Showing posts from November, 2008

Update: Current Virtuoso Violinists

I'm not sure this list will ever be complete, but I will endeavor to continue to update when I find a violinist worthy to be called Virtuoso and performing on the world stage. Sarah Chang (pictured) is a Korean-American violinist, born in Philadelphia to Korean parents, she recorded her first album at 9. While I find her playing a bit overly sentimental, the pieces I've heard her play are Dvorák and Sibelius which both tend to the sentimental category, so I don't think what I've seen is representative of her ability. She's certainly won plenty of awards. Here she is playing Dvorák's Violin Concerto.Anne Akiko Meyers (pictured) performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11. (good grief, all these child prodigies). Her debut album was of the Samuel Barber and Max Bruch concertos, not a small feat. Here she is playing the first part of the Barber Violin Concerto.Realizing my list is dominated by women I thought I should include some men of note. Jiafe…

Hilary Hahn: An interview

If you've not been to Hilary's website, she writes travel updates, which gives some insight into the performer. However, SFist has an interview which also gives another aspect to the performer's personality. You can also see her answer some questions on her YouTube channel.

Updates: Composers and Violinists

Richard Termine for The New York TimesIn a couple of previous posts I mentioned conductor Lorin Maazel violinist Julia Fischer (albeit in separate posts). Vivien Schweitzer of the New York Times gives a review of their joint perfomance on Tuesday. The review speaks highly of Ms Fischer, "(she) plays with a remarkably sweet tone (evoking melting caramel perhaps) and long, refined phrases that have an operatic quality to them. She played the Mozart with expressive introspection in the Adagio and plenty of spirit in the Gypsy-tinged Rondo. Mozart did not write a cadenza for this concerto, so Ms. Fischer wrote her own, a highly effective piece featuring a dialogue between the upper and lower strings."Although the review was not skathing for Mr Maazel, it did say, "Mr. Maazel doesn’t seem to have been particularly influenced by historically informed Baroque styles...Mr. Maazel effectively conveyed the stately dignity of this work (despite a few unstately horn blunders), whic…

The Power of the Conductor

Several months ago I had the great pleasure of conducting the premiere performance of my 'Symphony No 1, Figuratively Speaking.' The performance was well received even if the recording of it shows the performance to be lukewarm at best. You might think, as composer, that I'd know the work better than anyone else - and, as a new work, you're probably right. No matter how well I knew the piece, I was still amazed at how much I learned about the music during the process of rehearsing/conducting it, so the conductor obviously has a different vantage point of the music than the composer. Some of the players in the orchestra gave me glowing marks for my performance - and yet, I am still an amateur conductor and (IMHO) the performance showed it.The Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra has performed numerous other concerts, tackling some very difficult music. Not all the concerts are amazing, but certainly the orchestra, for being a subscription ensemble, can be proud of the performan…

Broadening Horizons in Music & Art

There seems to be a theme to today's posts, broadening horizons. Reading the news today I came across an article by Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times about the conductor/pianist Daniel Barenboim. While the article is interesting in terms of illuminating who Mr Barenboim is, what Mr Barenboim says about modern musicians was far more poignant. “Rubinstein read Cervantes in Spanish, Dostoyevsky in Russian, Voltaire in French,” Mr. Barenboim said. “Music has become specialized today. There used to be a different notion of musical culture. I believe that Furtwängler genuinely felt — maybe he was naïve, but he felt that he personally could save German culture from the Nazis. He wrote about the introduction to Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony in relation to the Greek idea of chaos and catharsis. How many musicians think that way today? “A century ago the same people who knew Schoenberg’s music knew Kandinsky’s art. There was no separation. Rubinstein used to say that at the turn of the …

Why does new music have to be non-musical?

