. Interchanging Idioms: March 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three NYC Poetry Month Performances for Lunatics at Large's Sanctuary Project

APRIL 8, 10 and 21, 2011

An exciting selection of established and emerging poets and composers have been commissioned by the New York City based new music ensemble Lunatics at Large (www.lunaticsensemble.com) to write works on the theme of “sanctuary,” which is a “sacred, holy place or a place of refuge.” After its multi-disciplinary opening performance at Weill Recital Hall on March 21, 2011, where Lunatics at Large recently premiered the five commissioned chamber pieces and poets read their Sanctuary poems (which were also commissioned by Lunatics at Large), the program is now being re-performed several times in actual sanctuaries (a church and a synagogue) in New York City and at WMP Concert Hall.

“The Sanctuary Project” features composers André Brégégère, Mohammed Fairouz, Raphael Fusco, Laura Koplewitz, & Alex Shapiro; Their music is paired with poetry by Rob Buchert, Joanna Fuhrman, David Shapiro, Yerra Sugarman, & Ryan Vine.

April 8, 8pm: Christ and Saint Stephen’s Church (www.csschurch.org), 122 West 69th Street, New York City
April 10, 7pm: Synagogue for the Arts (www.synagogueforthearts.org), 49 White Street, New York City
April 21, 7:30pm: WMP Concert Hall (www.wmpconcerthall.com/lunatics_at_large_series),31 East 28th Street, New York

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors for all April Poetry Month performances.

Colorado Symphony hosts well-known artists in a diverse April line-up

Itzhak Perlman, Jorge Federico Osorio, Andrew Grams, Juanjo Mena and Pink Martini among artists headlining April concerts

April at the Colorado Symphony features an array of concert events for all music lovers, including the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the virtuosity of violinist Itzhak Perlman in Denver. April opens with Classical Top 40, the latest installment in the Colorado Symphony's popular Inside the Score series featuring works by Ravel, Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Pachelbel and much more. The excitement continues with Carmina Burana – one of the most undeniably riveting and wildly popular choral masterworks in the repertoire. Then, the inimitably glamorous Pink Martini brings its unique blend of elegant cocktail-hour fusion – crossing genres of classical, jazz and old-fashioned pop – to the Colorado Symphony Pops Series.

April continues with conductor Juanjo Mena and pianist Jorge Federico Osorio – two luminaries of the Spanish repertoire featured in a truly beautiful concert program. Then, resident conductor Scott O'Neil and associate concertmaster Claude Sim unite for the "heart's jewel" of violin concertos – the Mendelssohn. Easter weekend features Wagner's Prelude and Good Friday Spell from Parsifal, with the sparkling concert centerpiece of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream. April at the Colorado Symphony concludes with Itzhak Perlman in concert, an event that promises to bring audiences to their feet.

Tickets for all concerts are now on sale at www.coloradosymphony.org and the Colorado Symphony Box Office: (303) 623-7876 or (877) 292-7979 or in-person in the lobby of Boettcher Concert Hall in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Hours are Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bass-Baritone Luca Pisaroni Makes Houston Grand Opera Debut with Role Debut as Almaviva in Figaro

An up-and-comer on both sides of the Atlantic, Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni will make his Houston Grand Opera debut in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro during an April 15-30 run that marks his debut in the role of Count Almaviva. Pisaroni has already made a name for himself in the opera’s title role, having been the Figaro of choice for three new music directors this season: Nicola Luisotti at San Francisco Opera, Philippe Jordan at Opéra National de Paris, and Franz Welser-Möst at the Vienna State Opera.

Switching roles in Mozart’s subversive comic masterpiece – from Figaro to his nemesis, the Count – is a “thrilling opportunity,” Pisaroni says:

“After 100 performances as Figaro, it will be so interesting to play his opponent. I love Figaro, and this role will stay in my repertoire for many years, but it’s time to explore the opera’s other major male character. Mozart wrote fantastic music for the Count. Especially the second act and the beginning of the third act, which are so rich in drama that I dove into the score all over again to study and explore all the different emotions the Count goes through in such a short period of time. I also see this debut as the first stone in my process of building the bridge between roles like Figaro, Leporello, and Guglielmo – which are closer to my personality – and the ultimate goal, which is Don Giovanni.”

Making his Houston Grand Opera debut is another exciting prospect, Pisaroni explains:

“Houston has such a great tradition as one of the most active opera companies in the country. It’s particularly impressive, the list of operas that were premiered in Houston – A Quiet Place, Nixon in China, Little Women, and Brief Encounter, to name a few. I hope to get the chance to participate in a project like this at some point in my career. Singing in a world premiere is one of the most fascinating musical adventures I can imagine.”

Born in Venezuela and bred in Verdi’s hometown of Busseto, Italy, Pisaroni has established himself as one of the most captivating singers of his generation – from his debut at the Salzburg Festival at age 26 with the Vienna Philharmonic under Nikolaus Harnoncourt to his successful run as Leporello last summer in a hit new production of Don Giovanni at the Glyndebourne Festival.

Tenor Stephen Costello Makes Two Role Debuts at San Diego Opera, Starting April 3

“A prodigiously gifted singer whose voice makes an immediate impact.” – Associated Press

Philadelphia-born tenor Stephen Costello has arrived on the West Coast for a month-long stay at San Diego Opera, where he will make two role debuts: the Italian Singer in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (April 3-12), and the title role in Gounod’s Faust (April 23, 26, 29 and May 1). Costello will be documenting his experiences with the company in an “Opera Diary” published by the San Diego Union-Tribune. The first of seven installments in the series is available here. Later this spring, Costello makes his Glyndebourne Festival debut as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (June 9 – August 4), and this fall he reprises the role of Percy in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, opening the Metropolitan Opera’s new season on September 26, 2011, in a new production featuring Anna Netrebko in the title role.

Speaking of the role of the Italian Singer in Der Rosenkavalier, which received its world premiere a century ago in Dresden, Costello observes: “The character has only about four minutes of music, but it’s some of the most beautiful music in the entire opera. So many wonderful tenors, including Luciano Pavarotti, have done this role at the Met and elsewhere, and I’m happy to follow in their footsteps.”

As Costello notes in his Union-Tribune feature, the role of Faust is an extremely important one for him – “a role I need to learn right the first time, because I will have many more in the future.” Asked how he prepares for an important role debut, Costello comments: “I approach the role from as many angles as possible: I study the score, research the text and original story, and listen to a bunch of recordings. I enjoy hearing how other tenors have approached the role. But however much I have prepared, everything really takes shape in rehearsals. How other people react and interact with you will have a huge impact on what you do and how you shape the character.”

As to the role of Faust itself, Costello calls it “brilliant,” but notes that much of the opera’s lasting appeal lies in part in the beauty of “some of the best duets in opera.” In San Diego, Costello will perform those duets with his wife, soprano Ailyn Pérez, who portrays Marguerite. “In some places,” Costello points out, “they actually call the opera Marguerite.” Costello and Pérez performed Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette together at San Diego Opera last season, and more recently at Opera Company of Philadelphia. A critic for the Associated Press reported, “Costello, winner of the 2009 Richard Tucker Award, is a prodigiously gifted singer whose voice makes an immediate impact. There's an unforced warmth and generosity to his sound, and his big aria, “Ah! Leve-toi, soleil!” ("Arise, o sun!"), showed excellent control over phrasing and dynamics.”

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Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena has chosen to pair two great impressionistic works which conjure dreamy images of the Andaluz region. Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio also performs solo works of Granados before the program concludes with Ravel's sensual ballet Daphnis and Chloë.

American Music Center and Meet The Composer, Two of America’s Leading New Music Organizations, Announce Merger Plans

American Composers Forum Will Assume Membership and Professional Development Services From American Music Center

The American Music Center (AMC) and Meet The Composer (MTC), two of America’s three leading organizations in the field of new music, announced today their intention to merge into a new advocacy and service organization. New Music USA will reach composers, performers, and listeners in all 50 states and project a more visible and audible profile for new American music all over the world.

New Music USA will operate in two broad program areas: grant-making and media. The media programs will embrace new media in its many forms as a vehicle for connecting musicians and audience members. The grant-making programs will build on the rich histories of support within each organization by working to galvanize composers, ensembles, and communities to create, embrace and disseminate the varied and vibrant new music of today. The American Composers Forum will take on AMC’s former membership services, addressing the stated desire of composers across the country for a single comprehensive membership resource.

Based in New York City, New Music USA is expected to open for business before the end of 2011 with Ed Harsh, current President of Meet The Composer, as its President and CEO. He will work in tandem through the end of the year with American Music Center’s President and CEO, Joanne Hubbard Cossa, who has already announced that she will retire in December.

The Met: Live in HD presents Rossini's Le Comte Ory in theaters April 9

The Metropolitan Opera’s new production and company premiere of Rossini’s final comic opera Le Comte Ory will be transmitted Live in HD in movie theaters worldwide on Saturday, April 9 at 1:00 pm ET.

Rossini’s vocally dazzling comedy stars bel canto sensation Juan Diego Flórez in the title role of this Met premiere production. He vies with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, in the trouser role of Isolier, for the love of the lonely Countess Adèle, sung by soprano Diana Damrau. Bartlett Sher directs the “lively, colorful and inventive production” (New York Times) and Maurizio Benini conducts.

