Saturday, April 30, 2011

Birthday Piece No. 3 for Viola d'amore and Piano

This year it was down to the wire, but I got it finished on my birthday: 52 measures for 52 years.

You can listen here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lack of Royal Cadence!

My esteem for the administrators of the Royal YouTube channel just went down considerably when they stopped the video of the Royal Wedding Procession before the final cadence. The comments are disabled, so I'm putting my comment here. Please fix this. It was such a fine performance.

UPDATE: A big thank you to Britainia Number One, the uploader of this video, which has the whole piece and the words as well!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding Playlist

My esteem for the soon-to-be-wed Royals just went up considerably when I saw their wedding playlist:

Before the Service

Bach: Fantasia in G (Pièce d’orgue à 5)
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: Veni Creator Spiritus
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford: Prelude on St. Columba Op. 28
Elgar: Sonata for Organ Op. 28
Elgar: Serenade for Strings in E minor Op. 20
Britten: Courtly Dance V: Galliard from Gloriana (Symphonic Suite) Op. 53a no. 7
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves
Davies: Farewell to Stromness
Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Walton: "Touch Her Soft Lips and Part" from Henry V Suite
Finzi: Romance for String Orchestra Op. 11
Whitlock: Canzona from Organ Sonata in C minor

Processional Music:

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry: March from The Birds
Parry: "I was Glad"
Vaughan Williams: Prelude on Rhosymedre

Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer’, words by William Williams and music by John Hughes
Love Divine All Love Excelling’, words by Charles Wesley and music by William Penfro Rowlands
‘Jerusalem,’ by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry with words by William Blake.

The Anthem and Motet

The Anthem, ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made’, has been composed specially for the occasion by John Rutter. It was commissioned by Westminster Abbey as a wedding present for Prince William and Miss Middleton and will be performed by both the Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal Choir. Mr. Rutter is a British composer, conductor, editor and arranger who specialises in choral music.

The Anthem will be followed by the Motet ‘Ubi caritas’ by Paul Mealor, a Welsh composer, who is currently Reader in Composition at The University of Aberdeen.

Mr. Mealor’s composing studio is on the Isle of Anglesey, where Prince William and Miss Middleton live. This version of ‘Ubi caritas’ was written on Anglesey and premiered at the University of St. Andrews in November 2010.

The National Anthem will be sung immediately before the Signing of the Registers.

The Signing of the Registers and the Recessional

During the Signing of the Registers, the choirs will sing ‘Blest pair of Sirens’, words by John Milton from At a Solemn Musick, music by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry.

Following the Signing, there will be a Fanfare by the Fanfare Team from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. The Fanfare, called Valiant and Brave, after the motto of No. 22 Squadron (Search and Rescue Force) was specially composed for this Service by Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs, Principal Director of Music in the Royal Air Force.

The Recessional, for the Procession of the Bride and Bridegroom:

William Walton: Crown Imperial
Charles-Marie Widor: Toccata from Symphonie V (the only non Englishman of the bunch, besides Bach)
Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March no. 5

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Aaron Rosand, Ruggiero Ricci, Sherry Kloss, and Erick Friedman in Concert on DVD

My friend Sherry Kloss sent me a newly-released 4-DVD-set of concerts from the Jascha Heifetz Society’s 2000 and 2001 concert series at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. The DVDs contain full-length recitals played by Sherry Kloss, Ruggerio Ricci, Erick Friedman, and Aaron Rosand. I thought I’d share a bit about them here.

There are times during Sherry Kloss’ recital, particularly during Heifetz’s transcription of Debussy’s “La Chevelure,” where she sounds remarkably like her teacher. It’s partly because she is playing on the Tononi violin that he willed to her in 1980, and it’s partly because she spent many years as his teaching assistant at USC. It’s the instrument that Heifetz used for the first part of his career. He knew that Sherry would do good things to honor his memory and preserve his legacy, and he was certainly right.