Ok, calling new music non-musical is not really fair, there are musical elements to the most atonal pieces by Webern, clustered conglomerations of Lutosławski, or the intense complexity of Ferneyhough. And (truly) I admire all of these composers...However, I do find it interesting that some composers and critics find music that doesn't push these kinds of boundries, that somehow 'returns' to tonal roots to be slushy neo-romantic and therefore tired and boring. Stravinsky, one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century explored numerous different styles and yet it was his neo-romanitic period which was contains his largest output. Messian explored a number of different styles as well, but felt his one serial piece was a failure (I agree) and eventually moved back to a more tonal style (although to call it neo-romantic is pushing the definition). Krzysztof Penderecki, who wrote "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" (1960), a thoroughly modern piece of music,…

Blending Pop and Classical: a way forward

If Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, considers pop music the dumbing down of our youth, then he really needs to take in more concerts like the one held at the MATA Festival. Founded in 1996 by Philip Glass, Eleonor Sandresky, and Lisa Bielawa, MATA presents pieces by young composers on a week-long festival, held each spring in New York City. The result is a blend of pop, classical, fusion, rock, electronica... et al. Allan Kozinn of the New York Times goes indepth in reviewing a recent performance by violist Nadia Sirota and the guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee. The festival is so successful this performance was actually an interval performance, one done outwith the festival's normal schedule and speaks of the popularity, the demand for this sort of concert. 'Mr Lee closed the program with “Sunrise From the Bottom of the Sea” (2005), an effects-heavy electric guitar work that paid homage to Jimi Hendrix, with passing nods to Jimmy Page and in a series of glittering trilled pa…

Comparing Violinists

I'm not sure such a comparison by a composer is a wise decision (because performers are the people who ultimately perform our music and comparing performers means one tends to be favored and so the other may feel slighted and 'less inclined' to perform comparing composer's works). But that said, this blog is all about discussing what comes to mind - and reviewing the various violin music I've heard recently it only seems natural a comparison of the performers styles would happen. So, here I go....
Hilary Hahn has several glowing comments from me about her playing. I've listened to most of what she has recorded and find her style fresh and energetic. She likes to attack pieces and plays some of the fast sections faster than her contemporaries. This is not done at the sake of clarity, because during the Szymanowski the clarity of notes is always present, and yet the notes seems to fly at inhuman speed. Although, I think her rendition of Korngold's Violin Conc…

Timing is everything - and I just missed the boat

Hilary Hahn is one of my favourite performers. While I've not actually seen her in a live performance, I have listened to most of her albums and find her approach to playing violin concertos (even those I'm not particularly fond of) passing wonderful. It only become more frustrating that I've not had the chance to take in a live concert yet. When she was in the UK earlier this year, I wasn't able to attend as I was in San Francisco. I was just back in the US again last week, but arrived back to the UK on Monday and guess what... Hilary is in San Fran this week!!! Not sure if I can make the premiere of her concert in Indianapolis next February to hear the premiere of Jennifer Higdon's Violin Concerto, but I think I'll start looking at tickets...

“Dumbing Down” the Music Scene: Classical vs Pop

In an article posted by Fiona Hamilton on The TimesOnline it seems, "Boris Johnson yesterday criticised the “dumbing down” of culture for young people, saying that they should be targeted with opera and ballet as well as hip-hop music and movies." When I first read this I thought, "Great! He's equating hip-hop and movies with opera and ballet," but sadly this is not the case.It seems what Mr Johnson is asking for is the arts world to not always target the younger audience with use of hip-hop music and movies, but to try and enrich their lives with opera and ballet. While his program in London will try and get more instruments into the hands of the young (pale in comparison to il Sistema program in Venezuela), Mr Johnson seems to feel hip-hop is somehow less an art form, or that movies aren't as cultural as ballet.Yes, there are some great works of art in opera and ballet. I am a huge fan of both. But to consider hip-hop less an art is to not understand…

Richard Hickox dies in Cardiff

Richard Hickox, 60, died from a suspected heart attack in a Cardiff hotel. He had just finished a recording for Chandos of Holst's Choral Symphony. He was scheduled to conduct a new production of Vaughan Williams' Riders to the Sea in November 2008.Hickox was contracted as Opera Australia's music director through 2012 and appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2002 Queen's Birthday Honours. His recording repertoire concentrated on British music, in which he made a number of recording premieres for Chandos Records. In 1997 he won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for his recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes. He was also President of the Elgar Society.