“To holders of tickets to the live HD movie-theater broadcast of “Comte Ory” on April 9, I can say: Don’t worry, you’ll have a great time” wrote The Washington Post

Virgin Classics Releases Ebène Quartet’s Fiction in U.S. as French Foursome Heads to North America for Twelve-City Tour (Mar 31 – Apr 17)

The dynamic Paris-based Ebène Quartet begins a twelve-city North American tour next week with its debut at the Savannah Music Festival (March 31), hot on the heels of the release of its new Virgin Classics album, Fiction. On tour, the Ebène will play works from the great chamber music repertoire – including the quartets of Debussy, Fauré, and Ravel, heard on the group’s debut album, which won the coveted Gramophone Award – as well as music from Fiction, a program of 16 pop and jazz tracks boasting guest appearances by drummer Richard Héry and a quartet of female stars: Natalie Dessay, Stacey Kent, Fanny Ardant, and Luz Casal. The tour also includes debuts for the Ebène in Syracuse, NY (April 2), Storrs, CT (April 6), Philadelphia, PA (April 7), Montreal, QC (April 10), Indianapolis, IN (April 13), Urbana, IL (April 14), and Houston, TX (April 15). The quartet’s New York City engagements include an appearance at Town Hall (April 3); a performance chat at WQXR’s Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, to be broadcast and webcast at www.wqxr.org (April 4); and a return to Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall (April 8).

Described by the New York Times as “a string quartet that can easily morph into a jazz band,” the Ebène Quartet displays its genre-bending talent on Fiction, which features improvisations and arrangements of themes from film soundtracks, jazz standards, and rock classics. The Ebène takes on and transforms unforgettable tunes by the likes of the Beatles (“Come Together”), Astor Piazzolla (“Libertango”), Wayne Shorter (“Footprints”), and Charlie Chaplin (“Smile”), as well as the quartet’s already talked-about spin on “Misirlou,” a tune made famous by surf guitarist Dick Dale and by its inclusion in the film Pulp Fiction. Joining the Ebène are the dazzling French soprano Natalie Dessay (singing Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” and Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of your Life”), singer-songwriter Stacey Kent (singing Jobim’s “Corcovado”), and Spanish pop singer Luz Casal. The quartet’s members even do some singing themselves, with violist Mathieu Herzog taking the vocal lead in Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and all four performing a cappella in their rendition (en francais) of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” which has been a surprise encore for many of the group’s recitals in both traditional and alternative venues.

The new album takes the group several steps closer to its dream of re-inventing the string quartet genre. As one member of the ensemble put it, “In everything we have been willing to do musically – during all that time spent practicing Haydn, Beethoven, or Bartók – there has always been a concealed dream of improvising and creating a new approach to playing string quartet.”

The Cleveland Orchestra Announces 2011-12 Season

Franz Welser-Möst will begin his tenth season as Music Director

The Cleveland Orchestra has announced its 2011-12 season with Music Director Franz Welser-Möst. Highlights of Franz Welser-Möst’s tenth season with the Orchestra include opera-in-concert performances of Strauss’s Salome at Severance Hall and Carnegie Hall and a three-week festival featuring Brahms masterworks: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 and the Violin Concerto. Returning conductors and artists who appear regularly with the Orchestra will include Pierre Boulez, Mitsuko Uchida, and Artist-in-Residence Ton Koopman. Sean Shepherd, the Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow, begins his two-year tenure in the 2011-12 season.

Since becoming Music Director in 2002, Franz Welser-Möst has expanded the programming of The Cleveland Orchestra to include staged opera, led performances of Bruckner symphonies in the United States , Europe, and Asia , welcomed new audiences with Fridays@7, and returned the Orchestra to perform at public high schools, while raising the Orchestra’s standard of artistic excellence. He has established Cleveland Orchestra residencies in Miami , Lucerne , and Vienna , and will lead the Orchestra in a new residency at the Lincoln Center Festival this summer, in the first of three biennial appearances.

Mr. Welser-Möst’s recording legacy with the Orchestra includes four highly acclaimed Bruckner symphony DVDs and a Grammy Award-winning disc of music by Wagner. This season, Mr. Welser-Möst will lead The Cleveland Orchestra on their eleventh international tour together. Twenty-seven musicians on the roster for 2011-12, including Principal Cello, Principal Oboe, Principal Trombone, Principal Tuba, Principal Harp, and Principal Percussion, have been appointed during his tenure. Franz Welser-Möst is committed to The Cleveland Orchestra up to its centennial in 2018.

For more information visit: clevelandorchestra.com.

Global Music Effort Launches "Songs for Japan" Album on iTunes to Benefit Japan Disaster Relief

Proceeds from Star-Studded Album to Support Disaster Relief Efforts of Japanese Red Cross

In what stands as a major global music relief effort to benefit those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, over 30 of the biggest names in contemporary music have joined together for the worldwide release of "Songs for Japan," an unprecedented compilation of 38 chart-topping hits and classic tracks, available worldwide on the iTunes Store for $9.99 starting today (www.itunes.com/songsforjapan). Proceeds from the album's sale will benefit the disaster relief efforts of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Elias String Quartet: The Beethoven Project


“Having revealed themselves as superb exponents of Mendelssohn’s music, the Elias players now seem natural Brittenists, but the styles are not without their common features: clarity, economy, lyrical decisiveness, faultless technique.” The Sunday Times (London)

Now it’s time for Beethoven. Not only is this highly acclaimed quartet embarking on a three year journey to perform the complete cycle of Beethoven string quartets, but it is also inviting the public to share the experience with them via a dedicated interactive website, supported by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

The website, which is launched 30 March 2011, has been conceived by the Elias String Quartet to encourage a wider audience appreciation of these masterpieces, some of the most profound works in the string quartet repertoire. Rather than just hear the finished result on the concert platform, the Elias players are willing to share their immersion in study, analysis and discovery of Beethoven in a bid to demystify both the music and how they are preparing for this huge undertaking.

As well as regular blogs, recordings, video diaries of coaching sessions, rehearsals and concerts and an interactive forum (Your Beethoven), there will be contributions from seasoned professionals of the string quartet world. The Lindsay Quartet’s Peter Cropper, who has played each quartet more than 200 times over the last 30 years, launches the guest contributor page with a highly personal introduction to this remarkable body of work. Martin Saving, the Elias viola player, has launched the blog page with How Fast Shall We Play?, a considered view on the controversial subject of tempi and the metronome.

From 2012 the Elias String Quartet will begin performances of the complete Beethoven Quartets cycle at venues across the UK including Brighton, Southampton and Tonbridge, culminating in London for the 2014/15 season. In the meantime, forthcoming Elias String Quartet concerts featuring some of the early and middle period Beethoven works within recital programmes include London’s Wigmore Hall on 19 April, venues in Barnsley, Doncaster, Liverpool, Portsmouth and Whitehaven throughout May and June and the East Neuk Festival 2 and 3 July. Beethoven’s later quartets also feature in the 2011/12 season including Wigmore Hall and a Scottish tour.

Opera Colorado Announces 2012 Season "A Voyage of Discovery"

General Director Greg Carpenter announced plans for Opera Colorado's 2012 Season. Building on recent artistic successes, the new season reflects Opera Colorado's continued dedication to presenting traditional favorites of the operatic repertoire as well as a commitment to exploring new artistic territory.

"In recent seasons, our audience has expressed an interest in seeing less familiar and rarely performed works," Carpenter said. "We've seen great success presenting rarely performed works such as Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and Dvořák's Rusalka. In both cases, Opera Colorado presented the Rocky Mountain regional premieres of these masterpieces and audiences embraced them enthusiastically." In addition to a regional premiere of a contemporary work and a traditional Mozart favorite, the 2012 Season will feature a Verdi opera not seen on the company's stage for 27 years.

The company will also continue its tradition of introducing exciting new artists to the Denver community. The 2012 Season will include sixteen company debuts by extraordinary singers, conductors, directors, designers and a contemporary composer. This will also be Opera Colorado's 29th season collaborating with The Colorado Symphony.

Opera Colorado's 2012 Season will include a shift in the company's season calendar. The opera traditionally performed in November will move to March 2012. "By making this change in our performance calendar, Opera Colorado achieves both short-term savings and long-term advantages," Carpenter said. "First, we are excited to have a more compact season that will give our public more of a sense that the opera is truly in season. With our season spread out with a couple of months between performances, we lose the momentum a more compact season provides," Carpenter explained. The change in calendar will compact the season to a February, March and April/May time frame, providing the company with economies of scale not previously available under the old schedule. Carpenter continued, "During the country's recent economic downturn, it has also been important for Opera Colorado to economize in any way we can without compromising the quality of our artistic product. By moving our November opera to the March timeslot, we achieve savings that ensure Opera Colorado's long-term viability."

"The new approach to repertoire and changes in our calendar are a result of an intensive long-range planning process that has involved our Board leadership and extensive feedback from our audience," Carpenter said. "I believe these changes are vital for the fiscal and artistic health of our company."

Organist Paul Jacobs Appears on Pipedreams

Spring Tour, 11-12 Dates Announced

Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs performed Bach's magisterial Clavier-Übung III in November 2010 as part of Lincoln Center's White Light Festival. The performance, which celebrated the reinstallation of the 1974 Kuhn pipe organ at Alice Tully Hall, can be heard during the current week on American Public Media's Pipedreams. Pipedreams is a weekly national program hosted by Michael Barone and broadcast by more than 150 radio stations with listeners numbering around 250,000 and more over its website. The program can also be heard in full here. The show includes the pre-concert discussion with Ara Guzelimian, in which Jacobs talks about his love of Bach, the historical context of the work, and what he thinks about Alice Tully Hall's newly refurbished organ.

