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Showing posts from September, 2008

Never enough time

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The holiday is almost over and I didn't make it to San Francisco to see any of the opera offerings. *sigh* The one I wanted to see the most, "The Bonesetter's Daughter, was sold out on the only night I could make it. We tried to free up a night to see the Verdi, but schedules just didn't allow.I was going to work on the Violin Concerto this trip as well and other than a few hours on the flight over this didn't happen either. What I did get to do was talk to a number of people about current and potential future music projects, so I guess I did get some networking in. This wasn't really on my agenda, but I suppose, if I'm gonna be serious about working in the industry it sort of always needs to be.Anyway, I'm preparing for the 14 flight home and should be back to regular posting in a couple of days. Sorry for the lack of recently - but I have been on holiday - and, as you can see by the picture, I was pre-occupied.

Music from Different Traditions

There is an article by Marijke Rowland in the Modesto Bee which is a conversation with Branford Marsalis. Much of the dialog is devoted to the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos and the influence of Brasilian music on his classical compositions. Branford brings up an interesting point: we often think of Russian composers influenced by peasant music as classical. Bartók, Dvořák and Kodály were influenced by Eastern European traditional music, as Elgar and Vaughn-Williams were by English folk music. Heitor had grown up with Samba music which had a huge influence on his musicThis article made me think about my own influences. I grew up playing trombone in a variety of big bands, playing everything from classical Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller to more recent composers like Chic Corea and Chuck Mangione. In concert band and orchestra we played other "classics" from Beethoven to Bernstein. We didn't play any of the more "radical" composers, like Schoenberg or Messian, …

Opera Rock - rather than Rock Opera

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Numerous groups have taken Mozart and Beethoven and "rocked" the house, using the music of these (and many other) classical music composers and turning them into screaming Rock tunes, with driving beats, amazing effects and state of the art electronics. When I was growing up the Electric Light Orchestra was just one of these groups. Now a number of string quartets are doing the same thing (see posts about the Electric String Quartet or Bond).It seems the East Village Opera Company is taking "Bach, Handel, Verdi and others as a launching point to re-imagine these arias as rock epics," according to David Burger from the Salt Lake City Tribune. Their site (linked above) has several video examples which ends up sounding more like Queen than opera (or maybe Queen is really just the first versions of opera gone rock). I can't say as I think they've hit the mark with the transition - but I like the start.With our own opera, "It Must Be Fate", in pro…

Teach the young music

Teaching music in schools is not a new concept. When I was growing up in Denver, there was an after school program in elementary school and both a jazz band and concert band in middle school (jr high school) and high school. But by the time my kids were in high school the band was an after school program with nothing for the younger kids (unless parents wanted to send their kids to private lessons). The US was in an age of "why pay for arts education, when kids should be learning the three R's 'read, riting and rithmatic'" (mis-spellings intensional). It seems it wasn't only the US. Julian Lloyd Webber speaks about the same thing happening in the UK during the 1990's. He also speaks about how the trends is shifting back toward music education. With the success of Venezuela's El Sistema, and China's own music for everyone programme (albeit their focus is to promote a more stable politic base) it's not surprising the world is taking a loo…

Juggling Composition Time

I am not yet an established composer, so I have to continue to work my day job. Philip Glass worked his “day job” for years even after the success of “Einstein on the Beach.” Esa-Pekka Salonen was more fortunate having to juggle conducting with composing and yet, has stepped down from the LA Philharmonic to allow himself more time to compose. This sort of struggle to find time to compose is nothing new. Mendelssohn struggled with composing verses conducting for much of his life (although he tended to favour the podium to the pen). Most of the time, I compose in the evening. If I can get a little composition work done each day to keep up the habit of writing, I find the discipline helps keep the writing successful. This does, however, impact my evenings. Fortunately, I opted to have a family early. My kids are grown, so if I spend my evenings composing, the time is not taken away from spending time with my children as they grow. Of course, I still end up taking time away from …