Broadway Musicals

What Musicals are playing on Broadway this year: "13" A young man tries to fit in. A new musical with a score by Jason Robert Brown. Bernard B. Jacobs. This was on a limited run of only 105 performances. Closing in January."Avenue Q" Love blossoms among the 20-something set — a group that includes puppets — in this very funny, adult musical comedy. Winner of the 2004 Tony Award for best musical."Billy Elliot" A young man in Britain's bleak coal country yearns to dance. A musical based on the hit film."Chicago" This Kander and Ebb-Bob Fosse creation is Broadway's longest running musical revival and deservedly so. "Grease" A revival of the venerable musical celebrating 1950s high school and featuring stars chosen during the recent NBC television reality series. "Gypsy" A powerhouse Patti LuPone stars as the mother of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee in a revival of one of the greatest of all Broadway musicals. "Hairspray

Analysis of other Violin Concertos

I was traveling this last weekend, and while traveling I took the time to further analyse some violin concertos from other composers. The process I used in the analysis really has three steps.
    Review the score (without listening)
    Review the score (while listening)
    Indepth elemental analysis of the scoreThe first step, reviewing the score without music is to try and identify, motivic elements, reoccuring themes and gesturers and a sense of style used by the composer. The second step is to reaffirm my initial thought on how some of the elements sound, but to also gain a sense of placement of elements with accompaniment. It's one thing to look at a score, but when listening other aspects come leaping out which aren't necessarily obvious in the score, although it's important to determine if these leap out because of the written music or whether the performer took liberties highlighting something that isn't there in the original. The final step is to try and…

Flamboyant Conductors of Classical Music

Why is it conducting tutors demand it be done is a stayed manner, flowing lines with the hands, but the body for the most part is to be quiet, while the most sought after conductors flail about the stage, stirring emotions in audience and performers alike? Martin Steinberg for Associated Press talks the styles of two of the worlds top conductors. Alan Gilbert, the New York Philharmonic in a commemoration of the 65th anniversary of Bernstein's first major triumph was described as, "Jumping and with big sweeping gestures, Gilbert ratcheted up the tension to near frenzy. He stabbed the air with his baton during its percussive punches, and when the music got suddenly quiet, he collapsed into a crouch. By the end, his dark straight hair was spiking above his forehead."In the description of Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel led the Israel Philharmonic in two works by Bernstein Martin Steinberg says, Dudamel's "long curly locks bouncing as he pirouetted on the podium. He danc…

Animals, music and the mind

According to James Randerson of the Guardian, "researchers have discovered that playing classical music to the animals reduces abnormal behaviours such as swaying, pacing and trunk tossing, although they said elephants don't seem to have a favourite composer." The point of the study was to improve the mental state of the animals in captivity. Mr Randerson's article goes on to site several other studies which offer suggestions that animals may be soothed by classical music but irritated by Heavy Metal. Ok, link this to the recent bits I've been reading out of Oliver Sacks Musicophilia regarding the portion of the human brain that deals specifically with music. It seems there is an element of the brain that not only deals with music, but can become significantly larger (more developed) in professional musicians. This leads me to believe we are inherently pre-disposed to music and (without considering religious connotations, Sacks is a self proclaimed Atheistic…

A Different Sense of Rhythm

Rhythms are one of the hallmarks of my music and yet one of the items that most people listening to my music struggle with. Needless to say, this is constant source of frustration for me, for while I hear the interlocking rhythms with ease and tend to thrill to the more elaborate form, most people who listen to it tend to comment at the endless cacophony of it. Well, reading further into Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks it seems "Eric Hannon and Sandra Trehub have reported, infants at six months can readily detect all rhythmic variations, but by twelve months their range has narrowed, albeit sharpened. Adults find it harder still to perceived 'foreign' rhythmic distinctions." So, the rhythms I was exposed to as a child may have been more intricate and of a foreign nature to what most of my listeners are used to. Like Bernstein and his use of latin rhythms in West Side Story, I enjoy Latin rhythms. However, I also resonate with Chic Corea and Dave Brubeck, whose jazz…

Types of Classical Music Composers

When I was studying music at the bachelors level, I spent a fair amount of time studying different styles of composers and their music. It fascinated me how the various romantic composers could create such very different sounds using much the same techniques. And yet, there were some composers who individually had a unique sound and yet could be 'lumped' together into a school of sound, a style of composition. Schubert, Schumann and Brahms were all romantic composers and yet have 'German' similarities in their music that are less similar to the French sound of Debussy or Ravel, the Russian sound of Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, or the English sound of Vaughn-Williams or Elgar. Later in my studies, when I was no longer studying specific composers, but studying the ways to analyze music, it occurred to me, much of the reason some composers shared a 'sound' was due to the way these composers approached composition. Schoenberg in his Fundamentals of Music Compo…