Jacobs' recording of Messiaen’s Livre du Saint Sacrement was released by Naxos in September 2010 and received a Grammy Award in the category of Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without an orchestra). This marks the first time in the history of the award that an organist has won this award. This newsworthy Grammy win comes on the heels of the release of Jacobs's third album, a recording of Copland's Organ Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony. The disc, which was released February 8, 2011 also includes Ives' A Concord Symphony. San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas said of this rarely heard repertoire, "The Organ Symphony was the first time Aaron Copland heard his own orchestration for big orchestra. Its power surprised him, and power is the essence of this piece. There are quiet, brooding mysterious sections. But it also packs a real punch, both in the kind of jazzy jaggedness that it has and also in the sheer massiveness of sound. We knew that as a companion to the mighty Concord Symphony we had to have something that would measure up. The Organ Symphony certainly does that. And Paul Jacobs delivers an astonishing performance."

Deutsche Grammophon Releases “Stabat Mater: A Tribute to Pergolesi” Featuring Anna Netrebko – Available April 26, 2011

The famed soprano is joined by mezzo Marianna Pizzolato and conductor Antonio Pappano for Stabat Mater and other works by the Italian composer

Opera superstar Anna Netrebko, who has recorded numerous chart-topping albums for Deutsche Grammophon, now turns her attention to sacred music for the first time on the Yellow Label with works by the Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi including his famous Stabat Mater. Netrebko is joined by mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato and maestro Antonio Pappano who conducts the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Deutsche Grammophon will release the album in the US on April 26, 2011.

Anna Netrebko has built a career singing in operas and on concert stages with unbridled enthusiasm and a rich voice on unusual beauty and color. Her roles have included both the comic and the tragic, and she fearlessly commands the stage in Russian, Italian and French repertoire. For her concerts in Baden-Baden in July, 2010, Netrebko decided not to perform Russian repertoire (her Iolanta in 2009 received dazzling reviews) or a recital of opera arias but instead a program devoted to a period with which she is not associated – the Baroque. She decided to concentrate on Giovanni Battista Pergolesi whose tercentenary was being celebrated in 2010.

For a singer who has been so closely identified with the heroines of Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi the choice of Baroque music could seem audacious. Netrebko eschews the pallor that can sometimes diminish the impact of Baroque sacred music and instead brings a historically informed but modern approach to these works. Her passionate and full-bodied performance brings Pergolesi’s music to life in a manner that is rarely heard as of late.

Marin Alsop Leads Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Song of the Earth, May 6-8

Program also includes Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony

Mezzo-soprano Theodora Hanslowe and tenor Simon O’Neill make their Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) debuts, under the direction of BSO Music Director Marin Alsop, in a performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (“Song of the Earth”) on Friday, May 6 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 8 at 3 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, and Saturday, May 7 at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore. Also on the program is Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, “Italian.”

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, “Italian” was inspired by the young composer’s trip to Italy. Commissioned by London Philharmonic society, now known as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the work premiered in 1833 in London under Mendelssohn’s baton. While many music critics classify it as one of his most perfectly conceived symphonic works, the composer was not happy with the work and continued to revise it until his death. The work was finally published posthumously.

In the summer of 1907, Gustav Mahler endured several devastating life events: his eldest daughter, Maria, died of scarlet fever, his wife Alma collapsed from the strain of this tragedy and he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition, which limited his beloved vigorous outdoor outings. It was the summer after these events that he completed his most personal work, Das Lied von der Erde. Based on Mahler Hans Bethge's The Chinese Flute, seven poems translated from ancient Chinese texts, the work fuses song and symphony creates opportunities for sections of the Orchestra to be heard as small chamber ensembles, highlighting the meanings of the poetry.

Conductor Cornelius Meister Makes BSO Debut Leading Brahms’ Second Symphony, April 28-30

BSO Concertmaster Jonathan Carney will perform Bruch’s Second Violin Concerto

Young German conductor Cornelius Meister makes his Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) debut leading the BSO in Brahms’ Second Symphony on Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m. and Friday, April 29 at 8 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore. Also on the program will be Mahler’s arrangement of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride Overture and Bruch’s rarely heard Second Violin Concerto, featuring BSO Concertmaster Jonathan Carney.

Johannes Brahms composed his ebullient and tender Second Symphony at the peak of his career. Brahms began work on his second symphony in the summer of 1877, while on vacation in a country retreat in Pörtschach, and later premiered the symphony in Vienna in December of the same year. Making his debut performance, the BSO welcomes young German conductor Cornelius Meister, who also holds the post of Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Max Bruch had a particular affection for the violin, though he himself did not play the instrument, remarking that the violin “can sing a melody better than the piano, and melody is the soul of music.” Bruch partnered with Spanish virtuoso Pablo Sarasate for the performance of his best-known work, his First Violin Concerto. Impressed by the singing quality of the Spaniard’s tone, he composed his Second Violin Concerto for Sarasate in 1878. This relatively unknown work’s unusual form stems from the composer’s efforts to program the work on the Carlist War in Spain, at Sarasate’s suggestion.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Performs Score to Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, April 15-17

The Gold Rush film to be shown in its entirety

BSO Music Director Marin Alsop leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the original musical score from Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore and Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 3 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The Gold Rush, the film that Chaplin repeatedly stated he wanted to be most remembered for, will be shown in its entirety on a screen above the orchestra.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush was nominated in 1943 for an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording for its musical score he created with the assistance of Max Terr. Previously, the film had been entirely silent, but among the edits that Chaplin made for the re-release of his favorite film was the addition of the music score. Set during the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, the film was one of the first of Chaplin’s classics to be converted into sound and has been on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 movies twice. It includes the hilarious “dance of the dinner rolls” scene.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Full of Sound and Fury: Connections between Mahler and Modern Metal

by Jess Albertine
Most critics are so prone to discussing this music in generalities that anyone unfamiliar with a particular composition would be led to suppose that it, too, was full of sound and fury signifying nothing. This is the stuff of living music.- Aaron Copland (paraphrased)

When studying classical music from before 1900, we are surrounded by an impressive amount of idealism. The music that makes up the bulk of commonly played repertoire comes from the Romantic era, which largely advocated what we have come to think of as Beethoven’s idealistic, heroic conquering of any obstacles. Looking back at it from a post-modern perspective, it seems strikingly naïve. How can we say the hero always wins, or that there even is a hero? We all saw what happened in the World Wars, Vietnam, the constant wars in Africa and the Middle East, and countless other tragedies. There were no all-conquering heroes there, and no way to win without taking more than a few hits along the way.

For the past 50 years, Americans in particular have looked for music that we could relate to, where idealism is met with sarcasm, and beauty is present alongside the macabre. As we become more open to discovering new genres of music, we hear a broadening range of styles on a regular basis. The common trends in the different genres that individuals can find enjoyable have some strong backing: in 2008, Professor Adrian North, of Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, conducted a study of over 36,000 people worldwide, looking at what personality traits were possessed by fans of different musical genres. “I was struck by how similar fans of heavy metal and classical music really are…. Apart from the age differences, they were virtually identical. Both were more creative than other people, both were not terribly outgoing and they were also quite at ease.” North also described classical and metal fans as revealing an avoidance of idealistic tendencies. “The darker side of human emotion is emulated by composers and heavy metal rockers alike. There is a definite cross-over.”

So how did classical music culture go from Beethoven the Hero to direct comparisons with metal culture, the embodiment of the anti-hero? The answer lies in the growing acceptance of social critique and music’s ability to critique its predecessors. As Europe became industrialized at the turn of the century, it became acceptable to question the world: women’s rights, working conditions, racism, Christianity, everything could be examined for faults, where before it was just How Things Were. Some cultural aspects stood against the changes, like the Catholic Church, trying to hold on to a disappearing world. But others, like music, shifted to become a stick being poked at society in general. Classical music became known as a genre that was willing to critique convention when the need arose. In this concept and others like it, we find strong similarities with metal.

After reading about North’s study, I started to wonder what else connects classical music with heavy metal on a level noticeable to fans. The topic is a key point in the understanding of how music reflects changes in society. Why do I, a classical flautist-turned-composer, get just as excited, in the same ways, about going to see Killswitch Engage as the Atlanta Symphony? What is it in the music that lets that happen? Now several years later, I discovered the classical music that best enables the study of these connections. Among classical composers, one in particular stands out as having the potential to resonate with both classical and metal listeners: Gustav Mahler, famous for possessing a tumultuous reception history, being a Jewish conductor in Vienna, and writing music that is intense, demanding, and dripping with enough irony to satisfy the most cynical metalhead.

Aaron Copland’s 1925 letter to the editor in the New York Times, “Defends the Music of Mahler,” shows one of the first critical views on the reception of Mahler in the US. It begins with the acknowledgement that New York critics think “Mahler, as a composer, is hopeless,” and that his music at times is “bombastic, long-winded, [and] banal…. What our critics say regarding his music is, as a rule, quite justified, but it is what they leave unsaid that seems to me unfair.” He goes on to describe things he deems admirable in Mahler’s music, including orchestration and a unique voice, in terms brief enough for the 22 sentence argument. Toward the end, he explains a point that, if a few nouns were changed as I did in the quote at the beginning of this paper, could just as readily describe metal:

That Mahler has on occasion been grandiloquent is undeniable, but I fail to find any bombast whatsoever in “Das Lied von der Erde.” Most critics, I believe, would agree with that statement. Yet they are so prone to discussing Mahler’s music in generalities that any one unfamiliar with that composition would be led to suppose that it, too, was full of sound and fury signifying nothing…. such things as the first movement of the Seventh symphony, the scherzo of the Ninth, the last movement of the Fourth and the entire ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ have in them the stuff of living music.

Here, making excellent use of a reference to Macbeth, Copland sets the stage for what becomes one of the main principles of metal and its common philosophy, nihilism: in the acceptance of painful things, in fury, we find life. But at the time, the “bombast” found in Mahler’s music was certainly not received and valued as it is in both Mahler and metal today.

