Classical Music Round-Up: January through March 2016

I’ve been on blogging hiatus for almost two months.  Here’s the low-down.

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Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (photo via)

It was announced that Gianandrea Noseda will take over the helm of the National Symphony Orchestra next season, while Jaap van Zweden will join the New York Philharmonic at the podium.  Two more white men in charge of major American orchestras?  No big surprise there, but Marin Alsop might have something to say.  Meanwhile, in Britain, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be the City of Birmingham Symphony’s new leading lady, at only 29 years old.  *applause*  And another young conductor on the rise: 25-year-old Jordan de Souza will be heading up Komische Oper Berlin.

We lost some greats in recent months: business mogul turned self-taught conductor Gilbert Kaplan; pioneering composer Pierre Boulez; Pulitzer-winning composers Leslie Bassett and Steven Stucky; Dallas Symphony leader Louis Lane; conducting pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller; and — just today — maestro Nikolas Harnoncourt.

Now some feel-good stories: a Berlin horn player reflects on collaborating with Simon Rattle before the conductor relocates to London; Tafelmusik’s rendition of Beethoven 9 left one Toronto critic with nothing to criticize; bassist Jane Little just became the longest-serving orchestral musician ever, after 71 years with the Atlanta Symphony; and Ennio Morricone just won his first Oscar after working on the scores for over 500 films.

Mahan Esfahani’s harpsichord recital was interrupted by Baroque-head “rioters,” while scholars have discovered that the taxi horns in Gershwin’s An American in Paris might be pitched in the wrong key, and the Yale School of Music launched its first ever MOOC on Coursera.

As 2016 got off to an alarming start (Donald Trump, anyone?), diverse voices shone — from a powerful performance in a Harlem crypt in solidarity with Black Lives Matter; to violinist Rosemary Johnson and the UK’s Paramusical Ensemble making music through disability; to Julia Wolfe’s big-deal commission — a piece about American women in the workforce — for the New York Philharmonic’s 2018-19 season; to composer Georg Friedrich Haas’ open sexuality.

In U.S. politics, WQXR explored classical music on the campaign trail, while Bernie is, apparently, a gifted maestro.  And in the classical crime beat, an opera singer’s “screams” alerted Amsterdam police, a former St. Paul cellist was caught in a massive drug bust, and a rare French horn stolen six years ago was reunited with its owner.

In Iran, the women of the Tehran Symphony face oppression.  In Germany, an emergency refugee camp is filled with the music of a children’s choir.

Gustavo Dudamel led the Youth Orchestra L.A. at Superbowl halftime.  Grammy-winning violist Kim Kashkashian shares the woes of her name.  The Telegraph had a really interesting conversation with Renée Fleming, Anne Midgette profiled musicians who take time off from performing, and drama continues to unfold in the Buffalo Philharmonic oboe section.

A new Mozart opera was discovered and performed, while for the rest of the opera world, it’s same-old, same-old.

And finally, to end this round-up with a smile: watch a Bach duet played by a 90-year-old husband and wife.

Classical Music Round-Up: 9/25/15

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads.

Labor Updates

The scene at Brooklyn’s wild Rite of Spring dance party, linked below. (source)

Making a Difference

High Tech

Something New

Just for Fun

Thoughts from the Front Row: A weekend of celebrity encounters

There’s a game my friend and I play, where we name the ten people in the world we would want to have dinner with.  Any ten people — celebrities, family members, politicians, war criminals.  The only rules are that they must be alive, and they must be real (sorry, Harry Potter).  Our lists change from month to month and year to year, and every once in a while we check in with each other: “Who’s sitting at your dinner table these days?”

Right now, my dinner table comprises (in no particular order): Jon Stewart, Albrecht Mayer, Elizabeth Warren (my love for her is undying), Tina Fey, John Green, Gottfried Schlaug, Yo Yo Ma, Chris Hadfield, Regina Spektor, and Bill Hader.

Bill Hader (source)

Beautiful, beautiful Bill Hader.

Bill Hader is the only person who has been on my dinner table roster since its conception.  For those who may not know, Bill Hader is an exceptionally talented alum of the sketch-comedy bastion Saturday Night Live.  He’s funny, but he’s also smart-funny: his timing, his writing, his mannerisms and versatility — his comedy is just so unbearably wonderful.  Bill Hader is one of my very favorite comedians, and two weeks ago, I got to meet him.

Well, not exactly.  But I got to sit in the front row of his Q&A show at my university, mere feet away from him, which was good enough for me.

I had never sat in the front row at a performance before… nor at anything, come to think of it.  The front row is to be avoided: it’s the least comfortable position in a movie theater, visually and acoustically undesirable for an orchestra concert, awkward on an airplane because you can’t fit your carry-on under the nonexistent seat in front of you.  But sitting in the front row at Bill Hader’s Q&A was thrilling.  Eye contact and snarky comments were directed at us, just because of our proximity.  There was no fourth wall: we may as well have been on stage with him.  It was intimate, and exciting, and hilarious, and I left the auditorium feeling like I knew Bill Hader, almost as a friend.

