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Showing posts from August, 2008

Classical Music is Changing it's clothes

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"Classical Music Gets Sexy" is the title to an article in The West Australian. It begins by speaking about one of the best selling string quartets on the market, Bond. And a quick look at their site (or their legs, pictured here) shows just how sexy classical music can be (at least how sexy some of the performers are). The article then goes on to talk about Flautist Jane Rutter (with a picture to add emphasis to the sex-appeal). Neither of these artists are new to the scene, and the use of sex in their marketing isn't new either - but it's getting press (rather than their music), which is why I blog about it now.Not everyone agrees with the articles comparison of Jane's sex-appeal with that of Bond. This article not only is evidence of the disagreement, but it also is evidence of the base language used by writers when speaking of these musicians, not in terms of their quality music - but rather using phrases like, "so smok…

Three things modern opera companies need to consider

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I don't know if anyone is listening to my posts, or if just great minds think alike... But there is a shift in the opera world, one I've been talking about occasionally on the blog. Rufus Wainwright won't be composing for the Metropolitan Opera in New York because it takes too long (and they want it in English rather than French). Daniel J. Watkin of the New York Times reports the Met insisted the opera be in English and wouldn't be available for performance until at least 2014. Wainwright responds, “They work on that sort of scale; I wanted to get it out as soon as possible, because I’m an impatient pop star.” The opera is now slated to premiere at Manchester International Festival in England next July.I find this new interested on three levels. 1. Opera needs to be more responsive
It can do this by getting new works out to the forefront faster than the typical 4-6 year schedule. Obviously Manchester International Festival gets this.…

Listening to Classical Music

I try and not normally promote any specific sites or businesses. I certainly don't get paid for any advertising and don't think blogs are necessarily the right place for product placement. However....Naxos is a great source for listening to classical music in a try before you buy senerio. In my recent researching of violin concertos, I have had the opportunity to listen to the following concertos over the past week:Tchaikovsky (Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35) Mendelssohn (Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64) Elgar (Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61) Barber (Violin Concerto, Op. 14) Dvorak (Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53) Prokofiev (Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 & Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63) Miaskovsky (Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 44 ) Vainberg (Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 67 ) Shostakovich (Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 99 & Violin Concerto No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129) Sibelius (Violin Concerto …

Getting a Younger Audience into Opera

According to Marcel Berlins of The Guardian the National Theatre is trying to gain a younger audience by offering £5 tickets to those under 19 years old. He goes on to report the Royal Opera House is doing much the same. It is only toward the end of the article where he describes an advertisment for Don Giovanni with cut-rate tickes that resulted in a soldout house within hours. The headline in the paper was "Sex, death, booze, bribery, revenge, ghosts. . . Who said opera is boring?" Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Somehow, promoters think the price of tickets to opera is prohibitive and thus the reason the youth don't attend. T in the Park tickets are well into the hundreds of pounds, so why isn't that cost prohibitive? This festival is always a sellout, as is the Glastonbury. The young aren't attending opera because it doesn't attack them. Regardless of what the headlines read, for most of the younger generation opera …

Pondering "The Enchanted Wanderer"

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Last night, Valery Gergiev conducted the Mariinsky Opera and Orchestra in the UK Premier concert performance of "The Enchanted Wanderer." The opera was composed by Rodion Shchedrin in 2002 for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with three performers in multiple roles. While the performance was performed in Russian, the libretto was printed in the program, with extensive notes as to the story and concept of the work.The music is lovely, moving and while very Russian in tone and color, very modern with extensive use of percussion. At the opening there are bells, indicative of Russia and they start so softly it is almost impossible to tell when the piece begins. This same tonal color ends the piece as the bells fade into the distance leaving the listener with a haunting memory of bells echoing in the silence. Add bells, gongs, chimes, a glockenspiel, a celeste, a harp, a balalaika, gusli, a harpsichord and chorus to a double wind orchestra and…

Artists without Borders

That is how the Edinburgh International Festival billed their selection of works this year: "Artists without borders. Festival 08 reflects on an evolving Europe"They didn't know how significant this title would be back in March and yet, Valery Gergiev, who grew up in Vladikavkaz North Ossetia, conducted a performance of Prokofiev's Semyon Kotko Act 3 last night - the story of a Ukranian town in 1918 under German occupation where the brutality of war is on display. Valery Gergiev is conducting a differnt concert tonight at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre with the Mariinsky Opera and Orchestra. Valery Gerfiev is the same conductor I spoke about in my post on the Music of Politics. Tonights concert is Rodion Shchedrin's opera The Enchanted Wanderer. You can find a synopsis here.For more insight into Gergiev's view of the events in South Ossetia click here.