Copland’s description of Mahler’s reception 14 years after his death is typical of reactions found up through the 1960s. According to Leon Botstein, before the 1960s “Mahler’s life and aesthetic agenda were easily construed as mirroring the qualities of an epigone, a late exemplar of an antiquated neo-Wagnerian Germanic romanticism whose grandiosity and emotionalism sounded dated.” In other words, in Copland’s time, a period of neo-classicism, it was cliché and annoying to create expansive, passionate music like Mahler’s. Another related point to keep in mind is the presence of heavy anti-German sentiment during those years; it was pointless and unpatriotic to endorse the music of a composer who was known for trying to fit in with German society.

K. M. Knittel describes another aspect of Mahler’s reception during his life, focusing on his Judaism in the strongly anti-Semitic turn-of-the-century Viennese society. She argues that while the most widely accepted view of Mahler as a conductor is energetic to the point of being neurotic, it is actually very difficult to tell how Mahler conducted because most first-hand accounts are so sharply colored by the fact that Mahler was a Jew. The few surviving reports from other countries describe him as having the “…absence of fussiness or superfluous motion” necessary for comfortable, focused conducting. The contradicting reports prove nothing more than the fact that Mahler could never be taken seriously, as either a conductor or a composer, by people who had grown up with the typical Viennese prejudices. As a Jew, he was on the outer edge of the social groups he worked constantly to please and entertain.

The reception of metal brings up many similar points. The fact that the academic study of the genre in a formal paper must be explained is evidence enough of its marginalization. No one would question the study of Mahler, but pairing it with studying those crass men with nasty long hair who keep screaming all the time isn’t quite as understandable. Looking at the Dark Legions Archive, a website of very well-written articles, reviews, and information on metal, we see the perspective of metal fans about the public reception of their own music. “As young metalheads, we recognized the total lack of critical information about the genre. People either dismissed it, or used it as a product for morons, and no one listened to what the bands and fans were saying. Those who hated it were only too happy to perpetuate stereotypes of its stupidity and encourage ignorance of the better material,” the same way Copland describes Mahler’s critics as ignoring his better works in favor of generalizing its inadequacy. Equal in philosophical value, but far stronger in clarity, to Adorno, the authors of the Dark Legions Archive consistently address two of the main issues found in the reception and music of metal as well as of Mahler: power and validity.

“Popular music does not offer another genre with the power and sincerity of metal,” states the Dark Legions Archive in an article on why metal fans should try listening to classical music. Beyond popular music, they ask, what is left for metal fans looking to branch out? Classical. The article recommends 8 albums as suggestions for some classical dabbling, including Bruckner Symphony No. 4 (“the first ‘heaviness’ on record,” see this performance from 7:56-8:42 for a suitably heavy excerpt) and Paganini’s 24 Violin Caprices (“Perhaps the original Hessian, this long-haired virtuoso wore white face paint, had a rumored deal with the devil, and made short often violent pieces that made people question their lives and their churches”). In the reasons for listening to these pieces, we can see the aspects that the author finds most important in the number of times certain themes are mentioned—power: twice; heaviness/weight, beauty, struggle/overcome/emerge, war/death: three times each. These concepts are unified in an explanation of tenets of metal philosophy: “Metal as a culture attempts to find beauty in conflict, darkness, horror, distortion, chaos, mayhem, butchery, evil, sodomy and lust, in an attempt to show that positive and negative forces together create the ultimate good, which is reality itself -- a competing absolute to our false social mores.” Where Mahler strove to fit in with the society that pushed him away, metal music encourages the opposite: rejection of what feels false. Sincerity and validity go hand in hand with power; the most powerful music is a sincere reflection of life. Music that doesn’t have the same honesty, that idealizes the conquering of evil, is insincere, and therefore weak.

Mahler’s music is endlessly contrasted with Beethoven’s in this respect, only in different terms. In the classical pantheon, Beethoven stands at the top, with all composers of the next century confronting his music in some way. Mahler was questioned heavily for daring to change the Beethoven standard, where the musical narrative moves linearly from negative struggle to positive conquering, particularly in the finale of his First Symphony. James Buhler describes the way the finale incorporates a “breakthrough” at m. 375 that deviates from the linear flow of a Beethovian heroic narrative. Mahler explains this change in rhetoric in a letter to Strauss: “My intention was to show a struggle in which victory is furthest from the protagonist just when he believes it closest.-This is the essence of every spiritual [seelischen] struggle.-For it is by no means so simple to become or to be a hero.” In Mahler’s musical depiction of the imperfections of reality, he creates sincere, and therefore powerful, music.

Now we shift gears to examine what specific musical aspects can be connected between Mahler and metal. No discussion of theory or harmonic analysis will be undertaken, not only because it has already been done by far more qualified scholars, but because harmonic analysis lacks the human element of a quality that makes fans like the music. I will discuss music by two rather different metal bands: Dream Theater, a progressive metal band founded 1985 by students of the Berklee School of Music, and Between the Buried and Me, a heavy metal band founded in 2000 by a bunch of young guys from Raleigh, NC.

Virtuosity as an expression of musical power can be found in abundance in Dream Theater. Their most well-known keyboardist, Jordan Rudess, was a student at Julliard until he left to pursue progressive rock music, and the founding members of the band, drummer Mike Portnoy, guitarist John Petrucci, and bassist John Myung, left Berklee once they felt they could learn no more from the school. The Dream Theater songs “Caught in a Web” and “Instrumedley” together show an astounding combination of raw power from vocalist James LaBrie and fantastically virtuostic instrumental playing. Another instrumental piece, “Dance of Eternity,” which runs just over 6 minutes, has 104 time signature changes that must be memorized to be performed. In Mahler, virtuosity comes largely in the form of endurance because of the incredible length of many of his symphonies, such as Symphony 3, clocking in at over 100 minutes. Mahler conductors also must be experienced to the point of virtuosity because of pieces like Symphony 8, which requires 3 separate choirs, vocal soloists, and a massive orchestra. A conductor of a successful Symphony 8 must be a master of multitasking, coordinating many different layers into the well-organized chaos of the “Symphony of a Thousand.”

Intertextuality also plays a large role in the music of Mahler and Dream Theater. The connections between Mahler’s songs and his symphonies have been discussed at great length, such as the use of song melodies from “Ablösung im Sommer” in Symphony 3, and the second movement of “Songs of a Wayfarer” in Symphony 1. Mahler also quotes the opening motive to Beethoven’s Les Adieux piano sonata in both the final movement of “Das Lied von der Erde” and Symphony 9. From the metal world, Dream Theater’s “Instrumedley” is made up of 14 distinct sections with 9 different songs from 8 different albums, interweaving genres from vaudeville to 80s epic rock. They also have an album, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, that is a sequel to a song on the previous album Images and Words, “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper.” Pt. 2 is essentially a rock opera, telling a story that was begun in Pt. 1 throughout the entire album. In live shows, they often take a moment between original pieces to throw in direct quotes from popular music, including themes by Metallica and from Star Wars. From a fan perspective, intertextuality brings different pieces together for a sense of coherence, and it forms somewhat of a puzzle game to see how many connections listeners can catch.

Between the Buried and Me (hereafter referred to by its common abbreviation, BTBAM) has some of the most Mahlerian metal possible. The use of fragmentation and contrast in BTBAM’s newer material, such as “Sun of Nothing” and “Swim to the Moon,” is no less shocking than in the finale of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, where frenzied piccolos and strings repeatedly and unpredictably interrupt a beautiful vocal melody. “Sun of Nothing” begins with the furious, thick texture reminiscent of earlier BTBAM, with few breaks in the heavy instrumental parts and no clean vocals. Then, at 5:50 it abruptly shifts to clean vocals and guitars, winding down to sound like an indie electro-pop song, complete with auto-tune, by 7:00. By 9:25, it has gradually built itself back up to its original heavy metal grit.

“Swim to the Moon,” released two years after “Sun of Nothing,” takes contrast to a higher, and much longer, level. It begins with a marimba introduction that wouldn’t be out of place in a classical percussion concert, then builds to BTBAM’s standard full metal sound through a series of prog-metal phrases that wouldn’t be questioned coming from Dream Theater. The first vocals, at 2:40, are atypical for BTBAM, performed by their merchandise guy who uses a punk style. For more than 10 minutes, it switches between clean singing, screams, and gorgeous prog-rock-influenced interjections and solos. As if the contrast between these parts was insufficient, at 15:30 the bottom suddenly drops out and we’re left with mellow vocals over a country-influenced background, with bongos. Like “Sun of Nothing,” “Swim to the Moon” builds from its quiet interlude to a strong finish.

The fact that BTBAM moved as a creative force from music largely like the first five minutes of “Sun of Nothing” to the menagerie of “Swim to the Moon” shows a willingness in both the band and their listeners to shift into a different mindset. It requires more thinking to understand how the different styles relate to each other, more openness to change, and more independence from being a fan of “just metal.” BTBAM is not for those who like to stay in their comfort zones. The changes in what listeners consider “good music” that enabled Mahler’s music to shift from the scathing implications of Copland’s article are the same changes that enable metal to be enjoyed, and to recently employ such a distinct integration of multiple musical styles to great success. Rather than the Beethoven standard that ruled for more than a hundred years, driving before it the idealism that would break with the World Wars, music lovers now look for the types of messages promoted by artists like Mahler, Dream Theater, and Between the Buried and Me. Fans of both Mahler and metal have interests in music that is powerful, sincere, unpredictable, and full of life. The passionate expression that was cliché and dated in the first half of the 1900s is now a way to reflect what is real. Listeners are passionate about life, with all its battles, ugliness, and beauty. Their music is full of sound and fury, signifying reality.