Playing a Violin Concerto

I am not a violinist. I've seen the violin played. I've even held one and scraped the bow across the strings, but I'm not a violinist in any stretch of the imagination. So, when I took to writing a violin concerto I leaned on a couple of good friends who play the instrument extremely well. IMHO composers have to do this in order to make the music truly organic for the instrument.That said, I had my first positive review of the first movement yesterday. Considering Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major a 10 in terms of difficulty, my own composition comes in at 7, which is right where I'd hoped it would be - tough but not impossible (not that Tchaikovsky's is impossible). My first movement cadenza has a number of double stops, only one is potentially an extreme challenge and that mostly due to the speed of the music. It's all possible, which is a good sign, and yet fairly difficult. As for performing the Tchaikovsky, the Silicon Valley Symphony has young Maestr…

Opera Update: For You - blog review

Previously I referenced some reviews about the new opera composed by Michael Berkeley with a libretto Ian McEwan. Here is another review, from the blogsphere.In the Dark was not particularly favourable with the music, "In the opening scene the composer Charles Frieth is taking a rehearsal, with him on stage conducting the orchestra in the pit. The tuning-up sounds are carefully scored - quite a challenge for a composer, I think - and it’s a very clever opening. This idea comes back whenever there’s a particularly manic episode (usually involving the deranged Polish maid Maria), the apparent cacophony from the orchestra mirroring psychological disorder on stage. That works well too, at least the first time. But this device is used so often that it begins to irritate."

Old Opinion, but relevant ideas

I hate saying this opinion written by Glenn Branca for the New York Times is old, since it was published in April 2007, but in internet/blog terms, that's ancient history. However, discovering it for the first time today, I felt compelled to answer her 25 questions.If you're reading this post, tag, you're it and I'll expect either your own 25 answers or a response to mine forthcoming.1. Should a modern composer be judged against only the very best works of the past?No, not against only the very best works. However, there is something to suggest a basis for criteria be setup using pieces of the past to determine quality in the future. For myself, my Symphony No 1 is not Beethoven, although I personally consider it in the realm of the first from either Ives or Shostakovich in terms of quality writing. Neither of their first symphonies are considered their best and I hope my first is not by best. Their first symphonies show talent and I believe that's what mine d…

Classical goes High Tech

It's nothing new to hear all about the new special effects for a major rock concert. U2 was filmed (in 3D) and the concert was over the top in terms of lights, effects, video and the like - and for what - music. Opera has a tradition for incorporation new effects techniques, from way back when and Weber wrote Der Freischütz incorporating demons from Hell to accompany his diminish seven chords. Well, another satanist story, Faust, hit The Met this week and, according to David Patrick Stearns of, "The stage was loaded with technology that's not unusual in France but is just now finding its way into U.S. opera houses." Earlier this year, The Fly opened in Paris with huge special effects, and then there was Robert Lepage's The Rake's Progress which was transferred to the early days of Hollywood and incorporated video screens and elaborate effects to set the scene. Doctor Atomic was also at The Met last month with less of the high tech splendor, but sti…

Arjuna's Dilemma: opera reviews

Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Tony Boutté as the title character in Douglas J. Cuomo’s new opera “Arjuna’s Dilemma,” which is having its premiere in Brooklyn.The modern landscape of music is filled with composers looking for new things. We've stepped squentially beyond the atonal world of Schoenberg, meditated our way through minimalism and been thoroughly confused with new complexity. Composers from Debussy on have looked toward other cultures to bring new ideas to music. Tan Dun's The First Emperor brings his Chinese heritage along with his education in European music to further blur the music landscape, while composers like Damon Albarn (Monkey King: Journey to the West) and Stewart Wallace (Bonesetter's Daughter) explore music in opera from the other side. Bollywood is encroaching into mainstream film world and now Douglas Cuomo, the composer of the jazzy Sex-in-the-City theme, has come up with a new opera which blends the Indian and Western music (particularly jaz…

It Must Be Fate - the opera preview performance

By popular demand I am posting the opera portion of the concert last June. This is very much a work in progress, so what you're hearing is a concert performance (piano/vocal) of the first half in a rough cut. We've already determined this portion of the opera needs some changes, but we were eager to get audience reaction. Now you too can add your comments to the music.The opening music (Weaving song)
I'm Bored
Boredom is Dangerous
Ascending Mt Olympus
Jarad's Lament
I am Clotho
Come back to the CaveThe mp3's were created at a fairly low level to try and keep the size manageable. However, due to the length, they are still fairly big. My apologies it took so long to get this posted, but I am still trying to get the video of the concert finalized so portions of it can be posted on YouTube. Enjoy, and feel free to comment. A synopsis of the opera can be found here. No, I'm not going to post the libretto.