Things I didn't know about John Williams

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Every now and then I come across an article on the Internet that is fascinating, informative and fun. This one by Andy Merey is just that - interesting tidbits about John Williams, the film composer.The article then encouraged me to return to IMDB.com for reference... There is a long history of composers learning from other composers and John Williams seems to continue this trend as he worked with a number of greats in his early days. I think what surprised me most was his pop composition work. But then again, he's a great film composer, so I guess it really shouldn't surprise me.For more on John's (or Johnny's) early days, Wikipedia has a nice write-up. Of course, there is always the Official Site which lists a great deal of music that isn't film music. Where does he find the time?
John Williams

Is "English" Classical Music dead???

Steven Pollard, of the TimesOnLine wrote an article "The day English classical music died" He starts off by siting a couple of fairly unknown composers, and then a couple more only slightly more known composers - then goes on to speak about Ralph Vaughn Williams as the last great English composer. He justifies this statement by speaking to the direction composers post Williams took in terms of music. He derides them for writing for small clique audiences who were/are more interested in music theory than they are in melody. (Ok, certainly the Darmstadt School and Serialism took a turn away from popular music toward more intellectual forms) However, I would suggest this was a natural evolution of music - albeit not one I find particularly successful, but still, one that was a necessary direction as composers and musicians strive to find something new in a world dealing with the aftermath of 2 world wars. As the Europeans moved further in this direction, American composers move…

The Music of Politics

Earlier I posted a call for more fluidity in the Classical Music world, to allow for new works and responding to events of the day. I wasn't necessarily talking about responding to current events, as in news topics of the day - but that would certainly seem to apply.In a world where news travels about the globe in the matter of minutes, people respond to situations with the same speed. So, even before the US started bombing Iraq in 2003 composers were writing music protesting with the statement "Not in my name." In 2001, when the Trade Towers fell, numerous compositions surfaced lamenting the loss of life pulling the world together, looking for answers and bonding people together across borders in search of hope amid the ashes. Music has been used for both protest and support of governments for years. Beethoven's 3rd symphony was initially suppose to be in support of the great liberator Napoleon, but when Napoleon named himself emperor, Beethoven ripped off the …

Film Composers in the Concert Halls

Variety posted an article by Jon Burlingame on how film composers are making their way into the concert halls, with commissioned works. Glad to see this concept is getting press, but they could have printed one of my articles on the same topic weeks ago...
New Directions in Opera
Elfman at the Ballet
Film Industry gets hold of Opera to name a fewThen again, maybe Jon read one of my articles and opted to write one of his own.

Learning to compose by listening to other composers

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At TimesUnion.com, Joseph Dalton reports on an upcoming concert in Philadelphia which will feature a piece by Jennifer Higdon, Concerto 4-3, a 30-minute work for string trio (soli of two violins and double bass) and orchestra, completed in 2007. It was intitially premiered by Time for Three and The Philadelphia Orchestra on January 10, 2008. The trio, Time for Three, is typically considered pop performers, with the players coming from Jazz, Bluegrass, folk and hip hop. This concert gives them the chance to blend their style in a classical venue. Higdon was the teacher in theory and composition at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia when Time for Three were students. So, there was already a relationship established when she began the composition. The piece was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the musical director, Christopher Eschenbach, specifically for Time for Three. While I have not heard the piece yet (it is available for downl…