St. Louis Symphony Dedicates Mahler 2 Concerts April 8-10 to the Memory of Chorus Manager Richard Ashburner

The St. Louis Symphony is dedicating its performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” April 8-10, 2011, to the late Richard Ashburner, who passed away Friday, March 18. Ashburner had been the manager of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus since 1989, having joined it as a tenor eight years earlier.

Symphony President and CEO Fred Bronstein said of Ashburner: “Richard was a longtime, remarkably devoted member of the St. Louis Symphony staff, and a very important part of the success of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus over many years. He was a dedicated educator, passionate music lover and a warm, gentle person. Richard's impact and absence will be felt for a long time to come. We mourn his passing.”

Ashburner was also an administrator with the Special School District and received national recognition for his work in the field of speech pathology. More recently, he worked with the Symphony's Education and Community Partnership Department to help musicians develop effective presentations in area schools.

St. Louis Symphony Chorus director Amy Kaiser will speak prior to the performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection.”

The concert on April 9 will be broadcast live on St. Louis Public Radio (90.7 KWMU) at 8:00 p.m. CT, and will be streamed online at www.stlpublicradio.org.

Colorado Symphony features all-star cast in Carmina Burana April 2-3

Conductor Antoni Wit leads all-star cast featuring Stacey Tappan, Nicholas Phan and Hyung Yun in music's most daring, audacious choral masterwork

April at the Colorado Symphony begins with one of the most thrilling choral masterworks of all time: Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Acclaimed conductor Antoni Wit, soprano Stacey Tappan, tenor Nicholas Phan, baritone Hyjng Yun, and the Colorado Symphony Chorus and Colorado Children's Chorale are featured in this all-star cast for two performances on Saturday, April 2 and Sunday, April 3. Composed in 1837, Carmina Burana remains one of the most popular works in the classical music repertoire thanks to its universal appeal, risqué and provocative subject matter, and pure "rock concert appeal." Today, O Fortuna - the opening and closing to Carmina Burana - can be heard in films ranging from Excalibur to Natural Born Killers to The Hunt for Red October, as well as dozens of action movie trailers and commercials. Often regarded as a celebration of springtime, Carmina Burana embraces the vivid emotions and heightened sensory awareness that people often feel as the earth awakens after a long winter. Come April, be prepared to be amazed, elated and energized by Carmina Burana with the Colorado Symphony!

Tickets: www.coloradosymphony.org

to Miri Ben-Ari's Promoter: What have Breasts Got To Do With It???

Grammy Award-Winning artist, Miri Ben-Ari, also known as the hip-hop violinist, has been invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to perform at the annual celebration of Women’s History Month on Wednesday, March 30th 2011.

Ok, perhaps the title is a bit mis-leading based on the tag line. But I get lots of requests to publicize arts of all types. Without casting any aspersions on the award winning artist or her talents, I find it odd that the picture I received as part of the request for publicity has Ms Ben-Ari in a rather seductive post with her Breast displayed prominently.

I'm as much man as the next and I do happen to like breasts, but I am not sure their relevance to the news at hand. Does Michelle Obama prefer women to display their breasts? I suppose hip hop artists need to display a certain amount of sex appeal to attract an audience. But Miri Ben-Ari is an accomplished violinist. She played with the Israeli String Quartet and won numerous awards. Maybe some of the music she plays isn't technically all that difficult; it's hip hop which likes simple repetitive melodies. Not everything she does is so "simple" using double stops and rapid passages that scream virtuosity.

Miri Ben-Ari is a joy to watch, and not because she's got a great figure or round, full breasts. She is one of the top female artists of our day. Her invitation to the White House confirms this role. Miri is not only an accomplished musician, but dedicated to numerous other causes - so she's a great person. If you want to hear more about Miri, check her website or her catch her music on YouTube, MTV or VH1. She is so much more than her mammary glands.

Only 25 of America’s most distinguished women have been selected to join Mrs. Obama including Miri Ben-Ari, in her day long tour to a Washington, D.C. area high school to talk, share, inspire and encourage young women to go after their dreams. Participants include Hillary Swank, Anna Deveare Smith, Miri Ben-Ari, Lisa Leslie, Rashida Jones, Geena Davis and more! Several of the guest mentors are associated with the Lifetime Network, an organization that has been a leader in celebrating women and in fostering mentorship in young girls. In support of the First Lady’s work on mentoring, Lifetime will launch a public outreach program which will include leading subsequent mentoring events across the country and producing a public service announcement campaign on the subject.

Note: Yes, I realize sex sells. There are numerous topics on this blog alone that discuss this very topic. Still, I'm not sold on it (or by it). I didn't print this article because I thought Miri's sex-appeal was important --quite the opposite. She could have made it without the sex-appeal - but if talking about her breasts gets her a bit more notice... well, she's a great artist, so whatever works to get the word out.

"Brilliant" Pianist Jenny Lin plays a not-to-be-missed Ligeti Program, March 31

Featuring ten of György Ligeti’s Études pour Piano, Musica ricercata, and Continuum for Harpsichord Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 8 p.m. Greenwich House, NYC

Greenwich House Music School (GHMS) is pleased to present a not to be missed all-Ligeti program by one of today’s most respected young pianists, Jenny Lin, on Thursday, March 31 at 8 p.m. Hailed as “brilliant” and “beautifully attentive” (Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times), Lin will perform ten of György Ligeti’s Études pour piano (1985-2001), as well as his Continuum for Harpsichord (1968), and Musica ricercata (1951-3).

The concert is presented as part of the 25th anniversary season of North River Music – one of New York City’s first concert series devoted to new and experimental music and founded by Frank Wigglesworth in 1985. The concert will be followed by a reception.

Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena leads Colorado Symphony in works from the Andaluz region

Juanjo Menu is joined by Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio.

Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena has chosen to pair two great impressionistic works which conjure dreamy images of the Andaluz region. Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio also performs solo works of Granados before the program concludes with Ravel's sensual ballet Daphnis and Chloë.

Ravel's Daphnis and Chloë
4/8 - 7:30 p.m.
4/9 - 7:30 p.m.
4/10 - 2:30 p.m.
Boettcher Concert Hall

Free April 28 concert features premiere of Marvin David Levy's "Atonement"

Boris Lurie Art Foundation Presents Premiere of Marvin David Levy’s Oratorio Atonement, Sung by Ana María Martínez and Michael Fabiano and Narrated by Mario M. Cuomo, in Free Concert at Temple Emanu-El on April 28

On April 28, the Boris Lurie Art Foundation will present a free concert at New York’s historic Temple Emanu-El. On the program is the world premiere of Marvin David Levy’s oratorio Atonement, a reworking of three of Levy’s previous pieces that have never before been performed in New York City. Exploring three critical moments of Jewish history – “Holocaust”, “Inquisition”, and “Masada”, Atonement will be performed by Grammy Award-winning soprano Ana María Martínez and tenor Michael Fabiano, a Grand Prize Winner of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, with narration by Mario M. Cuomo, former governor of the state of New York and father of current governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Eugene Kohn, who boasts an extensive recorded discography with Plácido Domingo, will lead a full choir and orchestra for the concert, which will be filmed for future television broadcasts on dates and networks to be announced. Full concert details follow below.

Winner of two Guggenheim Fellowships and two Prix de Rome awards, Marvin David Levy (b.1932) is best known for his opera Mourning Becomes Electra, which debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1967 and was embraced by Leonard Bernstein, who called it “a tremendous achievement.” Atonement represents a re-working of three pieces by Levy that explore catastrophic episodes in Jewish history. The opening movement, “Holocaust”, a short soundscape for chorus, concerns the most recent historical event, and is especially poignant since the visual artist Boris Lurie (1924-2008), who co-founded the NO!art movement and in whose name the foundation was established, was himself a Holocaust survivor.

Atonement’s middle movement, “Inquisition”, originally titled Canto de los marranos (“Song of the Crypto Jews”), depicts the predicament of late-15th-century Spanish Jews. Forced to convert to Christianity, they were expelled from their country when it was discovered that they still practiced Judaism in secret. A Naxos recording of the Canto prompted Opera News to admire “the thoughtful dramatic contours of the piece and the yearning beauty of the vocal lines,” and the magazine praised soprano Ana María Martínez for her “sympathetic and impressive account.” Now, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to hear the lyric soprano’s rendition of Canto (as “Inquisition”) in live performance, as well as narration from the Honorable Mario M. Cuomo, who is featured in the same movement.

“Masada”, Atonement’s finale, was originally written for the great American tenor Richard Tucker, who premiered it with the National Symphony Orchestra under Antal Dorati in 1973. The April 28 performance showcases the “intensely expressive tenor” (New York Times) of Michael Fabiano. The movement’s title refers to the ancient Jewish fortress on the shore of the Dead Sea in which 960 men, women, and children held out for three years against Roman attack in the first century A.D. When the Roman invasion was imminent, they proudly chose mass suicide, leaving their enemies only a barren victory. Their story was recorded by the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus and forms the textual framework for Levy’s oratorio. According to the composer, “Here we remember an uncommon moment when the vanquished may be counted among history’s ultimate survivors, rendering the epic of Masada a shining metaphor for us all.”

Leif Ove Andsnes Heads to U.S. for Four-City Tour

Two Beethoven Sonatas Are Centerpiece of Recital Program

After solo recitals in Copenhagen (for the benefit of Amnesty International) and Bergen, the celebrated Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes will head to the U.S. for a four-city recital tour that includes performances in Boston, MA (April 1), Chicago, IL (April 3), Champaign-Urbana, IL (April 5), and New York, NY (April 7 at Carnegie Hall). Two Beethoven Sonatas, No. 21, “Waldstein,” and No. 32, Op. 111, bookend works by Brahms (Four Ballades, Op. 10) and Schoenberg (Sechs kleine Klavierstucke, Op. 19). After his U.S. performances, Andsnes returns to Europe for additional solo recitals in eleven cities, beginning in Rome on April 13 and ending in Toulouse, France on May 16. Also this spring (on April 19 in the U.S.), EMI Classics releases Andsnes’s recording of Schumann’s complete works for piano trio with violinist Christian Tetzlaff and cellist Tanja Tetzlaff.

