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Classical Notes

Category Archive: The blog

Is this the piano of the future? It sure looks like it

Posted at 12:23 PM on January 22, 2015 by Jay Gabler (0 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Gergely Boganyi 425.jpg

Has the evolution of the piano stalled? Having evolved from humble origins, the piano had reached more or less its present state — in both upright and grand configurations — by the end of the 19th century. While the 20th century saw a multitude of electronic keyboards put into use by musicians of all genres, the piano remained basically the piano. Gergely Bonányi thinks it's time for that to change.

The Hungarian pianist says he's spent ten years rethinking his instrument from the inside out, not a single one of the piano's 18,000 parts being taken for granted. The result is an instrument built to sound as good as he imagined a piano could sound, manufactured by German company Louis Renner.

The manufacturer claims that the new piano, with a redesigned soundboard and agraffe system (the system of pins to which the strings are tied), produces "a more refined tone sensation" that "provokes a novel perception of sound," whatever that means. Bonányi and Louis Renner claim that the piano stays in tune longer to boot, and is more resistant than conventional pianos to varying environmental conditions.

You don't need to look under the hood, so to speak, to know you're looking at a new piano: the entire frame, based on a concert grand configuration, has been redesigned to stand on two legs with a sweeping, airstreamed look.

Will the Bogányi piano become a new standard for classical musicians — or will it be the Google Glass of the concert stage, a pricey gadget that's never quite taken seriously? Only time will tell. As they say on Composers Datebook, all music was once new — and so were all instruments.


James Galway's ten best album covers

Posted at 12:00 PM on December 5, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: The blog

Galway RCA Complete 425.jpg

One of the pleasures of the new collection of James Galway's RCA releases is that each of the 71 CDs (and two DVDs) is packaged in an individual sleeve featuring the original album art. I've taken the liberty of selecting my ten favorite covers from among the many gems.

10. The Wayward Wind (1982)

Galway Wayward Wind.jpg

While most of Galway's covers show the soloist in formal duds for the concert hall, for this collection of pop tunes (which has a special place in my heart) we get the casual Galway, outfitted in flannel, jeans, and (as seen on the back cover) cowboy boots. "Relax," he seems to say. "It's Saturday morning. Pour a cup of Folgers, have a seat in the Adirondack chair, and let me treat you to a little number I like to call 'Smoky Pines.'"

9. James Galway Plays Nielsen (1987)

Galway Nielsen.jpg

Ready for the height of the yuppie era, Galway rocks a natty suit and poses next to a minimalist vase of tulips. (On the back cover, he turns and seems to serenade the flowers.) If Patrick Bateman owned a James Galway album, this would be the one.

8. Un-Break My Heart (1999)

Galway Un-Break My Heart.jpg

Silver fox in full effect.

7. Mozart: The Two Flute Concertos (1982)

Galway Mozart.jpg

In this backlit portrait, Galway's legendary golden flute seems to be emerging directly from his trachea.

6. Song of the Seashore and Other Melodies of Japan (1980)

Galway Song of the Seashore.jpg

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa can't swamp Sir James. Psych!

5. John Corigliano: Pied Piper Fantasy (1987)

Galway Pied Piper.jpg

Galway got into character for the cover of this world premiere recording. Despite the family-friendly theme, this may be the most avant-garde composition in Galway's solo recording career, a percussive and dramatic fantasy on the ancient legend.

4. Nocturne (1983)

Galway Nocturne.jpg

It's night time — but we don't need to sleep, Galway seems to suggest as he leans against a balcony railing in front of a red-lit room, sporting a pristine white tux with his flute uncased and at the ready.

3. Wind of Change (1994)

Galway Wind of Change.jpg

Though his coiffure stays firmly in place, Galway's jacket flaps out behind him as he plays his flute, thus doubling down on the literal depiction of this metaphorical album title.

2. Annie's Song (1979)

Galway Annies Song.jpg

The album that definitively established Galway as a crossover artist gets a psychedelic collage treatment, with flutes forming the stalks of flowers. Imagine what that blazer would run at your local vintage shop.

1. Sometimes When We Touch (1980)

Galway When We Touch.jpg

"It was the music of Chuck Mangione that started this record turning," explains Ralph Mace in a liner note. Feels so good!

Lincoln Center paying Fisher family $15 million to rename Avery Fisher Hall

Posted at 12:44 PM on November 13, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: The blog

Avery Fisher Hall 425.jpg

When Avery Fisher, founder of the Fisher electronics company, made a $10.5 million donation in 1973, Lincoln Center agreed to name the New York Philharmonic's performance hall after Fisher "in perpetuity." Perpetuity is now coming to an end: Lincoln Center has struck an agreement with the Fisher family that will allow them to seek a new naming donor for the hall after essentially returning Fisher's donation, with interest.

The hall, originally built in 1962, is set for a $500 million renovation, and Lincoln Center needs to attract the kind of heavy-hitting donor that steps up to bat only when naming rights are involved. Since that would require breaking its promise to Fisher, Lincoln Center — the New York Times reports — has reached an agreement with the Fisher family that will forestall threatened legal action, "essentially paying the family $15 million for permission to drop the name."

To avoid precisely this kind of bind, most naming agreements made between organizations and donors today include what are known as "sunset clauses," stipulating that the name will expire after, say, 50 years. "While the ability to raise money through naming opportunities has become a staple tool for arts organizations," notes the Times, "perhaps no event speaks louder to its utility as a fund-raising mechanism than Lincoln Center's willingness to pay a veteran donor to step away so it can court a new benefactor in his stead."

Publicly, the Fisher family are now saying that Avery Fisher, who died in 1994, would have accepted this agreement as being for the good of the orchestra. Who will be Fisher's successor? It could be you — but only if you're able to write a check for the amount of Fisher's original contribution and then add a zero to the end.

Photo via Avery Fisher Hall on Facebook

Deutsche Grammophon pledges big push in classical vinyl

Posted at 11:48 AM on November 3, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: The blog

Classical Vinyl.jpg

The numbers are unambiguous: vinyl is booming. Even as overall album sales plummet, vinyl sales are up nearly 50% over last year. Though vinyl sales are still just a small fraction of overall album sales, record labels are fueling consumer demand for vinyl both with new issues and reissues — often deluxe editions loaded with extras.

Classical labels, though, have been slow to embrace the vinyl resurgence. As recently as this April, Sinfini was reporting that classical labels — already working with slim margins — were reluctant to risk pressing expensive vinyl they might be unable to sell.

That may be changing, though: Deutsche Grammophon has just announced that they're issuing several of their releases on vinyl — including the complete recordings of Carlos Kleiber; recordings featuring soloists Anne-Sophie Mutter, Helene Grimaud, and Martha Argerich; and a split album with music by the National's Bryce Dessner and Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood.

"And this is just the beginning! 2015 will mark a big push in our vinyl release schedule," says the DG press release. Classical music enthusiasts, it seems, may finally be catching the vinyl bug — again.

Here's how the Ordway's new Concert Hall will look

Posted at 9:29 AM on June 12, 2014 by Jay Gabler (3 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Ordway Rendering 425.jpg

The Arts Partnership — a cooperative venture among the Minnesota Opera, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, the Schubert Club, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra — has raised the final beam on the new 1,100-seat concert hall being built to replace the 300-seat McKnight Theater. The new hall is designed for concerts by orchestras and other ensembles, whereas the Ordway's Music Theater (1,900 seats) is most suitable for opera and theatrical presentations.

In keeping with the catchy "Music Theater" moniker, the new performance space will be named the "Concert Hall" — with a plaque at the entrance honoring donors John and Ruth Huss. Other surrounding spaces will bear the names of corporations that have supported the project: there will be 3M Plaza (the first floor and outdoor areas of the Ordway), Target Atrium (the second floor), the Securian Balcony Lobby (the existing third-floor lobby area), and the Securian Sky Lobby (a new third-floor lobby area outside the new venue).

Ordway Concert Hall Interior 425.jpg

The Arts Partnership also shared renderings showing what the exterior and interior of the new Concert Hall will look like. The seats visible behind the stage will function as a choir loft for choral performances, and will be used for public seating at other performances. The building's exterior will maintain the draped-glass facade in original architect Benjamin Thompson's acclaimed design. The new hall is scheduled to open in February 2015.


Classical music history, rewritten as clickbait

Posted at 9:36 AM on May 6, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: The blog

What if classical music history was written as a series of shamelessly sensational headlines designed to drive clicks on the Internet?


This long-dead composer's numerology obsession told him his birthday in 2014 would be absolutely epic

How many recordings of one piece are enough? Say, like, a THOUSAND?

When his musicians needed some time off for lovin', this composer wrote a piece that made sure they got it

Was this famous Mass of death really meant for a fun family singalong?

This deluxe 1970 Beethoven set cost the equivalent of a thousand dollars. Why is it nearly worthless now?

What did this guy do when he heard Schubert's "Unfinished" symphony? He finished it.

Bayreuth was almost built in New Ulm, Minnesota

Critics don't know a thing about music, and this composer proved it

You'll feel guilty about loving the seductive music this composer wrote for his best friend's wife

Read this and you'll be outraged that Tchaikovsky was played at the Olympics

This dead white guy was Beyoncé's cousin

If you've called this Impressionist composer an "Impressionist composer," he thinks you're an imbecile

Look at this composer's self-portraits and you won't be able to sleep tonight

Enjoy this children's book about a ballet where a young girl dances herself to death in a grotesque pagan sacrifice

When he conducted, this composer looked like an awkward bird with an apple on his head

Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty

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!


Does classical music make better ice? Sochi rink staff think so

Posted at 12:22 PM on February 20, 2014 by Jay Gabler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP


Classical music has already--controversially--played a starring role in the Winter Olympics. Now it turns out that it's apparently been crucial behind the scenes as well.

"We had classical playing here, so that the ice crystalizes in the proper hard manner, not rock music, not silence," Sochi icekeeper Dimitri Grigoriev tells NPR. "We actually have Vivaldi's Four Seasons playing during certain stages of preparation."

Even those who believe in stimulating pre-birth babies with Beethoven and playing Handel for houseplants might find that farfetched, but Grigoriev is convinced. "Noise creates vibration and during the freezing process of water, those vibrations influence the type of ice you get."

NPR couldn't find any scientific research to support Grigoriev's claims, but Performance Today host Fred Child may have some anecdotal evidence to share.

"Ice cube consistency," Fred quipped in an e-mail to MPR staff. "This is why I play Mozart in my freezer."


Meet Gwendolyn Hoberg

Posted at 10:49 AM on December 18, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: The blog

Gwendolyn Hoberg.jpg

We're pleased to be featuring the work of many new freelance writers on our website, and in coming weeks we'd like to help you get to know some of them better. Today, meet Gwendolyn Hoberg of Moorhead, Minnesota.

Gwen has played french horn in ensembles throughout Minnesota, including Duluth, Aurora, Thief River Falls, Mankato, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Bloomington, and Moorhead. She enjoys arranging classical and pop music for horn and brass ensembles ("Stairway to Heaven" for horn quartet is a favorite). A Bismarck native, Gwen is now developing an editing and writing business in Moorhead. Her upcoming projects include publication of The Walk Across North Dakota and planning the Great Minnesota Arts Hike.

Read Gwen's writing on Classical MPR:

How is practicing an instrument like working out?

The flutist from Florida, and other true tales of commuting to play in the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra

Does classical music help you "think for the future"?

My unconventional holiday memory

Posted at 8:00 AM on December 17, 2013 by Alison Young
Filed under: Classical hosts, Holiday programming, The blog

Mom insisted every year that we make one of those holiday photo-cards, and she lined up all five of us one Christmas during our most awkward adolescence. We were on the porch in direct sun on one of the most bitter Chicago Decembers I'd felt (up to that point). We looked squinty, uncomfortable — and, sadly — not fresh-faced. Her moment of genius was to add Molly our stunningly perfect Golden Retriever. Maybe our friends' and family's eyes would alight on her! Didn't happen. She kept looking away trying to escape.

Alison Young and her siblings pose for their family's holiday card photo.

Even as we complained about how awful we looked, Mom went ahead and made her photo selection for the card, telling us her choice was the only one of "the roll" that didn't look as though we were charity cases.

Thirty some years later, my brothers and I laugh and cry and hug when we see each other, recalling that day and also that it was to be the last Christmas we'd all be together.

We're all still here, but life has taken us all over the place — and even if we had one "ugly" Christmas, we managed to survive and grow up to be pretty nice people.

Last night, Bill Morelock shared an unconventional holiday story from his childhood. You can learn more about that here.

"Schubert is my sprit animal": Composers and Myers-Briggs on Tumblr

Posted at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: The blog

I recently posted our guide to composers and Myers-Briggs types on Tumblr — a social blogging site — and in the past 24 hours it's been widely shared. People have enjoyed finding out which is "their" composer, and they've been passing it on to their friends with excited comments. Here are a few of those comments.

"Good thing I fluctuate between being an INTP and an INTJ because I GOT BEETHOVEN WHAT"

"contentissimo with Verdi"

"Copland WOOP"

"Charles Ives, hell yeah!"

"Bach and I don't want to hear your sass. We know what's best."

"Dvorak ooh lala"

"Said it before, and I'll say it again: Schubert is my spirit animal."

"Aaron Copland, holla!"

"I am Beethoven. Bow before me peons."


"Beethoven, [proud obscenity], maybe ya heard of me?"


"Wagner all the way. (This speaks to me on a spiritual level)."

"Brahms, eyyy"

"I'm John Tavener. Alrightalrightalright."

"Oh...I love this..I'm....Brahms...[PROUD OBSCENITY] YEAH THAT [PROUD OBSCENITY]...!"

"VIVALDI. I am Baroque through and through."


"Yeah I only wish I could write like Ives"

"Ravel's not on it I'm not even gonna bother."

Meet Garrett Tiedemann

Posted at 10:51 AM on December 10, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: The blog

Garrett Tiedemann.jpg

We're pleased to be featuring the work of many new freelance writers on our website, and in coming weeks we'd like to help you get to know some of them better. Today, meet Garrett Tiedemann of Eagan, Minnesota.

Trained classically in guitar, Garrett quickly transitioned to other instruments, with an especial fondness for the realms of percussion, and eventual composing for film — which coincided with the beginnings of a career in filmmaking. For more than a decade he has experimented with the confines of film and sound via the multimedia lab CyNar Pictures and its record label American Residue Records. In addition to short and feature filmmaking he has also directed countless music videos and written avidly about the importance of sound and music in film and television.

Read Garrett's writing for Classical MPR:

Interview: Brian Reitzell, composer for NBC's Hannibal

Juice Vocal Ensemble: Ten things you need to know about the contemporary classical sensations

Interview: Gravity composer Steven Price

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.

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.

Life Imitates Art, and Opera Imitates the Tabloids

Posted at 6:30 AM on January 6, 2012 by John Birge
Filed under: Events, The blog

Item: NPR, Dec 30, 2011: Opera director Claudio Del Monaco was stabbed in the chest by his wife last week. The wife is an aspiring opera singer who apparently was upset that her husband failed to promote her career.

Item: Weekly World News, at the grocery store checkout lane, May 31, 1988:
"Opera Singer Gores Director; Stunned Audience sees 300 pounds of fury charge across the stage: Thundering soprano Francine Bahr got ticked off in the middle of an opera performance, charged across the stage like an enraged rhino - and gored her director with the horned helmet on her head."
[Click on the thumbnail to read the full article]

opera tabloid.JPG

As Anna Russell would say, "I'm not making this up you know!!!"

Google Guitar

Posted at 10:37 AM on June 9, 2011 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Today's Google Doodle logo is a salute to the late great guitarist Les Paul. But you don't need to be a guitar hero to play it.

Just strum some chords with your mouse. You can even record your improvisation, then forward a URL of your masterpiece to friends. Enjoy it while it lasts! Who knows what tomorrow's Doodle will be.

This is only a picture; go to Google to play the real thing!


Violinist Eugene Fodor, dead at 60

Posted at 5:34 PM on March 2, 2011 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Violinist Eugene Fodor died February 26 of cirrhosis of the liver. He was 60.

For many years Fodor was a top violinist who played with top orchestras in the best concert halls, and was Johnny Carson's frequent guest on the Tonight Show. But later in life he plummeted into crime and addictions to alcohol, heroine, and cocaine.

A profoundly sad story. But a well-done obituary in the Washington Post; I'd never heard the story about the North Vietnamese judge blowing smoke rings at the Tchaikovsky competition(!)

Nor had I any recollection that Fodor had appeared on SCTV, back in the day. Never mind the faux mystery-movie backdrop; the dude could play:

Hahn-Bin, or, "Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick," as the song says...

Posted at 8:29 PM on January 19, 2012 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Art museums have always appealed to the eye. Many appeal to the ear as well with music concerts. This Sunday, the North Dakota Art Museum offers both, with an unusual recital.

This young violinist appeared up in the New York Times Style section last year; his name is Hahn-Bin, and you can check him out here:


Or is that just Grace Jones?


What's your take on this Xtreme dress-up stuff? Isn't there enough distracting superficiality in the world already? Hahn-Bin, your teacher Itzhak Perlman never needed to act like Lady Gaga to get his point across.

Then again, perhaps Gypsy was right: Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick:

Winter Biking with Bill

Posted at 4:08 PM on December 14, 2010 by Daniel Gilliam (3 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

(Some thoughts from Bill Morelock)

As one of the bike delivery guys for Peace Coffee says, "It's not the cold, it's the snow."

This not-so-old (ice) saw, I've found, is as valid as its summertime variant.

It's the beginning of another four-month two-wheeled defiance of the elements.

Bike commuting through a Minnesota winter, though eyebrow-raising, isn't so uncommon as you might think. Riding to downtown St. Paul last week I met three bikers heading the opposite way, all bundled as I was. I call that a crowd. It's at least a quorum which blunts a bit Bob Christiansen's too-perfect retort to my too-solemn pronouncement regarding my transportation intentions Me: "Apparently I'm committed to this." Bob: "Or will be."

So, armed with wicked studded tires, masks, goggles, and enough layers to render me as mobile as the robot in "Lost in Space", I try it again. Exactly why, is a battier story than anyone probably cares to hear. I can say that once I make it to, and then from, work, the effort and the mild discormfort always confers a certain pleasure, even a meaning, that the ordinary work day only inconsistently delivers.

Wish me luck. I assure you I'm a humble bike rider, and obey the laws of the state and common sense. Since cars and trucks are very large and I am very small, my deference is worthy of a Jeeves or a Bunter. And if you're committed to this, or will be, good luck to you. For now, neither of us will know, who was that masked man/woman?

- Bill Morelock, Weekdays 7pm - 11pm


What Should I Do in December?

Posted at 9:11 AM on December 1, 2010 by Daniel Gilliam (6 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I'm new to town. I've been here a grand total of three weeks. So what does a new resident of the Twin Cities do for the holidays? What are your favorite events or concerts? Any December Minnesota traditions I should be aware of? Sure, I could look at the event calendar, but I want your suggestions.

On a different note, have you seen these "flash mob" videos? Here's one of the better ones, staged by Opera Company of Philadelphia.


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.

Peter Pears 100th

Posted at 12:00 AM on June 22, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Musician stories, The blog

The great English tenor Peter Pears was born 100 years ago today.
His was a unique voice of great intimacy and subtlety, and his life was inextricably tied to his partner, composer Benjamin Britten.

Pears met Britten in 1936. They frequently gave recitals together, often featuring Britten's gorgeous arrangements of English folk song:

Britten went on to compose many of his major works with Peter Pears in mind, including the title role in the opera Peter Grimes. But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then one can imagine no greater tribute than this one, paid by Dudley Moore. Genius!

Klassical Kudos

Posted at 9:23 AM on June 18, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, The blog

Lots of kudos to go around for Minnesota classical musicians this week.

Jordan Sramek, artistic director of the Rose Ensemble in the Twin Cities, receives the Louis Botto Award at the Chorus America Conference in Atlanta. The award is named for the founder of Chanticleer. It honors an individual whose work "has demonstrated innovative action and entrepreneurial zeal in developing a professional or professional-core choral ensemble." The Rose Ensemble also just got word it will represent the United States at the 9th World Symposium on Choral Music next summer in Argentina. They're one of only 25 groups in the world to be selected.

The League of American Orchestras just annouced the winners of this year's awards for adventurous programming. Among smaller orchestras, first prize goes to the South Dakota Symphony. Among the biggest orchestras, third prize goes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. First prize went to the mighty New York Philharmonic, so the SPCO is a David among Goliaths.

Nicholas McGegan spent ten years with the SPCO, and now he can add OBE to his resume too. Nic was been made an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth. The award is 'for services to music overseas'. Catherine Zeta-Jones was also named an OBE, which puts Nic in good company. Tho if he wants to keep up with the Zeta-Joneses, he'll need to marry Michael Douglas, and win a Tony award...

Don't forget Mom!

Posted at 8:23 AM on May 7, 2010 by Alison Young
Filed under: Programs, The blog

I was gabbing with my mom yesterday via Facebook (can you believe my MOM knows more about social networks then me?!) I was telling her about what I've been up to lately:

"This Sunday I'm taking dedications and requests from 8-2 for Mother's Day...oh, woops, right, uh...mom, Happy Mother's Day!"

I had nearly forgotten MY mom, so I very deftly filled out a Mother's Day request form then and there...I was saved!

If Mother's Day slipped your mind too, there's still time to request a special piece of classical music for mom either today on Friday Favorites or on Sunday.

Susanna Phillips wins Beverly Sills Award

Posted at 9:59 PM on April 21, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, The blog

The New York times reports that soprano Susanna Phillips is the winner of the Beverly Sills Artist Award. It's a $50,000 prize for gifted young singers.

Susanna Philips comes to Minnesota Opera this September as Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice with the incomparable counter-tenor David Daniels.
Between this award, and James Valenti's Richard Tucker award last week, it seems that Minnesota Opera is developing an impressive track record for bringing us tomorrow's stars, today.

If you don't want to wait til September to hear Susanna Phillips' Minnesota Opera performance, here she is singing Mozart in Fort Worth:

James Valenti wins Richard Tucker Award

Posted at 7:51 AM on April 16, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, The blog

Tenor James Valenti just won this year's Richard Tucker Award.

Some call it "the Heisman Trophy of Opera." It's a $30,000 prize recognizing an American singer poised on the edge of a major international opera career.
That's a bit late, considering that Valenti has already sung at many of the great opera houses of the world, including La Scala in Milan. You'll hear James Valenti sing in our live broadcast of La Traviata from the Metropolitan Opera tomorrow at noon.

Valenti's gig at the Met didn't start well; he got food poisoning the night before the opening.
He told the New York Post: "I was up half the night throwing up. I woke up and thought, 'I worked too hard to get to this day, I'm not going to let anything ruin it!' So I drank some Gatorade, ate a little bit of pasta and walked onstage not thinking about anything else but the singing."

If you were lucky enough to hear James Valenti sing at the Minnesota State Fair many years ago, you can say "I knew him when." He performed at the MPR booth at the fair when he was a young artist with the MNOpera. He was also in the MPR studio last month when he returned to MN Opera to sing the lead in La Boheme. You can hear that performance and interview here.

And feast your ears -- and eyes -- here:

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.

Prada, Huns, and the Walker Arts Center at the Opera

Posted at 11:06 AM on March 4, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: Concerts, Fun finds, The blog

The Devil wears Prada -- and so do the Huns this Saturday at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Met's new production of Verdi's Attila includes costumes designed by Miuccia Prada.

The sets are designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, who also created the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.
Notice any resemblance?



Attila stars Ramón Vargas, Carlos Álvarez, and Samuel Ramey as Pope Leo.
Conductor Riccardo Muti makes his long-awaited Met debut with the production.
You can hear it this Saturday at noon Classical Minnesota Public Radio.

2009 . . . Parting Glimpses

Posted at 4:12 PM on December 31, 2009 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

In the spirit of the obligatory year-end review, I've been taking a look at this blog and website (2009 edition).

It's been a year when Classical Notes has traveled to the UK, with VocalEssence, and to the Piano e-Competition, right here in town. We've noted, with sadness, the deaths of Anne Wiggins Brown, Erich Kunzel, Alicia de Larrocha, Paul Manz, and Michael Steinberg, to name a few. You, our faithful readers, have weighed in on the music at Barack Obama's inaugural, Krystian Zimerman's politics, composers who will stand the test of time, and the price of tickets.

