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.

Meet a Young Professional: Nikki LaBonte of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra

Nikki LaBonte, Acting Assistant Principal Horn of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Nadine Photography, courtesy Nikki LaBonte.
Nikki LaBonte, Acting Assistant Principal Horn of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Nadine Photography, courtesy of Nikki LaBonte.)

Nikki LaBonte is an accomplished French horn player with loads of accolades and opportunities under her belt, from an upcoming stint with the New York Philharmonic to her recent appointment as Acting Assistant Principal of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.  But LaBonte takes on these opportunities from a unique perspective: she only just finished her sophomore year of college this past spring.  LaBonte also happens to count among my favorite humans and closest friends, and kindly took time out of her burgeoning career to talk with Classical Conditioning about the challenges and advantages of navigating the classical music world as a young professional.

CC: Tell us about yourself!

NL: I’m originally from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and I started playing the horn in the fourth grade at my elementary school.  Now, I’m serving as the Acting Assistant Principal of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra based in Honolulu.  Because of that, I’m currently on a leave of absence from the Eastman School of Music, where I just finished my sophomore year of undergrad studying with W. Peter Kurau.  Additionally, I’ve subbed as an extra player with orchestras including the Rochester Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic, New World Symphony, and Syracuse Symphoria.  In January, I’ll be participating in a fellowship program with the New York Philharmonic and will be playing side-by-side with members of the Philharmonic in a set of regular subscription concerts.  Fun facts: I’m a certified scuba diver, and I could watch episodes of Law and Order for the rest of my life and never become discontented.

CC: What are the challenges and/or advantages of being so young in the professional music world?

NL: I want to start by saying that I love the way this question is phrased.  So often, musicians can feel like there are so many challenges as a young player that we fail to see the many benefits of being a “newbie.”  I think sometimes we can let these disadvantages overwhelm us and don’t push ourselves to the level we ought to expect.

I’m not denying that there aren’t challenges.  It can be tough to balance your lack of experience with that of your colleagues who have sometimes been in the orchestra longer than you’ve been alive.  You have to do more homework to make up for not having played the pieces before.  Score study, rehearsing with a recording, mental practice.  And as tedious as this can seem when put into writing, the time spent doing this research is NEVER wasted.  You too will almost certainly these pieces many times in the future and thus, this work is more of an investment than a tax.

But, the advantages can far outweigh any of these “challenges.”  I think that with the benefits of the aforementioned experience, there can also come a side effect of disillusionment.  And we don’t have to be old to experience this.  Many a high school horn player has already grown accustomed to letting out an obligatory groan every time a Sousa march is put on their stand.  But, the first time we played this march, there certainly were no outbursts of passive objection.  So it is when you’re a young player in an orchestra.  Each piece is new and fresh and even the small victories of advancing in an audition or even making it through all the excerpts in a round before hearing the dreaded “thank you” are accomplishments worth a great deal of celebration.  As we get older, we can quickly lose the excitement and thrill that this music and these events can offer.  I think consciously, we have to reject that as we grow older and accumulate experience.  We must always remember that music is something far too spectacular to become boring.  Continue reading

More Game Changers: 5 Groups Redefining the Classical Music Experience

In a continuation of an earlier post, listed below are five incredible ensembles that are changing the way classical music is performed and perceived.  Note that these aren’t replacements for traditional soloists, chamber groups, and orchestras — rather, they’re fantastic additions to the classical music experience, providing unique options for an audience newly developing an interest in classical music.

  1. Arabesque Winds (MI, NY, PA, & TX) >> These lovely ladies are an extremely accomplished chamber group.  As a quintet, they’ve racked up some of the world’s top chamber music prizes; as individuals, they each hold esteemed orchestral, solo, and teaching positions.  They play almost exclusively from memory, which makes their performances absolutely mesmerizing by way of their deep and instant connection with each other and with the audience.  The Arabesque Winds are dedicated to community outreach, collaborating with and presenting at various schools and educational programs, including the Kennedy Center‘s Performing Arts for Everyone initiative.  Plus, they’re all super nice people — the perfect advocates for classical music as an important facet of every community. 
      Continue reading