Bringing New Music to Opera

Many links are to YouTube videos to give you an idea as to the sound of each operaPhilip Glass brought minimalism (and rock undertones) to opera with “Einstein on the Beach.” John Adams brought electronic music to opera with “Nixon in China.” Glass continued with his trademark sound with “Satyagraha” while Adams goes even further into the electronic world with “Doctor Atomic.” These were both composers who changed the sound of opera through the 80’s to the present. So what are they up to now? Glass has a new opera based on the novel written by Nobel Prize winner, JM Coetzee, “Waiting for the Barbarians” which is a leaner, slimmed down style from his previous works and yet still is firmly in his style. Adams also has a new work, “The Flowering Tree” which is heavily influenced by Mozart. Other operas are appearing around the world, also bring a new sound the stage. Howard Shore, best know for his sweeping orchestral scores of the “Lord of the Ring” films, attempted to bring a bl…

More Bones to pick in San Francisco

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It's getting lots of press, and that's a good thing. But this means it's sold out, which I'd like to say is a good thing except that I can't get tickets!!! Well, I could get a random seat here or there, but since I'd prefer to sit with my wife it looks as though we may have to call the box off on the day and pray there are late returns. *sigh*But this post isn't just about my attempt to get tickets too late. On the San Francisco Sentinel, the blog about arts in San Fran, Seán Martinfield raves about how wonderful the opera is, "Last Saturday night at the War Memorial Opera House, following a two hour and forty minute multi-zoned pursuit, THE BONESETTER’S DAUGHTER was cited for slamming the world of opera into a brand new era. With music of the spheres by STEWART WALLACE and a multi-faceted libretto by author AMY TAN"
more photos by Terrence McCarthyRichard Bammer, of The Reporter (Vacaville California paper), also speaks highly of it, "Wal…

New Five:15 - Opera in Scotland

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Scottish Opera is taking a new approach to creating new opera - Five:15, that is to say, five opera's each 15 minutes in length. Last year their pilot program was a huge success and produced some wonderful pieces. I am looking forward to their plans this year.They announced the collaborators for this year (performances next February) with some amazing names on the list. No, I name isn't one of them. However, considering I am still relatively unknown as a composer, I'm not even sure I made it on to their list of potentials. Looking at the bios for the people they did select (see link above) I'm pretty sure I wasn't on any list. Well, there's always next year.

New Sounds in San Francisco Opera???

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photo by Terrence McCarthy
Zheng Cao, left, and Qian Yi in the San Francisco Opera production of "The Bonesetter's Daughter." The Bonesetter’s Daughter opened in San Francisco this weekend and the reviews are out. Unfortunately, they are not as glowing as I’d hoped. The libretto by Amy Tan (based on her novel of the same name), is centred on three women, blending American and Chinese cultures. The collaboration between Tan and the music by Stewart Wallace. Stewart traveled to China on several occasions to learn about Chinese music incorporating a variety of percussion into the final score and creating a "wail of authentic Chinese trumpeting and the sizzle of exotic percussion." according to Alan Rich of Bloomberg.com.Mark Swed, a Times music critic, was complimentary of Wallace's music saying, "The sounds of Chinese opera pervade the entire work. Except in minor instances, the Chinese characters are portrayed by Chinese singers, and the swooping charact…

Taking the "Airs" out of Classical Music

One of the thing people claim about Classical Music is that it is elitist. Well, Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a humourous article on enjoying a night at the symphony. Symphony prep 101: Nothing to fear at classical concerts

It's no longer the fat lady singing...

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Appearance verses voice in the world of opera. The Independent weighs in on the topic with an article about the recent trend of opera to go with more svelte singers. Their list includes the slender Marina Poplavskaya,
the sultry Danielle de Niese,
the hunky Jonas Kaufmann,
the seductive Anna Netrebko,
and the sexy Erwin Schrott. Fortunately these vocalists are not just eye candy, but they can also hit the back of the house. As a theatre goer, I’m glad to see the visual part of the role is being considered and yet concern for the music is also still a strong consideration. The look of opera is changing, but the music is still important.

Learning about other composers

I like learning about other composers, particularly living composers. It’s rather like getting a sense about what the current trends are in classical music from the people writing in the industry. Several composers and I have started exchanging emails (on a not so regular basis) along with score snippets and comments of said snippets. But some composers are a bit beyond me to feel comfortable just dropping them an email. So, I rather depend on other ways to learn about the processes these composers go through when composing music. Philip Glass is releasing a book, ‘Glass Box: a Nonesuch Retrospective' is to be released on 22 September. I’ve put it on my birthday wish list, for any of you who might want to get me something for my forty-sixth birthday (10 October). Fiona Sturges, of The Independent gives a good preview of the book. It’s interesting the number of people Mr Glass has collaborated with. He’s worked with other famous writers as well as big name pop composers …