The tough economy has been felt everywhere, the classical scene included: we've looked at some of its effects, and at advice on weathering the storm. It wouldn't have been a blog without occasional goofy humor, and it wouldn't have been a classical music publication if we hadn't noted the well-publicized arrival of Gustavo Dudamel. (At this rate, the sash around the New Year's baby is going to read "El Sistema.")

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, and best wishes for 2010!


Getting a Handel on Messiah's Choruses

Posted at 3:33 AM on December 17, 2009 by Ward Jacobson (6 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

For Unto Us a Child is Born - my favorite chorus from Handel's Messiah. But there are so many close seconds.

And He Shall Purify is a bear to sing, especially when the tempo is taken as Handel intended.....quickly. The Boston Baroque's 1992 recording on Telarc does just that, and the results are stunning.

So it's time to chime in. What's your favorite Messiah chorus and why? And if you have a favorite Messiah recording, share that too.


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.


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.


Wilma Cozart Fine: She put Minneapolis on the classical map -- with a bang!

Posted at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2009 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: Musician stories, The blog

Wilma Cozart Fine died Monday at age 82.

You may not know her name, but you probably have been touched by her work. She was a record producer for Mercury Living Presence in the 1950's and early 60's. Mercury Living Presence recordings gained a cult following among audiophiles, and popular success among music lovers for their great artists and spectacular impeccable production.

The group that became the most famous was the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and conductor Antal Doráti. They scored a Gold Record hit with their 1958 recording of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," a hi-fi extravaganza that included historic canons from West Point, giant bells at Riverside Church, and extra brass from the U of MN Band. Remember the cover art?


Wilma Cozart Fine started her career as Antal Dorati's personal secretary. She became vice president of Mercury Records in 1954. She came out of retirement in the 1990's to produce again, this time to satisfy fans who were clamoring for CD re-issues of the Mercury Living Presence LP's.


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:


Spitfire: Two Stamps of Approval

Posted at 12:32 AM on September 1, 2009 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

On the 70th anniversary of beginning of World War II, two appreciations of a legendary aircraft that helped win the war for the Allies: the Spitfire.

From a 2009 series of Royal Mail postage stamps commemorating British Design Classics, comes this beauty:


And from composer Sir William Walton, the "Spitfire Prelude and Fugue," a concert work adapted from his score to the movie "The First of the Few." This YouTube clip mates the music with images from the war:

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:

Thomas Hampson and Minnesota

Posted at 9:04 AM on July 15, 2009 by Rex Levang
Filed under: The blog

When Thomas Hampson gave his "Song of America" recital in Winona last week, it was a nice touch for him to include a song by a Minnesota composer. Here's a little more information on Saint Paul's own Arthur Farwell.

And to hear Farwell (and Ives, and Copland, and Amy Beach, et al.), take advantage of our very popular free download.

In a huff: Stephen Hough

Posted at 8:42 PM on June 3, 2009 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Opera Chic, the uber-popular classical music blog based in Italy, has been reading Classical Minnesota Public Radio's website.

She links to our interview with pianist Stephen Hough and the role that faith and prayer plays in his musical life.

She also links to a blog post that Stephen Hough wrote for the London Telegraph. Hough talks about his current visit to Minnesota, with a mini-screed about cellphones in the concert hall.

Be careful out there!

A Punch That Could Kill a Donkey

Posted at 1:36 AM on September 5, 2008 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

We still have a couple months to wait until St. Cecilia's Day, Feast Day of the Patron Saint of Music. But since the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is opening their 50th anniversary season tonight with Handel's Ode for St. Cecilia, now is a great time to celebrate with a lovely beverage.

Once upon a time, it was a day for music making and celebration. Considerable celebration, if this St. Cecilia's Day Punch recipe is any indication. Click here to listen to a very funny interview with conductor Nic McGegan about the life of St. Cecilia, and read below to make a punch that Nic says "could kill a donkey!"

Charleston St. Cecilia Punch
6 lemons
1 quart brandy
1 pineapple
1-1/2 pounds sugar
1 quart green tea
1 pint heavy rum
1 quart peach brandy
1 gallon champagne
2 quarts carbonated water

Slice lemons thin and cover with brandy. Allow to steep for 24 hours. Several hours before ready to serve, slice the pineapple into the bowl with the lemon slices, then add the sugar, tea, rum, and peach brandy. Stir well. When ready to serve, add the champagne and water. 80-90 servings.

Classical Music: "Stuff White People Like" ?

Posted at 8:48 PM on September 2, 2008 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

If you've never read the blog called Stuff White People Like, you're in for a laugh.
In the words of Wikipedia, it's "a satirical blog looking at the interests of white people" enjoyed by 300,000 readers a day. The book version has spent many weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Yesterday, author Christian Lander (who is white, btw) finally got around to classical music. Don't know what took him so long, actually, but the result is predictably hilarious. A sample:

"There are a number of industries that survive solely upon white guilt: Penguin Classics, the SPCA, free range chicken farms, and the entire rubber bracelet market. Yet all of these pale in comparison to classical music, which has used white guilt to exist for over a century beyond its relevance.
Though white people do not actually listen to classical music, they like to believe that they are the type of people who would enjoy it. You can witness this first hand by going to any classical performance at your local symphony where you will see literally dozens of white couples who have paid upwards of $80 for the right to dress up and sit in a chair for hours reading every word in the program..."


Oh, and Lander doesn't spare public radio either. For example:

"To explain this love for Public Radio, one only needs to summarize several previous posts on this website. Let's use my friend Craig as an example. Craig has a high paying 9 to 5 so he feels guilty about all the problems in the world. To make himself feel better he likes being socially aware of things. However he spends most of his time indulging in the arts and going out for dinner so he has little time to devote to this..."


Mozart by Osmo-sis

Posted at 8:09 AM on August 22, 2008 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Last week the New York Times ran a terrific feature about Minnesota Orch music director Osmo Vanska, who took both his baton and his clarinet to the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City this week. New comes this review of Osmo's Mozart in today's New York Times:

"On the podium Mr. Vanska was, as always, far more assertive. Mozart's Symphony No. 38... benefited from grandly operatic opening gestures, carefully configured string and woodwind balances that gave chords a real bite and kept passage work transparent, and, most of all, a zesty approach to phrasing that kept the music fresh and vibrant. There were moments when some of Mr. Vanska's frequent shifts of balance might almost have seemed manipulative or contrived. Yet the results...made such concerns seem beside the point."

Read the whole thing here.

Osmo Vanska: Don't try this at home

Posted at 7:47 AM on August 15, 2008 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Today's NYTimes includes a profile of Minnesota Orchestra conductor Osmo Vanska, who also manages to keep up his clarinet chops:

"To keep his embouchure close to being in shape, Mr. Vanska said, he tries to practice at least 15 minutes a day, usually playing scales in front of televised sports, especially hockey. (Warning to parents: Do not let your children read the previous sentence.)"

Children can sneak a look at the whole article here.

Alice Chalifoux obit

Posted at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2008 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

"Her wit was famous, often unprintable and national in scope."

So says this obituary for legendary Cleveland Orchestra harpist Alice Chalifoux, who died recently at age 100. Unfortunately, it didn't include any of the printable wit.

Know any good Chalifoux quips or anecdotes? Post them here, and share!

NASA Classics

Posted at 8:18 AM on July 29, 2008 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Happy 50th birthday, NASA! The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was founded on today's date in 1958, and began operation on October 1.

While classical music isn't exactly NASA's gig, it could turn out to be an intergalactic force in the art, thanks to the recording that's hurtling out of the solar system aboard the Voyager space probe. The record includes a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by waves, wind, thunder, and animals. It offers spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages. And there is music from different cultures and eras, including a number of classical titles:

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 from the Munich Bach Orchestra.
Bach, "Gavotte" from the Partita No. 3 in E, performed by Arthur Grumiaux.
Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, with soprano Edda Moser.
Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Igor Stravinsky, conductor.
Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue No.1 in C, Glenn Gould, piano.
Beethoven, Fifth Symphony Otto Klemperer, conductor.
Holborne, The Fairie Round, performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort
Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, Budapest String Quartet.

Here's the complete list from NASA's website. Not a bad mix for alien life forms to sample. Assuming they still have a turntable!


Gustav Mahler's Bacon Number

Posted at 12:00 AM on July 8, 2008 by John Birge (3 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Today is actor Kevin Bacon's 50th birthday.

Bacon is the subject of the trivia game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." The premise: due to his prolific screen career, any Hollywood actor can be linked to another in six steps or less. A person's number of degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon is that person's "Bacon Number".

Leonard Bernstein's Bacon Number is 2: Bacon's co-star in "Footloose" was Lori Singer, a Juilliard-trained cellist who knew Bernstein.

Leopold Stokowski's Bacon Number is 3: Lori Singer's father was conductor Jacques Singer, who was a protege of Stokowski.

Arturo Toscanini's Bacon Number is also 3: Lori Singer studied with Leonard Rose, who was hired by Toscanini to play in the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Gustav Mahler's Bacon Number is 4: Leonard Rose was a friend of conductor Bruno Walter, who was a friend of Mahler's.

Yo Yo Ma's Bacon Number is 2: He and Lori Singer both studied with Leonard Rose.

Joshua Bell's Bacon Number is 3: His friend John Corigliano (who composed "The Red Violin Concerto" for Bell) taught orchestration to Michael Bacon, who is Kevin's big brother (Michael and Kevin performed together as "The Bacon Brothers").

Any others we should add to the list? What's your Bacon Number?

You might want to consult The Oracle of Bacon! (props to Fred Child for the tip!)


Lynn Harrell Commencement Address

Posted at 6:07 AM on June 16, 2008 by John Birge (4 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

For graduation season, a rerun of some thoughts about making a meaningful life in music.

Or just a meaningful life, period.

Good stuff from Mr. Harrell. Smart guy.
(a great George Szell story too)


Commencement Address
by Lynn Harrell
May 21, 1994
The Cleveland Institute of Music

When I came to Cleveland and joined The Orchestra, I was eighteen years old, and I thought I was a finished product. Now I had arrived. All the hard work was behind me.
You know how it is at ten when you think you'll never get beyond the first position... at thirteen when you can't cope with ten minutes practicing before school and two hours after it... at sixteen when you're working 25 hours a day for the big competition... and then, for me, at eighteen. It was all over. Finished. I had A Job.

And how little I know! It was only the bare beginning. It is so easy in music to forget that we are doing something we love. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we even love it as deeply as we do. It's so difficult when you're young that, with as much passion as you have, it seems impossible to imagine ever playing well enough. It's so difficult as you get older to realize that this feeling will never go away.

I am fifty now. The young students I played with at summer string camp are fathers and grandfathers. And I am still touched and amazed when playing with distinguished colleagues of my own age to realize that -- as well as they may cover it up -- they shake with stage fright before walking out, and sometimes even in performance. The doubts, the insecurities, the anger at the space between the dream and the achievement -- these never go away.

There is never a moment in music when you can say, "This is it. Now I have arrived." It is a journey with many stops. There are frustrating pauses, whirlwind acceleration -- and sometimes, just a sense of having got seriously lost.

I see now how ironic it was for me that only a year after I got to Cleveland with the feeling that I could now sit back and enjoy things... that I had the worst time of my whole musical career. It seemed to my old colleagues -- many of whom were still in music school then -- that I had it made. I had a regular salary -- enough to keep a man and family, after all -- and I with only myself to take care of. I had concerts all over the world with one of the greatest orchestras of all time... who, from the outside, could possibly have guessed the desolation and emptiness that I felt. Was it all for this? Was this the magic? Here I was on the third stand, never heard and never noticed. I felt invisible -- it began to feel like a boring, terrible, slow death. Forty years of this -- how was I to endure it?

The problem was, of course, the total lack of a good, true education. In those early days, I never listened to my colleagues. I just stared at the page and played along with everyone else. One of the herd. Then one day, George Szell -- clearly frustrated beyond belief at my donkey-like sleepwalking -- told me to stay back during the intermission of a rehearsal. He grabbed my right arm and started to play as I should play out. It was a terrible, terrible noise -- but the passion was there again, the commitment. He was furious with me. He barked at me: "You don't contribute. You don't know anything. You're not prepared. You just float along down the stream. You never know how the music goes." It was a tirade -- and it amazed me. It had simply never entered my self-pitying state that this could all be my fault. That if I was bored, it was because I wasn't trying hard enough. Music isn't boring; people are.

So he told me about studying the score, about practicing music not just technique; about learning to hear the rest of the music -- to study beforehand the architecture of a piece, the lines weaving through it in all the individual instruments. Above all, he dared me to have pride again in my playing. It wasn't to be the old pride -- narcissistically and aimlessly self-delighting in the trivia of instrumental playing. But to get immersed into the whole psyche and personality of a composer. He taught me respect for the creative force behind a great piece of music. He taught me respect for my fellow musicians: bullied and scorned by him, I was forced to open up and listen to the great musicians who surrounded me. I was over-awed by a horn sound that my wretched cello could never match; a clarinet legato that defined the word for me at last; the silvery shimmer of beautiful flute playing. George Szell opened my ears to the musical inventiveness of fine oboe playing. He taught me humility and -- through it -- he brought me joy.

It's so interesting for me to look back. When I was made principal cello of The Cleveland Orchestra, I was probably the same age as most of you. Many of my friends then, I still see and play with. Or, actually, not too many. That's the rub.

When I went into the orchestra, most of my old Juilliard and Curtis classmates wrote me off as solo material. That was me out of the fray -- out of the running -- for a lifetime. There were big talents, big stars-to-be... and I was no longer counted among them. Or, perhaps, never was. And I would have put my money on other cellists than I for a solo career, quite frankly. There are people I can still see in my mind's eye who seemed incandescent: tall, good looks' flashing fingers; the right mentors; competition winners; stunning self-confidence. And most of them -- if not all of them, actually -- you wouldn't have even heard of. I had no idea at twenty-one what a long, long journey it is.

The key is simple: You just have to keep going. It isn't a competition -- it's only about yourself, about one practice day after another, about keeping going, and above all, forcing yourself to understand that you never understand it all. The English have a term which I have just discovered. It's called DINTISM. "How did he get that job?" I asked about a colleague. "Oh, dintism," came the answer. Dintism? It is -- it was explained to me -- by sheer dint of doing it. Of doing it, with all good will and effort day after day, year after year. Of not giving up.

I'm often asked whether or not I get bored of carrying the Dvorak Concerto around the world. Bored? They must be joking. I, who thought I knew everything I needed to know about the Dvorak Concerto when I was twenty, am still discovering new things every single time I play it. I hear someone else play it and that goes for my students too -- and in their interpretation, I'll hear a phrase, a note, an unfamiliar turn of musical gesture, and there will be a new discovery for me.

I'll never forget my encounters with Marcel Moyse, the legendary French flutist, at the Marlboro Festival. In his eighties, he kept tripping over his words in his passion, his eagerness to tell you of a piece of music. As much toil and work as music demands -- it is also our brush with immortality. I heard Pablo Casals play when he was so old that his fingers and technique could hardly be recognized as good cello playing -- and yet, it was the most moving and dynamically powerful music-making you can imagine, so alive was the soul, so strong the belief in the music.

What, you may ask, has all this to do with you who are just about to go into the world? Well, I am here as a scout. I am here to report back on what it looks like down the road. And I can tell you that the journey at the beginning, and the journey to the end are no different -- music is one and the same journey, and it always continues.

I meet young musicians in their early twenties who are already turned off; they're bored; they're cynical. "It's all politics," they'll say. But I met them thirty years ago, too, like that -- and those are the talents who disappeared. Only the music remained -- and those who in delighting in the music; in never failing to find refreshment in it; who rejoice in their gift... those are the musicians who have lasted, whose way has been lit by this special lantern of our art.

It's hard to remember that now, perhaps. Most students I know graduate with the full weight of student loans on their shoulders, cars in need of new transmissions and gearboxes, rent that's due, freelance jobs far and few between...

But I came here today to say, "Keep going." Magical things have happened to me. Magical things have happened to many of us -- and we're all surprised. I have colleagues who are much older than I who teach at The Royal Academy of Music in London, and I feel the bond of being in this amazing and magical circle together. They don't have the international chances that I do -- but the music, and the delight in it, is the same.

Franz Schubert is dead, but his music is alive. It almost breaks my heart that I never knew him. But what truly breaks my heart are the musicians I meet on my path who are alive -- but somehow dead.
Go out and join the living.
Joy and good fortune to you all.


Waddup Dawg

Posted at 3:06 PM on June 10, 2008 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

To add to Gillian Martin's earlier post about pianist Nelson Freire's dog, here's Opera Chic on The Greatest Living Composer's Dog. That would be Hans Werner Henze's hound, James.

Meanwhile, this is as good a place as any to add a few more hits to the 4,629,818 views of this terpsichorean K9:

Cello meets Celluloid, or, The Many Faces of Bach

Posted at 5:52 AM on March 3, 2008 by John Birge (4 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Here are two delightful videos, graced by some of J.S. Bach's most eloquent music, from the solo cello suites.
Feast ears and eyes:


And the Beat Goes On

Posted at 8:37 PM on January 14, 2008 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

In which one hundred people, ages 1-100, beat on a drum.

The clip is part of a series of short films that assembles the people of Britain in a given order. In 3 minutes, we meet 100 different people who are arranged according to their age, starting from age 1.

This is strangely mesmerizing, and haunting:


Poetic Opera

Posted at 4:36 PM on December 23, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

From former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser's weekly web feature "American Life in Poetry," this tribute to operatic legend Maria Callas.

And a little Callas to go with:

Abbie Betinis on the Verge

Posted at 7:57 AM on November 12, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Congrats to Twin Cities composer Abbie Betinis! Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune named her one of their "Young Artists on the Verge."

Why? The paper says: "Composers' careers don't cleave to Hollywood's "breakthrough" narrative. The only thing Betinis is poised for is hard work -- lots of it. But her talent and tenacity, along with a self-critical bent, should take her far."

We agree! Abbie has been a regular guest in the Minnesota Public Radio studios, especially around Christmas, when she comes every year to premiere her annual Christmas carol. Click here for last year's session. And here's a video of the performance.

Bellini, with a bullet

Posted at 1:11 PM on August 27, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

When I saw this stunning television spot, I couldn't figure out why they used the aria "Casta Diva" from Vincenzo Bellini's opera Norma. Then I went back to the libretto, and it suddenly made sense:

spargi in terra quella pace
che regnar tu fai nel ciel...

Scatter on the earth the peace
Thou make reign in the sky...

Happy Birthday, Bud Herseth!

Posted at 8:20 AM on July 25, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

If you see Bud Herseth today, wish him a happy 86th birthday.

And you just might see him playing golf this time of year around Detroit Lakes. That part of Minnnesota has been a regular vacation destination for one of the world's greatest trumpet players, who was born in Bertha, Minnesota, but spent over fifty years as principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony.

Listen to his incredible life story here.

What's wrong with classical music?

Posted at 8:35 AM on July 3, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

In honor of his 60th birthday today, all the answers you need, from Dave Barry!

Krulwich at the Oper(etta), encore

Posted at 12:55 PM on June 26, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

If your memory is long enough, you might recall NPR economics reporter Robert Krulwich producing a piece which explained interest rates in the form of an Italian opera spoof, Rato Interresso.

Today on Morning Edition, Krulwich returned to form with a story from his current spot at the NPR science desk, in which he plumbs the possibilities of lobster geriatrics, by way of Gilbert & Sullivan.

BTW: anyone know if Rato Interresso is online somewhere? I have a tape copyburied in a box somewhere, but I couldn't find it online via npr.org or Google...

Hey, At Least He's Not Talking On His Cell Phone

Posted at 10:51 AM on June 25, 2007 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Picture of the day.

There are actually three pictures...click on the third thumbnail for the payoff.

Rostropovich has died

Posted at 5:12 AM on April 27, 2007 by John Zech (30 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

The news just came across the wires early this morning. Here's the obit from the A-P:

MOSCOW (AP) - Famed master cellist and conductor Mstislav
Rostropovich has died.
The maestro, who was 80, died in Moscow.
He had lived abroad for years in self-imposed exile and became a
courageous champion of the rights of Soviet-era dissidents. Later
he triumphantly played Bach below the crumbling Berlin Wall.
Rostropovich was hospitalized in Paris in February, suffering
from intestinal cancer. After he took a turn for the worse, his
family arranged for him to be flown back to Russia. Among those who
called on him to pay respects were Russia's President Vladimir
He was well enough last month to attend a celebration at the
Kremlin honoring his 80th birthday.
Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reports he was hospitalized again
several days ago.


Brave New New York Phil

Posted at 5:13 PM on April 26, 2007 by John Birge (4 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

From the New York Times this week:

"The New York Philharmonic, hunting for a successor to its music director, Lorin Maazel, has decided to divide up its leadership by adding the new position of principal conductor, orchestra officials said yesterday."

Here's one wag's version of the new org chart


World's Largest Orchestra...of coconuts!

Posted at 7:07 AM on April 24, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Okay...not quite classical, perhaps. But it's a lot of fun.

The Monty Python gang, in a shameless bit of promotion for their musical Spamalot, got together 5,567 of the Python faithful in Trafalgar Square to set a world record for the largest orchestra of coconuts ever assembled.

If you aren't aquainted with the "Knights Who Say Ni," find a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and pay special attention to the horses the Knights are riding (or not).

Of course video from the event is on YouTube.

More details on the story here.

Shakespeare's Hokey-Pokey

Posted at 12:01 AM on April 23, 2007 by John Birge (14 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

To honor the spirit of The Bard, we submit these humble rhymes in tribute:

Shakespeare's Hokey-Pokey

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.

Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.

The Hoke, the poke--banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.


Two Degrees of Lenny

Posted at 6:06 AM on April 18, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

While the rest of the gang plays "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," let's entertain ourselves slightly differently.

Here's a fine, fond remembrance from David Raksin of the great film composer Miklos Rozsa, whose 100th birthday is today. He’s not only a great movie composer (Ben Hur, Spellbound), but he wrote a number of concert works for the likes of Heifetz and Piatagorsky. Rózsa's Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra was on the program when Leonard Bernstein made his conducting debut.

In other birthdays, 20 candles tomorrow for a tennis virtuoso who also has a connection to Leonard Bernstein. And she is pretty – just watch!

A little Bull at the Movies

Posted at 8:56 PM on April 16, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Among the 80 films to be screened at the 25th annual Mpls/St. Paul International Film Festival are two titles of interest to classical music lovers.

"Among the Thorns" is an intriguing animated story (ages 5 and up) about a magic horn at summer music camp.

"Ole Bull - The Titan" is a drama about the famous Norwegian violinist whose statue stands in Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis. "Ole Bull was Norway’s first superstar. His bath water was sold in perfume bottles to his fans..."

Happy Forty-Thirteenth Birthday, Annie

Posted at 5:58 AM on April 10, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Anne Lamott is in town to read from her new essay collection, Grace (Eventually). When her last book Plan B came out, I interviewed her on Mother's Day about motherhood, something she's been a keen observer of since her bestselling book Operating Instructions, detailing life with her then newborn son Sam. She's also been a contributor to my annual Thanksgiving special Giving Thanks both last year and in 2002.

Follow the links above to hear those interviews, or find your way to the at Barnes and Noble in Edina tonight at 7:30 for the reading (and party, as Anne mentioned in an email that today is --as she put it -- her "forty-thirteenth birthday").

Happy Birthday, Niles!

Posted at 8:43 AM on April 3, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The TV series Frasier was one of the smartest comedies on the air, and the writers were pretty good with classical music, too.

David Hyde Pierce, the actor who played Niles, turns 48 today, and by way of a birthday tribute, here's one of the funniest bits from the glorious history of the show...choreographed to Mozart. Enjoy!

Wow! new from Herzog & De Meuron

Posted at 10:35 AM on March 29, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

From the architects who created the Tate Modern in London, and "the angry Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot Head" (as James Lileks so aptly described it) that is the Walker Art Center expansion in Minneapolis, comes a new concert hall design for Hamburg. Amazing inside and out! Scroll down for both views here.

Creepy Guitar

Posted at 9:50 AM on March 29, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Joaquin Rodrigo, the blind composer who wrote the very popular Concierto de Aranjuez, once said the ideal Spanish guitar for composers would be a "strange, fantastic, multiform instrument with the wings of a harp, the tail of a piano, and the soul of a guitar."