Joyce DiDonato Stars in New Met Production of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory

“Indeed, Ms. DiDonato seemed the perfect 21st-century diva – an effortless combination of glamour, charisma, intelligence, grace, and remarkable talent.” — New York Times

Gramophone’s Artist of the Year Joyce DiDonato returns to the Metropolitan Opera to make her role debut as Isolier in Rossini’s Le comte Ory, which opens tonight, Thursday, March 24. Directed by Bartlett Sher, this new production stars Diana Damrau as Countess Adèle and Juan Diego Flórez as the title character. Didonato’s April 9 performance will be broadcast around the world as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series; encore broadcasts will be presented in the U.S. on Wednesday, April 27, and in Canada on Saturday, May 7 and Monday, June 13.

DiDonato’s return to the Met follows a busy winter, which included an eight-city recital tour, the world premiere of a song cycle by renowned American composer Jake Heggie, about which the New York Times exclaimed, “The piece ebbed and flowed beautifully, its whispered nuances and soaring arches rendered with utter conviction by Ms. DiDonato,” and the role of Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking at the Houston Grand Opera.

Following Le comte Ory, DiDonato makes her second Met role debut this season when she sings the role of the Composer in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (May 7-13). For those who cannot make it to see DiDonato in Strauss’s beloved opera, they can listen to a track from it on her new record, Diva, Divo. According to BBC Music’s Christopher Cook, Diva, Divo features “singing that restores your faith in human nature”. Mike Silverman of the Associated Press recently wrote in his review of the album, “One of today’s most accomplished singers, American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has it all.”

Saturday, March 26, 2011

YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011's Grand Finale in Sydney Breaks YouTube Records

YouTube’s Most Watched Streaming Event to Date Had More Than 30 Million Views, Three Times More Than for U2 Concert

Who said Classical Music was dead???

Who said classical music is dying? Not only was the grand finale concert by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011 on March 20 at the Sydney Opera House the most watched classical concert in history: it was also the most viewed live streaming event ever seen on YouTube. With more than 30 million views, it drew a virtual audience three times bigger than U2's YouTube concert. The culmination of a week of rehearsals, concerts and master-classes in Sydney, the YouTube Symphony's finale also proved to be the most watched live mobile stream on record, with nearly 3 million views on mobile devices. Each viewer of the live webcast watched the Sydney concert for an average of 25 minutes. It was a massive internet event, with the total stream (ie. combining the live and 24-hour looped repeat streams) transferring 422TB of data – the equivalent of sending 145 million mp3 files around the world. Twitter activity was also off the charts: #ytso, the event’s hashtag, reached number one as a global trending topic.

NPR Music said about the event: “It was classical music outreach on a global scale, with an exuberant mix of musicians, videos, live projections, smart programming, social media and video technology firing on all cylinders.”

Seen by the world, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011 was also drawn from the world, with members from more than 33 countries. Led by artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra performed a dazzling finale of music by composers from Australia, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and it was joined by top-rank soloists, including violinists Richard Tognetti, Colin Jacobsen and Stefan Jackiw, organist Cameron Carpenter, percussion group Synergy, conductor Ilyich Rivas, and – by video link – soprano Renée Fleming. The artistry of the YouTube Symphony was visually amplified by real-time, audio-reactive graphic projections. Obscura Digital's technical artists integrated live camera feeds from the concert hall with stylized treatments and live digital painting, beaming the projections from a half-mile away onto the façade of the Sydney Opera House's iconic western sails.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The ADHD world of Art Music

I was listening to some "new" music the other day, several different composers presenting their version of new music. Most of them seemed to want to harken back to the neo-romantic era with sweeping melodies and lush harmonies. Other's tried to create something new by introducing new and unique ways to torture the instruments (and the audience). The problem wasn't that the "new" sounds weren't interesting; it's that the composers left little for the audience to remember, or so thoroughly drenched in it our minds wandered off mid piece and so, too, these pieces failed to impress.

Why is it composers feel we either need to present 1000 different ideas and not let anything be repeated, lest it become stale and boring, OR they feel they the wheel worked so good for the romantic composers they repaint it and present it as a new wheel, when it's obvious to everyone it's not.

Yes, as a composer, I struggle to find something new, retaining enough of my musical heritage to reference the past yet still be unique. But is our society so ADHD that we can't linger on something new long enough to enjoy it, or that we have to have it so pounded at us we can't forget it? (and yet, rebel so against the onslaught that we actually do forget it)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jefferson Friedman: Quartets Chiara String Quartet & Matmos

Release Date: April 26, 2011 on New Amsterdam Records

Jefferson Friedman: Quartets will be released on New Amsterdam Records, performed by the Chiara String Quartet (Rebecca Fischer and Julie Yoon, violins; Jonah Sirota, viola; Gregory Beaver, cello) and Matmos (Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt), on April 26, 2011. Included on the album are Friedman’s String Quartets Nos. 2 (1999) and 3 (2005), plus two remixes of the quartets by electronica duo Matmos. Grammy-winning engineer Judith Sherman produced the recording.

On Friday, May 6, at 7:30pm, the Chiara Quartet, Matmos, and Friedman will celebrate the release of the new album with a live performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street, NYC), in a shared bill with NOW Ensemble launching their New Amsterdam album, Awake (also released on April 26).

William Brittelle, a co-founder of New Amsterdam Records, said, “These discs are a continuation of New Amsterdam’s commitment to robust new classical chamber music. Awake is a spirited follow-up to the NOW Ensemble’s eponymous New Amsterdam debut, which launched the label in 2008 and gained national recognition for our community-oriented start-up. This is the first release on New Amsterdam for the Chiara Quartet and Matmos, who bring precise passion to Jefferson Friedman’srigorous and moving quartets.”

Friedman’s String Quartet Nos. 2 and 3 were commissioned by the Chiara, and are the result of a near fifteen-year friendship with the composer. They met in 1996 at the Aspen Music Festival, where the Chiara premiered Friedman’s first string quartet. They crossed paths again as graduate students at Juilliard and had a casual conversation that resulted in the composition of String Quartet No. 2 in 1999. In 2005, Friedman’s third string quartet was commissioned by the Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music on behalf of the Chiara. The world premiere took place that spring at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall (coincidentally on April 26, the same date as this album is released).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Denial Rebellion

Why are we always rebelling and isn't rebelling against the rebellion just a rebellion?

a response to the SoHotheDog blogpost
which is a response to this NY Times post

How loopy can we get with this concept? And yet, here we are, wondering what the future of classical music is going to be, with the educational establishment still clinging to the atonal/pitch class set/avant gard of 50+ years ago. Then again, establishment is just the kind of thing that gets railed against, so "down with the educational quest!" and on to something new... Reich, Glass and Adams are all rebelling against their own classical roots and yet they, too, have become the established.

Perhaps the state the classical music industry is in will be explained when the psyco-babble of the philosophers of our day become part of everyday thought. It took René Descartes' Je pense donc je suis (I think therefore I am) of 1637 nearly 200 years to become absorbed into common thought which promoted a host of radical self-determination thinkers to spur rebellion around Europe. Although the seeds of this self-determination were certainly in the minds of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and signed the Mayflower Compact of 1620.

So, maybe it wasn't Descartes who thought it first. He was just spouting what was already in the minds of the masses, but had yet to be formally printed. Democracy certainly has its seeds way back with the Greeks of Athens (although their form of democracy didn't allow women, slaves, and others --basically 80% of their society, to vote). Once the human mind discovers something, it can't un-discover it. But the history of where an idea comes from isn't always obvious.

Getting back to music, the problem with trying to determine if a generation has "it" or not still comes back to the problem of viewing lasting success while you're still in the moment. Matthew Guerrieri of SoHotheDog has a great point (although you have to read to the very end to get it), the composers of NYC are creating their own successes, a network of support and attempting to forge in directions their predecessors (composers like Matthew and myself) failed to do. While it may not make them the next great composers, it is affording them successes that the previous generation didn't enjoy. Our generation of composers tried to find something new, but doing so through the educational systems definition of what good music is suppose to be - intellectual and "ground-breaking." The "art" music most of my generation churned out was anything but music.

Although I find it funny that "our generation" actually also includes Reich, Glass and Adams which I mentioned previously and who are enjoying their share of success.

We were (are) trained to think of "art" music as something crafted, something which is ever changing and which continually creates moments unexpected. So much so that much of the art music of the 80's and 90's is so unexpected, it's forgettable. There is nothing which the mind can grasp and retain.

Bach wrote thousands of pieces of music, hundreds of which are recognizable to pretty much anyone in Western society even if they can't tell you who wrote it or the name of the piece. Bach spent years playing and studying the music of other composers until he amalgamated them together into his own style. Haydn was music by transcribing scores of great composers before him. He then wrote music that developed into something new, but he also "recapitulated" material so there was a sense of familiarity. Haydn uses the same methods on Beethoven, who continued this process of minute manipulation of a core idea creating endless varieties, and yet the original kernel is still present. It is this interplay of memorable and developed music which really stands the test of time, taking what came before and making something new. But it isn't always the composers who create great music who are remembered.