Conducting your own music

There is a lot to be said for conducting your own works. For me, this has a lot more to do with the learning process than getting the music performed correctly. Any number of great conductors can read a score and pull out nuances of the music the composer may or may not have realised existed. But by getting to rehearse the music, going over the various elements of the music in preparation for a concert, I gained a different perspective of the music. Prior to the first rehearsal of my Symphony No 1, preparing for the performance in June 2008, prior to preparation of the conducting score, I had to create the parts for performance. A full symphony (50 mins of music) with triple winds is a huge task. There are details in the various parts that aren’t necessarily included in the score. If a clarinet shifts from Bb to Ab or Eb, I had to make sure the transposition was done correctly, even though the score was concert pitch. Horns don’t typically like sharps (strings do), so there was…

Woody Allen branches out and blooms with Puccini opera

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Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles TimesWoody Allen directed the Puccini romantic comedy of "Gianni Schicchi" for LA Opera, which opened this last weekend. The reviews of his first attempt at opera are glowing, smelling sweet even though Allan himself felt he was probably not the best choice for director.Alan Rich, from Bloomberg writes: "With his biggest hit in years, ``Vicky Cristina Barcelona,'' in theaters now, Allen drew the crowds and if ``Gianni Schicchi'' came across at times like a signature Woody Allen farce-comedy -- recalling the glorious clutter of ``Bullets Over Broadway,'' say -- there was more than enough strength in Puccini's wonderful score to withstand the challenge."
Ronald Blum of the Associated Press said "More than most opera directors, Woody Allen pays attention to the small details that make a performance take off."
Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times wrote "a production of genius."
Anne Midgette of t…

Classical Music Downloads in the UK

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Always willing to promote the listening of Classical Music, I'm pleased with the news today of a new website for Classical Music lovers: PassionatoYou can listen to 60-second sample before you decide to purchase. The music is catalogued by Composer, Artist, Genre or Labels. I found it interesting their banner ad is from Naxos... There is also a blog which has a few articles worth a glance as well.UPDATEIt seems like this site was a good idea and yet is having teething problems.Tom Service, at the Guardian, is a Mac user and not have much joy with his downloads (as per his article). However, he speaks highly of it, so there's hope.

Improvising New Classical Music

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Maya Homburger: baroque violin
Barry Guy: double-bassSeveral months ago I wrote a couple of posts about incorporating improvised music into Classical music, Bringing Clasical Music into a Modern Age and Blending Expressions - Jazz and Classical Music. Incorporating improvisation into Classical music isn't strictly what these posts were about, but it certainly is an element. Yesterday, at the Globe and Mail, Tamara Bernstein did a review of the opening of Toronto's Music Gallery. Ms Bernstein speaks highly of both the concert and the concept of the performers usingimprovisation in the music to create a delightful evening. The music performed was from Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) and therefore 16th century music, but the performance, with improvisation felt fresh and alive.Perhaps the most telling comment of the entire article is, "I am convinced that if “classical” music is to survive as a vital art form, its students need once again to be trained to improvise, both in Bi…

Shore flounders in "The Fly"

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I was thinking that the original reviews of "The Fly" and the comments about his music might just be growing pains. That, once it had spent some time in Paris the music would have settled in and reviewers of the LA production might be glowing about it. But, sadly, this is not the case. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times writes, "But despite the inventive staging and all-out efforts of an admirable cast — especially the courageous performance of the Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch as Seth Brundle, the obsessed scientist who morphs into the hideous creature he calls Brundlefly — “The Fly” is a ponderous and enervating opera, and the problem is Mr. Shore’s music."
Ronald Blum of the Associate Press writes, "The music is accessible, melodic and lush, with pulsating chords and strings that shimmer eerily. But the arias fail to soar, with little differentiation in the music that accompanies them. When Veronica sings…

Working in the Music Industry

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There is an interview in The Guardian with Bryn Terfel, an amazing opera baritone from Wales. In it he makes some interesting points about the life of an artist, particularly one at his level of international fame. Several times he remarks on missing his family, or trading time with them for time on the road. He missed the birth of his first two children and feels the worst comment said about him was when he cancelled a performance to be with his son after an accident. Obviously family is important to Bryn. Hilary Hahn doesn't have a family (that I'm aware of) but she remarks about the difficulties of being on the road, away from home and friends. Willie Nelson sang about getting "On the Road Again" and certainly there is a love of the life of performing too. Bryn says the positives well outweigh the negatives. But they are still there.
Photograph: Eamonn McCabeI guess I'm feeling fortunate. Should life turn for me and I end up achie…