I think I found one. It's actually weirder than what Rodrigo imagined, but then he didn't have YouTube. Jeff Esworthy put me onto this, and it's creeping me out....

Slava Tube

Posted at 12:00 AM on March 27, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

On his 80th birthday, to go along with all the wonderful music, some marvelous jaw-jutting videos of Rostropovich playing his cello. Always an intense player, and a joy to watch as well as hear. A sampling of Bach, Beethoven, and Dvorak.

The Greatest Italian Composer

Posted at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Is it Verdi? No. Puccini? Not even close.

One hint: the first name is Enzo.

Click here and feast your ears on the greatest Italian music ever created.

NB: best when cranked up loud for the most authentic effect.

Boulez birthday bomb

Posted at 8:05 AM on March 26, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Just in cast you think the classical music world is all tuxedos and concert halls, consider the case of composer/conductor Pierre Boulez who celebrates his 82nd birthday today.

Boulez has always been in the avant garde when it comes to advocating for new music, and one of his "revolutionary" remarks got him into some hot water a couple months after the attacks of September 11th.

Boulez once suggested that, as a radical break with the past, all opera houses should be blown up—a remark that put him on a list of “terrorist suspects” in Switzerland, and led police to briefly seize his passport at a Basle hotel in the early hours of Nov 2nd, 2001.

This, coming from a man who, in 1973, wrote a piece called explosante-fixe.

You can find lots more about Boulez, and other musical revolutionaries by searching the archives at composersdatebook.publicradio.org.

"Bathroom Divas"

Posted at 10:17 AM on March 19, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Like to sing in the shower? Note this, from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Toronto -- A Calgary grandmother has won a televised contest to become Canada's "bathroom diva" and her prize includes a chance to sing with the Vancouver Symphony.

Soprano Elaine Jean Brown beat out two other finalists to win the season finale of Bathroom Divas: So You Want To Be An Opera Star?, which aired Saturday on Bravo! The two other finalists were Paul Abelha, a construction worker from Hamilton, and Phillip Holmes, a student from Norway Bay, Que.

Brown, 59, wins a debut performance at the Orpheum Theatre with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Bramwell Tovey.

Bathroom Divas began with auditions in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, where six finalists were picked to participate in an extensive opera boot camp in Toronto.

Here's the show's website. There was a similar BBC series that aired on PBS a few years back...

Ravinius Interruptus?

Posted at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

The latest noise scourge of the classical concert isn't cell phones, nor a swarm of locusts -- though that's getting closer.

The Ravinia Music Festival has revised its summer concert schedule because of the buzz created by cicadas, known for their loud hum, and their 17-year life cycle which brings them back en masse and in force this June. Several outdoor concerts will move indoors, and the Chicago Symphony's Ravinia season is pushed back to July 6, by which time the chirping critters should cease. Otherwise, says Ravinia president Welz Kauffman, the subtleties of the music ‘would get completely lost and drowned out”

Ravinia is no stranger to noise. From the New York Times a few years ago:

The Ravinia Festival north of Chicago owes its very existence to the railroad tracks it straddles, and to their onetime owner, the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railroad, which opened Ravinia in 1904 as an amusement park to attract more passengers. Several decades and rail companies later, Ravinia was "where the Chicago Symphony spends the summer." It is said that James C. Petrillo, as president of the American Federation of Musicians, got the trains to stop while the great Heifetz fiddled. Other notables fared less well. The suave and witty maestro Thomas Beecham conducted the Chicago Symphony in the summer of 1940, and declared Ravinia "the only railway station with a resident orchestra." He never returned.

BTW, noise concerns over the return of the cicadas are no exaggeration. We had the 17-year cicadas in Cincinnati in 1987. At their peak, I noticed while house-cleaning that the cicadas were so loud you could hear them above the noise of the vacuum cleaner! Amazing creatures.

A slice of musical Pi

Posted at 6:59 AM on March 14, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

It was almost exactly twenty years ago when I was visiting my friend Miklos in Budapest. Miklos is a mathematician, and a great lover of music, and when I came over to his apartment he had a copy of Bach's Two-Part Inventions sitting open on his piano. He picked it up and said, "John, isn't that beautiful...it's mathematics!"

Today March 14th...3/14... is "Pi Day," so called because the date expresses the beginning of the magical number that apparently is a a world without end (amen). Pi is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, it's the number that starts 3.14159....and just keeps going.

Pi Day is being celebrated worldwide by a certain type of person (aka "geek") who finds numbers and ratios not only exciting, but, believe it or not, beautiful..

Math and music have a close relationship (since they're both binary--duh!!) and it's no surprise that somebody has used Pi in his composing. You can read and hear more in a Science News piece called "Sound -Byte Math Music."

And then there's "Pi Diddy" who does a Pi rap (I kid you not!). Of course, you'll want to sing about Pi later this year, so he's got some carols like this:

Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi
You're truly transcendental.
Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi
You're physical and mental.
You stretch the bounds...of all we know,
And tell our circles where to go
Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi
Your digits are so gentle.

Violins in the Media

Posted at 7:25 AM on March 12, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Lotsa news this weekend about expensive violins. In Paris police say they have recovered two violins, together worth more than $250,000, stolen from a musician with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in December. More details here.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Symphony is going to be selling off their so-called "Golden Age" collection of rare stringed instruments purchased at the supposedly bargain-basement price of $17 million four years ago. The Symphony is strapped for cash and this sale could give them some security, but it's also just another page in a rather bizarre story involving philanthropy, tax fraud, questions of fakery and more.

Quote of the day

Posted at 8:32 AM on March 9, 2007 by John Zech (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

As I was playing a selection from Anna Netrebko's latest CD, the "Russian Album" I was reminded of a line from one of W. C. Fields' movies.

In "The Old-Fashioned Way" Fields plays the Great McGonigle, leader of a struggling 19th century theater troupe that regularly has to depart hotel rooms in the middle of the night to avoid paying the bill.

When McGonigle finds a wealthy widow interested in backing his show, he courts her favors by paying a visit and listening to her absolutely atrocious singing--think Florence Foster Jenkins without the technique or finesse.

Her audition piece ("Gathering up the Shells") goes on for too many verses and finally he interrupts saying, "Wonderful. Wonderful. You make Jenny Lind sound like a mangy alley cat with asthma."

Ah, yeeesss.


Rostropovich discharged from Hospital

Posted at 10:18 AM on March 7, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The great Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, went into the hospital in Moscow last month under rather hush-hush circumstances. The C word was being used a lot in speculations about his health, but people are keeping mum.

The good news is (maybe) that he was discharged from the hospital yesterday and "feels well" according to his press secretary.

The story was filed on the A-P this past hour.

Gambling on the Oboe

Posted at 2:50 PM on March 5, 2007 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

First there was oboist Blair Tindall and her tales of sex, drugs, and classical music.

Now, to "double your pleasure, double your fun" in the double-reed world, we present H. David Meyers.

All the oboists I've ever known have been very intelligent and civilized people. Maybe the excessive back-pressure of blowing through that tiny reed finally took its toll on these two...


What I've learned from liars....

Posted at 8:31 AM on March 5, 2007 by John Zech (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I have known a number of liars in my life, and in my experience that leopard never changes his spots. Liars lie. They always will. And they keep doing it.

The latest in the "Hattogate" scandal in England is that the husband of English pianist Joyce Hatto has now admitted to faking most of her recordings, but he says he had a good reason to do it: It mader her happy.

“Joyce’s life was hell. She was in such pain and it was so humiliating for her for such a long time.”

Our well-intentioned faker went to prison in the 60s for tax evasion. His latest fakery seemed to boost his wife's reputation in the piano world, and for a while it seemed to work. But now her name will always be tainted.

Rabbie Burns was right about the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men.


Netrebko kills in Vienna

Posted at 10:19 PM on March 3, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Anna Netrebko's star keeps rising. The Russian soprano hit one out of the park in the title role of Massenet's "Manon" which premiered in a new production tonight in Vienna. According to the A-P review her acting was as good as her singing. And Roberto Alagna didn't do too badly, either, apparently.

Classical spinach?

Posted at 10:05 AM on March 1, 2007 by John Zech (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

One of our funniest local commentators, James Lileks, is a very thoughtful consumer and presenter (and blogger) of classical music. I think in many ways he is a prototype of our target audience.

He had some interesting things to say about classical music the other day in his column in the Strib. Talking about what he listens to on satellite radio in his car he said:

There's a good classical station, called "Pops" -- meaning, pieces you know and like, as opposed to the serious spinach classical station that rolls out interminable bolts of baroque chamber music or shrieking atonal opera that sounds like the singer is giving birth to a porcupine.

So are we a "serious spinach" classical station? Maybe once upon a time, but I think we're more on the "balaced and tasty" side of the classical food pyramid.

Any thoughts?


Mozart meets Basketball

Posted at 2:53 PM on February 19, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

This dramatic commercial takes you on a tension-filled final seconds journey of a high school basketball game, with Mozart's Requiem as the unlikely but perfect soundtrack!

Better still, I learned from an advertising website that the recording is by our very own St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and St. Olaf Choir, conducted by Anton Armstrong. Hope they get lots of residuals!

Not Clear on the Concept, Part II

Posted at 5:18 PM on February 18, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Some interesting feedback around an earlier post I made last week, especially from my public radio colleague John Clare. I've posted further comments here.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts!

Johann Sebastian von Dangerfield

Posted at 8:31 AM on February 15, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Be careful not to put classical music and its composers too high on a pedestal--you'll miss out on a lotta fun.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a complicated, and very real man. He was not a god (even though his manuscript scores were inscribed "Soli Deo Gloria"). As a young man he got into a duel with a bassoonist over a remark about his playing. He was put in jail after he left the Duke of Weimar's employment without permission. He liked his beer and wine, and he must've liked sex considering that he fathered 20 kids by his 2 wives.

Bach could, with Rodney Dangerfield, complain of never getting any respect. He was not the first choice by the city of Leipzig to be their new main man of music. He wasn't even the 2nd choice.

The competition for that post is the subject of a new play called "Bach at Leipzig" getting its regional premiere this weekend at the Loading Dock Theater in downtown St. Paul. They describe it like this:

It's Leipzig, Germany, 1722, and the sudden death of organ master and cantor Johann Kuhnau has brought to the city an eclectic mix of misfits and also-rans intent on winning his vacant post. The competition's stiff, and their skill at bribery, blackmail, and betrayal is even stiffer. And who's this latecomer Johann Sebastian Bach?

The Loading Dock is an intimate (106 seat) theater at 509 Sibley Street, between 9th and 10th on Sibley in Downtown St. Paul. The show runs weekends through March 11th. The box office number is 651-228-7008.

I'm gonna check it out.

Not clear on the concept?

Posted at 12:57 PM on February 14, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: Claude Debussy, The blog

Recently read this on NewMusicBox.com, in which Frank Oteri observes people walking out of concerts:

"I wonder what prompts people with such tender constitutions to attend concerts in the first place. Admittedly, I've witnessed these impromptu leave-takings more frequently during a piece of new music injected into an otherwise standard repertoire program. But last week I saw someone rush to the doors during a New York Philharmonic performance of Debussy's 'Images.' Debussy can drive 'em away -- who knew! And a few summers ago I also witnessed a mass exodus during Brian Ferneyhough's opera 'Shadowtime.' Didn't the folks who bought tickets for this show know what they were getting into? ... If you live in a city, you're bombarded with all sorts of sonic disturbances ... And even if you live in the 'burbs, you still occasionally have to deal with crying babies, barking dogs, etc. So what kind of hermetically-sealed environment do folks who march out of concerts mid-piece live in that they deem the music to be unduly gnarly?"

Okay, point taken. At my first NYPhil concert 25 years ago, a couple in front of me spent the entire first half synchronizing their Day Planners, oblivious to 45 minutes of Vivaldi and Hindemith unfolding on stage. So much for those erudite New York audiences. I assume there will always be those who are clueless and unmoved by the music no matter where they are.

But beyond that, perhaps people walk out of concerts not because the contemporary piece they are hearing disturbs their quietude, but because it's bad art, and has nothing to say to them. I'm a patient listener with a degree in music. I have an open mind, open ears, and lots of exposure to and context with contemporary music (for three years I was the United States representative to the International Rostrum of Composers at UNESCO in Paris). But I still hear lots of music on a regular basis that makes me want to leave the hall. If anything, I wish audiences felt less stigma about doing just that, and more freedom to vote with their feet.

If it was simply a matter of being averse to "sonic disturbances," people would be leaving movie theaters in droves every night of the week at Dolby THX suburban multiplexes across the land. But be it cinema or concert hall (or radio station for that matter), they'll stay -- if the art that's presented to them has a compelling story to tell, one that makes them so engaged that they can't wait for the next scene, the next movement, the next chapter. Art that makes them excitedly anticipate: "What happens next?"

So: what keeps you in your seat?

MTT wins at Grammys

Posted at 6:14 AM on February 12, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Michael Tilson Thomas (known to his friends simply as "MTT") and the San Francisco Symphony won Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance grammys last night for their recording of Mahler's 7th Symphony.

Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov won Best Opera and Best Contemporary Composition grammys for "Ainadamar: Fountain of Tears."

Other winners included pianist Maurizio Pollini, the late soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the Emerson String Quartet and baritone Bryn Terfel.

You'll find a complete list at here.

My (our) dirty little secret

Posted at 8:16 AM on February 8, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

OK, I admit it. I like fundraising. Actually a lot of us announcers here at MPR like doing it. Used to be it was a drag for most of us. The fundraisers went on too long, the pitch breaks were too long and it was hard to sound fresh and interesting without getting into "begging mode" or "finger wagging."

We don't do that anymore.

Now we just come on and say "Look, we're making good radio for you here everyday, we know you like it ('cause you listen) and it's time for you to become a member and support us so we can keep on doing all this neat stuff and playing all the great music that you like."

For us announcers it's a chance to do some friendly banter with our colleagues on the air and show some other sides of our personalities for a few minutes and it's a REAL kick when you contribute and then tell us how much you like what we do.

It's great. This is the first day of our February membership drive. I'm going on at 9 am and I'm psyched.

Contribute online today! Thanks.

Rostropovich is on the mend--we hope.

Posted at 5:52 AM on February 7, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Maybe you didn't even know he was sick.

Yesterday afternoon the word came out that cellist-conductor Mstislav Rostropovich had been hospitalized in Moscow for unknown reasons, and his manager said 'it does not look good.'

Well, Russian president Vladimir Putin must have been radiating lots of good will, because a few hours after he visited Slava at the undisclosed medical clinic in the capital it appears that Rostropovich is getting better. The story from the A-P today is that he is in satisfactory condition and getting better.

Opera Hero

Posted at 9:44 PM on February 6, 2007 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

At MPR's recent employee party, we had the opportunity to explore our "youthiness" (to adapt a Stephen Colbert-ism) via interactive video games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, DDR is basically an electronic Twister mat linked to an onscreen video with an alarming array of arrows, flashing lights and loud music. Your feet are meant to follow the arrows, stomping on the particular squares indicated. Think of it as dance-karaoke. Guitar Hero is a similar deal, but you have a cute little plastic guitar instead of a Twister mat.

Anyway. With this recent experience in mind, imagine my intense curiosity when I read that Sony Playstation was collaborating with a London opera company on La Boheme. I tried to imagine what an interactive opera video game would require. Singing might be tricky, because though there are devices that register pitch, how would they account for vibrato, slides, scoops, scripted asides? So what could the element of participation be? Air conducting with a Wii baton? Dramatic gestures on cue?

Alas (hurray?), none of the above. Sony is going to set up a bunch of Playstations around the venue in addition to directing audience members to an interactive site. It's admittedly a strategy on the part of Sony to introduce their product to someone other than teenage boys, but will the opera benefit as well? At the very least, the audience can enjoy an enriched opera experience via the website, where they can watch time-lapse videos of stage & set prep, read opera blogs, check out the costumes and makeup, take online singing lessons, enter an "Opera Idol" contest, and lots more. It's actually pretty groovy. Kind of like the "extras" that come with a DVD. I wonder if there's a blooper reel?

That's no Bull, Ole...

Posted at 9:31 AM on February 5, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

In Loring Park, at the edge of downtown Minneapolis there is a statue…not of some politician, or war hero, but of a man playing the violin. He is Ole Bull, considered by many to be Norway's first international star, and he was born 197 years ago today. (Heads up, Sons of Knute, time to start planning for the bicentennial!)

Robert Schumann once wrote that Ole Bull was among "the greatest of all," and that he was on a level with Niccolò Paganini for the speed and clarity of his playing. Without Ole Bull we may never have heard of Edvard Grieg. Bull played duets with young Edvard in the summer of 1864 and it was Bull's encouragement that got Grieg's parents to send him to conservatory. (Another heads up, 2007 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Edvard Grieg.)

Bull was a fervent Norwegian nationalist, and a leader of the "Young Norway" movement at a time when Norway was still under Swedish rule. He founded a Norwegian National Theater in 1849 to promote native drama and music. The theater was short-lived, but a writer he hired named Henrik Ibsen went on to achieve a few successes. Some have said that Ole Bull was the model for Ibsen's Peer Gynt.

Ole Bull's passion for freedom even led him to buy land in Pennsylvannia in 1852 and found a colony for fellow ex-pats called "New Norway." Unfortunately, this somewhat Utopian vision died young on the vine, but there still is a state park commemorating the place.

If you want some more regional perspective on this interesting character, a nice account of Ole Bull's 1868 Wisconsin visit can be found at this blogspot. Meanwhile, this site has some good stories involving Bull and a Leif Erikson monument, where the author says Ole was "an easy mark."

Message in a Bottle

Posted at 8:29 AM on February 2, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Pursuant to the Sidney Sheldon obit, James Lileks' blog weighs in on the "I Dream of Jeanie" theme song, and Stephen Foster:

"Every note is simple and obvious but it still seems remarkable that no one had thought to arrange them in that particular order. It’s the countertheme that gives it spice, and the middle section has a lovely expansive quality that makes you think of Frank Sinatra peeing off a balcony in Vegas . And of course the beat: bum / bum / bum / bumbum bum / bum / bum / bum / bumbum bum. "

"The name of the show was a callback to an old song from the early part of the 20th century – “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.” I’ve only heard the first few bars, sung by Bugs Bunny with appropriate alterations: “I dream of Jeannie, she’s a light brown hare.” Old as the song was, audiences in the forties got the joke, just as people today recognize a reference to a song from the 60s. "

"The difference, of course, is that the 60s aren’t seen as The Past; the 60s are a Timeless Vault of Cultural Touchstones, the apotheosis of Western Civ. Sigh. Well. One of the future Diners will take place in the 60s – don’t ask why, it’ll be explained – and I will use many of the gutbustingly dreadful “psychedelic” records I have collected. It’s obvious from Note One that everyone involved in the effort had so much THC in their system you could dry-cure their phlegm and get a buzz off the resin, but instead of having the loose happy ho-di-hi-dee-ho cheer of a Cab Calloway reefer number, the songs are soaked with Art and Importance and Meaning. You can imagine the band members sitting down to hash out (sorry) the overarching themes of the album, how it should like start with Total Chaos man because those are the times in which we live with like war from the sky, okay, and then we’ll have flutes because flutes are peaceful like doves and my old lady can play that part because she like studied flute, man, in high school. The lyrics are all the same: AND THE KING OF QUEENS SAID TO THE EARTH THE HEIROPHANT SHALL NOW GIVE BIRTH / THE HOODED PRIESTS IN CHAMBERED LAIRS LEERED DOWN UPON THE LADIES FAIR / NEWWWW DAAAAY DAWNNNING! "

"Five years later it was obsolete. The Jeannie theme, however, will make toes tap in 2476 AD."

Beethoven, Klemperer and Mendelssohn

Posted at 10:22 AM on February 1, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: Ludwig van Beethoven, The blog

So, the Minnesota Orchestra kicked off their "Beethoven's Back" promotion today with The Big Guy himself handing out coffee, newspapers and downloads in front of Orchestra Hall this morning, and it reminded me of a story about Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and the great conductor of long ago, Otto Klemperer.

It seems Klemperer was visiting a music shop with a recording company executive named George de Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. He approached a clerk and asked, "Do you have Klemperer conducting Beethoven's Fifth?"

"No," the man replied. "We have it conducted by Ormandy and Toscanini. Why do you want it by Klemperer?"

"Because I am Klemperer," the conductor replied indignantly.

"Sure," said the clerk, and nodding at his companion he said "And that, I suppose, is Beethoven?"

"No," Klemperer grinned, "That's Mendelssohn."

Chicago Symphony: End of an Era

Posted at 8:20 PM on January 29, 2007 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

The Chicago Tribune reports: After 48 years in the Chicago Symphony, including 34 years as concertmaster, the legendary Samuel Magad is to retire this month, at the age of 73. Magad says he could have stayed on, but with Daniel Barenboim having made his exit, the violinist says now is a good time to step down. Magad was hired by Fritz Reiner in 1958, at the age of 25. Georg Solti appointed him concertmaster in 1972. No other player in CSO history has been concertmaster post longer. The legendary Adolph Herseth, who retired in 2001 after an unprecedented 53 years in the first trumpet chair.

Herseth, btw, is a native of Bertha, Minnesota. His story is a remarkable one, and I had the pleasure of talking to him just before his last concert. That became a feature on NPR's "Morning Edition," and you can listen to it here.


It's (not) da bomb!

Posted at 9:32 AM on January 29, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

So what do classical music and bombs have in common? No we're not talking about opening night failures at the opera, but it's a weird bit of synchronicity that in the past few days two different stories have come out about classical music and "the bomb."

Composer John Adams recently said he is not going to be able to finish his "Doctor Atomic Symphony" in time for its scheduled March 31 Carnegie Hall premiere. That piece is based on his opera "Doctor Atomic," about Robert Oppenheimer, the developer of the A-bomb. (The making of the opera is also the subject of a documentary film that was entered in the Sundance Film Festival, which just wrapped up yesterday. It's called "The Wonders Are Many: The Making of Dr. Atomic." )

Meanwhile, there's this headline from an Iranian news agency: "Nuclear symphony to commemorate Iran’s Islamic Revolution victory." Well, it's not about a bomb, apparently. It's actually the "Nuclear ENERGY Symphony," but with American skepticism running high about Iran's nuclear program, there may be some eyebrows raised in the classical music division of the State Department about that one. You can find more background in this story from Yahoo news. Jeff Esworthy was wondering if they would open the program with "Mars, the Bringer of War," from "The Planets" by Gustav Holst.

And for you trivia buffs, there was also a symphony called "Atomic Bomb" by Japanese composer Masao Oki, which premiered on November 6, 1953, one year to the day after the explosion of the first hydrogen bomb at Eniwetok Atoll.

Vienna Postcard No. 2

Posted at 4:08 AM on January 24, 2007 by John Birge (8 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Sorry for the delay since Postcard No. 1. The problem with coming to Vienna to work is, well, all that pesky work! It has a habit of getting in the way of sightseeing and blogging. Our MPR team was able to combine business and pleasure on Monday, by taking a microphone with us around the city, and recording sounds of Vienna old and new, to incorporate into the opening sequence of our broadcast. With a laptop and digital sound editing, it's fantastic to be able bring a complete audio studio in a shoulder bag! The rest of our Monday was production work, scripting, and preparing for Tuesday's broadcast.

Now it's Wednesday and my work is done, after last night's live broadcast from the Musikverein. I was stationed in the same announcer's booth used for the annual New Year's concert by the Vienna Philharmonic. If that sounds glamorous, guess again: it's basically a storage closet. Actually, this sort of thing is not so unusual in the radio business (no pictures, after all). I did have a video feed of the stage so I could see the action while calling the live 'play-by-play.' After sorting out some 11th-hour/nail-biting technical issues (it just wouldn't be a live broadcast without them!), the show went off without a hitch. Very fun to be there!!

My only regret? Not being able to hear the concert while seated in the hall, which has the best acoustic in the world. But I did sit in on rehearsal, and was again struck by the energy of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Also, their sound was even clearer in the Musikverein than in their usual digs at the Ordway. I know how a tour like this galvanizes an orchestra. As an American musician, the old European concert halls are a new experience, and combined with pulling together for a road trip, the music-making is refreshed. It's carbonated -- there's an extra sparkle you can hear.