She begins her recital (with pianist Ralph Albertstrom) with a Heifetz transcription of a G-minor Sonata by Christoph Willibald Gluck. I couldn’t find any source for this transcription. Gluck wrote very little in the way of pure instrumental music, and though he did write six triosonatas, none of them happens to be in G minor. It also doesn’t really sound like Gluck. I wonder if Heifetz might have been pulling a “Kreisler” with this transcription (he might just have written the piece himself). Kloss follows the Gluck with a lovely performance of a Beethoven Sonata that she studied with Heifetz.

The rest of her program has Ned Rorem’s 1954 Violin Sonata, a not-necessarily-violinistic piece that takes a second hearing to appreciate. There’s some heartfelt music in it, particularly in the third movement, “A Funeral.” This DVD recording seems to be the only recording of the piece. It shares some spirit with Cyril Scott’s “Tallahasse Suite,” a piece that Heifetz recorded in the 1930s with Emanuel Bay. Nobody has recorded it since, until now.

Kloss incorporates several Heifetz encores (all Heifetz transcriptions) between her longer pieces, and plays an impressive "Sabre Dance," breaking what looks like half a dozen bow hairs in the process, and she ends her recital with Heifetz’s transcription of “The Sea Murmurs” by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, which is the way Heifetz ended his final recital.

This set also offers the last full recital of solo music that Ruggerio Ricci played. At 80, Ricci's hearing is not what it once was, but his memory is still astounding. He is a tiny man--perhaps only five feet tall, but he seems to fill the whole stage, and he commands total attention. He plays the Bach D minor Partita without repeats, and there are times when his intonation is uneven. The movements preceding the Chaconne unfortunately seem rather perfunctory, but he seems to care a great deal about playing the Chaconne, and there is a great deal to learn from his interpretation. The lapses in intonation are terribly sad, but he is still a physical marvel.

Watching Ricci play his transcription of Tarrega’s "Ricuerdos De La Alhambra" is fascinating. Watching (and listening to) his fourth finger do left-hand pizzicato, and watching his bow bounce in the upper half is a rare treat (one of my students said, “You and I put together couldn’t do that”). And then there’s the way he plays Wieniawski staccato etude, which is truly incredible. It just makes me laugh out loud to watch him play it, because there is nothing else I can do: there are no words to describe the supernatural-ness of it. How can anybody play the fiddle like this? Pagainini’s “Nel cor piu” is more of the same, and then some, and then some more, and some more. There is nothing perfunctory when he plays this repertoire (and happily very little that’s out of tune). Ricci is at his best when on the figurative violinistic high wire, doing flips while juggling lit firecrackers and swallowing swords. And he does it with no sign of difficulty. Nobody can touch him when it comes to this virtuoso solo repertoire. Nobody could touch him when he was younger, and nobody could touch him at 82. Not even Heifetz.

The only time I have ever seen Erick Friedman is on the Heifetz masterclass tapes from the 1960s. He was an extremely tall young man in his 20s. In 2000 he was an extremely tall man of 65--quite a shock. He also talks to the audience at some length, and with a great deal of humility.

I like his performance of the Grieg G Major Sonata (with Ralph Albertstrom) very much. After stating that nobody played French music like Heifetz, he plays the Faure Sonata with the same free rhythm and the same feeling of always being ahead of the beat that makes the Heifetz recording of that piece difficult for me to enjoy. His homage is genuine, but perhaps it’s a bit too genuine for me. Friedman plays the rest of the program--the Air from the Goldmark Concerto Paganini’s 20th Caprice (transcribed by Kreisler), Sarasate’s "Scherzo Tarantelle," Heifetz’s transcription of Debussy’s “Beau Soir” (Friedman's only Heifetz transcription), and Saint-Saens’ "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso"--from memory, so the camera can get great shots of his right hand and his left hand. Watching him play would be a great guide for tall violinists who have a whole different set of angles (at least a different set from the other violinists here) that they have to contend with in order to play the violin well.