Russian Violin Concertos of the 20th Century

Yesterday, in further researching of violin concertos, I listened to a couple performed by Dmitry Yablonsky with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Nikolai Myaskovsky's Violin Concerto in D Minor (1933) and Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Violin Concerto in G minor (1959).The first movement, Allegro ed appassionato by Nikolai Myaskovsky is extremely lyrical. There are a number of moments where the violin rises over the accompaniment in a very Tchaikovsky manner. The cadenza section in the middle has some very interesting double stop elements, where the violin is almost dueting with itself. Then, when the orchestra reappears, the virtuosic movement across the strings is done at a blistering pace. Later, as the movement comes to a close, the piece turns to a rich majestic sound of the orchestra. The "Russian" sound of this violin concerto is very evident and lovely, if not particularly modern in sound. Myaskovsky's second movement, Adagio molto ca…

Strings with Sex attached

Often I have mentioned ways in which Contemporary Classical Music needs to change in order to gain a larger share of the modern audience. And yet, there are some aspects of the modern marketing approach that I'm not sure are all that beneficial. It's working, but at what cost?Sex - that's right, sex sells. It always has (and always will). For years the pop industry and put scantly clad females on display, regardless of the relevance to the music - because a bit of female flesh gets the attention of the male audience. Attention leads to sales and therefore profits. Now, it seems, classical music is taking a page (or three) from this book. The Electric String Quartet is a group of 4 women, all very shapely, and if not quite size Zero, certainly very slender and easy on the eyes. Their music is classical, with electronics. They are reported to be some of the best string players in London, and certainly they are good; their shows are very entertaining - and they de…

Applauding between movments

There are lots of people that think you shouldn't - but I'm not one of them.and to support this opinion is a snippet of a conversation between Hilary Hahn and conductor Eiji Oue (found on HilaryHahn.com)"Q: Applause between movements (sections of a piece) in a concert?
A: Well, I think it's great. You know, if the audience is genuinely excited, and applause breaks out, that's good. I figure that if genuine emotion leads to applause, then why not.There are a couple of stories to illustrate this:A few years ago, a conductor performed Beethoven's 7th Symphony, and the audience was very enthusiastic. They applauded heartily after the first movement, but he was so upset by it that he turned around and stopped them. After the second movement, there was a small spattering of applause; he turned around and stopped them again. After the third movement, the audience was very tentative. And finally, after the great, rousing ending of the last…

Writing a Violin Concerto

A concerto is typically "a three part musical work in which one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra." 1 Each movement should showcase a different emotional journey for the performer and the instrument - and yet be related in some way. The path I am taking is writing the piece for solo violin and chamber orchestra. The movements will be: Molto Allegro - dark, tragic and perhaps a bit ominous Poco Andante - a lament Presto - frolicking I'd like to say the piece is has a tonal center of C, but I tend to be a bit more fluid in my approach to tonal centers, so saying it is in the key of C is the best way to describe it. However, saying that, neither Philip Glass or John Adams identified their violin concertos with a key. The key of C isn't typical for a violin concerto. The major and minor keys of D, A and G, with the minor key of B and major key of E tend to be more common. However, Saint-SaĆ«ns did write one in C majo…

What it takes to be a Classical Music Composer

I sure this question has been answered by many an educator, and pondered by many a composer. In the process of learning to become a composer there are a number of things budding composers are exposed to in order to facilitate learning the art of composition. One of the reasons so many composers list who they have studied with is to demonstrate what arts they have been exposed to. If, one of the tutors is a famous, well respected composer, the exposure of how to write great music is far more likely than if no one on the list of composers is anyone of note. It also adds a certain amount of cache to the budding composer, as if something of known composer might rubbed off in the process. However, just being a good composer doesn't make the person a good translator, or educator in the arts. And, there are some very fine tutors who understand the art, but for any number of reasons haven't yet translated it into their own work. But none of this is …

Violin Concerto

I am in the process of writing my first violin concerto (amid all the other projects on my plate). This came about when I woke up the other morning with a good portion of the piece formed in my head - and haven't been able to get it off my mind since. So, I figured I'd best get it down as obviously that's where my "muse" wants me to go.When I write a piece, I tend to do a fair amount of research into other like pieces from other composers - to really get a sense of the medium and create a jumping off place. Well, in this process I studied the concertos of Beethoven, Debussy, Szymanowski and Glass. I figured this would be a nice broad spectrum of pieces from early romantic to modern. What surprised me initially is the similarity between Szymanowski and Debussy's work, and the similarity between Beethoven and Glass. The 1st movements of the violin concertos of Szymanowski and Debussy have a variety of themes. Beethoven and Glass use layers of simplicit…