Right now I'm hearing through the wall of my hotel room an SPCO violinist practicing; A very nice way to start the day, at least for me! I know that practice time is dear when you're traveling every day in an orchestra, so you sneak in whatever moments you can. The orchestra's bus leaves in minutes for their next concert in Zagreb . My work here is over, but will spend some time relaxing in Vienna, incl Bryn Terfel as Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper this evening. Also, someone told me they just might have some good desserts here as well. Hmmm..

Liebe Grüße aus Wien!


Vienna Postcard No. 1

Posted at 6:36 AM on January 22, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Greetings from Vienna, where our production team is preparing for tomorrow's live broadcast of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from the Musikverein, the famous concert hall that is home to the Vienna Philharmonic. Tomorrow will be a day of many firsts: the first SPCO concert from Vienna, Roberto Abbado's first time conducting in the Musikverein, and Minnesota Public Radio's first broadcast from there as well!

This is my first chance to do radio in the Musikverein, but I was lucky to hear the Vienna Philharmonic there many years ago, and also to perform there with the Cincinnati Symphony (in my previous life as a horn player). So it was wonderful to be in the hall again today. Our production team of Brad Althoff, Michael Osborne, and I met with the manager of the concert series to see the hall and our broadcast booth to get a sense of what tomorrow will bring.

It's mild in Vienna, about 45 degrees, and a good day to visit the big landmarks, including the famous Stephansdom, the fabulous baroque Karlskirche (where a plaque commemorates Anton Bruckner's Te Deum), the Albertina, and the Staatsoper. Yes, there's now Starbucks and Burger King on the Kartnerstrasse -- Vienna is not immune to globalization -- but it still maintains a timeless elegance and genuine charm around every turn.

But there's work to be done to prepare for tomorrow's broadcast, and meanwhile we await tomorrow's arrival of the SPCO, after their first concert tonight in Budapest. More to come...

MPR Open House Quote of the Day

Posted at 12:56 PM on January 21, 2007 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Okay, first let me say that I LOVE our listeners! I can't believe how many people shuffled through the snow flurries in Saint Paul to come by MPR's new headquarters for our 40th Anniversary open house. Tons and tons and tons - from longtime members to infants in strollers and everyone in between. Even though I've been up since 3:30 this morning, I'm totally amped and filled with a wonderful mix of joy and pride. I'm so proud of what we do at MPR every day, but if I had a vest the buttons would have burst right off because of our MEMBERS. We have the most loyal, active, engaged listeners in the country. And surely the most good-looking, strong and above-average.

So. Jeff Esworthy said he got a great quote from a guest today and wants to make t-shirts.

"Minnesota Public Radio Rules the World"

Though I don't think we're actually headed toward total world domination, I think I can safely say that MPR and its listeners rule!


Paris does Vienna

Posted at 6:36 AM on January 19, 2007 by John Zech (4 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

What do Johann Strauss, Jr and Paris Hilton have in common? Next month they will both be front and center at Vienna's greatest society event of the season: the Opera Ball. Hilton is, of course, the celebrity heiress who's most famous for being famous (and for proving you CAN be too rich and too thin!).

According to the stories on the wire this week she was supposed to be doing co-princess duties with Britney Spears, but apparently they've had a falling out (and Lindsay Lohan is in rehab). I just want to know if 1) Paris can waltz, and 2) if she's ever heard of Strauss.

Hilton is the guest of a wealthy industrialist who feels she can give some updating to the very traditional (white tie) event. Word is she's being paid $1 million for her appearance. For that much I hope she sings a cover of "Voices of Spring" at least.

The ball season starts with the New Year's Eve Imperial Ball (Kaiserball) at the Hofburg and ends with the Opera Ball in February. In between there are about 300 balls put on by various groups (the Physicians' Ball, the Coffeehouse Owners Ball) and back in the day it was almost mandatory to have a new Strauss waltz as the centerpiece of your big dance party.


Mad Max

Posted at 7:09 AM on January 11, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Sounds like it might be another "Farewell to Stromness" for Peter Maxwell Davies ("Max" to his friends). This most distinguished of British composers, Master of the Queen's Music no less, has been denied permission to pledge his troth to his longtime partner, Colin Parkinson by the Orkney Islands Council in the Scottish islands he calls home.

They were to arrive on a miniature train pulled by a burgundy steam engine, in a lavish ceremony involving celebrity guests (Elton John was rumored to be one), but if Orkney won't have it, Davies says he'll move his party to London. Not only that, he also is threatening to write a comic opera making fun of the Orkney council.

An estimated 16,000 gay weddings have taken place in Great Britain since the Civil Partnership Act was passed in Britain in December of 2005. More details in yesterday's story from the UK Telegraph.

Oops, Bach did it again.

Posted at 4:22 PM on January 8, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: Johann Sebastian Bach, The blog

Fugue (fyoog) n.
1. Music An imitative polyphonic composition in which a theme or themes are stated successively in all of the voices of the contrapuntal structure.
2. Psychiatry A pathological amnesiac condition during which one is apparently conscious of one's actions but has no recollection of them after returning to a normal state.

Which of these applies to Britney Spears? Well, both, sort of. While attending a "Mother of the Year" awards party (I think that's what it was) in Las Vegas New Years' Eve, Britney may have passed out. She's denying it, but it's been hard to tell exactly what constitutes a "normal state" for her to return to.

But what does Britney have to do with "fuguing?" (Steady!) Well, one of her early hits, "Oops, I did it again!" turns out to be the perfect teaching tool for showing how to write a fugue. A 25 year-old named Danny Pi has done a brilliant job making music theory fun in this video on You Tube.

Britney, by the way, is going to have to start doing it again (coming out with some hits, that is) pretty soon, or word is that her record label might dump her. Her biggest fan site already has.

Free Mozart!

Posted at 5:58 PM on January 7, 2007 by John Birge (128 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

U.S. CD sales fell in 2006, but downloads were way up. No surprise there, but did you know that classical music was the fastest growing genre among all music sales? Some ideas why

Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcasting service, is offering free downloads of by Mozart, Strauss, Schumann, Brahms, and Bruckner, with Kent Nagano conducting the German Symphony Orchestra.

Subscribers at eMusic made the MN Orch's recent Beethoven Nine recording the number one download of all genres of music last week. It’s still the #2 classical download


"like a piece of wood attacked by termites."

Posted at 8:22 AM on January 5, 2007 by John Zech (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

That's what her attorney said she looked like. Some people get bitten by the opera bug, but soprano Alison Trainer says she was bitten by bed bugs, lots of them, at Phoenix's Hilton Suites, and she's suing the HIlton Hotels Corporation for $6 million. According to the AP story, Trainer, who has appeared with the New York City Opera and the Phoenix Symphony, soldiered on and kept her singing committments, despite the bites on her face.

Bed bugs have been going upscale, and just because you stay in a good hotel, it doesn't mean the little darlings won't be there. There's more about bed bug protection in this story from MSNBC.

Sleep tight.


Newly discovered "Wolfango" piece premieres today

Posted at 8:10 AM on December 29, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

This has been the year of Mozart. To mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, Austria invested about 30 million euros in events promoting Salzburg's most famous son, and it has paid off handsomely for all concerned. Now, to cap off the celebrations, a new piece by the young Wolfie has been discovered and authenticated. The facsimile score for this "Allegro di Wolfgango Mozart" will be officially presented and played by clavichordist Florian Birsak today.

Some time ago, the archives of the city's episcopal office were offered unsigned keyboard works, including this "Allegro." Detailed tests led experts to conclude that the piece was indeed written by Mozart when he was between six and 10 years old. A second score in the collection may also be by him.

No victory for di-di-dit-dah

Posted at 9:07 AM on December 28, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The opening notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony have been described as "Fate knocking at the door." It just so happens that the pattern of 3 short notes followed by one long corresponds to the Morse code for the letter "V." During WWII Winston Churchill was famous for giving the two-fingered salute of "V is for Victory," and in June of 1941, the BBC began using the opening of Beethoven's 5th as a theme for radio shows beamed across Europe to boost morale during the Second World War.

So it was with some chagrin that I read yesterday in the New York Times that amateur radio operators will no longer be required to learn Morse Code as part of their test. My uncle George was a very active "ham" radio operator all of his life. He and my dad built their own "crystal sets" when they were kids in the 1920s. George went on to get his EE degree and built a radio that filled most of one bedroom of his house. When I was a kid I remember watching with awe and wonder as he fired up the tubes of his transmitter and made connections with other "hams" overseas.

George had the most advanced license an amateur could get, he was a master of Morse, and I'm sure he would agree with many of the die hards that dropping Morse code is just the first step off the slippery slope. What next? A dime novel hidden in the corncrib? Jokes from "Cap'n Billy's Whizzbang? You got Trouble, my friend!

Do you remember the great PBS Mystery series "Inspector Morse." Well, Barrington Pheloung, who wrote the haunting theme for the show, not only spelled out M-O-R-S-E in the rhythm of the theme, but in later shows started putting the name of the murderer into the title theme in Morse code rhythm - and then later again, as a red herring, the names of people who were NOT the murderer, just to fool anyone who might have cracked the code. Those Brits!

Of course, composers have hidden messages in their music for centuries, often using names or words as themes (eg. B-A-C-H). In his "Messagesquisse," Pierre Boulez put the name of his dedicatee, Swiss conductor Paul Sacher, in Morse code in the cello part--and then he repeated it in various anagrams. You can read a lot more about this interesting subject in a learned article by Dmitri N. Smirnov called "Music and Morse code."

But perhaps this is a good time to come full circle, because it was a hundred years ago, almost to the day, when the Canadian experimenter, Reginald A. Fessenden, achieved what is widely regarded as the first example of voice (and music) transmission over radio. That's the starting point of a fascinating new documentary called "Hearing America: A Century of Music on the Radio," from American Radio Works.

Want better employees? Start a company choir!

Posted at 8:46 AM on December 21, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

I like to sing, but to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn't belong to any choir that would have me. I'm not much for blending--I like to sing LOUD, and I only have about 3 good notes. Still it's fun--for me.

Apparently singing in a choir is not only fun, but it can be good for you, and make you a more productive, happier employee. The details are in a story 2 days ago from Norway's Aftenposten.

Caroling and Jack the Ripper

Posted at 9:40 AM on December 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Some recent developments in the case of the "Suffolk Strangler" in England reminded me of an urban legend about why we call songs of the season "Christmas Carols."

According to the legend, a little girl named Carol Poles was reported missing around Christmas in 1888 in the Whitechapel district of London, and a large search party went out looking for her. At that time people were scared of Jack the Ripper, history's first recorded serial killer, who (like the Suffolk Strangler) had been killing prostitutes in London's East End and then vanishing right under the noses of the constabulary.

As the story goes, the searching parties would sing Christmas "carols" when they knocked at a door, to show they were friendly visitors. The tradition became so popular that "caroling" was carried on every Yuletide after, amen.

Total poppycock...one of those "just so" stories, like "plucking the yew," which find favor with a gullible public.

My research (aka "googling") indicates the word "carol" comes from a Greek dance called a choraulein, which was accompanied by flute music. As the dance spread through Europe it caught on big time in France where it became "caroller," a circle dance accompanied by singers. Originally, carols were performed on many occasions during the year, but by the 17th century the carols evolved into songs associated primarily with Christmas.

You can find the stories behind a lot of the famous carols at this website from the U.K.

Idomeno--no big woop

Posted at 6:03 AM on December 19, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

A controversial production of Idomeneo in Berlin came off last night with little ado about much of anything. A few boos as heads came tumbling, but perhaps the catcalls should have been saved for a sub-par performance, according to the review from Bloomberg News.

The Police are back with Mozart

Posted at 7:31 AM on December 18, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Not the band, the Police, but the Polizei (are they a band?) in Berlin will be out in force tonight at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin as the controversial production of Mozart's Idomeneo goes back on stage after being cancelled in September. This is the production in which a decapitated head of Muhammed (with heads of Jesus and Buddha and Neptune) is brought on the stage by King Idomeneo. The Muslim community protested at the time that this was disrespectful.

You'd think all of this hooplah would make people want to see the show, but the controversy is having the opposite effect according to a story published in The Berlin Paper today.

Radames doesn't wear a watch

Posted at 2:49 PM on December 17, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

From a NY Times profile of Antonello Palombi, the tenor who came onstage at La Scala when Roberto Abbado walked out in a huff:

Mr. Palombi said odd thoughts had passed through his mind. “I remember thinking, ‘Darn, I’ve got my watch on.’ ” He said he lowered his arm so his sleeve would cover the watch. “Radames doesn’t wear a watch,” he said.

Radames also doesn't wear a wrinkled shirt and blue jeans, so the wristwatch was perhaps the least of Palombi's problems! BTW, scroll down for a recent blog entry with link to the video of the scandal.

Bizet R.I.P.-ed off!

Posted at 8:15 AM on December 15, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

This week most opera fans have been preoccupied with the Roberto Alagna/La Scala scandale (see earlier blogs here), but some of the faithful are looking to Paris, for a desecration of a different sort: A bust of composer Georges Bizet, decorating his tomb in the Père-Lachaise Cemetary, has been stolen! It's one of a half dozen bronze busts made by well-known artists of the late 19th century stolen from tombs in Père-Lachaise, the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Moliere, Proust, and Maria Callas. According to a story in today's UK Guardian, it sounds like the work of professionals.

Alagna Cam

Posted at 5:01 PM on December 13, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

At last, video of The Scandal!

Love the look on the soprano's face when the understudy walks out in street clothes!!

Alagna: I quit...La Scala: G'bye

Posted at 5:55 AM on December 12, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

I always thought that getting booed at the opera in Italy just went with the territory. Well, like Prof. Harold Hill, apparently superstar tenor Roberto Alagna "doesn't know the territory." He's a little touchy about being booed while he's performing, and La Scala is a little touchy about him walking off stage. Here's how the Associated Press reported it yesterday:

MILAN, Italy (AP) - An opera singer who stormed off stage after
the audience booed him won't have to worry about the crowd anymore.
The opera house won't let him sing.
Officials at La Scala in Milan, Italy, say Roberto Alagna broke
his contract by walking out during a performance of "Aida" last night.
Even though the crowd apparently wasn't thrilled with his
singing, his exit apparently was a stunner. And the understudy was
caught off-guard, too, since he came rushing on stage in jeans.
Alagna insists there was nothing wrong with his singing, but
that he "obeyed the audience" by leaving when they booed. He was
planning to try again until the La Scala opera house told him to
take tonight -- and every other night -- off.

Now Alagna is saying he's going to be back as Radames again on Thursday night, despite what La Scala has told him. It's got a lot of people talking, and speculating, and issuing press statements. You can read a lot more details and juicy bits on Opera Chic.

SPCO news notes II

Posted at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Hot on the heels of Don's Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra post (below) is today's New York Times profile of SPCO Artistic Partner Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

He likes techno, btw:
"Last year he was invited by MTV to talk about taking classical music to young people who are immersed in rock and pop. He grabbed the chance, but not before being prepped by his teenage son, Antoine. Mr. Aimard knew he would be asked about music “outside the classical field,” he said, and he was confident that he could speak of jazz, which he loves. But he felt out of touch with pop. Antoine played him recordings of pop groups that drew from African and European cultures, which Mr. Aimard found fascinating. “Also the techno groups,” he said, “I liked them very much.” Which groups were they? “I’m sorry but I have such a bad memory for all names,” he said, though he did recall Guru, the vocal half of the hip-hop duo Gang Starr. “This was very good,” Mr. Aimard said.

Mozart & MTT get Grammy nominations

Posted at 12:02 PM on December 7, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The Grammy nominees were announced about 11 o'clock this morning (12/7). In the classical categories a new recording of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo" directed by Rene Jacobs, and Michael Tilson Thomas's new recording of Mahler's Seventh Symphony each got a couple of nominations. You can see all of them at this section of grammy.com.

What's better than 76 Trombones?

Posted at 6:36 AM on December 6, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

How about 99 tubas? Especially when they're gathered together to honor the most-heard tuba player of all time.

Mozart:Billiards = Tan Dun:Ping-Pong?

Posted at 8:13 AM on December 4, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Mozart's doctor thought it was bad for the compulsive composer to sit at his desk for hours on end, intensely writing his music, so the sawbones was happy when he saw Mozart at the billiard table. Composer Tan Dun keeps a ping-pong table in his large home, not just for recreation, but so he has room enough to spread out his large scores when he's orchestrating them.

Tan Dun started his musical career in New York City busking on West Fourth Street. When he went back there recently he met some of the guys who shared the corner with him. They asked, “Hey, Tan, where are you playing?” He said, “I play at Lincoln Center, but inside.”

His opera, "The First Emperor," debuts at the Met this month. There's more in a fun interview with him from yesterday's NY Times magazine.

Erl (Hines) könig?

Posted at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Heard a great piece on PRI's "The World" a few days ago. Lisa Mullins and smoky-voiced jazz singer Patricia Barber had a groovy conversation/playing session, with Barber at the piano illustrating some of her musical points. Her latest album is called Mythologies and is based on characters from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

It captures the attention for a number of reasons. First, Time magazine describes Barber as Diana Krall crossed with Susan Sontag. ! Doesn't that make you at least a little curious to hear what she sounds like? Second, a jazz song-cycle. What a concept! She said that looking for similar cyclic material always brought her back to the realm of classical music. Of particular interest was the music of Franz Schubert.

"I studied Schubert, harmonic progressions, and I studied the great poets in order to find some different rhyme schemes for songwriting. And I was hoping to enrich the language of jazz."

She was able to dive into the serious study of Ovid's mythology and Schubert's song-writing thanks to the Guggenheim Foundation, which awarded her a fellowship in 2003. (Previous winners include e.e. cummings and Aaron Copland.)

"I used the time to study the great poets and the great classical composers, especially Chopin, some Verdi. And Schubert! His meter. His song. I would play them on the piano and I have notebooks charting the harmonies. Sometimes you’ll hear in opera how a melodic line can float over a harmony – justify an unusual harmonic change."

She says studying Schubert (and other classical composers) so intimately has made her a better musician.

Hear, hear! Hear Patricia demonstrate by following the "to listen click here" link about halfway down the page.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Posted at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

I was all in a dither to read this article in the Toronto Post. It's not just about a cello, but about a carbon fiber cello! Since I happen to own one of these little black beauties myself (one of the R & D models from a friend's company, Quintus, in Camp Verde, Arizona), I thought the article would have a shout-out to the Cook clan of AZ...stir up a little home-state pride, y'know.

Not so much.

No mention of Quintus. The story refers only to carbon-fibre instruments by a company called Luis & Clark, which has the weight of celebrity endorsements on its side, with kudos from Edo de Waart, Kurt Masur and Yo Yo Ma. They're also the first hit when you google "carbon fiber instrument." The instruments were developed by Boston Symphony cellist Luis Leguia and a sailboat-making pal of his. Apparently it was Leguia's love for sailing that got him thinking about building a sturdier, lighter, more weather-proof instrument. How can I not root for a guy who's been playing the cello his whole life AND loves the feel of sun and spray on his face?

And yet...it made me feel a bit sad that the article made it seem as though Messrs. Luis & Clark are the sole pioneers in this weird little field.

Both companies seem to have launched products around 1996 - essentially simultaneous development of the same thing at the same time. Is this just another example of what scientists call parallel evolution? Or what more mystical types think of as the collective unconscious?

Passing of Robt. McFerrin, Sr

Posted at 7:38 AM on November 28, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

I was sorry to read this morning that Bobby McFerrin's father died last Friday of a heart attack at the age of 85. In case you don't know, Robert McFerrin, Sr. was a pioneering opera singer. He was the first black man to sing solo at the Metropolitan Opera. His appearance at the Met in 1955 in "Aida" came just three weeks after Marian Anderson made her historic debut as the first African-American to sing a major role at the Met. HIs obituary is in today's Pioneer Press.

He that hath ears to hear...

Posted at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2006 by John Zech (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I've got some hearing loss in my right ear, but like many of my fellow sufferers, I'm not wearing a hearing aid...yet. The technology is certainly a lot better and more discreet than when my grandfather's unit would make feedback whistles from his breast pocket. But there's still a stigma associated with the device, and with the very idea of admitting that you are hard of hearing.

Music means little if you can't hear it, so tenor Placido Domingo, along with the Vienna Philharmonic, are leading a campaign called "Hear the World," to raise awareness about hearing loss, and to help bring the latest technological help to those who need it. They plan a major announcement tomorrow (Tues.) at Carnegie Hall. More details in this story from the Associated Press.


Classical Guerillas

Posted at 8:43 AM on November 23, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Val Kahler's previous post reminded me of a project of mine that never got off the ground.

Back when I was still playing my trombone I thought it would be great to have a group called "The Guerilla Brass Quintet." The idea would be that we'd show up in some public place, unannounced, wearing gorilla masks, and play music for people as they head off to lunch or home from work.

Unfortunately, by the time I came up with this scheme, I was no longer playing with my quintet and never got around to getting some more "Gor/Guerillas" together. Maybe it's time for someone else to take this idea and run with it.

A bandsman I know told me a while back that there's a brass band in Colorado that does something similar. They sort of show up, like an art rave, gathering from all corners of town, and suddenly, they are giving a concert.

A Night Out, Guerrilla-Style

Posted at 5:04 PM on November 22, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

I'm neither a skilled enough cook nor an adventurous enough diner to think of myself as a card-carrying "foodie," but I follow along at a distance and admire the fearless soufflé-makers and sweetbread-eaters as they go places I'll likely never see.

It was with an outsider's curiosity (and a little pang of jealousy) then, that I read about a newish trend in dining out - guerrilla restaurants. The hottest chefs (whose name-brand restaurants have 3-month waiting lists for reservations) set up their kitchens in temporary spaces, offer set-price (cheap!) chef's menus and the chance to sample some new culinary experiments before they hit the menu at French Laundry or Chez Panisse. The catch? It's advertised only word by word of mouth. Friend-of-a-friend stuff. People I will never, ever meet. *sigh*

Earlier this month, I read about classical music's contribution to the guerrilla trend. This story in Musical America says the trend is reminiscent of the art scene in the 60s and 70s, with performance art "happenings" in abandoned warehouses and old lofts and the like.

Spurred on by a growing number of offbeat performance venues and enterprising young classical musicians, New York is experiencing a boom in small, largely below-the-radar concert series. There are opera nights at a Lower East Side dive bar, chamber music concerts at a boxing gym beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, contemporary music at a cabaret in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and avant-garde fare in a silo on the banks of an industrial canal.

Zach Layton is an Oberlin grad who organizes new-music nights in Brooklyn, says hipsters (and others) in their 20s and 30s are curious about classical music but aren't keen on dropping a hundred bucks for a ticket.

“There are people who feel alienated by the extreme expense of the tickets that are sold uptown,” he says. “Presenting classical music in a non-traditional space like a bar opens up opportunities for people to hear music that they might not otherwise get a chance to hear. It’s also a psychological thing, because it just puts music in a more laid back space.”

It's an excellent story, interesting and challenging. Just one answer to The Great Classical Music Question - where to find the next generations of listeners?

A Punch That Could Kill a Donkey

Posted at 6:00 AM on November 22, 2010 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Today is St. Cecilia's Day, Feast Day of the Patron Saint of Music. Once upon a time, it was a day for music making and celebration. Considerable celebration, if this St. Cecilia's Day Punch recipe is any indication. Click here to listen to a very funny interview with conductor Nic McGegan about the life of St. Cecilia, and read below to make a punch that Nic says "could kill a donkey!"

Charleston St. Cecilia Punch
6 lemons
1 quart brandy
1 pineapple
1-1/2 pounds sugar
1 quart green tea
1 pint heavy rum
1 quart peach brandy
1 gallon champagne
2 quarts carbonated water

Slice lemons thin and cover with brandy. Allow to steep for 24 hours. Several hours before ready to serve, slice the pineapple into the bowl with the lemon slices, then add the sugar, tea, rum, and peach brandy. Stir well. When ready to serve, add the champagne and water. 80-90 servings.

Retirement for Mutter? "Nein"

Posted at 4:24 PM on November 20, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Anne-Sophie Mutter on a radio interview in which she purportedly declared she would be retiring from the concert stage in two years on her 45th birthday:

"No! No no no no! That statement was completely misinterpreted. I've always said that I would not go on forever, because I didn't want to fall into the trap of just repeating myself. When I think I cannot bring anything new, anything important, anything different to music, I will stop. But this is not related to age!"