Bringing Opera to the People

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There is a lot of great opera being performed, but often it goes unnoticed by the masses. Opera is often considered too high brow for the common man. Well, there are a number of projects trying to change this impression.First of all there is Opera in the Park, in San Francisco. This has been going on for 35 years so it's nothing new. But they have upwards of 20,000 people silenced, listening to arias. What a great way to expose the beauty of opera to a broad audience. You can watch a video of some of it here.Another recent attempt at exposing the masses to Opera is the BBC's Maestro. This is actually a "game show" of sorts, where contestants via for a final prize of conducting the BBC Orchestra at the Proms Concert (quite a prize!). While they contestants have learned to conducts several forms of classical style music, this week they tackled opera arias. Not only do we get to hear the BBC orchestra, but we also get to hear some lovely moments by soloists Alfie Boe a…

Broadening Opera's Appeal

Anne Midgette, of the Washington Post, writes in some depth about what's right and wrong with opera today. She ponders what's missing in moderns opera as she examines a variety of pieces.Early on in the article she writes modern opera has "a sense of slight awkwardness with the medium, an uncertainty about just what an opera wants to be, and therefore a sense of, well, geekiness." I couldn't agree more. About Michael Nyman's "Love Counts" Ms Midgette goes on to say "...there is nothing gritty or true-life about the long swatches of expository text, which are not at all dramatic, or the way that the characters sing them. Opera is about emotion; this piece, despite its rather melodramatic aspects, ends up being about avoiding emotion, working out ideas rather than actually giving them dramatic expression." Other elements of opera Ms Midgette feels are problematic are: opera's emotional exposure verging on parody, few composers working…

More Reasons Why Classical Music Should Appeal to the Young

A recent study by Heriot-Watt University in Scotland suggests classical music listeners and heavy metal fans share vital character traits. According to the Daily Dispatch Online, Heavy Metal fans and Classical Music fans are the same across cultural lines in all aspects except age. The study was looking for characteristics of music lovers and found that across cultural lines, lovers of a typical type of music tended to be similar. Professor Adrian North suggests heavy metal and classical fans are united by a shared "love of the grandiose", which means that a Metal fan is more likely to also listen to Mahler than to Garth Brooks. The BBC goes more in-depth into the some of the research findings.

Applications for Masters studies

It's that time of year - when all the Universities and Conservatories start accepting applications for the Fall 2009 term. And so I've started applying.So far there are 5 on my list of hopefuls, but I'm always willing to consider arguments for adding another place to the list.Right now applications are in process for: in no particular order
    >The Juilliard School
    >Manhattan School of Music
    >Eastman School of Music
    >New England Conservatory
    >Yale School of Music
If you're an instructor at one of these institutions, I would like to hear from you in regards to why you might recommend your establishment rather than one of the others.

New Operas on the US West Coast

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"The Fly" is about to open in LA and there is a great deal of press being generated for its debut. Thomas Rogers from The Salon talks to Howard Shore about a variety of topics (mostly just to plug the opera, but comes up with some interesting comments).Shore talks about how "The Fly" is revitalizing opera. He doesn't feel he is alone in this revitalization citing the broadcasts by the Met and other new operas being produced. He also feels the music needs to be brought into a modern era. However, at one point he feels it will always be there and then says there is a need to keep it alive, but then, such discrepancies happen with live interviews. There are also comments (in the interview) about character and the importance for the composer to really understand the characters in order to generate a full evening of music. Speaking about the music, Shore talks about wanting to keep the story set in the 1950's utilizing music from the era, with influences fr…

Reading Music - a response to Julian Lloyd Webber

Julian Lloyd Webber writes in the Telegraph about the need for music students to learn to read music. One of his arguments is that a thousand years of music would be lost if it hadn't been written down - and that makes sense. However, in a modern world we have more ways than traditional paper and pencil to notate music. Musical Instrument Digital Interface (or MIDI) manages midi devices to create music and doesn't need the little black notes on paper; it's all done through electronics. Manipulating these midi devices likewise doesn't need some who understands the little black notes to be able to create music. All they need is to understand how to work a good midi program. Reason, by the PropellerHeads, is a piece of midi software that doesn't use standard notation to create music, and it's a versatile enough program to produce music of a quality to play on the radio. Cakewalk's Sonar (my personal favorite) is part recording software and part mus…