New Directions in Opera

If you've been reading the opera posts on this blog, you'll notice that the directions we're taking with "It Must Be Fate" are those classical opera hasn't previously explored - Looking at other industries for style, focus on characters and then leveraging new markets. Well, we're not alone. "The Rake's Progress" was done with a focus toward the film industry, with many effects more common in film than on stage (in opera). "The Fly" opened in Paris (early July) - a remake of an old film but only in terms of structure and basic storyline. The libretto is wholly new with a focus on characters. Now there is "Baywatch: the opera" which is a project to bring opera to the masses. Each production took a very different approach to the opera art form. "The Rake's Progress" was mounted, in many respects, like traditional opera, although the artistic design has numerous new elements. "The Fly" was the…

Another Reason Classical Music is suffering popularity in our Modern World

Most symphony orchestras, even amateur ones, solidify their schedules for the season (Sept through May) by March the previous year. Professional orchestras will have their schedules sewn up a year (or two) beyond that. This includes commissioned works and premiers - so works that have yet to be heard anywhere else. Operas can take anywhere from three to five years from the point of first work to first major production. There may be workshop performances of the opera, portions of the opera performed to determine what works and what doesn't, but the full opera won't be performed for at least three years after serious work is started on it. Chamber works can be a bit more flexible, with new works appearing in concerts within six month of conception. Even then, a composer trying to get a new string quartet performed by an established ensemble will find the ensembles schedules booked well into the next year (very similar to that of an orchestra). They may not get to inc…

Gustavo Dudamel is making waves...

...and I hope I am the kind of surfer that can ride them! It looks to be a great ride!A review of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian this morning speaks highly of Gustavo's approach to conducting classical music. The points she highlights as elements of his style are in many ways elements I have been ranting about on this blog for months - albeit, he's approaching it from the podium and I am coming from the vantage point of the score. Rethink the hierarchies of the symphony orchestraThis is important in understanding new ways in approaching how the orchestra makes sound. Certainly there are composers who have sought the same thing. Xenakis certainly brought a new understanding in orchestral sound - but when looking at a standard orchestra with fairly standard looking music it is still possible to bring new colours to light by approaching the orchestra in sections, rather than as individuals.Remember: it's supposed to be fun.Ab…

Studying Beethoven

Recently I have posted a couple of bits of analysis on modern composers and their music. Anton Webern, perhaps not quite current (having died at the end of WWII), and Brian Ferenyhough (who is certainly not only current but still at the forefront of what's happening in music). I've also stated (in other posts) that I'm not particularly a Webern fan; his music isn't something I would choose to listen to. Ferneyhough might also fall into that category, although I find more in his music which I enjoy than I do with Webern. Even with this preference to not listen to their music, there is a great deal to be said for studying their compositional styles, which is why I did the analysis. Beethoven, on the other hand, is one of those composers pretty much everyone agrees is among the best composers to have ever lived. I have studied his works too, but oddly enough I have not studied any of his symphonies. During my courses at university, we did gloss over the 3rd, 6t…

The Art of String Quartets by Brian Ferneyhough

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When an artist sets paint to canvas, there are brush strokes used for different effects. Sometimes those strokes are subtle, imperceptible; they produce works of art like the Mona Lisa. Other times the very obvious nature of the stroke is the art, as in works by Van Gogh. With some composers of music, the notes on the page are their craft. How those notes translate into an aural experience is what defines some composers as great artists. Brian Ferneyhough has a masterful command of the techniques of putting notes on the page. These techniques are sometimes so subtle, even though written in black and white, they escape detection. Some of what he attempts with his music is just that, to escape detection, to bury the framework, diverting the ear away from the structure, so only the music is heard. The subtlety is so fine it is almost imperceptible. Even though he studied at several institutions, he is considered self-taught, studying scores from Boulez, …