She also says that despite their recent divorce, she and Andre Previn remain friends, and will continue to perform together. Full interview here.

Roles Royce

Posted at 9:16 AM on November 20, 2006 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

100 years ago today, Charles Rolls and Frederick Royce incorporated their new automotive venture Rolls-Royce, Ltd. Of Rolls-Royce, soprano Zinka Milanov comes to mind. She was famous for Verdi, especially Aida, which she sang at the Metropolitan Opera seventy-five times. After Birgit Nilsson’s first performance as Aida at the Met, Zinka Milanov climbed into a Rolls-Royce limousine that was waiting for Nilsson. As she step inside, Milanov said:

“If Madame Nilsson takes my roles, I must take her Rolls!”

BTW, for a musical tribute to another great automotive centennial, see entry and link for November 17.


Strauss for the heart

Posted at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

If "Dancing With the Stars" (and Mario's dimples) haven't inspired you to start taking ballroom dance lessons, perhaps this news will have you and your partner getting your "two hearts in three-quarter time:"

CHICAGO (AP) - Researchers in Italy say heart patients can waltz
their way to better health.
The dance was found to be just as effective as bicycling or
treadmill-running in rehabilitating those suffering from cardiac
Doctors presented the findings at a Chicago meeting of the
American Heart Association. In the study, patients who waltzed for
exercise saw the same improvements in their cardiac system as
patients who used cycles and treadmills.
Researchers say they were looking for a different way to get
heart patients moving because up to 70 percent drop out of
traditional exercise programs designed to help them get better.
Doctors believe waltzing holds the patients' interest because
it's fun, and making it a more effective form of exercise.

Helsinki Complaint Choir

Posted at 4:05 PM on November 11, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

An artist created this "complaint choir" project, in which the public was invited to paticipate in a workshop to have their complaints heard and made into a song. This is what they came up with in Helsinki.

Be sure to listen long enough (about 3 minutes into it) to hear the choir do the Nokia ringtone. Art imitates Life.

Complain complain complain!! ;-) jb

Wasserstein at the Opera (and the Thanksgiving table)

Posted at 1:06 PM on November 8, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Interesting item below. And a reminder to Wasserstein fans that a few years ago, she was a guest on my annual Thanksgiving special, Giving Thanks. You can hear her Thanksgiving story here. It's the last segment in the first hour.

And don't forget to listen to Giving Thanks 2006, with special guests Anne Lamott and Gary Snyder! Audio will be posted in a couple weeks.

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) -- Actresses Allison Janney and Stockard Channing will help an opera company honor the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein.

The Glimmerglass Opera of Cooperstown will be joined by Emmy winners Janney and Channing to present "An Uncommon Woman: A Celebration of Wendy Wasserstein" on Tuesday, Nov. 28 in New York City.

Wasserstein, who died in January from lymphoma at age of 55, was best-known for her award-winning plays that focused on women's issues. Her play, "The Heidi Chronicles" won the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 1989.

Wasserstein also wrote film scripts and penned the libretto for "The Festival of Regrets," one of three one-act operas featured in the trilogy, "Central Park." The work was commissioned by the Glimmerglass Opera and premiered in 1999.

The Nov. 28 tribute will feature readings by Channing and Janney, as well as performances by members of the Mount Holyoke Chamber Singers and alumni of Glimmerglass Opera's Young American Artists program.

The event, to be held at the Colony Club in Manhattan, will also feature a performance of songs from the musical "Pamela's First Musical," which Wasserstein adapted from her children's book of the same name.

Tonight's Top Ten

Posted at 6:50 AM on November 8, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Happily, late-night fans tuning in for Letterman tonight won't be seeing the soon-to-be-ex-Mr.-Britney-Spears pimping his new (and roundly panned) rap recording. No, for the first time, tonight's musical guests won't be pop stars or rock stars.

From the NY Daily News:

Opera buffs can get a sneak peak at the Met's upcoming production of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" (that's "The Barber of Seville" for all of you barbarians) tomorrow on, of all places, "Late Show With David Letterman."

It will be the first time Letterman, an opera fan, has had an opera production as his musical guest. The plan is to have six principal singers and a chorus of 12 with a 22 piece orchestra. The chorus and orchestra will be trimmed by half to fit on the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater, but it will be the biggest musical production "Late Show" has staged.

"Barber" is perhaps one of opera's most recognized works. It opens Friday at the Met, with six performances through Nov. 27.

Metsters Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, Peter Mattei, John Del Carlo, and Samuel Ramey will grace the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre with the finale to Act 1 of Barber of Seville, which opens at the Met this Friday.

I know where I'll be tonight at 10:30.

Most Amazing Mozart

Posted at 1:14 PM on November 6, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

This is a the most amazing cadenza ever played with a Mozart Violin Concerto! It's eight minutes long, and worth every second.

I posted this some time ago, but it's worth revisiting now because the violinist, Gilles Apap, is visiting Minneapolis this week for the Cedar Cultural Center's Celtic Fiddle Festival. So probably no Mozart on Thursday, but likely an amazing evening. After all, if he can incorporate Celtic Fiddle into a Mozart concerto, he could certainly do the reverse! This guy does it all.

Go Team!

Posted at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Last night was the debut of our newest new announcer on the Classical Minnesota Public Radio team. Scott Blankenship is now sharing the overnight duties with Ward Jacobson, who signed on back in July. The Blankenship/Jacobson team gives us an all-Nebraskan presence for Music Through the Night, 11pm - 5am. Go Huskers! The other new voice is Texan Alison Young, heard weekends from 8am to 1pm. Go Aggies!

Three terrific new voices and nice folks to boot. Make sure to give 'em a listen.

It's a bird, it's plane...no, it's Mozart!

Posted at 9:39 AM on October 30, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Sorry, I got the wrong link for my Mozart blog yesterday. It was a really cute kitty video from cuteoverload.com, but a bit puzzling in the Mozart dept. This was the 41 secs of Mozart's 40th that I thought you should see...sort of variations on a glass harmonica theme.

Singing in the Sling

Posted at 7:11 AM on October 27, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

You normally associate a torn rotator cuff with athletes, not tenors. But the rising operatic star Salvatore Licitra found out at the hospital Tuesday night in New York that in addition to a bleeding leg, the pain in his shoulder was a torn rotator cuff. He tripped in the dark as he was getting out of a cab and came down pretty hard on the pavement. This tenor is a trooper however, and last night at the Met he sang the role of the cuckolded clown Canio ("Laugh, clown, laugh!") in Pagliacci.

His arm was in a sling, and they had to re-block some of the physical stuff he was originally supposed to do, but it went fine. More on what happened from the Met Opera's site.

Shostakovich movie this weekend at the Bell

Posted at 7:32 AM on October 25, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

We've been observing the Shostakovich centenary with a number of features here at MPR.

I just wanted to give you a heads up that this weekend the University Film Society is presenting "The War Symphonies: Shostakovich Against Stalin." It's a film from Larry Weinstein with lots of music by Shostakovich (led by Valery Gergiev) showing how the composer used his symphonies as weapons against Joseph Stalin's bloody purges in the Soviet Union. The schedule is at their website.

Biopic makes priest see red

Posted at 8:43 AM on October 24, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Coming soon to a theater near you: "Antonio Vivaldi--The Movie!" Yes, somebody (Boris Damast), has decided to make a movie about the life of Antonio Vivaldi, and they hope it will be as big or bigger than Milos Forman's hit Amadeus.

With Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) playing the Red Priest of Venice, and starring with Gerard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset and Malcom McDowell, they might have a pretty good cast, at least.

More about the story in Sunday's London Observer.

Colorful Rossini!

Posted at 12:23 PM on October 23, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

And the award for Most Colorful Use of a Rossini Overture goes to:

This tv spot!

No computer graphics, it's all real. A little documentary here.

Note also that it was done by the London office of Fallon, whose HQ is here in Minneapolis...

Goodbye, Anna Russell

Posted at 6:09 AM on October 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The "Concert Comedienne" Anna Russell died Wednesday at the age of 94. For those of us studying music in college a couple three decades ago, her 21-minute version of Wagner's Ring Cycle was a great antidote to our attempts to make sense of Gesamtkunstwerk and Leitmotiv. One of my favorite moments in her "(First) Farewell Concert" was a singalong where she gets the audience to make piggy sounds in an old "farrowing folk song."

You can still buy her stuff. It's still hilarious. We all owe her a great debt for making "Music" a little less arty and a little more fun.

A reminiscence from an old friend was published yesterday on the Australian Broadcasting Company's website.

Take that, Borat!

Posted at 10:22 AM on October 16, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Sacha Baron Cohen is a comedian who has created a lot of rather controversial press around his portrayal of the very un-PC Kazakhstani reporter Borat. His new "Borat" movie is opening on November 3rd.

His antics have not pleased the Kazakhstan government, but their new "Pyramid of Peace and Accord" may be just the positive spin they need in the world's eyes. It even has a 1500-seat opera house!

Will opera fans be flocking to Kazakhstan soon? Maybe not, but the building is getting some good attention in the world's press today.

$1.6 Billion, and worth every penny!

Posted at 7:38 PM on October 9, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Hearing that YouTube sold for so much money was breathtaking, but worth it for this clip alone!

To paraphrase the credit card commercial: "Video website? $1.6 billion dollars. Finding on that same site a vintage BBC TV clip of a young Dudley Moore singlehandedly lampooning a Peter Pears/Benjamin Britten song recital in the fondest possible way? Priceless."

Perhaps it's a measure of how far we've slipped as a culture that once upon a time, you could put something like this on television, knowing that people would have a reference point for the parody, and thus actually get the joke! (or did they? The studio audience certainly seems to, but I wonder how it played with the mass audience viewing at home). Anyway, them's were the days....

Eine Kleine Billardmusik

Posted at 11:20 AM on October 9, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

October is Billiard Appreciation Month, and since this is the big Mozart 250 anniversary year, I thought we should clear up a little misconception. Many sources will tell you that Mozart was, among his many talents, an expert billiard player. Not really.

Mozart loved billiards. He owned a billiard table and 12 cues! He composed at the billiard table. He even sought out the great billiard players who came to town (Vienna) and played them for high stakes, but I doubt he went home with the money.

It was Mozart's friend, the Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who said he was good: 'Many and many a game have I played with him, but always came off second best.' Of course, Wolfie was playing him on his own table, and he knew all the funny rolls and dead spots in the rails.

There's a nice little piece about Mozart and Billiards on the Mozartforum.

There have been a number of musicians with a strong interest in billiards. Mendelssohn was said to be quite good at the game (he was good at everything!). A pianist-rival of Beethoven's, Joseph Wölfl, was also known for his “artistic” billiard playing, but he often lost a large portion of his concert fees playing the game (there's one born every minute!). Albert Ketèlbey, the English composer who made his name with In a Monastery Garden, retired to the Isle of Wight to spend time with his hobbies of writing and billiards. Years ago I also read somewhere that Heitor Villa-Lobos was once the billiard champion of Rio de Janeiro, but I haven't been able to find that since. This site says he loved "pool" but in the picture he's obviously shooting a massé shot in carom billiards.

My passion in the billiard world is 3-cushion billiards. It turns out that one of the foremost billiard authors alive today, Robert Byrne, has some pretty close connections to the world of music. He is a board member of the Dubuque Symphony, and used to be married to the daughter of Jascha Heifetz.

I'm happy to say that when Bob Byrne is in town, he plays with us at the Minneapolis Billiard Club.


Posted at 3:31 AM on October 8, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (440 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

The other day, John Birge and I were talking of our shared fascination with Rube Goldberg machines we've seen on the web. There's the famous Honda commercial (featuring a familir voice at the end), this strangely hooky series that has Mr. Birge singing Japanese by heart...and this amazing domino-ish thing from a New York Mills fella.

Those are all 3D objects being manipulated in real time, filmed in a single take. This last video is not. But, still! The sheer inventiveness of this animation deserves a look-n-listen.


Suite 16

Posted at 8:01 AM on October 6, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Lunatic alert! The Hunter's Moon enters it's full moon phase tonight at 10:13 pm CDT (cue howling), but right now astronomers are focusing on another part of our galaxy.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope announced Wednesday the discovery of potentially 16 new planets. These extrasolar candidates are roughly the size of Jupiter and nearly 26,000 light-years away. The Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search, as the quest is called, led the Hubble survey of about 180,000 stars. Team member Mario Livio says his group's findings offer new insight into our galaxy. "This allows us to say now with a very high degree of confidence that there are literally billions of planets in our galaxy," he said.

The Planetary Society came out with a good article on the discovery yesterday.

So maybe it's time for a composer of our time to step up and do a musical sequel to Holst's Planets Suite. Holst had among his titles "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" and "Mars, the Bringer of War." Got any ideas for some new names?

If you want to revisit Holst's Planets, The Metropolitan Symphony is playing the whole suite this Sunday afternoon, and they'll have a real live astrophysicist there to share some insights into our planetary system using some of his remarkable photos. The concert is at Trinity Lutheran in Stillwater at 4pm Sunday. More details at their website.

Sleepy Time Concerts

Posted at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Admit it...it's happened to you. You're in the concert hall after a long week, all ready to hear some great music, and you start nodding off. The more you fight the harder it gets. You paid $$$ for those tickets, and darn it, you're going to get your money's worth.

Whaddya do? Well, Robert Benchley felt the best thing to do when you're at the theater or ballet is just wear a stiff collar. That way you can sleep without your head dropping to your chest, thereby alerting your seatmates to your lack of attentiveness (and waking yourself up when your neck muscles have to catch your head on the first bounce).

And what if the person next to you starts falling asleep? One woman recounts her experience with a sleeper at Bargemusic in this morning's New York Times. Just scroll down to the middle of the Metropolitan Diary.

Life Imitates Art Imitating Life Dept.

Posted at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

One of Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas is called "The Cat's Fugue," so nicknamed because the musical line that begins the fugue is so angular and odd that someone suggested it could've been "composed" by Scarlatti's cat walking up the keys.

Too bad Scarlatti didn't live long enough to find this cat on YouTube!

Katrina fallout good for Gottschalk

Posted at 8:09 AM on September 28, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Before the Marsalis clan, before Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, there was a musician in New Orleans who took the Caribbean songs and rhythms he learned from his black nurse and creole mother and combined them with the influences of operas (and minstrel shows!) to create a new American "classical" piano music.

After studying in Paris, Louis Moreau Gottschalk became a worldwide sensation as a pianist who put the exotic sounds of the Americas into the small forms perfected by his contemporary, Frederic Chopin. After an 1851 recital in Paris, Hector Berlioz wrote:

"He phrases soft melodies with perfect grace and has mastered the keyboard’s delicate traits. With regard to deftness, spirit, surprise, brio, and originality, his playing dazzles and shocks. . . . In the presence of a musically civilized public Mr. Gottschalk’s success is immense."

Earlier this year, the Princeton University Press reissued Gottschalk's Notes of a Pianist, as a tribute to the victims of Hurrican Katrina. You can find out more about why Gottschalk and his memoirs are such a big deal in this commentary from critic Terry Teachout.

Another Perfect 10 (x2)

Posted at 9:43 PM on September 22, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Once again, classicstoday.com has given Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra a perfect 10/10 [performance/sound quality] for the latest installment in their ongoing Beethoven Symphony cycle:

"Another measure of "greatness" in a performance is purely comparative: Does this version do anything (that matters) better than anyone else? I would say so: This probably is the finest Scherzo on disc. "

And the Minnesota Chorale comes if for high praise too:

"One thing is certain: the chorus sings magnificently throughout, and with such clarity of diction that you can practically transcribe the text of Schiller's ode even if you don't know German. "

You can read the complete review here.

My spies tell me it won't hit the stores until mid-October; watch this space for details on an exclusive pre-release broadcast premiere on Classical Minnesota Public Radio...

Music doping

Posted at 7:40 AM on September 21, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Soothe the savage breast...sure...but can music enhance performance on the athletic field? What if you have special running shoes that help you keep running in time with the pulse of your mp3?

Performance enhancing music may be the next hot thing, according to a story from the Discovery Channel.

OK, classical smarty-pants...

Posted at 7:54 AM on September 19, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Here's a test of classical music knowledge that was used at a gala fundraising event in London on Sunday. (Personally, I don't think this is a very fair quiz-mainly because I don't feel very sure about my answers). A lot of the stuff seems to depend on whether you recognize certain pictures, not whether you know anything about music.

Let's see how you do on the National Youth Orchestra fundraising quiz.

Remix the Ring

Posted at 8:26 PM on September 18, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

For their new opera house in Toronto, Canadian Opera Company is performing Wagner’s 4-opera, 19 hour-long epic, The Ring of the Nibelungen. The CBC is getting in on the party with all-Wagner marathon broadcasts and a huge companion website, including a "Remix the Ring" contest. And now, the moment you've been waiting for: The $1,000 prize of for the best remix of the Ride of the Valkyries goes to: Rhyme of the Nibelungen

The "big deal" about Mozart

Posted at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Amidst the many articles and books about Mozart during this, his 250th anniversary, an article in yesterday's New York Times by Anthony Tommasini does a great job I think, in looking at Mozart's development as a composer, what made him great, and how he might have "taken it to the next level" (as we say these days) if he had lived to age 70 or beyond, instead of dying at the age of 35.

If you want to get a better understanding of classical music's greatest poster boy, you could do worse than spend a few minutes reading "If Mozart Had Better Health Care."

Riding with Wolfie...and Bryn

Posted at 8:34 AM on September 15, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

It's the Mozart 250 birth year, and now in London there's a special Mozart cab. The story just came out this morning on the A-P:

LONDON (AP) - It's no yellow submarine, but the band is beginning to play in this yellow cab - Mozart.
In a stunt to promote a new disc by Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, Universal Classics and Jazz has hired a black taxi, painted it yellow and emblazoned the doors with the cover art for "Tutto Mozarti."
During September and October, riders using the cab have the option of listening to the album, said Universal publicist Louise Ringrose.
The collection, which was released Monday, includes arias from "The Magic Flute," "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro," and the trio "Soave sia il vento" from "Cosi Fan Tutte," with soprano Miah Persson and mezzo-soprano Christine Rice.
Terfel was confident that the cab driver wouldn't object.
"It's good to challenge stereotypes of cabbies," the singer said. "They need something to get away from the heavy traffic, so a high percentage listen to classical music."

Mencken on music

Posted at 8:08 AM on September 12, 2006 by John Zech (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

The "Sage of Baltimore," H. L. Mencken was born on this date (in Baltimore...duh!!) in 1880.

It would be interesting to have the old cynic writing in the blogosphere today (he said "the cynics are right nine times out of ten"). One of the many subjects he touched on was music.

"The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral."

"Opera in English is, in the main, about as sensible as baseball in Italian"

"There are, indeed, only two kinds of music: German music and bad music."

He also said, "It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf."

Hmmm. Well, Mozart liked billiards, anyway, even if he wasn't necessarily good at the game.


This is Your Brain on Music

Posted at 10:26 PM on September 10, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

For a very long time, scientists have maintained that the cerebellum or "reptile brain" controls body movements and functions, but nothing beyond that. Nothing sophisticated or analytical or emotional.

However, neuroscientist (and former record producer!) Daniel Levitin noticed something interesting while examining the brain scans of people listening to music they liked (as opposed to random sounds, or music they didn't like): there was activity in the cerebellum.

Farhad Manjoo writes in this story at Salon.com:

Contrary to long-held assumptions, the cerebellum did turn out to play a role in some emotions -- particularly the way we derive pleasure from the rhythm, or groove, of a piece of music. When we listen to a song, our ears send signals not only to the auditory cortex, the region of the brain that processes the sound, but also straight to the cerebellum. When a song begins, Levitin says, the cerebellum, which keeps time in the brain, "synchronizes" itself to the beat. Part of the pleasure we find in music is the result of something like a guessing game that the brain then plays with itself as the beat continues. The cerebellum attempts to predict where beats will occur. Music sounds exciting when our brains guess the right beat, but a song becomes really interesting when it violates the expectation in some surprising way -- what Levitin calls "a sort of musical joke that we're all in on." Music, Levitin writes, "breathes, speeds up, and slows down just as the real world does, and our cerebellum finds pleasure in adjusting itself to stay synchronized."

The article goes on to describe how music also hits other parts of our brains, including a system that's essentially the neural candy store - shooting happy chemicals out into our bodies.

Levitin also touches on the phenomenon of the "ear worm" - the song (or more likely, snippet of a song) that gets stuckstuckstuck in your head. My all-time worst ear worm is "Little Girls" from Annie. I used to hear it in my head constantly whenever I rode my mountain bike up a particularly challenging path. Eventually I had to quit riding my bike.


How to Fix the Last Night of the Proms

Posted at 9:28 PM on September 7, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

The Guardian
Friday September 8, 2006

"We all like to moan about the Last Night of the Proms: its cliches and its jingoism. We asked the experts to play artistic director and tell us how - or if - they would change it."

So begins this article, and note that one of the "experts" weighing in here is Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra partner Douglas Boyd, who opens their season this weekend.

Speaking of the Last Night of the Proms, note that one of this year's star soloists is violinist Viktoria Mullova, who will be in Minneapolis next week to open the Minnesota Orchestra season.

In Company With Ives

Posted at 2:19 PM on September 7, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

"Are my ears on wrong?" said Charles Ives to his nephew, and I repeat in response to the movie musical list. Not that I quibble with any that are on it, but I will send up a quiet, lonely voice in favor of "Moulin Rouge." It can stay at number 25, that's fine, but I found it surprisingly entertaining in a totally offbeat way.

It certainly can't translate to the community theater circuit, because so much of it involved computer enhancements and scenes that only work with modern video techniques. For that reason it doesn't really fit into the standard genre of movie musicals. I'm also finding that too much time and culture change have passed to let me really enjoy those old classics. Not that I'm jaded, I just find the sensibilities of the 30's and 40's stilted and uncomfortable.

Or maybe my ears are on wrong and I just love the unlovely, like "Ishtar...yes, Ishtar." I liked that too, though not enough to want to own the dvd.


Why I Love the Internet, Reason #437

Posted at 5:03 PM on September 6, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

As evidenced by websites like The Surrealist Compliment Generator and Cats in Sinks, there really is something for everyone on the intarweb.

Here's a new delight I stumbled upon recently: Extreme Cello Playing!

Extreme Cello Playing was born after three cellists from Sheffield read about, and watched on television, the sport of "Extreme Ironing", in which contestants iron clothes in locations such as up mountains, up trees and under water.

The intrepid cellists figured if a household task could be an extreme sport, why not music-making? Their latest feat of derring-do was a 12-day tour of 42 English Cathedrals. Specifically, the rooftops. By the way, they're not in it for the fame and fortune and future lucrative endorsement deals. Each event has been a fundraiser - for the Sheffield Cathedral Choir, a local elementary school and lately Shelter, a charity that benefits the homeless and Aspire, which provides support for people with spinal chord injuries.

This cellista salutes their good work.

Average Age: 46 years old

Posted at 6:47 AM on September 6, 2006 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

“Singin’ in the Rain” has been chosen as the most memorable of all movie musicals in a compilation of the top 25 by the American Film Institute:

2 WEST SIDE STORY 1961 United Artists
4 SOUND OF MUSIC, THE 1965 Twentieth Century-Fox
5 CABARET 1972 Allied Artists
6 MARY POPPINS 1964 Disney
7 STAR IS BORN, A 1954 Warner Bros.
8 MY FAIR LADY 1964 Warner Bros.
11 KING AND I, THE 1956 Twentieth Century-Fox
12 CHICAGO 2002 Miramax
13 42ND STREET 1933 Warner Bros.
14 ALL THAT JAZZ 1979 Twentieth Century-Fox
15 TOP HAT 1935 RKO
16 FUNNY GIRL 1968 Columbia
18 YANKEE DOODLE DANDY 1942 Warner Bros.
20 GREASE 1978 Paramount
24 SHOW BOAT 1936 Universal
25 MOULIN ROUGE! 2001 Twentieth Century Fox

Lots to quibble about here, which of course makes these lists so much fun! In any case, if you look at the dates of these movies, it's clear that the Golden Age is long gone. And the average age equation skews even older if you remove "Moulin Rouge" from the list. And how the heck did it get there in the first place? Even mentioning it in the same breath with West Side Story seems a bit ridiculous…


New diva on the block

Posted at 6:28 AM on September 4, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

OK, maybe it's because her boyfriend, Jay-Z, and I sort of share the same initials. Or maybe it's because she's one of the most beguiling and beautiful women of her generation. Or maybe it's because she has a huge amount of talent. For whatever reason, I'm a big fan of Beyoncé Knowles.

