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.

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Classical Music Round-Up: 10/18/15

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads.

Orchestra Updates

The incredible Zuhal Sultan speaks with NPR about founding the Iraqi Youth Orchestra, linked below. (photo via)

Deep Thoughts

We Are Young

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Classical Music Round-Up: 10/4/15

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads.

Orchestra Updates

Did you know that Benjamin Britten was asked to write Malaysia’s national anthem? Story linked below. (photo via)

Current Events

Offbeat

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Some Notes on Program Notes

“The first movement is in sonata form, but lyric, not dramatic in any Beethovian sense.  Even the grand return to opening dotted theme in the major mode has no sense of theatricality about it.  The second movement is a wonderfully light Scherzo, filled with delicious rhythmic interplay between 2/4 and 6/8 time.  Its middle section, with muted strings, is only slightly more serious, but there the piano undercuts the solemnity.”

These are the words of musicologist/professional program note writer Steven Ledbetter, on Fauré‘s Piano Quartet No. 1 for the Eastern Music Festival 2012 season program book.  (I don’t mean to pick on Dr. Ledbetter; I was just looking through some old programs I have for an example to use in this post.)  This is only an excerpt from a passage of manageable length.  The paragraphs preceding the excerpt provide interesting biographical information on the composer and a brief discussion of late 19th-century French music… but all of a sudden he starts throwing out words like “sonata form” and “major mode” and anyone who hasn’t taken at least a semester of music theory (i.e., much of the audience) is lost.

There is a time and a place for musical jargon.  Program notes for, say, a master class, or a recital at a [IDRS/IVS/etc.] convention — performances where the audience is primarily made up of people who already have a fundamental knowledge of what exactly a “Beethovian sense” of drama might be or what constitutes “delicious rhythmic interplay between 2/4 and 6/8 time” — those program notes can be as jargon-y as you like.  But at a place like Eastern Music Festival (which I’ve attended), where the audience is about 80% made up of enthusiastic, arts-supporting community members who can’t tell the difference between an oboe and a bassoon, knowing that the first movement is in sonata form isn’t going to help anyone… unless you tell the audience what, exactly, sonata form is.  In fact, that would be great!  Providing a succinct explanation of sonata form would give the audience something interesting to listen for, as well as a new bit of knowledge to take home with them.  Program notes should educate; they should tell the reader what “sonata form” means — they just should not come across as lofty lectures, or dry lists of information, or prosy jargon-fests.  The whole point of program notes is to help the audience better understand the music; in order for that to happen, the program notes must be understood as well.  Continue reading