New Clarinet Sonata

In my travels (mostly via email) I've been fortunate to meet a number of other composers and artists, some who read my blog, other's whose blogs I read. Occasionally, I get the thrill of see a work in progress which eventually becomes a published piece. Noah Potter is just one of those people who I've communicated with - and he's just published a Clarinet Sonata. I am proud to say I heard portions of it prior to publication. Although I doubt I had any influence on the piece, it is nice to feel as though I was there at the beginning, or at least before it was finished. You can hear some of Noah's other music on his website:, you listen to the Clarinet Sonata (and order a copy) at the BRS website.Congratulations, Noah!

Politics and Music

Let's talk politics for a moment - and not the politics of the US Presidential election, but that on the other side of the world, South Ossetia, Georgia and Russia. In August Valery Gergiev was about to conduct at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre with the Mariinsky Opera and Orchestra when Russia sent troops into South Ossetia to "repel" the army of Georgia. So, he opted to conduct a performance of Prokofiev's Semyon Kotko Act 3 on August 22nd, only days after the conflict began. Ever since, he's been criticize for using music with a political agenda, but, as I posted on August 23rd, music with a political agenda is nothing new, particularly for Russians (although Mr Gerviev considers himself Ossetian). The politics continue with an article in the New York Times, by Daniel J. Wakin. Valery Gergiev defends his actions and the accusations he was motivated by a close relation with Vladimir Putin (Gregiev say, "The two men are friendly but not friends").…

Repo raked over the coals

Wow, not everyone likes Repo: the Genetic Opera. I would normally just post an update as an addendum to a previous post, but these are so scathing I thought they deserved their own space - not everyone hated it.MTV:Thirty years after "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," there's nothing shocking about the third-hand decadence on display here. What really startles are some of the unexpected performers lunging around in the murk. What could Sorvino have been thinking as he blustered through the din, trailed by a long gray ponytail, belting out lyrics like "Maggots, vermin — you want the world for nothing!" And how did actual singer Sarah Brightman — Andrew Lloyd Webber's onetime wife and muse — feel about being tricked out as some sort of pop-eyed Elvira puppet? The songs aren't uniformly dreadful — one of them, "Seventeen," is a lively arena-punk anthem that Vega delivers with near Avril Lavigne-level energy — but the tunes are largely formless, an…

Brightman: New Directions or New Marketing

Sarah Brightman is the popular UK diva who's been around since late 70's singing songs of sweetness and light. Made internationally famous by marrying Andrew Lloyd Webber during her time performing Cats, she has released numerous albums as part of the Pop gone Opera vocalists Andrea Bocelli or Charlotte Church (not to be confused with Opera gone pop artist like Katherine Jenkins or Lesley Garrett). It's been a busy year for Sarah, what with two new albums and a role in a film (Repo: the Genetic Opera). With all this activity (and her age, she's 48 this year, so catching up with Madonna) the question begs, is this new stuff new, has Sarah done a 'Madonna' and reinvented herself? or is this just more of the same with a fresh coat of paint?
Repo: the Genetic Opera is a far cry from her time in Cats or Phantom of the Opera all though the voice is recognisable as Sarah. It's also possible to play snatches of the new opera opposite bits of Phantom and confus…

Modern Classical Music: What is it?

Photo is from the blog on, an interesting blog with lots of tidbits about music.Robert Knox of the Boston Globe wrote an article about an upcoming concert series by the South Shore Conservatory of Music. The article opens talking about how 'Classical musicians are often reluctant to program contemporary classical music because audiences tend to think that "contemporary" is a synonym for "difficult."' When he says difficult, does he mean difficult to listen to, difficult to perform or just hard to swallow that it is actually music?Mr Knox goes on to define difficult saying, 'While modern music can be "can be perceived as difficult" - harder on the ears, that is, than the well-loved Romantic music of the 19th century and the classical harmonies of earlier periods.' It's the harder on the ears that stands out. Certainly much of Anton Webern's later 12-tone pieces are a struggle for audiences as the harmonic progression is…