Beyoncé turns 25 today, and she's already in about the 4th or 5th stage of a remarkable career. Like many classical prodigies, she got her first big push at age 9 when her father put together a group based on the singing and rapping skills of her and her little friends. That group has gone through some changes over the years, but Destiny's Child is still performing and recording hits together today.

Beyoncé has new solo album, "B'Day," which is getting some mixed reviews. She also has a fashion line called "House of Dereon."

Movie fans will remember Beyoncé as Foxy Cleopatra in the Austin Powers movie "Goldmember," but I want to give her some props for a unique contribution to classical crossover four years ago.

Bizet's opera "Carmen" wasn't a hit when it first came out, but it's been one of the most popular operas ever since, and the story and music lends itself to adaptations. In 1954 Otto Preminger did an updated movie version with an all-black cast called "Carmen Jones." Dorothy Dandridge brought her charisma to the title role, but even though she was a good pop singer her voice wasn't up to the operatic music, so her part was dubbed by a 19-year-old music student named Marilyn Horne.

MTV took Carmen one step further in 2001 with their production of "Carmen - A Hip Hopera." This time the smoldering troublemaker was played by pop star Beyoncé, who got great support from her co-star, Mekhi Phifer. Hip hop fans didn't have much good to say about this Carmen, but I liked her...er, uh...it.

Crossovers between the classical and pop worlds are generally well-intentioned and ill-fated, but if another generation can discover some of the great works of opera and classical music through the back door of another medium, I still think they're worth trying.

Happy B'DAy, Beyoncé.


Posted at 10:21 PM on September 3, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

The Vegetable Orchestra

I wasn't sure what to make of this at first, but then I visited the website and got REALLY confused. The First Viennese Vegetable Orchestra features instruments made almost entirely from...you guessed it, produce. The line that really threw me was this: the instruments are subsequently made into a soup so that the audience can then enjoy them a second time...

I clicked on the song samples and got nothing but silence. Aha! thought I. This is merely a very thorough, very weird prank. Then I realized my speakers weren't on. Remedied that and what do you know? Sounds, and interesting ones at that. The renditions of actual tunes (sample: Radetsky March) are less tuneful than covers by, say, that guy who squeezes out William Tell with his bare hands but the effort is no less impressive.

The older album seemed more acoustic (organic?) while the newer release explores the dancier side of the salad bar. For example, cut 1 sounds like a raver aspirating on his Red Bull (but in a good way) while this has a much more jungly feel.

While the notion of preparing a delicious gazpacho from your Bolero orchestra is charming, the idea of actually eating vegetables that someone else has been slapping together or spitting through pretty much skeeves me out.

Baby Bach

Posted at 6:02 AM on September 1, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

According to one story, J. S. Bach showed he was even precocious as a baby. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, had a twin brother who looked so similar that even their wives had trouble telling them apart. (Even their musical styles were nearly identical.) But when young Johann Sebastian was born his mother found a new way to identify her husband; he was the one the baby called "Papa."

Now there's news of a discovery of J. S. Bach's earliest manuscripts (he wasn't quite a baby anymore...more of a stripling, when he wrote them). According to the A-P:

Previously unknown manuscripts by Johann Sebastian Bach, recently discovered in Germany, prove that the prolific German composer was a virtuoso even as a teenager, researchers said on Thursday. The works, one of which is dated 1700 when Bach was only 15 and the other thought to be even older, are copies of other composers' choral pieces, arranged for organ by Bach.
You can read about the details here.

"Vanska's Mahler, though, felt all wrong"

Posted at 9:58 PM on August 31, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Congrats to the Minnesota Orchestra on the completion of their European tour! There have been a number of stellar reviews (at least one posted to this blog earlier in the month), and Osmo seems to have the Midas Touch. But not entirely, if you're to believe Edward Seckerson in The Independent.

For those of you who heard our live broadcast of this concert, what did you think of the Mahler 5? Post your comments here. And if you didn't hear the concert, you can decide for yourself when Classical Minnesota Public Radio rebroadcasts this Proms concert on Monday Sept 4 at 8pm.

Dawn Upshaw News

Posted at 9:58 AM on August 29, 2006 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Buried at the end of today's Minnesota Orchestra tour journal in the St. Paul Pioneer Press was the most significant news:

"Later, the news arrives that Dawn Upshaw, who canceled her plans to sing on this tour, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, which has been caught early and for which there are high hopes for thorough recovery."

I hope so too; she is a wonderful human being, and an incredibly gifted artist.

Complete article here.


Cleveland v Minnesota

Posted at 10:21 PM on August 28, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Cleveland Orchestra musicians agreed to a new three-year contract that keeps their salaries in line with those of the nation's other top orchestras. Base minimum (virtually everyone makes more) is $104,520 this year. The agreement was reached just in time for the orchestras European tour.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Orchestra is in the middle of their European tour, and a newspaper in Scotland says: The Cleveland Orchestra are America's most polished outfit. The Minnesota Orchestra, to judge from this display, are hot on their heels. I doubt there will be a classier set of Festival performances than those delivered here in a breathtaking display of sophistication by Osmo Vanska's Minnesota Orchestra. The transformation the Finnish conductor has effected in this American orchestra since I first heard them, around three years ago, is staggering."

Fantastic review here, and be sure to listen to Classical Minnesota Public Radio's archive of tour interviews from the road here.

Towards less savage breasts

Posted at 8:26 AM on August 28, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

On a nursing home visit a few years ago I was pleasantly surprised to see a woman playing familiar old songs and hymns on a celtic harp. She was a music therapist, and her instrument provided a nicely portable way of bringing some joy to some of the residents in their rooms without being too instrusive or loud.

It seems the celtic harp is finding its way into the recovery rooms of some hospitals as well. But the tunes on this playlist are not familiar ones. Apparently easily recognizable songs can trigger negative responses from patients. One harpist likes to use some very old tunes from a book called "The Healer's Way: Soothing Music for Those in Pain." There's more in a story in today's NY Times.

A lot of our listeners say they listen to classical radio because it's "soothing." Does that mean we should be playing more harp music?

Pluto, The Bringer of Ice to the Party

Posted at 2:40 PM on August 24, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

The International Astronomical Union has been meeting in Prague over the past week to determine, among other things, what is and what is not a planet. Today the assembled astronomers voted and the official definition is now "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

What this means is that Pluto is out. It is automatically disqualified because its orbit crosses that of Neptune. This also means that Gustav Holst had it pegged when his Suite for Large Orchestra, "The Planets" ended with Neptune. Since Pluto is now officially a "dwarf planet" (new designation) that also means that its name has been changed to Sneezy.


The Soviet Union has never existed

Posted at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2006 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

This may make some of you feel old, but today's college freshmen weren't born yet when the Soviet Union existed. They've also never been on an an airplane when smoking was allowed and have always used "Google" as a verb. Those are some of the cultural landmarks on the annual list compiled by Beloit College. Anything you'd like to add here?

PS: As one who abhors Andrew Lloyd-Webber, this entry gets my vote for the scariest entry: "25. Phantom of the Opera has always been on Broadway." Ewww!


Control Tab Delete

Posted at 10:52 AM on August 21, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

If you play guitar, even a little bit, chances are you have learned some songs or pieces with the help of tablature, a form of musical notation that shows players where on the strings and frets to put their fingers.

Players use tablature (or "tabs") to transcribe pieces, or the chords from pieces, and they often share them with each other. The internet has made this sharing much more common.

Now some big music publishers don't want them to share any more. The arguments from both sides sound a lot like the file sharing arguments from a couple of years ago involving Napster and similar services.

You can read more in an article from the business section of today's NY Times.

The process of Osmo-sis

Posted at 11:59 AM on August 20, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

"...the world has acquired a new superstar band with a maestro to match."

Here's a rave from the London Times about Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra, who leave today for a European tour that takes them to London and the BBC Proms Festival on August 24. You can hear the concert LIVE this Thursday at 1:30pm on Classical Minnesota Public Radio. Along the way, tune in for live tour updates from the musicians as well with Steve Staruch and John Birge.

Passing of a generous man...

Posted at 8:21 AM on August 17, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The pianist and arranger Milton Kaye died Monday in New York at the age of 97. This morning when I read his obituary in the New York Times, I was amazed to find out he toured with Heifetz, composed music for the TV show "Concentration," was a regular in Toscanini's NBC Symphony, and he was a classical broadcaster to boot! (Former MPR classical host, Dennis Rooney, something of an authority on Milton Kaye, is also quoted in the piece.)

He was a great talent who never called attention to himself, apparently. A rarity in much of today's world.

One of his last appearances was in a beret, holding hands with his wife...they were the romantic elderly couple looked at fondly by the young lovers in the De Beers diamond commercial.

Takes a lickin'...

Posted at 8:12 AM on August 15, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

...keeps on tickin'.
What better way to celebrate the birthday of Johann Maelzel, inventor of the metronome, than a chance to hear, and SEE, Gyorgy Ligeti's Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes.

And while I'm on the subject of music and machines, today is also the birthday of Leon Theremin, inventor of the early electronic instrument that bears his name. His life story is fascinating, and this documentary will just knock your socks off!

Not always room for 'cello

Posted at 6:49 AM on August 15, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Recent terror threats against some airlines in the U.K. have made it even tougher for traveling musicians. String players have normally taken their delicate instruments and bows on board the plane to avoid potential damage in the cargo hold, but for their upcoming European tour (they leave Sunday!) the Minnesota Orchestra is going to be stowing their stuff in some special cases.

More details in a story from today's New York Times.

Boyd's Turn

Posted at 8:49 AM on August 10, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

After hailing the Minnesota Orchestra's Osmo Vanska as a "returning hero" at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival (see previous post), the New York Times today has good things to say about the debut of Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra conductor Douglas Boyd. Here's the review.

Osmo Vanska: "Returning Hero" -NYT

Posted at 10:29 AM on August 9, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

From a New York Times review of Mostly Mozart, enthusiastic words for Minnesota Orchestra maestro Osmo Vanska:

"Mr. Vanska, whose debut in the festival last year was a star-making event, was greeted as a returning hero. An exacting musician, he quickly revealed a care for textural balance and a predilection for extremes of dynamics in the Swiss composer Frank Martin�s �Overture in Homage to Mozart,� a tart but genial Neo-Classical curtain-raiser commissioned in 1956 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mozart�s birth."

The story is dated yesterday, but evidently didn't show up in the print edition, either then or today. The online version is here.

BTW, Osmo will take the Minnesota Orchestra to Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms. Classical Minnesota Public Radio will broadcast the concert live on August 24. Check out our complete BBC Proms coverage.

Schwarzkopf Urban Legend

Posted at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Be careful what you believe when it comes to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia! It can and does have errors, tho the same user-edited structure that causes the errors does allow those same errors to be corrected. Alas, too late for NPR in this case, from the Wikipedia entry on the late Elisabeth Schwarzkopf:

"An urban myth (probably started on Wikipedia[citation needed]) is that she was an aunt of Norman Schwarzkopf. However, the parents of Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. were Julius George Schwarzkopf and Agnes Sarah Schmidt whilst Elisabeth's were Friedrich Schwarzkopf and Elisabeth Frhling. This myth was repeated in an obituary by the Associated Press, and repeated by Forbes magazine[1] and the U.S.A.'s National Public Radio. [2] "

Oops! Reminds me of this recent headline in The Onion:
"Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence"
Hilarious article here.

Oh say can you see...

Posted at 9:07 PM on July 31, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

The New York Times reports that Cynthia Phelps, principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, will perform the national anthem on her viola before the Padres/Astros game at Petco Park in San Diego this Wednesday.

Somewhere in this story, there's a great new viola joke waiting to be born, and added to the vast heritage of viola jokes.

So here's where you come in. Come up with a good viola joke involving a baseball game and/or the national anthem (Roseanne Barr references optional), and click on our comments link below to share with the group. Go nuts widdit.

Not your father's Muzak

Posted at 3:20 AM on July 15, 2006 by John Zech (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

We tend to call any background music "Muzak," but the Muzak name is the brand for a 70 year-old marketing company that now uses "audio architects" to design musical backgrounds for some 400,000 clients ranging from Dunkin' Donuts to the DSW shoe outlet to Bank of America.
They are very sophisticated, as the Christian Science Monitor just reported.

On another note, in the summer of 1980 there was a festival in Minneapolis called "New Music America." Besides David Byrne of the Talking Heads, another rock musician represented at the festival was Brian Eno. Eno had been so irritated by the inane, chirpy "muzak" he heard while traveling that he composed a soothing ambient synthesizer score he called Music for Airports. Appropriately enough, during the 8 days of the Festival, Enos score was broadcast 24 hours a day throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.


Symphony in e(Bay): Final Finale

Posted at 2:50 PM on July 3, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Here's the latest on the eBay orchestra auction, why it was pulled, and how no little shill bidding was involved (highly illegal in the eBay community, btw). Great story, even if it's not a happy ending...

Symphony in e(Bay): Finale and Coda

Posted at 7:06 AM on July 3, 2006 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Last night, the bidding was up to $127,000, and the eBay auction for the Beethoven Academie Orchestra was set to end early tomorrow. But I found this morning that the auction had evidently been withdrawn by the orchestra (which started the whole thing as a very effective publicity stunt to protest funding cuts from the Flemish Ministry of Culture).

Here's the message added to the auction page: "Mensen die ons een hart onder de riem willen steken, kunnen intekenen op onze petititielijst die aan Minister Anciaux zal worden afgegeven. http://www.axci.nl/?ln=ned&id=55 Wij danken u voor uw steun "

Flemish translation, anyone? Please? Looks like they're asking would-be bidders to go to their website and sign a petition. But all of this is in Flemish, so I'll appeal for either a free translation or a suggestion for an automatic online Flemish translation site.


Maelzel's magic automata

Posted at 2:18 AM on July 1, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Since we've been on the subject of robots and music recently, I'd like to call your attention to the master robot maker of Beethoven's time, Johann Maelzel, the man most often credited with inventing the metronome.

Maelzel got the idea for the metronome from a Dutchman named Winkel, secured a patent, and was soon manufacturing and promoting his invention throughout Europe. In Vienna, he convinced Beethoven that metronome markings were indispensable for preserving the exact tempo of his Symphonies. Maelzel even convinced Beethoven to write a big battle piece, "Wellingtons Victory," for another of his inventions, the Panharmonicon, a sort of music box on steroids. The collaborators fell out when Maelzel claimed "Wellingtons Victory" was his personal property. The friendship soured when Beethoven filed suit and Maelzel lostBut before all that, in happier days, Beethoven teased his friend with a song called "Am Maelzel," and he made a subtler musical tribute in the tick-tock scherzo of his Eighth Symphony.

Maelzel's greatest invention was an automaton chess player known at "The Turk," who defeated many of the best players in Europe. The story of the Turk is of particular interest to students of the history of magic. The Amazing Randi has a detailed account of Maelzel and his Turk in the archives of his website. The first part of the story begins here. If you want to read more, here is the rest of the story.

Music Hath Charms

Posted at 1:27 PM on June 29, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

I was watching Robin Williams' movie "Bicentennial Man" the other night, enjoying, among other things the spectacle of a robot telling jokes in a rapid-fire, robotic manner.

There was one scene early on where the robot (Williams) is sitting down in the basement, listening to an old Victrola playing "O Silver Moon" from Dvorak's "Rusalka." I always knew that aria could make metal cry!

Chopin meets Xbox

Posted at 11:22 PM on June 27, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: Frederic Chopin, The blog

Chopin no Yume (Chopin's Dream) is a brand new role playing game developed for the Xbox 360. The game takes place in a dream world where where those with incurable illnesses possess magical powers. Chopin explores this world with a young girl named Polka and a boy named Allegretto. Considering the identity of the key character, it comes as no surprise that music has a special emphasis. Russian pianist Stanislav Bunin performs the Chopin. Description and links to screenshots here.

Symphony in e(Bay)

Posted at 11:03 PM on June 26, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Wanna buy an orchestra?
Bid high!

Rodgers in Three-Quarter Time

Posted at 8:11 AM on June 26, 2006 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

If Johann Strauss Jr. is "The Waltz King," I might nominate Richard Rodgers for the number 2 spot ("The Waltz Prince?") in the triple-time pantheon (pace Franz Lehar). In any case, Rodgers excelled at waltz tunes. After playing Stephen Hough's beautifully intimate arrangement of "Hello Young Lovers" this morning on the radio, I started this list of great Rodgers waltzes:

Hello Young Lovers
My Favorite Things
Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'
Out of My Dreams
Im in Love with a Wonderful Guy

But this is just a start; now it's your turn to help complete the list with titles I've omitted. I'd also love to know which ones are your favorites, and why.

BTW, I just noticed that I've listed only Rodgers & Hammerstein songs, but in truth I much prefer the Rodgers & Hart songbook. So, bonus points if your suggestions include titles from Lorenz Hart...


Radio, CDs, LPs, IPODS, and, oh yes...concerts too

Posted at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (74 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I had to chuckle at Daniel Barenboim's comments that Don Lee posted yesterday. Barenboim is basically saying that classical music is only for the select few and that he gets to set the rules. No it isn't and no you don't!


Happy Father's Day--a little late

Posted at 9:24 PM on June 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

My dad died of lung cancer 17 years ago, but hardly a day goes by that I don't think of him, and with Father's Day still visible in the rear view mirror I wanted to say a quick thank you for how much music he gave me.

Luther Zech was a smart, self-made man who spent his whole life as a farmer in my home town. He came from a do-it-yourself generation: as a boy he made toy cars out of a coat hanger and two spools of thread (carving notches in the wooden spools to make the "treads" of the car tires). He made all kinds of fine things out of wood: jewelry boxes, gun stocks and even violins. He was a self-taught gunsmith, too, and if he couldn't buy a part to fix a gun, he made it himself, sawing and filing and grinding until it fit.

My day also made his own music. He grew up in the days before electricity, when you listened to the radio on a "crystal set" and when just about every house had a piano. Without any music lessons he taught himself to play the harmonica, button accordion, banjo-ukelele, tenor guitar, and he could chord on the piano while he sang. For a number of years he sang bass in a male quartet that had many gigs (not a word he would use) performing at weddings, funerals, farmers' association and creamery meetings and some other events.

I learned to sing harmony with my dad, although usually he made me sing melody so he could sing tenor or bass. I studied the trombone from 5th grade right through college, but I never acquired that spontaneous music-making my dad had. However, I did have his love of music all around me, and for that I will always be grateful.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

A crematorium for International Style architects?

Posted at 8:30 PM on June 19, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Or so James Lileks asks of the architecture of the new Guthrie Theater, while pointing out "windows the hue of smokers teeth" and a faade "modeled on the Boss level of Tron." I realize this is supposed to be a classical music blog, but since "Architecture in general is frozen music" (according to Friedrich von Schelling), take a moment for some very lively observations and photographs!

And if you want to learn more, consider attending an event here at MPR later this week: AIA Minnesota presents The Impact of "Star" Architect-Designed Buildings in the Twin Cities.

RIP Gyorgy Ligeti

Posted at 5:35 PM on June 12, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

One of the 20th century's great composers died today. This is the short obit from the A-P:

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - A pioneering composer who won acclaim for
his work on the soundtrack for "2001: A Space Odyssey," has died.
Gyorgy Ligeti (LIG'-ih-tee) was 83. He is celebrated as one of
the world's leading 20th century musical pioneers. A spokeswoman
for his publisher says the composer died today in Vienna after a
long illness.
"Space Odyssey" director Stanley Kubrick also used Ligeti's
music as the theme for what turned out to be his final film, "Eyes
Wide Shut."

I remember being quite moved by hearing the St. Olaf Choir sing his "Night/Morning" in Seoul, South Korea during the Arts Festival held there just prior to the 1988 Olympics.

You can download a sample of it here.

Go for the Overture, Stay for the Show

Posted at 12:52 AM on June 9, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

Don't get me started on Gilbert & Sullivan...or rather, please get me started on G&S! Rex mentioned the North Star Opera production of "Iolanthe" which has probably the best overture of the lot. That's because its the one that Sullivan actually wrote himself and is a self-contained gem. Most of the others, delightful as they are, are pastiches put together by, mostly, Edward German from the best tunes from the operettas. Sullivan trusted him to do a good job of picking the top melodies and saved himself some extra work.

Another Mozart effect

Posted at 6:28 PM on June 6, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The much ballyhooed "Mozart Effect" hasn't stood up very well. But if listening to Mozart doesn't make you smarter, it may help you see better according to a story from the BBC.

A better repellent?

Posted at 1:16 PM on June 6, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

At last: after years of reading those annoying news stories along the lines of: "Classical music played over speakers deters downtown drug dealers", someone has found a better repellent:

It's "Mandy" vs the hotrods
Mon Jun 5, 9:35 AM ET

Sick and tired of souped-up cars with loud engines and pulsing music? Barry Manilow may be the answer.

Officials in one Sydney district have decided to pipe the American crooner's music over loudspeakers in an attempt to rid streets and car parks of hooligans whose anti-social cars and loud music annoy residents and drive customers from businesses.

Following a successful experiment where Bing Crosby music was used to drive teenage loiterers out of an Australian shopping center several years ago, Rockdale councilors believe Manilow is so uncool it might just work.

Councilor Bill Saravinovski said local authorities plan to install a loudspeaker and pipe in Manilow music, interspersed with classical pieces, over a car park favored by car "hoons," or hooligans.

"There are restaurants nearby and people can't park in the car park because they're intimidated by these hoons," Saravinovski told The Daily Telegraph newspaper Monday.

"Daggy music is one way to make the hoons leave an area because they can't stand the music," he said.

The Oxford Concise Australian Dictionary defines "daggy" as unfashionable, or lacking style, even eccentric or stupid.

Now THIS took guts!

Posted at 12:37 PM on June 5, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

I wonder what his first rehearsal was like after he sent this letter to the Seattle Weekly


Start Search for Maestro
I am writing in response to Roger Downey's recent article ("Schwarz Surprise," May 17) regarding the announcement of a new contract for Seattle Symphony Music Director Gerard Schwarz. Mr. Downey's article is an accurate depiction of the orchestra's reaction to Maestro Schwarz's new contract and the history of events within the symphony. The vast majority of Seattle Symphony musicians are shell-shocked and dismayed: They recognize the need for change.

The issue is not Maestro Schwarz personally. If anything, I'm biased in his favor. He's a friend, was my teacher at Juilliard, and he hired me for this job. He has brought a lot to the organization and is enormously popular with our major donors. However, it is time for fresh artistic leadership for the symphony, as well as new challenges for Gerry. Everyone loses when music directors stay too long. Orchestras become artistically stagnant, as do music directors. Judging from our attendance these past few seasons, so do audiences. This is why the average tenure for music directors in modern orchestras is in the seven-to-10-year range, not the 25-plus this contract represents for Maestro Schwarz. We are fortunate to have so many new, younger musicians who have raised the bar on performance quality and brought fresh musical and professional approaches to the organization, but that is not enough.

Simply put, we need a new music director to take us to the next higher artistic level.

I believe that the contract extension was an appropriate decision for the board to have made, but it is time for public acknowledgment that this will be Gerry's final contract here and a music director search committee should be formed immediately. Finding the ideal next music director can take substantial time, with so many leading conductors under long-term contracts elsewhere and booked years in advance, but that search should reignite the musical excitement that has become less consistent at Benaroya Hall recently. Seattle needs to see all potential music directors in performance here, and that won't happen without the board's commitment to change and their dedication to a smooth transition.

With that commitment from the board and from Gerry, we can spend the next five years looking to the future with excitement and celebrating the considerable good that Maestro Schwarz has brought to the symphony.