The work of Luc Ferrari, Karlheinz Stockhausen and other composers of their electro-acoustic ilk strove to find meaning in sound, musical expression in something other than "classical" music means. While it's impossible to "hum" any of their tunes, these composers have etched a lasting impress on the world of music. Their experimentation led to a host of electronic gadgetry that is revolutionizing the way music is created. You can't listen to a contemporary album today without hearing (whether you notice it or not) the effects on the original sound. Sounds are constantly being manipulated in the studio to create an ever changing sonic palette.

Who are the great composers of today? It's hard to say who will be remembered 100 years from now. But I'd be willing to wager some of the record producers of today will among those hailed as visionaries.

Listen, really listen, to the most popular urban tracks of today. The music is constantly changing, shifting, developing. While the original beat may remain, the timbre of the sound doesn't remain static. While the lyrics may repeat the same three words over and over again, the subtle shift in the effects on the vocals is in constant motion. Yes, the music might be only three chords on paper, but the music of modern pop artists isn't about what's on the paper; it's about the experience the listener goes through --and listeners of the best of the contemporary artists are taken on a sonic journey like nothing classical music has to offer. What sound engineers are doing today is similar to the Schoenberg concept of klangfarbenmelodie, tone-color-melody, shifting the tone and color of a note to create a melody rather than shifting the pitch.

I'm not a huge listener to commercial music, but I can respect what these artists are doing. I envy them and their skills. I wish I had their knowledge, their ability. Combined with what I know about classical music, I think I could create something truly new, unique and lasting. Someone will - and that someone will be the next Bach, or Beethoven, the next composer whose name (and music) will live on for centuries.

It isn't about rebelling. It's about combining the different forces around you to create something new.

The Hubris of Modern Classical Musicians (or lack there of)

Look at ME, not my music

There is a lot of talk today about the "me" generation. This includes anyone born in between 1970 and 2000. Psychology puts the seeds of the "me" generation somewhere in the 1960's with the coming-of-age Baby Boomers. Academic studies maintain that young people are more narcissistic than their predecessors because of reality television, promoting themselves on YouTube the over emphasis on sports and entertainment stardom. While we have a host of new ways to get "noticed", there isn't any quality control on these new media forms; the most popular wins!

These aspects have permeated all aspects of our society: How we think about social programs, taxes, warfare and the arts. A couple of hundred years ago the socialist revolution began resulting in the socialistic responses of European countries. The US was far enough away to avoid most of the major effects (as is evidenced by the US being the only first world country without some form of socialized medicine).

Communication has drastically changed since then and "trends" in one region are quickly adopted by another region without them needing to be neighboring countries or cultures. Therefore the sentiment of "me first" which may have started in the US can be seen in countries all over the world. China, which does it's level best to keep out "decadent Western views" has an entire generation which feels entitled to the sense of freedom "me first" engenders. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2007 says the top goals for Americans between the ages 18-25 are fame and fortune. A similar study in China 2010 suggests the top goal for Chinese between 10-20 want fame from movies or music.

How does this "me" focus affect the music world? Artists are encouraged to generate publicity about themselves, to create a "persona" which captures the attention of the media and the public. It is this persona which makes videos go viral; it is the persona which drives sales - and the bottom line is the money.

The result is the need for performers to be focus on fame rather than the music. Composers vying for performances need to take the same approach, gaining a name via outlandish behavior rather than their music. Nico Muhly (age 30) has a blog and twitter feed that seldom talks about music at all. John Adams (age 64) has a blog that almost always refers to music in some fashion but always in a personal way.

The problem with this generation gap can best be seen in the attitudes of symphony musicians. How often do you see symphony musicians from major orchestras promoting their concerts? I'm not talking about symphony publicity machines which focuses on leveraging social media, but the musicians actually taking an active role in self promotion.

The members of a rock band understand the concept of self promotion. But symphonies tend to be mixture of younger musicians (in their early 30's) to the older established musicians in their 60's and 70's. Only the young musicians even remotely qualify as being part of the "me" generation. It's possible to see the difference in this generation gap by who of these musicians is active on facebook.

It isn't enough anymore to just be a good musician. You have to self promote. Unfortunately, good promotion doesn't equate with quality. But all the quality in the world won't get noticed without getting it out in the public eye.

One night only - Vilcek Foundation hosts Mari Kimura

Virtuoso violinist and composer to premiere new work and groundbreaking bowing technique

On May 20, violinist Mari Kimura, whose playing the New York Times has called “chilling,” “gripping,” “charming,” “a virtuoso playing at the edge,” will take the stage at the Bohemian National Hall to showcase her talent as an interpreter of classical music, a performer/composer, and innovator in digital technology for musical expression. In addition to performing a short movement of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ms. Kimura will premiere new compositions, written especially for this concert, and demonstrate her revolutionary extended bowing technique, Subharmonics.

On one of her new compositions “Duet x2” for violin, cello and interactive computer Ms. Kimura will be accompanied by Grammy Award-nominated cellist Dave Eggar. Wearing customfit sensor gloves, designed by Mark Salinas, the duo will implement a new technology, developed by the Realtime Musical Interaction Team at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris, that tracks bowing motions, thus giving musical expression to the two bows as they interact. Another of Ms. Kimura’s premiere compositions, “JanMaricana for Subharmonics,” is dedicated to Jan and Marica Vilcek, founders of the Vilcek Foundation and hosts for this evening of contemporary musical artistry. This piece will utilize the Subharmonic Fifth, a never-before-performed method of Subharmonics, developed just this year by Ms. Kimura. In 1994, Ms. Kimura introduced the Subharmonic Octave to the public. This technique called revolutionary” by the New York Times allows a violinist to play one full octave below the open G, traditionally the lowest note on the violin, without changing the instrument’s tuning.

Rick Kinsel, Executive Director of the Vilcek Foundation, said, “It’s a privilege to be able to present an artist of the caliber of Mari Kimura, whose exploration and mapping of the world below G has boldly redefined our understanding of the resources of the violin, further expanding the horizons of classical and electronic music at a time when many critics were decrying that the end was in sight for both."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Robert Spano to Aspen Music Festival

The Aspen Music Festival and School has chosen Robert Spano as its next music director, starting in summer 2012 and holding the title music director designate in the interim. Spano, 49, succeeds David Zinman who quit last year just before the festival started, the result of an internal power struggle with current CEO Alan Fletcher. Fletcher has instituted major changes at the festival, causing divisiveness among staff, board and musicians, many of whom are unhappy with Fletcher.

If any one conductor can bring the flock back together, it is Robert Spano. When he arrived in Atlanta to take over as music director of the symphony some ten years ago, morale was at an all-time low. Musicians and the board were divided in their opinions about the music director and the rhetoric had gotten very heated. Within months of Spano’s arrival, the atmosphere began to change. Within a year, the orchestra was on an exciting new projectile—and playing better in the bargain.

Curtis On Tour with Ignat Solzhenitsyn Stops at New York’s (Le) Poisson Rouge on April 5

On April 5, Curtis On Tour stops at the Greenwich Village club (Le) Poisson Rouge, a popular alternative classical venue. Each season, Curtis On Tour takes the artistry of the Curtis Institute of Music to audiences nationwide, with tomorrow’s leading musicians performing alongside celebrated alumni and faculty. For the 2011 tour, Curtis piano faculty member Ignat Solzhenitsyn is joined by Curtis students Kelly Coyle on clarinet and Ayane Kozasa on viola for the New York premiere of Book of Days (2010), a commissioned piece by Daron Hagen. The program also features Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, the Op. 120 Sonatas of Brahms, and György Kurtág’s Hommage à R. Sch.

Synthesizer Legend Morton Subotnick Revisits 1967 Classic Album, Silver Apples of the Moon

A Lecture-Demonstration, Followed By A Short Performance
Friday, April 8, 2011 at 6 p.m., 2011
Greenwich House Music School, NYC

For the last installment of North River Music’s 25th anniversary season, Greenwich House Music School (GHMS) is pleased to present an evening with pioneer of electronic music and multimedia performance, Morton Subotnick, on Friday, April 8. The synthesizer legend will retrace the development of his 1967 classic album, Silver Apples of the Moon, which the Library of Congress inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2009. The lecture-demonstration will serve as an appendix to Subotnick’s appearance at Lincoln Center’s Unsound Festival New York on April 7, during which the composer will revisit this landmark composition with visual accompaniment from Berlin-based video artist Lillevan. The GHMS talk will be followed by a short solo performance by Subotnick.

Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon was the first electronic work composed especially for an LP recording (commissioned by Nonesuch Records). It is also one of the first compositions entirely created for a modular analogue synthesizer, the Buchla Electronic Music Box (commissioned by Subotnick and Ramon Sender). In 2009, the Library of Congress selected Silver Apples of the Moon as one of the 25 new additions to the National Recording Registry, a collection now comprising 300 music, spoken word, and audio documentary recordings deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. “One of the unique features of Buchla’s instrument,” writes the Library of Congress, “was its use of the electronic sequencer, a device capable of creating repeating, rhythmic sequences of musical notes or timbres. Subotnick uses the sequencer extensively and effectively in the creation of many repeated figures in the recording, creating a canonical statement for this pioneering technology.”

With Silver Apples of the Moon, Subotnick created a new musical genre that anticipated today’s home stereo system – twentieth century chamber music that people could experience with headsets within their own four walls. He then proceeded to re-conceptualize his vision for the stage, turning to multimedia performance and reincorporating improvisation into the process. For the Lincoln Center performance, Subotnick will “deconstruct” Silver Apples, and A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur, his first and last electronic recordings, to spontaneously reconstruct them in a live performance, using the latest Buchla synthesizer and a laptop with Ableton Live software. At GHMC, the composer will explain the vision behind the work, how it was created, and how it can be performed nowadays.

