony No. 4. Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Soprano Roberta Alexander. Theres always a hint of fairy dust to Mahler, in my reckoning. How else can jingle bells sound both whimsical and vaguely sinister?

Barber: Violin Concerto
Vaughan Williams: Tallis Fantasia
Vaughan Williams: Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus

Pretty much any recording of the above can take my breath away. Case in point: I wondered why I was crying as I watched Master and Commander in the theatre, then realized I was swimming in a Dolby ocean of Tallis Fantasia.

It bears repeating

Posted at 2:04 AM on March 1, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Claude Debussy, Musical philosophy

Recently, a friend approached me with a request. He said he�d become obsessed with Debussy�s Claire de Lune, had been working his way through all the recordings of it he could find�and could I recommend my own favorites?

I threw the question out to my colleagues at MPR and got some lovely responses. Rex Levang and Brian Newhouse suggested Ivan Moravec (unfortunately, hard to find), and Melissa Ousley chimed in with Zoltan Kocsis and Samson Francois. Rex also mentioned that the recent Leon Fleischer recording (which marked his return to 2-hand repertoire after a forty-year struggle with focal dystonia in his right hand) was pretty special. Michael Barone added that organist Virgil Fox�s �organization� of Claire de Lune is beautifully nuanced.

This conversation led Brian to ask: why ARE there so many versions of this piece? What is it about Claire de Lune - or any piece - that inspires such attentions?

And, tangentially, what does it say when the same performer RE-records something? I�m thinking of Yo Yo Ma�s releases (1990 and 1998) of the Bach suites, but there are many other examples.

Anyone care to weigh in?

(1 Comments)

Film music--a strong maybe

Posted at 10:04 AM on February 24, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: Musical philosophy

I listened to Andy Trudeau's excellent piece on Oscar-nominated composers Alberto Iglesias and John Williams, (see Don Lee's previous entry) and I was struck at what excellent music it was--for the movies!

I kept missing the pictures, though. The textures and sounds and the wistful waltz by Williams were nice, but I didn't feel like they said much, as music, on their own. We have quite a number of film score albums in the library, and it's pretty hard to even find excerpts from a lot of movies that actually hold their own if you haven't seen the movie.

Some of the exotic instruments and textures used so well by Iglesias in his score for "The Constant Gardener" would probably fit better on "The Current" than on a classical format.

So let me ask this: Should the home for New Music and new composers be on "The Current?" A lot of people would say it already is, and that the new music coming out of the many bands they feature is really as thoughtful and important as anything coming out of the American Composers Forum.

Are the two equal? Is a composition by Libby Larsen commissioned by a symphony orchestra of any greater intrinsic value than something by, say, Iggy Pop or Fifty Cent? Depends on the piece, I suppose, but I would say it is.

Dumping history

Posted at 7:41 AM on February 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: Musical philosophy

When I was in my teens and 20s I was discovering all aspects of the audio world, from hi-fi stereo (and Quadrophonic Sound!) to the oldest 78s, a quarter inch thick and cut on only one side. I loved the connection these old recording provided to the past, and I especially loved hearing programs of "historic recordings" on public radio in those days. The cramped audio spectrum and surface noise was part of the charm of those old discs.

These days, there are a lot of recordings from the 50s, 60s and 70s which are becoming "historic" in the worst sense of the word, I think. A lot of them just don't sound that good, either sonically speaking, or from a performance standpoint (e.g. the Haydn Symphonies recorded by Antal Dorati with the Philharmonia Hungaria on London/Decca, or a lot of the Maurice Andre and Jean-Pierre Rampal recordings).

Should we still plays these discs as examples of the best of the their time, or should we let them be and give our listeners the best of OUR time?

I think there's plenty of new/recent material on the shelves which would make for a more consistent, more exciting and more engaging sound for our listeners.

New Blood at the Met

Posted at 2:11 PM on February 14, 2006 by Don Lee
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Over the past couple of days The New York Times has run stories about soon-to-be General Manager Peter Gelbs adventurous plans for the Metropolitan Opera. Times article Gelb plans to commission new works from two of todays most talked-about composers: Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams. He also intends to hire directors known for their work in other media: Academy Award-winning film director Anthony Minghella will stage Puccinis Madama Butterfly and choreographer Mark Morris will do Glucks Orfeo ed Euridice.

In themselves, the plans are not especially startling. Theyve earned headlines because the Met is a pretty conservative place; many of its longtime patrons are wary of change. Gelbs history with crossovers may make them especially wary. One of his signature accomplishments as head of the Sony Classical record label was the soundtrack for the movie Titanic, a cash cow he seemed not at all embarrassed to milk.

While we may not consider Titanic classical music and we may suspect the purity of Gelbs motives at Sony, we should be open to efforts to expand and contemporize our definition of classical music. Puccini and Gluck will survive. Its their successors we need to worry about.

Enough Mozart?

Posted at 12:11 AM on February 12, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: Musical philosophy

In response to Don's musings about Mozart...

One of my old friends heard me on the air around Mozart's birthday and sent me an email:

Do the people you work with know that you once said you don't much care for Mozart? Don't worry; your secret is safe with me. Or perhaps Mozart bashing is a badge of honor among your colleagues and that's how you got where you are today -- by pretending not to like Mozart.

I'll tell all y'all what I told him.

To clarify: my anti-Mozart stance is as a cellist. I still maintain that orchestral Mozart is boring as heck to play. Kind of like the mortar in a lovely stone wall - it holds everything together but it's not compelling on its own.

His chamber music, though, is fun. I've played the same book of Mozart quartets over and over for decades and I never get tired of them.

And as for listening? Well.

There are meals that are everything I expect - pleasant, sturdy and satisfying, but not the kind of thing I'd get a fierce craving for. Then there are meals where I THINK I know what's coming and then the first mouthful just knocks me out of my seat. Like the first time I had a wally waffle from Al's Diner in Dinkytown. It was unadulterated, completely unexpected bliss.

To wit: Mozart's music is everything I expect - pleasant and satisfying, but I never get a fierce hankering for it.