Geoffrey Bergler
Trumpet, Seattle Symphony

Yet MORE secrets of the Da Vinci Code

Posted at 9:47 PM on May 31, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Unlike Don Lee (see earlier post here), I've not yet seen the movie. So I can't comment on the score. But I do read James Lileks' blog "The Daily Bleat," and today he reports on listening to the soundtrack CD. Hilarious, as always:

"Listening to the Da Vinci Code soundtrack, which has its moments. Its by Hans Zimmer, your go-to guy for ominous thrumming tortured-hero music. He uses the same rhythmic modules he used in the Batman soundtrack, and thats a good thing, although if you cant tell if the music is meant for the Son of God or a guilt-drenched billionaire in a rubber suit, you might want to fine tune your modalities . . . ah, theres the religious element. Choirs. It sounds absolutely agonized, though; its like one long musical apology for the Shocking Truth the heroes are uncovering. Sorry about this, Jesus. At least its not Enigma. You remember Enigma: moody Euro soft-corn porn soundtracks with sampled Gregorian chants, punctuated by a breathy chanteuse asking questions of the Marquis De Sade. In French, naturellement. Etes vous . . . diabolique? Prolly so, yeah; if the coprophilia wasnt a strong enough hint, let me tie you down and prick you with peacock quills dipped in the blood of infants. I think they got sixteen albums out of that idea."

Fishin' music

Posted at 8:10 PM on May 29, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The past few days a lot of people have tried to cool off in or near some body of water.

When Antonin Dvorak visited the Czech community of Spillville, Iowa in the summer of 1893, he cooled off near the Turkey River, where he liked to walk and listen to the birds. He said they helped him come up with musical ideas ideas he would scribble in pencil on his stiff white shirt cuffs. In fact, Dvoraks son, Otakar, who was eight years old at the time, reported that a fishing trip along the Turkey River was cut short, much to his annoyance when Daddy Dvorak said simply: My cuff is already full of notes Ive got to get home and copy them down.

In less than a week Dvork finished what would become one of his best-known and best-loved works a string quartet in F Major nick-named the American Quartet. The quartets Scherzo movement even includes a musical quotation from a particularly persistent American bird whose song Dvork found a bit distracting.

Dvorak's "American" quartet, along with Borodin's lush and lyrical String Quartet #2 will be the featured works on a concert by members of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota Tuesday night (May 30). It starts at 7:30pm at the Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights.

This is a free concert, although a free-will offering will be taken to benefit both organizations. I'll be hosting the program. Hope to see you there.

Quiet Please!

Posted at 11:04 AM on May 26, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

I've toned down my original ambition to convert most of my LPs to CD and just have been working on those that will NEVER be commercially available. "Swingle II: Love Songs for Madrigals and Madriguys" is one of them, and thanks to eBay and a factory-sealed record, "Traditional Welsh Songs by Meredydd Evans" is another.
The problem is the noise...I have to go down to the subatomic waveform level with my pencil tool to take out the most egregious pops, and leave the lesser ones because I'd be working forever! It's amazing how much noise we put up with in the LP era, or turned around, how we have come to expect the background silence of the CDs.
Speaking of silence, I saw that Clarabell died last week. I was watching that final Howdy Doody Show when, at the end of the show he whispered, "Good Bye Kids!" The effect was astounding: it was like Marcel Marceau getting in a sudden shouting match with Teller!

No Comment

Posted at 7:26 AM on May 26, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Presented without comment, and with many complex layers of irony intact, this list of Conservative Classics, as well as another list from a Classical Conservative.

Instrumental karaoke

Posted at 3:30 AM on May 26, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Q. What's the best recording of the William Walton Viola Concerto?

A. The Music Minus One version.

It's an old viola joke, but a short one (the longest viola joke: Harold in Italy...but, seriously folks...).

For musicians of my generation, there were these records called Music Minus One. They were typically sold in music stores, along with the scores of concertos, and the album gave you a recording of say, the Walton Viola Concerto on one side, with a good player as the soloist, and on the other side was the same recording without the soloist, so you could turn up the stereo and play the solo with the orchestra. They're still around, as a matter of fact.

Now there's a website that wants to get people to pay them a couple bucks for the chance to play along with the rock groups of their choice in much the same way. You can read about it here.

It also appears that commercial classical releases are getting into the act.

I got caught the other night on the air when I unwittingly played the wrong track on Nicola Benedetti's new CD. I intended to play her recording of the Meditation from Thais, but played what they called the "performance track" instead. Turns out that's what they call the version without her playing, so you can play along with the orchestra and pretend you're her (or Heifetz).

I kept waiting for the soloist to come in, and finally checked the CD booklet more closely and saw there were 2 versions of the Massenet Meditation and I got the Music Minus One by mistake. Oops! It happened at about this same hour of the overnight, when I could barely see straight anymore and wasn't ready for a curveball like that.


Amazing Vengerov

Posted at 8:22 PM on May 22, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

I've been lucky to have some transcendent concert experiences over the years: a candlelight "serenade" concert at the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Berlin Philharmonic at Philharmonie Hall in Berlin (nobody coughed or made any noise during the music), and Maxim Vengerov with the Minnesota Orchestra.

It was a last minute thing. My boss at the time, Dick Stevens, had subscription tickets to the MN Orchestra and he couldn't make it to the concert that night, so he gave them to me (thanks again, Dick).

That night, the 19-year-old Maxim Vengerov played the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. His sound seemed to start in his toes and his whole body played the instrument. It was incredible!

Vengerov is coming back to play a Schubert Club recital Wednesday night at the Ordway. If you can get a ticket, you might have a transcendent experience, too--I hope so.

He just played the same program at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night. Your can read the New York Times review here.

Public Perceptions Then and Now

Posted at 1:00 PM on May 20, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

I've been reading Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street" and have been struck by a couple of things. First, his descriptions of St. Paul and how familiar it is, even after 86 years. Nothing puts me into a story as much as being familiar with the locale, and having the main character stand on Summit Avenue and look out over Lowertown to the bluffs of the Mississippi really makes me know her.
Second, his mentioning of the music performed at a graduation party. Lewis talks about "Carmen" and "Madame Butterfly" and the "Soldier's Chorus" without ever mentioning Bizet or Puccini or Gounod, or even that they were operas. His readers knew all that in 1920...they didn't have to be told. I don't think that any author today could make that comfortable assumption.

Downloads redux

Posted at 2:17 AM on May 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Some of us were posting a while back about our lack of interest in downloading music from the internet for iPod use. Some have speculated that classical music consumers just aren't that into downloads. But that may not be true.

Urge.com, MTV and Microsoft's new challenge to Apple iTunes, went online Wednesday and they are hoping you'll be using them for your classical tracks.

The full story is in The Critics Notebook from Friday's New York Times.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Phelps...

Posted at 2:01 PM on May 18, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

"...this cake will self-destruct in 10 seconds."

Today is Peter Graves' 80th birthday. Born in Minneapolis, he was a 16 year-old radio announcer at WMIN Minneapolis, but became famous as Jim Phelps on TV's Mission: Impossible in 1966. The groovy theme music was by Lalo Schifrin, who studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory.

If you can stand Tom Cruise, there's Mission: Impossible III, with Lalo Schifrin's original theme, and a score by Michael Giacchino, who studied at Juilliard (anyone know who his teacher was?).

The director of M:i:3, JJ Abrams (creator of Alias , Lost, and an electronic music composer) invited his friend Thomas Dolby to co-write an instrumental for the film.

It's been 23 years since Dolby's mega-hit record She Blinded Me with Science. In the '90s he got out of the music scene and made a jillion dollars selling ringtone software that's in half the world's cel phones. Now he's reviving his music career a bit, and his tour brings him to St. Paul this weekend!

Speaking of movies and weekends, check out the excellent NPR Weekend Edition interview with Hans Zimmer, who composed the score for The Da Vinci Code, which opens this weekend. Unlike Schifrin and Giacchino, Zimmer never studied with anyone; he's completely self-taught. Like Thomas Dolby, Zimmer had a huge hit in the 80's as as a member of The Buggles. Their single Video Killed the Radio Star was the first music video to be aired on MTV.

Now, are we any degrees closer to Kevin Bacon?

Canada tries one-upping "Minnesota nice"

Posted at 9:11 PM on May 16, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Thumper's mother said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." That's what the National Arts Centre in Ottawa is saying to its employees. But they want to make it more than a code of conduct. They want it to be a law--for life--according to an article in the Ottawa Citizen Saturday.

You may recall that Pinchas Zukerman is the music director of the NAC orchestra. You may also recall Zukerman took a sudden sabbatical from the orchestra a few months ago, words were said, and now, just as suddenly...he's back. Of course, the NAC communications director piped up right away to say "It's not about Pinchas."

Yeah, right. And when they say it's not about the money, it's ALWAYS about the money.

They musician's union says they already have a code of conduct and they are protesting.

Osmo-sis Strikes Again!

Posted at 12:21 PM on May 15, 2006 by John Birge (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

The first review of the latest Minnesota Orchestra CD crossed the transom today from classicstoday.com, filled with epithets like "perfect," "stunning," and "it doesn't get any better" for the Minnesota Orchestra.

David Hurwitz rates this one 9 for artistic merit, and a perfect 10 for sound quality. He was clearly a convert when he reviewed Osmo Vanska's first Beethoven CD with the Minnesota Orchestra a little over a year ago, which rated 10 and 10.

BTW, this new CD will be a thank-you gift in our June membership drive, so you can get your copy AND support Classical Minnesota Public Radio at the same time!


Making Noise in the Library

Posted at 8:27 PM on May 14, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

This Saturday May 20, meet Classical Minnesota Public Radio at the grand opening celebration of the new Minneapolis Central Public Library. Julie Amacher, Jeff Esworthy, and I will be in the music department from 11am-2pm. Our little Mozart Lounge is a small part of a huge day-long celebration in and around this spectacular new building. Please stop by and say hello! Info at our events calendar. BTW, last week I went over to check our setup, and got a sneak peek of Cesar Pelli's new building, full of very inspiring spaces. Get your own sneak preview in this Sunday Star Tribune feature.

While I'm on the subject, can you imagine life without a free public library? Can any society call itself civilized without one?!? Here are some statistics that speak volumes about civilized Minneapolitan's love of learning and libraries:

1. 75% of Minneapolis households use MPL every year, and 25% of households use MPL 20 or more times annually.

2. 80% of Minneapolis children have library cards -- far above national averages.

3. MPL has the 4th most card holders per capita of any major American city.

4. Minneapolis holds the 3rd largest per capita library collection of any major American city.

5. The new Central Library has 38.5 miles of shelving.

6. At the new Central Library, virtually 100% of the collection will be at the fingertips of patrons (up from 15% previously)

7. With 297 public computers (up from 75 in the old building), the new Central Library will provide more computer access than any other building in the state.

8. MPL has 350,000 registered borrowers, including 70,000 (20%) who live outside of Minneapolis.

9. In a typical year, MPL circulates 3 million items, answers nearly 2 million reference questions, and welcomes more than 1.5 million on-site users.

10. MPL is actively collecting learning materials in more than 30 languages.

As a St Paul resident, I still hold a special spot for our treasured old James J. Hill library building (now that's a library), but where borrowing is concerned, I play both sides of the river, and I hope to celebrate the newest grand library with you on Saturday.

And Let's Not Forget the Schuberts

Posted at 2:21 PM on May 11, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I had a piece yesterday for violin and piano, "The Bee" by Franz Schubert. No, not THAT Franz Schubert, the other one; the one that constantly gets lost in the shadow because he apparently only wrote one piece...namely, "The Bee!" This Franz Schubert was born in Dresden in 1808, and is sometimes referred to as "Francois Schubert" to try to avoid confusion. (It almost never works).

I'd love to learn more about FS2, and whether there are any more pieces buzzing around the apiary...anyone?


Catching some (X-) Rays

Posted at 10:48 PM on May 8, 2006 by John Birge (183 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Okay, this gets pretty esoteric pretty fast, but bear with me; I need someone smarter than I am to figure this out.

Looking at my musical almanac, I see that tomorrow is the birth anniversary of composer Julius Roentgen. I remember when one of our classical hosts wondered aloud on the air whether Julius was related to Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, the man who discovered the x-ray. A listener called to say that she had studied piano with Julius in Berlin, and that Julius and Wilhelm were indeed brothers.

When I tried to confirm this fact, I got suspicious because none of the bios of the composer mention this fascinating connection. After a little more fact-checking, and may be able to put some of this idea to rest:

Julius Rntgen was born in Leipzig on 9th May 1855 the son of a Dutch-German father, Engelbert Rntgen, who was leader of the famous Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and a German mother, the pianist Pauline Klengel.

Wilhelm Conrad Rntgen was born March 27, 1845, in the lower Rhine town of Lennep, the only child of Friedrich Conrad Rntgen, a well-to-do textile merchant, and his Dutch wife and cousin, Charlotte Constance Frowein.

So that suggests our listener heard it wrong. But I'm still intrigued. Given the German/Dutch connections in both families, perhaps Julius and Wilhelm were cousins, or otherwise related?

As I said, I need someone smarter than I to figure this out. So, "tag, you're it" ! Thanks in advance for the answer; I know that collectively, our listeners know everything! Thank God they don't have x-ray vision...


Soothing the savage beasts

Posted at 7:04 PM on May 8, 2006 by John Zech (5 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

OK, ok, I know. I know the quote from Congreve is "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast" (geez, you people are picky). But I'm not interested in softening rocks or bending knotted oaks. It's the little beasties I'm concerned about.

Bob Christiansen blogged last month that his dog hates music, but I think music, classical music, must have a soothing effect on some critters.

A lot of our listeners tell us that MPR's classical music soothes them when their nerves are jangled, and it seems the Ramsey County Humane Society must agree. When we adopted our little kitty, Bijou, last December, I was very happy to hear All-Classical 99.5 FM on their radio.

Now whether it was chosen to keep the staff happy, or the cats and birds (and maybe dogs), I don't know. And I didn't ask. Bijou listens contentedly to our classical music whenever it's on, and (my wife assures me) she perks up her ears a little bit when her master's voice comes on the radio.


Daniel Barenboim: the new Bernstein?

Posted at 8:43 PM on May 1, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

One of the events that nudged me into the world of classical music radio was the brilliant series of Norton lectures given at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein in 1973 and titled The Unanswered Question.

Lucky for me, they were on TV for free. Lucky for you, you can still buy them or find them at many libraries on video or DVD. I remember being swept away by this man who was incredibly passionate about the beauty and meaning of music--all kinds of music--and he showed us with his illustrations at the piano how we are born with the ability to appreciate the forms of music, and how musical syntax is rooted in the forms of nature.

Well, there is a new series of lectures that has just been given by pianist, conductor and peace activist, Daniel Barenboim. They are the Reith Lectures 2006, given for the BBC who have put them on their website. I only just discovered them tonight and haven't gotten very far into them, but it's really good stuff so far--the meaning of music, music's meaning to society. "The inexpressible content of music and in many ways the inexpressible content of life" as he puts it. The first lecture is called "In the Beginning was Sound." You can listen to it or read it here.

A Day Without Immigrants

Posted at 11:02 PM on April 30, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Tonight's ArtsJournal newsletter contained an interesting message.

A Day Without Immigrants (And ArtsJournal)
The stories you see in this newsletter were collected Sunday, April 30. May 1 is the "Day Without Immigrants" protest against recent attempts in Congress to change immigration laws. ArtsJournal.com is powered by an immigrant so ArtsJournal will not be adding stories on Monday and there will be no newsletter Monday night. Regular service will resume Tuesday.

The gist of the protest is that tomorrow (Monday, May 1st), all immigrants will stay home from work, stay home from school, and not buy a single thing...thus demonstrating their impact on the American economy.

There's a counter-protest being planned as well. Read all about both at the invaluable Snopes.com

I'm not cheerleading for either protest, by the way. The whole thing kinda leaves me scratching my head. What about you?

The Redemption of Elise

Posted at 1:38 AM on April 26, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I played Beethoven's Fr Elise during my airshift the other night. As I sat back to enjoy a few minutes of good company with this old friend, it hit me with a jolt: I was no longer afraid of it.

For many years, hearing folks mention the work, hearing it on the air or even seeing the words Fr Elise in print would make me cringe...and take me back to a dark day.

Scene: Webster Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona. Sixth grade talent show. I wore a red velvet dress. Neil MacDonald was the emcee. He introduced me as "Webster's own Princess of the Piano" which still makes me feel a little queasy now, a hundred years later.

In front of every single lifeform affiliated with Webster Elementary School, I sat at the blonde spinet in the cafeteria, to play Fr Elise from memory. In retrospect it's easy to shout "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?" but I was a cocky youth then and wouldn't have listened anyway.

It started beautifully! Very fluid. I'd spent a lot of time learning how to use the sustain pedal, you know. First repeat, back to the beginning. So far so good. Now, I'm supposed to take the second ending and continue on to the B section. But my fingers played the first ending, which circled me back around to the beginning. Okay, no one will notice, right? I'll just sail through to the 2nd page THIS time. Oops, missed it again. By about the 5th time through that first page I finally gave up and ran out the door.

What a drama queen.

Needless to say this wasn't an eventuality poor Neil had planned for. Ever seen a sixth-grader try to improvise through awkwardness like that? Me neither, because I had run all the way home by that point. (I lived across the street, so it wasn't impressive as it sounds.) You know how when you're little you can cry so hard that you kind of get the hiccups? Well, I wasn't doing that - no matter what my sister says.

The other night it was John O'Conor at the black Steinway instead of the blonde spinet. I was so charmed by the performance that I forgot to hold my breath during that transition.


p.s. For those of you who have made it this far, I want you to know that after I stopped hyperventilating, I walked back across the street to the cafeteria. The talent show was still going on. I went on after the next act, and finally got it right.

I just wish Neil hadn't introduced me as the Princess of the Piano again.


Zechmeisters in music

Posted at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Confession time: My family name Zech could come from the mining industry, but it's maybe even more likely to have something to do with drinking. There are a number of German operas/operettas where they sing about zechen, which is German verb meaning "to drink." A Zeche is a bill you would get at a bar. A Zechpreller is someone who skips out without paying the bill and a Zechmeister is, as a German friend once reminded me, a "master carouser." Needless to say, a number of my friends have called me "The Zechmeister" without knowing how close they were to the truth--ahem.

In the music world there have been quite a few Zechmeisters. Bach liked his beer and wine, Brahms had a wine cellar, and there's a famous story by the prominent New York critic James Huneker about a pub crawl he took with Dvorak when the composer was teaching in New York City in the 1890s. Dvorak had whisky cocktails while Huneker drank beer. Nineteen drinks later the critic was ready to call it quits when Dvorak started looking for Slivovitch because it "warms you after so much beer."

Huneker said, "Such a man is as dangerous to a moderate drinker as a false beacon is to a ship-wrecked sailor. And he could drink as much spirits as I could the amber brew."

Graeme Garden has piece in the UK Telegraph about some of the great drinkers and trenchermen of music. Can you tell it in there music? Read more here.

Honda Choir Spoof

Posted at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

You've probably already seen the fantastic UK Honda Civic commercial with the choir that was making the rounds a few months ago. If not, view here, and be amazed! (note also the Garrison Keillor voice-over)

Now comes a spoof of same, done for "118 118", which Wiki tells me is the UK phone equivalent of our "411."

Jolly good fun!

Nature, Mozart and starlings

Posted at 4:24 AM on April 21, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Earth Day is Saturday and commentator Philip Blackburn and Web designer Ben Tesch are the driving forces behind a fascinating Web site that makes a lot of connections between music and nature. From Mozart's starling to a "Name that Tune" game using the sounds of nature to a composition for orchestra, children and audio tape that reflects the ecosystem of the California deserts—there's a lot of fun, interesting, thought-provoking stuff at musicandnature.org.

iNic for your iPod

Posted at 9:02 PM on April 18, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

The Alex Ross blog today highlights Nic McGegan, conductor of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, now available for downloads with his other orchestra, San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque. But you'll have to pay for these.

If you want a free stream, don't forget that Classical Minnesota Public Radio offers an archive of complete concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra.

Aren't we good to you? ;-)

Quake 100

Posted at 8:44 PM on April 17, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Tuesday (April 18) is the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake.

It's pretty common knowledge that Enrico Caruso was performing in Bizet's Carmen the night before the quake hit, and the following morning he fled the shaking Palace Hotel in his jammies vowing never to return again.

Many have forgotten, however, that the woman singing the title role of Carmen that night was St. Peter, Minnesota's own Olive Fremstad, who would become the leading Wagnerian soprano of her day--and quite a colorful figure in her own right (she visited a New York City morgue so she could hold a severed head in her hands to prepare for the title role in premiere of Richard Strauss's opera Salome.

Caruso never came back, but within a few weeks San Franciscans were attending all kinds of entertainments to keep their spirits up while they rebuilt their city. You can read more about what they did in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Olive Fremstad was a good friend of Willa Cather, and the inspiration for her story The Song of the Lark, which you can download here. If you want to pay your own tribute to Olive Fremstad, you can visit her gravesite in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, a little over an hour's drive north of the cities (I-35 north, Take the MN-70 exit..EXIT 165...toward ROCK CREEK / GRANTSBURG).

Channeling Ida Benson

Posted at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I was having an online chat with my family as we do every week, and the topics were standard for us: food, the upcoming reunion and animals. We started getting into animals and music, and I realized that I've never met the supposed "His Master's Voice" dog...an animal that will sit and contentedly listen to music with you. I actually thought about that when I got a dog...what a nice way to spend an afternoon or evening, sitting by the fire, listening to music with my trusty faithful companion.

My dog HATES music! All music: rock, classical, jazz, movie soundtracks...doesn't matter to her, she just gets up and leaves the room. My grandmother used to do that too, with any TV program she didn't like. She would get up and leave the room, with her standard "Ish, Ish" trailing off into the distance. So basically my dog is channeling my grandmother! Oh, and she hates fires, too.


Down in front!

Posted at 2:48 AM on April 14, 2006 by John Zech (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Curmudgeons of the world unite! I often stay seated and applaud while those around me are standing, but it's darned awkward. You feel like kind of a doofus, and you can't see anyone on the stage anyway...so you might as well get up.

Valerie dates this behavior to the early tip jar years. At the risk of sounding like Joe Soucheray, I'd like to suggest that the "standing obligation" comes out of a "feel-good" culture that doesn't keep score, gives medals to everyone who competes, and wants to be sure nobody feels bad. Of course, then nobody feels really good, either.


Howard Hanson: Interlochen Alien??

Posted at 8:44 PM on April 10, 2006 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Valerie's post on Hanson's Second Symphony showing up in "Alien" reminds me (and thousands of fellow Interlochen alumni) that this music became "The Interlochen Theme." Decades ago when NBC was doing summer broadcasts of Interlochen's World Youth Symphony Orch, that theme was played by the kids as live outro music while the announcer read the credits. Years after the broadcasts ceased, the tradition of closing Interlochen concerts with Hanson's tune continued. As for "Alien," here's a relevant post from Craig Pettigrew on the Interlochen Alumni listserve:

"The person responsible for the Hanson at the end of Ridley Scott's "Alien" was the film editor, Terry Rawlings. Not only is he a great editor, but most knowledgable when it comes to music. Films go through a "temp" process where music is cut in to allow the director and/or studio a chance to see the film in what feels like a finished
version. Temporary music was cut in by both Terry and Jerry Goldsmith's Music Editor, Ken Hall. None of whom are Interlochen alumni. But they know a great piece of music when they hear it, and Terry's suggestion of the Hanson for the temp turned out to be so terrific that Fox licensed it for the final version of the movie.

"I know this because I was the Music Editor on "Alien 3," also edited by Terry Rawlings (Directed by David Fincher, scored by Elliot Goldenthal) . During the temp process in "Alien 3" (which went on for almost a year) Terry had cut in, even before I came on the film, Hanson's "Elegy for Koussivitzky." This played near the end, and climaxes as she takes a Christ-like dive in the boiling metal. (At the time, no baby alien came bursting out; that was added at the end, so as to allow for yet another sequel) And the Hanson stayed for some time, cut and re-cut by myself to fit the various picture cuts which seemed to change week to week. (I had picked and cut the rest of the temp music, and Elliot had provided us with some synth demos)
However, the cue that Elliot ended up writing for the scene pulled
together the thematic elements introduced throughout the score, and it is a wonderful piece of music. And thus the Hanson was replaced.
Say what you will about those films, but they have provided wonderful
canvasses for composers. Elliot's score is among my favorites, and I'm proud to have been associated with it."

-Craig Pettigrew
NMC '72
IAA '72-73


I Know I Know This...

Posted at 9:41 PM on April 9, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Bob's post about hearing the squirrel music in Ice Age 2 (and knowing he knew it somehow)reminded me of hearing that warm, comforting and downright hopeful music that played while the credits were rolling at the end of Ridley Scott's Alien. It's the middle movement of Howard Hanson's Romantic Symphony which, oddly, I happen to have on my playlist Sunday night.