If it's good, turn it into a symphony

San Francisco Opera premiered a new opera from John Adams in 2005, "Doctor Atomic", an opera about the Atomic bomb physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his Manhattan Project team in the New Mexico desert. This opera, unlike anything ever done (according to John Adams), has received numerous critical acclaim and helped earn Mr Adams Operas highest award. The haunting music of the opera is so good, Adams has turned it into a symphony which premiered at the Cabrillo Festival on Saturday. Howard Shore won 2 Academy Awards for his score for the "Lord of the Rings" films and the result? You guessed it, a symphony. Shore also recently premiered a new opera "The Fly" in Paris and wrote a piece to commemorate Macy's 150th Anniversary.This concept of turning previously popular material into a compact symphonic version (although Shores "Lord of the Rings" symphony is still 2 hours) is hardly new. John Williams did it with his score …

Story vs Plot

As I create the major story arcs and plot lines for our opera I have been doing alot of reading on the subjuct, and I came across this article about George Lucas that I read with interest. The writer has identified a problem with Mr. Lucas's output that I believe is shared by much opera writing. She says: But what, exactly, is he? Visionary? Businessman? Gearhead? Showman? All those things, and probably much more. But it's time to admit it: He's not a storyteller. For all of Lucas's command of myth, symbol and sweep, the nuances of narrative still elude him. Opera is the master arena for Myth, Symbol and Sweep, but where does story fit into it? Ms Hornaday goes on to say: ...the difference between plot and story may seem arcane, it's quite crucial: The plot is merely a sequence of events, whereas a story limns those events' deeper motivation and meaning. The plot gets characters from point A to point B; the story makes us care. That is the crucial factor I a…

Classical Music needs to get off it's high horse

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There is an article in The Australian by Susan Chenery about Andrea Bocelli. Much of the first part of the article speaks of Mr Bocelli's struggle without sight, but midway through the article turns into an examination of the musical world Mr Bocelli lives in - a world of Classical Music which, in many respects doesn't respect him.There is quote after quote of musical snobs who critique Mr Bocelli (IMHO) mercilessly. They attack his ability, they attack his styles and they attack the idea that millions of people are listening to classical music because him. It sounds as if they resent him - as if they are jealous of his fame, his success. Many of the comments made about his performance quality are to some extent correct. But if you go to one of the (many) minor professional orchestra concerts, or semi-professional opera companies (let alone the amateur ones), you'll find many of the same "problems", lack of precision, intonation and style. These are still …

Elfman at the Ballet

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PROPS: Conductor Ormsby Wilkins, center, who led the Pacific Symphony in the West Coast premiere of Danny Elfman's score for "Rabbit and Rogue" Wednesday night, takes a bow Perhaps I should start off by saying I am not necessarily a fan of Elfman's music. Some of his stuff is pretty good, like what he did with "Spiderman" and "Edward Scissorhands". And then there is stuff like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Hellboy II" which fell flat (IMHO). He has lots of talent and certainly has a way with tunes, but, by his own admission, there are two composers living inside his body and they don't get along. Danny Elfman's most recent musical expression is a ballet with Twyla Tharp creating "Rabbit and Rogue". Reviews are coming in from a variety of sources, but they seem to have a common thread - interesting, but scatters, a nice attempt, but lost in focus.Timonthy Mangan o…

Friday Humour - a different look at Classical Music

Igudesman & Joo have been around since 2004, but they're still funny - and they have a DVD out now.But if you haven't seen some of there videos, here's one of my favourites on YouTube.

Webern and his Melodic Motivic Development in Early Atonal Music - part 4

part 1
part 2
part 3SummaryFrom classical training and influences to the initial exploration of atonality, Webern explores his new world using tools from his past. However, because he is exploring new sounds in atonality, he ends up creating new worlds of music. Through analysis we can see his classical background echoed in his development of motivic material, migrating from one motive to the next, making variations to the motives, but also retaining elements while moving forward. Yet, in his use of harmony we see him break from tradition. Rather than create tonal centers or chord migrations, the pitch sets he uses end up being more melodic in nature, sometimes using subsets of the melody and other at other times using complementary sets. The harmonies move like his melodies and occasionally foretell what is to come melodically. At the end of each movement, harmony and melody combine to create the final culmination, each dependant on the other t…