And just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any better, I managed to score a last-minute ticket to the Emerson Quartet‘s sold-out performance at Eastman the next day, from a friend who could no longer attend.  The ticket was in the cheap, student-discount price bracket, and as a result was — you guessed it — in the front row. Continue reading

Suggested Listening: “Allegretto scherzando” from Symphony No. 8 by L. van Beethoven

When I played this week’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC for my non-musician friend, she turned to me and said, “This is freakin’ adorable.”  So… check out the freakin’ adorable second movement from Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, performed below by the Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting.

About the Composer:

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770?-1827) is pretty famous.  He casually transitioned the music world from the Classical period into the Romantic (more on that in a sec) and composed the piece that would later become the first musical score added to the UN‘s World Heritage List, all while fighting a custody battle over his suicidal nephew, penning passionate letters to his mysterious “Immortal Beloved,” gradually becoming deaf, and possibly suffering from lead poisoning.  Born in Bonn, he was a child prodigy in a family of musicians, pushed to practice piano by his strict, alcoholic father.  Beethoven moved to Vienna as a young man and established his musical career there, developing the compositional style that would bridge the gap between the Classical and Romantic periods.  We can think of Classical music in a social context, occurring simultaneously with the Enlightenment and its emphasis on clarity, intellect, and the common man.  When the Romantic era rolled along at the very end of the 18th century, the focus shifted from the extroverted philosophy of “hey, let’s include the common man in all our intellectual activities!” to a much more introspective atmosphere with deep connections to nature and personal emotion.  With this “personal emotion” idea in mind, it is easy to classify much of Beethoven’s heartwrenching music as purely Romantic — but he maintains many of the Classical techniques that he learned from the previous generation of musical greats.  Though, perhaps his greatest achievement was being portrayed by Jimmy Fallon on SNL.

About the Piece:

The entirety of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 is sort of like a comedy bit.  This doesn’t mean that this symphony is in any way inferior to his others — far from it.  Beethoven’s Eighth is a very mature composition, containing tons of gorgeous, innovative moments — as well as tons of wit.  Each movement sounds happy and lighthearted to the point of sarcasm, and Beethoven throws in musical quotations of other composers’ styles much as a comedian might do impressions.  Most notably, the second movement, this allegretto scherzando (Italian for “joking”), allegedly pokes fun at Haydn‘s Symphony No. 101.  Haydn’s 101st is known as “‘The Clock’ Symphony” because its second movement is built on a repeated “tick-tock” rhythm.  Beethoven greatly admired Haydn — both the man and his music — so it is quite likely that Haydn’s “Clock” was the inspiration for Beethoven’s meticulous, metronomic allegretto.  The woodwinds maintain a cheerful, staccato line of repeated notes, while the violins play a simple, hushed melody that is, in fact, freakin’ adorable.  No better way to describe it.

If you enjoyed the 2nd movement from Symphony No. 8, you might also like…

First Responders: Thoughts on Boston, Music in Society, and a History Lesson

Woo!  I’m back!  I still have a recital and some exams to contend with, but I’ve missed writing these posts, and so much has happened in the music world over the past couple of weeks that just needs to be written about.

In the wake of the tragedy in Boston, I would like to share with you a message from the Director of the Music Division at the Boston Conservatory:

From Director of the Music Division, Karl Paulnack

In case you are confused by the fact that my Facebook account is presently set in Italian, this was posted on Thursday, April 18, three days after the bombing.  Though I was locked safely in a practice room 600 miles away when it happened, the event left me shaken.  My friend at the New England Conservatory saw the blast from her window.  My friend here, so far away, has a friend whose dad ran in the marathon that day.  My friend at MIT had said hello to the slain officer the day before the shootout.  I know that mass acts of violence occur on a daily basis all over the world, and this fact is sad and terrible, but few of us think about it because it does not affect us directly.  It is so rare that one of those acts touches people you know.  It creates a whole new perspective.  A perspective where the world is scary and gray, and where you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone else who might have died today.

Karl Paulnack‘s message really got me thinking.  In a world that is scary and gray, a world where you are only a few degrees separated from tragedy every single day, music is necessary.  I mean, I listened to the Boston Symphony play Tchaik 5 over and over again for hours every day after the bombing, up until about three days ago.  Just to mull things over, restore my faith in humanity.  Music has the power to absorb horror, to dull pain.  This is why the idea of the musician as a first responder is so intriguing.

In 2009, Paulnack wrote an incredibly well-articulated essay (read it here), in which he explores the role of the musician in society.  He even cites the Quadrivium as a measure of music’s societal importance (which I totally wrote about here).  Paulnack points out that the reopening of Broadway after 9/11 was just as significant as the reopening of the stock exchange, and that we play music at weddings and funerals not to entertain but “to meaningfully experience these events…to grasp complex things.”  He writes, “A musician is more of a paramedic than an entertainer.  I’m not interested in entertaining you; I’m interested in keeping you alive.  Fully alive.  We’re a lot like cardiac surgeons; we hold people’s hearts in our hands every day.  We just use different instruments.”  Continue reading