Performance Review: Dorian Gray

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Last Saturday we had the good fortune to attend the matinee performance of New Adventure's (Matthew Bourne's) Dorian Gray which premiered at this year's Edinburgh International Festival. I should preface this with the note that I am a Matthew Bourne fan. I have enjoyed his Car Man, Nutcracker!, and Edward Scissorhands immensely, and my family also has seen Play Without Words, which they say was fabulous. I am also a huge fan of Oscar Wilde - The Portrait of Dorian Gray is one of my all time favorite works so, naturally, I had high expectations of this production. For the most part it lived up to them. Mr Bourne has chosen to update the story, placing it in the present and drawing on the 'culture of celebrity' to highlight Dorian's narcissistic nature. This works extremely well and contributes mightily to the communication of the story's themes of 'the monster within'. It also makes the story extremely relevant and commanding. This is no 'Mr D…

Getting New Classical Music Heard

Earlier I wrote about Kenneth Fuchs, a modern classical music composer, and the struggles he has getting his music heard.William Weir, of the Chicago Tribute has written about Mr Fuchs again, with more information on his struggles. Mr Weir mentions after writing a piece, there is a great deal more work to be done - so much so it's almost a full time job. A number of interesting ideas are presented on other avenues people use to get their works heard, but it all boils down to this - getting one's music played is the composer's responsibility.That said, there are a dozen symphony orchestras currently looking at my first symphony and a half dozen quartets looking at my string quartet music. This doesn't mean I'll get played, but so far the responses have been mostly positive if not yet ready to make a commitment. Steve Heitzeg, an Emmy Award winner, has composed a new piece, Songs without Borders. It will be performed by the Daedalus Quartet at the 19 August cere…

Classical Punk or A Dolls House Rocks

Back in June Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls performed with the Boston Pops at EdgeFest. There is a video of the performance here. The best part of this performance is the crowd. The Dresden Dolls are a local favourite in Boston so many of the people in the crowd were fans of Ms Palmer and probably had never set foot inside Symphony Hall before.Yea!!! Getting people into a concert hall to see that orchestral music isn't boring or stuffyThe next best thing is the idea of a symphony playing music other than the classics... Ok, this is nothing new for the Boston Pops, whose primary function is to do just that, play music other than the classics. Or perhaps better put, they play classical music of a different sort - pop!In other news, the BBC is attempting to bring Classical music to a broader audience with a variety of "talent" contests. At first there was Operatunity, a programme which pitted opera singers against each other with the winner shooting to stardom and perf…

"A child of our time" felt tired

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On Saturday, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus (Christopher Bell as chorus master) performed Michael Tippett's "A Child of our Time" at Edinburgh's Usher Hall as part of the Edinburgh Internation Festival. I found it odd the festival chose to perform a piece by a British composer using American folk music, conducted by a Russian. Much of this years festival music and performers were from Eastern Europe, so the choice in conductor was not so strange. However, the choice of music didn't seem to fit. Mr Rozhdestvensky did not seem to struggle with the music, the tempo or any technical aspect of the piece. However, the orchestra played with a lack of enthusiasm that made me feel as if they were bored with the music, perhaps with the festival. The music needed to have a passion, a punch to it. Only on a couple of occasions was this passion evident. Mos…

Understanding Idioms

There is a point where a composer needs to understand the music they use to compose a piece. When Brahms wrote his Hungarian Dances he understood the folk music he was emulating. Dvorák not only understood the Slavonic folk music used version of Slavonic Dances, he also understood the music idioms Brahms was using so Dvorák music creates a comparible, compatible set. Bartók used Eastern European folk music as inspiration as well, but with a much different effect on the music. Still, the underlying understanding of the folk music is appearant. Michael Tippet was a fan of gospel music, negro spirituals and jazz, feeling these idioms would replace European folk music as the inspiration for future generations of composers. While I agree, I am not convinced Tippet truely understands the idioms of these forms of American folk music. On Saturday, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and the Edinburgh Festival Choru…