I must confess that I have spent the most time watching and listening to Aaron Rosand’s recital, because watching him and listening to him makes me feel so good. He was 73 in 2000 (I have heard that he’s still going great guns in his mid 80s).

Simply watching and listening to Aaron Rosand play the violin has improved the way I play the violin. He is completely comfortable with the instrument, and he’s completely comfortable being expressive. His expression is so true, so natural, and it is so powerful that its impression lasts for hours and hours. Days even.

Yesterday I had a student who was not interested in using his fourth finger. He was also not terribly interested in holding is fiddle properly. I decided to play him Aaron Rosand’s performance of the Vivaldi-Respighi D major Sonata (now I finally know who wrote that piece, because it never sounded much like Vivaldi to me). I played my student a bit of the Bach Chaconne, and pointed out Rosand’s beautiful position, and his million dollar fourth finger (which is worth at least as much as his instrument, the 1741 ex-Kochanski Guarneri del Jesu). You wouldn’t believe the instant difference watching and listening to Rosand made in my student’s playing. My student understood what he needed to do, and he did it immediately. Rosand showed him exactly what is important, and why.

Rosand and his accompanist, Gerald Robbins, include five Heifetz transcriptions on their recital, including the Preludio XV by Vale, “Ao pe’ d fogueira,” which refuses to leave my head. How somebody could appear to be completely comfortable playing Ravel’s Tzigane is beyond the usual limits of my imagination.

The hall Rosand is playing in has more light than the hall used for the other recitals. He plays his entire recital from memory, so the camera can get great close action shots of his left hand and his bow arm.

The Jascha Heifetz Society hasn't yet updated the link for this on their website, but you can get a copy by sending a check to: Jascha Heifetz Society, P.O. Box 11656, Marina Del Rey, CA 90295. It's priced at $54.95 plus $4.00 in postage. It isn't being sold by a commercial entity, so the price basically reflects the cost of making the DVDs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Practical Thought about Practicing

Do you ever space out while practicing? Does your mind wander? Could it be that you might be boring yourself by dusting over the surface of the music? Could it be that you are playing out of tune, and you don't want to deal with fixing intonation at the moment, so you stop paying attention? Could it be that there are things that are physically difficult to play, and by not paying attention to them you avoid the problem of facing the fact that playing such passages requires strategy and forethought?

This happens to me from time to time. No. This happens to me often. I'm trying to make it happen less often, and I know I can, because I'm the only person in charge.

A Properly Discordant Allegory

The anonymous keeper of Proper Discord made this to go along with this post.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Max Mathews

My friend Bernard Zaslav just sent this New York Times obituary for his friend Max Mathews. Mathews is the person who made it possible for computers to store, digitize, and replay music.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Great Scott Mystery

Yesterday, after reading through the violin part of Cyril Scott's Violin Sonata (written in 1908, and dedicated to Ethel Barns), I grabbed my copy of Scott's Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages in search of some reference to Barns. I first read the book when I was at Juilliard after it was recommended to me by David Diamond. I found a first edition somewhere, and I read its rather "over the top" insides once in a while. I happened to notice the inscription inside the cover, which is clearly written in the hand of an older person. There is some reason to believe that it might be the hand of the 70-year-old Ethel Barns, considering the initials.

The "Hollywood" puzzles me. Barns could have been in Hollywood in 1944 (we know so little about her comings and goings). There's also the matter of the code below the inscription: Tol0 (I can't figure out how to type a zero with a slash through it).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ruggiero Ricci Encores: Bach, Paganini, and Tarrega-Ricci

In preparation for writing a blog post about a Jascha Heifetz Society 4-DVD set of concerts played by Ruggiero Ricci (his last performance of music for unaccompanied violin), Aaron Rosand, Sherry Kloss, and Erick Friedman, I have been gawking at Ruggiero Ricci as a younger man.

He gave three encores when he played in Florence in 1985. Here's the first and the second:

and here's his third:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What a Swan!

Thanks Danny!

The IMSLP Petrucci Library Needs Help

UPDATE: It's back!