Sapporo Symphony Orchestra Announces Benefit Concert for Japan Earthquake Victims


The Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, supported by Askonas Holt Ltd and Southbank Centre, announced today that its London concert is to be a benefit event for the victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March. The entire proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund, both of which are distributing aid to help people in the affected areas.

The London concert is part of the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary tour this May under the baton of its longtime Principal Conductor Tadaaki Otaka with a programme of Takemitsu’s How Slow the Wind, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor – with celebrated Japanese violinist Akiko Suwanai - and Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5 in D minor.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Presents A Tribute to Paul McCartney, April 7-10

Tony Kishman to Perform Paul McCartney’s Most Famous Songs

The world’s most authentic Paul McCartney look- and sound-alike, Tony Kishman, joins the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and vocalist Jim Owen, lead by Michael Krajewski, in Live and Let Die: A Tribute to Paul McCartney on Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore and Friday, April 8, 2011 and Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 3 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Since 1977, Tony Kishman has been recreating the musical genius of Paul McCartney, rising to fame for his unusual vocal and physical resemblance to the legendary Beatle. In addition to Live and Let Die, Kishman has starred in the Broadway hit Beatlemania, Beatles tribute show Twist and Shout and symphonic Beatles tribute Classical Mystery Tour in which he also collaborates with fellow Beatles performer Jim Owen. When describing his feelings after watching Kishman perform in London, Sir Henry George Martin, the musical producer of all but one of The Beatles’ many albums, said, “I drifted” and added that each song brought back memories of recording with this prolific music group.

This BSO SuperPops concert features McCartney’s most popular works, performed by Kishman and Owens and backed by the BSO. The combination of performers and a live orchestra honors the ‘60’s and ‘70’s Brit Pop songs that dominated a generation and transformed Paul McCartney and the Beatles into one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Repertoire includes “Hey Jude,” “Penny Lane,” “Let it Be” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The power of music

A friend of mine from Germany is currently in Peru. She wrote this:

The old man came first. Small and incredibly thin, with gray curly hair and a drum, a hemp string around his sinewy upper arm. When the darkness came, people started to make a fire, a small fire, but enough for the drummers and flute players and people rolling their cigarettes. We crouched closer. The cultivated sykyscrapers of Miraflores looked watchfully down upon the grass on the cliffs to the Sea and us on it.

The old man gave the beat, and the others fell in. Time passed, and the music rolled and rolled, all tunes intertwining und beautiful. Two girls danced as if they were talking to the fire. Their bodies knew no fear, only power and warmth. Every movement breathed energy. It smelled like smoke and sweat. The old man wiped his wet face with a cloth, while drumming on with one hand.

A little boy beamed and his brown eyes glowed in the warmth, while his father whispered something in his ear, another child sat on his father's shoulders, and then she came.

Maybe nine years old, with a fine read coat and her hair nicely done, neat white shoes and socks with quillings. She stands in the middle and moves like she could not do otherwise. Everything about her dances, and her body is taut like a string. Her huge brown eyes sing, and she shouts with her face full of tension, as if she would like to remind all of us of something. She looks like she ran away from home just to be here.

The next song comes, and my hands beat the rhythm on my breast, and my heart beats back. My mouth opens, and I sing without words, merely sound. My voice is not mine anymore. She rises and belongs to the music. The old man turns and smiles and nods. At some point I shout with all my might and the little girl shouts back, the two of us in a strange language of our own. A stranger hugs me at the end of the song and says: Beautiful, beautiful. And on the way to my house I skip with sleep-like security between the now silent, glowing skyscrapers home, without going wrong once, without a map, in this monster city, that in this strangely quiet hour in the side street allows the crickets once in a while to sing their song.

I attend a fair number of concerts, most of them of the classical variety. Some of the musicians I hear performing are quite amazing; others not so much. It doesn't really matter who the composer is, whether it's some part of the classical canon or something original. What affects me most is the passion the performers put into their performance.

Wrong notes played passionately are still passionate. Right notes, no matter how intricate the technique or mathematically crafted the score, played with all attention to detail and no attention to the emotion always leaves me feeling cheated, as if the minutes I spent listening were somehow stolen from me, leaving behind a little note that says "see how intellectual I am?"

NO, and I don't care. Somewhere in this world is a little girl with a fine red coat and neat white shoes whose voice is singing for the angels --and they are singing back. The heavens know there is a truth in her voice that can not be intellectualized, analyzed or categorized. It is heard with the heart, responded to with the heart beating with the same passion, the same honesty, the same music humans have for thousands of years.

We have no musicology that tells us what the first instruments were, but likely they were drums. Rhythm was the element added to music that first came in the form of voice. While there may have been vocalizations that had meaning, it is also just as likely the vocalizations were as much for their sound as for the their meaning, because sound has its own meaning.

Since before humans could write, before we were collecting and preserving our stories, there was song --melody and rhythm. In the last hundred years we have tried to expand our understanding of music, analyze it, categorize it. We have created whole new genres and words to express them, but this doesn't make these new noises music, not if it doesn't somehow connect with that initial primal element of passion.

Composers, if you are going to write music, make sure the music has something to say --it is in some way adding to the world and the collective meaning of our species. Performers, if you are going to perform, be passionate about it. All the technique in the world won't make what you perform music well unless you feel something when you're performing. I do not care how intellectual you are. Whether you are a composer or a performer, if you have no passion in your music you are no more use to me than the rock on which I stub my toe.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sweet Honey in the Rock Comes to the Meyerhoff for One Night Only, March 26

The Grammy Award-winning female a capella ensemble, Sweet Honey in the Rock, will perform one night only at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Saturday, March 26 at 8 p.m. The concert features spiritual, hand-clapping music of Southern Baptist churches blended with more modern genres such as hip hop and often accompanied by percussion instruments. The performance repertoire will include music from the ensemble’s Grammy nominated CD Raise Your Voice and their latest release Experience…101.

Daniel Hope Pays Homage to 19th-Century Violinist and Composer Joseph Joachim with New DG Album

An exclusive DG recording artist, Hope has seen his discs on the famed Yellow Label reap critical hosannas. His 2009 DG Vivaldi album earned a Grammy Award nomination, and his 2010 release, Air. a baroque journey, is among the most celebrated in his sizable discography. Of that album, which features Bach, Handel and such lesser-known Baroque composers as Westhoff, Matteis, and Falconieri, Gramophone magazine declared: “This is an exciting disc, with a heady, pied-piper power over the listener that comes from realizing that the bright sense of discovery once felt by these composers is being experienced just as much by their modern-day interpreters. You can’t ask for much more than that.” Hope’s next DG album, to be released in the U.S. on March 22, is The Romantic Violinist: A Celebration of Joseph Joachim, a homage to the great 19th-century Austro-Hungarian violin virtuoso who was a friend and trusted collaborator of Brahms and the first interpreter and dedicatee – and reviser/editor – of works by Bruch and Dvorák.

The Romantic Violinist features both famous pieces and lesser-known works associated with Joachim, including Bruch’s ever-popular Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor and two of Joachim’s own compositions, the Notturno for violin and orchestra and the Romance for violin and piano. The album includes Joachim’s arrangements of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 and 5 in new versions for violin and strings, as well as an arrangement for violin and orchestra by mid-20th-century film composer Franz Waxman of Dvorák’s Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7. The orchestral works feature the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic conducted by Sakari Oramo. There are also chamber pieces by Clara Schumann (a Romanze dedicated “in deep friendship” to Joachim) and Brahms (the Scherzo from the “F-A-E” Sonata, the multi-composer tribute based on Joachim’s motto, “free but lonely”), performed with pianist Sebastian Knauer. Hope adds his own transcription of Schubert’s song “Auf dem Wasser zu singen,” which he was inspired to include after discovering that it was performed in recital by Joachim’s wife, a contralto. Finally, Hope switches from violin to viola for Brahms’s “Wiegenlied” (the Brahms lullaby), joined by mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter and pianist Bengt Forsberg.

Yan Pascal Tortelier Leads the BSO and Pianist Orion Weiss in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, March 24-26

Program also includes Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra

Pianist Orion Weiss joins forces with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), under the direction of Yan Pascal Tortelier, to perform Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto on Thursday, March 24 at 8 p.m. and Friday, March 25 at 8 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Saturday, March 26 at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore. Also on the program are Ravel’s colorful Valses nobles et sentimentales and Lutosławski’s vibrant Concerto for Orchestra.

In 1999, when American pianist Orion Weiss was just 17 years old, he filled in for legendary pianist André Watts, who had to cancel an upcoming performance with the BSO of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. This debut launched Mr. Weiss’ international performing career. Recently, he was named the 2010 Young Artist of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation. This year, he will release a recital album of Dvořák, Prokofiev and Bartók.

When the young and impressionable Grieg first heard Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in 1858 performed by the composer’s wife, Clara Schumann, he was enthralled by the work. Grieg’s own piano concerto was partly inspired by Schuman’s concerto and from his remarkable genius in combining Western music practices with his Norwegian folk traditions. The work has become a staple for pianists since its premiere in 1869 due to its perfect balance of lyricism and virtuosity.

Like the paintings of Monet, Ravel’s compositions veer into the dream world through his unique use of instrumentation, non-traditional harmonies and melodies. His Valses nobles et sentimentales (“Noble and sentimental waltzes”) were originally conceived as a suite for solo piano but Ravel later arranged the work for orchestra, claiming he wanted to see “clearer” orchestral sounds.

Lutosławski’s epic and large scale work, the Concerto for Orchestra was premiered in 1954 by the Warsaw Philharmonic. The work was to provide Lutosławski with international fame in the West. However, soon after the work’s premiere, he changed his compositional style completely and distanced himself from the work. The Concerto for Orchestra represents Lutosławski’s final crowning achievement in his early style: folk music fused with Western Classical tradition.