While doing a little digging around on the interweb I found the following quote, part of Thomas F. Bertonneau's Amazon.com review of a Hanson CD:

Howard Hanson oddly resembles Scott's alien. He is a powerful presence whom his modernist nemeses have repeatedly attempted to expel, by declarations of his hopeless Romanticism and obsolescence, who nevertheless keeps reasserting himself to their great consternation.

I must confess, I never thought of Howard Hanson as an alien before.


Rachel wha' hae!

Posted at 11:41 AM on April 7, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

There's a last-minute chance to catch the fine American violinist Rachel Barton Pine in a gala concert tonight in St. Paul. Her latest disc is an album of Scottish Fantasies for Violin and Orchestra, so it's no surprise she got tapped for Tartan Day festivities in St. Paul.

Their homepage doesn't give a phone number, but her performance is at THE CROWNE PLAZA Riverfront Hotel, (formerly Riverfront Radisson Hotel) 11 E Kellogg Ave St Paul. It says "Tickets at the door $25 Performance 8:30 pm." The gala dinner starts at 7:00.


Posted at 12:09 AM on April 5, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (9 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Here are the answers to Saturday's crossword quiz:

29 ACROSS Air from Borodin's Polovstian Dance No. 2

Stranger in Paradise (1953 - Robert Wright & George Forrest) Did you know Borodin earned himself a posthumous Tony award for Kismet?

43 ACROSS Song from Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile

The Isle of May (1940 - Andr Kostelanetz and Mack David)The previous year, Kostelanetz and David had also plundered Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony to create "Moon Love." Soon after, bandleader Les Brown penned a tune called "Everybody's Making Money But Tchaikovsky."

63 ACROSS Tune from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6

Now and Forever (1994? - Richard Marx)

82 ACROSS Pop song from Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows (1918 - Joseph McCarthy and Harry Carroll)

99 ACROSS Air from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

Tonight We Love (1941 - Freddy Martin, Bobby Worth and Ray Austin)

119 ACROSS Melody from Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess

The Lamp is Low (1939 - Peter DeRose and Bert Shefter)

137 ACROSS Borrowing from a Borodin Nocturne

And This is My Beloved (1953 - Robert Wright & George Forrest)

Mikey Likes It--classical music, that is

Posted at 9:05 AM on April 4, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The Pioneer Press had a nice story on Sunday about Wisconsin's art educator of the year, John Jaskot. He feels "art educates the whole child." To quiet their minds while the kids do art he turns on MPR's classical music station. (Yes!)

"I like rock, jazz and some country, but classical music is best for doing art," Jaskot said.

Seems like it rubbed off on them, too. When a substitute teacher put on a rock station one day the kids said they preferred classical. (Yay!)

You can read the whole story here.

Eine Kleine Brollymusik

Posted at 7:38 AM on April 3, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

I was doing the tourist bit in historic Alexandria, Virginia many years ago when I saw an umbrella with part of a piano score printed on it. I asked the owner if the music was Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu and she smiled and said yes.

I figured that one out after hearing Vern Sutton on "A Prairie Home Companion" sing a series of parodies of a certain pop song based the Chopin piece.

Consider this another clue to Valerie Kahler's "Word" puzzle posting: 82 ACROSS Pop song from Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu (23 letters)


Posted at 10:41 PM on April 2, 2006 by Valerie Kahler
Filed under: The blog

Hello. My name is Valerie and I'm a crossword puzzle addict.

I started with the soft stuff, the gateway puzzles. TV Guide, People magazine. Soon that wasn't enough, and I was buying puzzle variety books from the drugstore. Then I graduated to the newspapers' daily crosswords, where I quickly learned the difference between "TMS" and "NYT" puzzles. Tribune Media Service, you see, published crosswords I could do Monday through Saturday...but the New York Times got more difficult as the week progressed, and I'd be hopelessly over my head by, oh...Tuesday. But I kept plugging away, learning the familiar characters, little by little. Hersey's bell town, 5 letters. Swiss canton, 3 letters. Saarinen father and son, 5 and 4 letters respectively.

It was time for the New York Times Sunday Crossword. Oh, the rush of that first completed grid! I wanted to experience it again. Conveniently, it took me about a week to finish a puzzle so I'd just start again with the new Sunday crossword.

With time and practice, I got better. Faster. And I couldn't wait til next Sunday for a new puzzle. Enter the NYT Crossword Puzzle Omnibus - a series of compilations, each with a hundred or more puzzles.

Some people watch TV. Some knit. For me, the last few minutes of consciousness before sleep are spent wrestling with letters.

Here are a few from a crossword I finished this week. The puzzle is by Alfio Micci, and was titled Musical Excerpts.

29 ACROSS Air from Borodin's Polovstian Dance No. 2 (18 letters)

43 ACROSS Song from Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile (12 letters)

63 ACROSS Tune from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 (13 letters)

82 ACROSS Pop song from Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu (23 letters)

99 ACROSS Air from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 (13 letters)

119 ACROSS Melody from Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess (12 letters)

137 ACROSS Borrowing from a Borodin Nocturne (18 letters)

First person to post a reply with all the correct responses wins a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil.

Maybe Howard Should Try Mozart

Posted at 10:20 PM on April 1, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (9 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I read today where Howard Stern is upset that only about 20% of his former audience followed him to satellite radio. I could have told him that was going to happen; after all, who would ever pay for radio?



Posted at 5:18 AM on March 29, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (3 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

More about iPod, and podlike things.

Seems everybody thought that podcasting (generally defined as downloaded content, available by subscription and played back on a portable listening device)was all about its portability. Get your latest 'cast, and listen to it on the iPod. Right? Not so much. According to the research firm Bridge Data, 80% of podcasts aren't played back on iPods or other portable mp3 players. People are listening right there at their computers!

The author of this article suggests maybe it's time to redefine what we mean by podcasting. This is only the first half of the article. They're soliciting YOUR feedback to help write the second half, which will be published this Thursday.


MN at the Met: Coda

Posted at 12:53 PM on March 27, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

An update on the Met Finals:

Sunday night, Minnesota Opera Resident Artists Seth Keeton and John Michael Moore were among nine singers to perform at the finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Alas, neither of these wonderful singers took top honors, but I heard they were both happy with how they sang and thrilled to just be there. And the exposure they received performing at the Met will be a huge boost to their careers. The only down side of this is the likelihood that as their careers flourish, they'll be called away from Minnesota Opera more often. To get a sample of their voices, hear their studio performances recorded here at MPR, and tune in May 3 at 8pm for a broadcast of all the finalists. Congrats to Seth and John!

Brush up your Wagner

Posted at 9:09 AM on March 27, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Wagner's huge operatic masterpiece, the Ring of the Niebelungen, has a convoluted plot based in Norse mythology. If you want to acquaint yourself with the stories and characters a bit better before your next trip to the opera, you might want to check out Dark Kingdom on the Sci-Fi Channel tonight at 8:00 CST.

According to this morning's New York Times review:

"By far the best thing in "Dark Kingdom" is Brunhild, played by Kristanna Loken, Arnold Schwarzenegger's nemesis in "Terminator 3," who was a molten, shape-shifting cyborg that most often assumed the form of a blond hottie. In "Dark Kingdom," with her furs, her blond dreadlocks, her martial-artsy way of wielding a spear, she's fierce and sexy a true Valkyrie, a warrior both on the ice floes and in the bedchamber."

Looks like "24" might have to get TiVo'd tonight.

Smeagol im Spiegel?

Posted at 2:56 AM on March 26, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (4 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

Saw an interesting piece in the Guardian tonight about the Toronto premiere of a new show, 4 years and 27 million dollars in the making - Lord of the Rings: The Musical.

Okay, I confess: The Musical is NOT part of the official moniker. As a matter of fact, producer Kevin Wallace says the stage version of LotR is neither musical nor spectacle nor play. What then? Well, its ALL of them. A hybrid, if you will.

Certainly theres plenty of music to be found in the thousand or so pages of JRR Tolkiens Lord of the Rings trilogy. Someones always giving a lengthy history in verse or singing about a favorite pub or lamenting a lost comrade...but these are the parts I always skip when reading the books. I know I'm not alone in finding these the driest bits of those well-loved stories. How will they translate to the stage?

On another note, early previews hint theres a problem with the length of the 3 hour show - its too short. One unnamed critic said that even filmmaker Peter Jackson needed nine hours to tell the story.

So what do you think? Can it fly?


"...and let's have another piece of pie."

Posted at 8:53 PM on March 25, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

"Brrrrrandy, More Brandy!" shouted Jack Lemmon in "The Great Race" as he was hit in the face with a particularly delectable pie. Let's talk about those delightful, unsuspecting surprises...I was just hit in the face by a lutheal.

I was talking about a CD containing the Suite populaire Espagnole by de Falla, played on violin and lutheal, a word I'd never seen before. Apparently Mirriam-Webster had never seen it before either, because it wasn't in the dictionary. Wikipedia had it though, a piano-like instrument with registers, one of which sounded like a cimbalom. The sound was plunky and lute-like and delightful, and I was happy to have been blind-sided by a new experience.

I felt the same way the other day listening (really listening) to an early Haydn symphony. It's so easy to think you've heard it all, and then you hear something new in something quite old. Now I'm going to see if the record library has Henry Mancini's "Pie in the Face Polka," and see if I can throw it at you sometime!


RIP Enrique

Posted at 8:57 AM on March 24, 2006 by John Zech (9 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

It was 90 years ago today that Catalonian/Spanish composer/pianist Enrique Granados lost his life trying to save his wife. They had been in America, enjoying the success of Granados' opera Goyescas at the Met in New York, and then delayed their trip back to Spain to accept an invitation from President Woodrow Wilson to visit the White House.

That delay was fatal.

After an uneventful Atlantic crossing, they were in the English Channel when their ship (SS Sussex) was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Granados jumped out of his lifeboat to save his wife and drowned with her...90 years ago today.

John Milton, the author of the highly acclaimed novel about Granados,
The Fallen Nightingale, sent me a poem honoring the occasion this morning. (see extended entry)

Continue reading "RIP Enrique"

The Sound of Silence

Posted at 4:06 AM on March 22, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (13 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I heartily agree with John Zechs statement (3/20) about needing a break from sounds after a full day of radio work. My non-radio friends are always surprised by A) my weird music collection and B) how infrequently I listen to it.

Ive never been one of those study-to-Mozart types. Its way too distracting for me, which is mostly a good thing. Music can never be "background" in my life...which can sometimes prove maddening. Back in college, during the semesters I studied ear training (learning to identify chords, chord inversions, chord progressions, etc. by ear) I couldnt shut it off. Id find myself in the grocery store or the elevator mentally graphing out the Muzak bass line and thinking, Deceptive cadence, or, Ha! Picardy third! Geeks R Us.

I have music running through my head virtually non-stop anyway. I seem to have a dedicated music channel in my brain, and its broadcasting 24/7. Most of the time I dont notice it, but sometimes the volume gets turned up to 11 and thats when I become The Most Annoying Person Ever. Every single thing anyone says will fire up a new tune in my mental jukebox and Im frequently powerless to keep from bursting into song. Heres how bad it is: Several months ago I saw a letter to Dear Abby or Miss Manners wherein some poor soul couldnt so much as mention the weather without one particular friend breaking into, Dont know whyyyyyy...theres no sun up in the skyyyyy... or somesuch, and how could she make her stop?? I was convinced Lauren Rico had written it about mewhich turned out not to be the case. But still.



Posted at 6:18 PM on March 21, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

BBC Radio 3 broadcast an unscheduled premiere last week. During a live interview with Steve Reich, listeners unexpectedly heard one of his new pieces, which turned out to be the ringtone on his cel phone. It took several moments for the embarassed composer to fetch the phone from his coat pocket.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported on how the ring tone phenomenon is branching out. Joining the hip-hop stars are some less likely names -- like Sibelius. Orchestras and classical-music publishers want a piece of the $600 million dollar ringtone business.

Boosey & Hawkes, a major classical music publisher, offers more than 300 songs from its catalog as $3 ringtone downloads on its Web site, www.booseytones.com, and the London Symphony sells ringtone versions of its recordings at www.lsoringtones.co.uk In addition to Steve Reich, downloads include:

-Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze; good if youre a shepherd with a cel phone
-Stravinskys The Rite of Spring, for those on-the-go Russian Pagans
-And the top ten downloads include classics for SciFi enthusiasts (Star Wars), and for fans of the cult TV hit, Thunderbirds

Not to be outdone, churches are getting into the act. Saint Petri church in Hamburg has a website, www.petriklingel.de to sell hymn tune ringtones. You can choose from

Wachet auf, the ever-popular Oh dass ich tausend Zungen htte, or the old standby Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Proceeds go toward a quarter million dollar fund to restore the churchs pipe organ.

MN at the MET

Posted at 3:16 PM on March 21, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Okay, think American Idol, with singers who can really sing, and genuinely great music for a change!

Last month, Minnesota Opera Resident Artists Alison Bates, Seth Keeton and John Michael Moore swept the Regional round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Last Sunday, Seth Keeton and John Michael Moore were among nine singers who won the National Semifinals round! Seth and John sing at the National Finals this Sunday on stage with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and five Grand National Winners will be chosen. Each will receive $15,000, and a good chance at coming back to the Met someday in a role.

We're following this story on Classical Minnesota Public Radio, and I'll talk with Seth and John later this week to check in and see how they're preparing for the Big Event.

This contest is very prestigious; past winners include Ben Heppner, Rene Fleming, Susan Graham and Heidi Grant Murphy (and that was just in one year!). Minnesota Opera has had a superb track record there. Past Resident Artists who have competed at the national level are Esther Heidemann (national winner), Andy Gangestad (national finalist), Seth Keeton (national semifinalist) and James Valenti (grand national winner).

Dem bones, dem bones...

Posted at 12:02 PM on March 20, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

One of our senior colleagues routinely refers to himself as a "fossil" when he presents some old-school perspective in our meetings here at MPR. After reading Bob Christiansen's recent "Fuddy/Duddy" blog, I'm starting to feel like my bones are rattling a bit, too.

It's probably just a matter of time before I get an iPod, but I find myself holding out. I don't think my resistance is technophobia, or latent Luddite tendencies. I think what is holding me back is a certain format fatigue, coupled with an increasing desire to reduce the *noise* around me.

I just got a new computer with a 19" high-definition flat screen monitor, and I hardly use it. I never play computer or video games (I prefer my games to be in *real* reality rather than virtual reality) , I don't play much music on the home stereo and, like Bob C., I don't even turn on the car stereo that much anymore.

Quite a few of my coworkers have told me that, after their air shifts and production work, they've had all the listening they can take. They have to give their ears a rest.

As much as my joints are starting to creak, maybe this fossil is really aging from the ears out. Anybody else feeling this way?

Apropos of Nothing

Posted at 5:45 AM on March 19, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

We often wax rhapsodic about the sublime in classical music...but I also have a soft spot for the ridiculous, the remarkable, and the charming.


How Fuddy is my Duddy?

Posted at 5:17 PM on March 18, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (5 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

As much as I like really cool technology, I keep moving toward an iPod and then always move away. I make sure I always update my Mac software so that I'll be ready for an iPod if I ever take the plunge, but I can't see the need to have that much music that readily available. All of the old technologies serve me just fine whenever I want to listen to music. (But then I very seldom turn on the radio in my car either!) What would impel me towards this technology would be the availability of material other than music, and the new video iPods are tempting, but even downloaded TV shows don't make me rush to buy.


Osmo in "rural Minnesota"?

Posted at 12:56 PM on March 16, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

In a follow-up story to the ongoing Masur tour cancellation, this remark showed up in MusicalAmerica.com today:

"Osmo Vnsk, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, was drafted for four, including the kickoff in Santa Barbara, followed by Los Angeles, San Diego and Davis, Calif. But he had to beg off before San Francisco, as he had previously committed to a lead a community orchestra concert in rural Minnesota on that date."

Funny, last time I drove to Bloomington, it didn't look all that rural !

Where's Jarvi? Revisited

Posted at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Re my March 14 entry, word from Joshua Kosman is that there was a mixup. First word from the agent to the SF Symphony staff (who presented the concert) was illness; later that was clarified to reflect the wedding conflict, but Kosman didn't get the word before his review went to press.

So much for Jarvigate. Darn it; now I'll have to recall that message I left for Oliver Stone. ;-)

Orchestra on Demand

Posted at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: The blog

We're always wondering how to bring this music we all love to the widest possible audience. Radio? Sure. Been doing that now for nearly 40 years. But just as newspapers and record companies and loads of other media companies are having to seriously re-think their way of doing business (or go the way of the dodo), we're wondering how does this wonderful ancient art form, classical music, interact with new technology?

So, I'm extremely curious to watch what happens to our latest venture: Several days ago we posted nine fabulous concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra to our Web site. This is new for the Orchestra and the result of lots of conversation between MPR and the Orchestra about how it would be to our mutual benefit—and be really cool for classical fans worldwide.

There are star soloists, and most of the programs are led by the star conductor of the moment, Osmo Vänskä. This is by any account, great music passionately performed by world-class artists.

So, we've built it (and are now promoting it on-air and online). Will they come?

Roger Federer in concert

Posted at 11:08 AM on March 14, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

This past weekend I went to some of the early-round tennis matches at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, CA. One of the great things about the first week at these tournaments is watching matches on the "outer courts" where you can see the top players up close. But sometimes, it's even more fun to watch the players warming up on the practice courts.

On Saturday afternoon I saw a big gathering by one practice court, and there was the biggest star of the game--Roger Federer. It was cold and windy, and since Federer wasn't playing that day he didn't practice much. But while his coach (the great Tony Roche) hit with his practice partner, Roger went over to the crowd by the fence to sign autographs. Some of the girls at one end of the fence yelled "Roger, come here, we're your biggest fans!"

Wouldn't it be great if something like that happened in the classical music world? Maybe it does somewhere that I don't know about, but imagine if people got tickets for a concert series and they could wander in and out of different concerts going on simultaneously, and then walk into rehearsal rooms while soloists or ensembles or even orchestras were practicing. Then, during a break they could rush the stage for autographs.

This might be another way to break down the "fourth wall" that separates the audience from the folks on stage. In the same way fans in the ballpark hope to catch a homer or a foul ball, maybe we could have the conductor or soloist toss some "goodies" into the audience at the end of the concert--souvenirs, or something that would give them a free ticket to another event.

Bull's Eye hits the Arts

Posted at 10:52 PM on March 12, 2006 by John Birge (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

This weekend I went to two concerts by two terrific groups: VocalEssence, and The Rose Ensemble. Both programs sported the Target logo, acknowledging their corporate support. This weekend, The Washington Post weighed in on the topic and how the landscape of corporate sponsorship is changing, with particular attention paid to Target. Here's the article


It Takes Two to Tango (by Piazzolla)

Posted at 2:19 PM on March 12, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

Don Lee's post about Elliott Carter in particular and attention-grabbing music in general makes me wonder about radio and the concert hall's need for each other. One thing that radio can't do well is to require time spent listening to new music that doesn't automatically fit most listeners' tastes. The concert hall, on the other hand, has a captive audience (mostly an acquiescing one) and can provide the space for new sounds to be heard and evaluated.

Now comes the rub: concert halls also have to please audiences, so just programming new sounds won't work for them either. If both of us wish to only entertain, we know what music works. If both of us want to expand the definition of concert music, to teach, to grow along with an audience we know what we have to do, we just have to make the decisions to do it.


Posted at 2:08 PM on March 9, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Valerie's blog reminds me of this remark that Anne-Sophie Mutter made about playing violin (italics mine): "Making great music is about finding a way to put a lot of light onto the musical painting, of getting under the skin of the composer and inside the music itself."

Pimpin' the Oscars

Posted at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

The morning after the Oscars my wife was playing tennis and having trouble with her serve. Her doubles partner, a woman in her 50s, reassured her by saying, "it's hard out here for a pimp."

I doubt this woman had been listening to Three 6 Mafia on the way to the club, but she knew about the song.

As a tangent to John Birge's entry on the decline and fall of the Best Song winners at the Oscars, I've been fantasizing about Itzhak Perlman doing a "classical" arrangement of "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp." I think it would work...at least as well as the medley of film scores he played at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

The arrangement Perlman played bore no relationship to any of the sounds or textures of the original scores (at least none I could make out). In fact, I think it was worse than nothing at all.

Was the Academy pimping Perlman with this pseudo-classical mishmash?

The long, steady slide from 1934 to 2005

Posted at 10:49 AM on March 6, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

From "The Continental" in 1934, to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" in 2005, behold this chronology of Best Song winners at the Oscars. Of course every decade has its occasional dogs, but on average it looks like mebbe 1972 was a critical turning point downward... Doom-ily and gloomily yours, jb ;-)

Continue reading "The long, steady slide from 1934 to 2005"

I have a little list...

Posted at 10:03 AM on March 3, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

My wife once told me that when she and a female coworker discussed certain men they'd seen recently in the movies or on TV, if the guy was dishy they would say "he's on the list." The cream of the crop made it to the "laminated list," and once you were on that, you were there to stay.

That got me to thinking about what my "laminated list" would be in classical radio terms. When I used to hand off to Tom Crann every morning we often talked about pieces we played again and again on the radio and never got tired of hearing.

Yesterday I was reminded that Handel's Water Music was on that list. So are my favorite recordings of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite #2 (especially the Bergamasca). These are some of the pieces that make me start humming or whistling along before I even realize it.

So what's on your list?

Ideas from another Christiansen

Posted at 9:33 PM on March 2, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

After reading Rupert Christiansen's column, "Karaoke crooners hijack classical music" at arts.telegraph, I'm left asking many of the same questions...and actually have been for years. If classical music is indeed better, deeper, more important, different from all forms of popular music, we should have an easy time convincing potential audiences of this. We don't, mainly because its very difficult to convince the culture at large that the culture that produced this music is better, deeper, more important, etc. The automatic respect for the old forms (not just music) is seemingly gone forever. So do we hold on to the belief or do we "karaoke-ize?"

The Tenor of Don Knotts

Posted at 11:57 AM on February 27, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Don Knotts died on Friday. Nowhere is his comic genius as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show more evident than in those episodes in which he sings. Or tries to. Knotts himself said that one of his favorite episodes was "Barney and the Choir," in which no one can stop him from singing. His hideous voice gets the broad laugh, but the real humor comes from his comic vanity. Some sample dialogue, starting at a singing lesson with his matronly voice teacher, Eleanora Poltice, prepping him for the big event...

Eleanora: Oh, I can feel it. You're going to be another Leonard Blush.
Barney: Oh no, that's too much to ask.
Eleanora: Why not? He just walked in here off the street one day. Two years later he sang the Star Spangled Banner at the opening of the County Insecticide Convention. The rest is history.
Barney: And he still has that radio program, doesn't he?
Eleanora: Third Tuesday every month. Station YLRB, Mt. Pilot.
Barney: Big Time. Does he still wear that black mask when he sings on the radio?
Eleanora: Oh no, no. He just wore that for a year when he had that skin condition.
Barney: Probably emotional - he went to the top so fast.
Eleanora: Very meteoric. Very.
Eleanora: Never let it be said that Barnard Fife let down Eleanora Poltice!
Barney: I'm going on. My music Eleanora.
Barney: My voice was surging out of my body like Niagra Falls coming over that cliff in Rochester, NY.
Andy: Buffalo.
Barney: Huh?
Andy: Nothing
Barney: "You know Andy, there's no better feeling than knowing you were perfect."
Andy: The last tenor I can remember around here was Bruce Flowers. He could only sing high after a fight with his mother.

Time for More Film Music?

Posted at 10:20 AM on February 18, 2006 by Bob Christiansen (2 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I friend of mine in the industry said once that the best classical music being written today is being written for the movies, and after listening to scores by James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and, of course, John Williams, I have to agree. Although we have a small amount of film music in our mix, is it time to widen the scope and add quite a bit more, or are there objections to even classifying these works as classical, and if not, why not?


Enough Mozart, cont.

Posted at 1:35 PM on February 14, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Albert Einstein said that while Beethoven created his music, Mozart's "was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master." That's what is so remarkable; it exists on the human scale and the infinite scale at the same time! And it reveals the infinite in humanity. It's all there. Question for my friend Don Lee: what's missing in Mozart that you find in Bach?

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