The Petrucci Library (which is now inaccessible) is being unjustly challenged. If you have legal expertise, you can help by following this link and contacting the people who keep the library.

Life after Death: Funerals of Three Great Opera Composers

These three short film clips put things into perspective:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sincerity and Satisfaction

I played one of the most satisfying concerts of my life today. Actually, I played a very satisfying concert yesterday as well, but today's concert was even better. Perhaps it was because the hall was packed with somewhere around 1,500 elementary-school-age children, and perhaps it was because they listened and watched the concert with total attention. What could have held 1,500 kids' total attention? It was Beethoven.

The format of the program was a total surprise to the orchestra and was a total surprise to all of the teachers. Everybody kept the proceedings a secret. All the orchestra members knew was that we had segments from Beethoven's Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Symphonies to play, as well as the beginning of the Emperor Concerto. We knew that the concert would be conducted by Jack Ranney, who conducts all of our children's concerts. It is always a pleasure to work with Jack, and it is always a pleasure to play Beethoven.


[I'm trying to add an element of mystery here, and give a nod to the holiday at the same time.]

We began Beethoven's Sixth, and after about a hundred measures our usual conductor, Steve Larson, walked onto the stage dressed as Beethoven. He gave a few suggestions to Jack Ranney, and introduced himself to the audience as Beethoven's ghost. He had a terrific costume, a terrific wig, and truly looked like Beethoven. He spoke to the audience with great passion and great sincerity about the music we played (there were also a couple of piano pieces: the beginning of the "Tempest" Sonata, and the "Rage for a Lost Penny"), and made a great case for music that glorifies brotherhood rather than music that glorifies war. He discussed his deafness in a way that children of all ages could understand, yet he never "talked down" to the audience. There was none of the traditional "hello boys and girls" stuff. Beethoven would have addressed the audience as a group of intelligent people who were eager to experience something wonderful, so that's what Steve did.

Steve, who is a conductor and not an actor, truly enjoyed his chance to "channel" Beethoven, and he made Beethoven present for everyone in the hall, including the members of the orchestra and the conductor. It was indulgent and extravagant, but because of Steve's sincerity it was "schtick" free. Steve loves Beethoven deeply, and his unschooled and passionate impression made Beethoven all the more human--and all the more believable.

Everyone in the viola section had the same reaction after we finished: this was probably the most important, satisfying, and relevant concert we have ever played. I know that those 1,500 kids, their teachers, and the ushers from the orchestra guild (not to mention the 2,000 that came to yesterday's concerts) will never forget the 45 minutes they spent with Beethoven.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thoughts from "On An Overgrown Path"

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the solution to classical music's current problems lies not with the fashionable mantra of increased accessibility, but rather in the fuzzy area that lies between science and pseudoscience. An earlier post touched on Bell's theorem, which asserts that one subatomic 'object' can affect another such object without even the slightest interval of time or space separating them. This could mean that in classical music the composer, performer, audience, instruments, hall acoustic, physical performance space, climactic and environmental conditions, in fact every aspect of physical and cultural landscape, are connected more deeply and subtly than is currently thought.
Read the whole post "If classical music is not live it is dead" over at On An Overgrown Path.

I can listen to a recording a hundred times and have a different experience each time, but my listening experience has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the people who made the recording. A great recording can be an excellent document, and it can be extremely exciting, but it can't be more than either a document of an event, or a rendered object. It can't do anything other than repeat itself over and over, and in order even to do that it requires a machine. A recording also only engages one of our senses, and we do have at least five.

Being present at a concert, as either a performer or as a member of an audience, is a different experience from that of listening to a recording. The presence and the relevance of a moment simply cannot be captured in any more than a superficial way, even with the finest audio and video equipment. The presence and relevance of a moment can be enhanced by technology, but the experience, in that case, is being controlled by a director, a producer, an audio engineer, and/or camera operators. The resulting object can be terrific, but it can never be more than an object.

Moments of true excitement can't be planned. The groundwork can be set, and people can have expectations, but nobody can pre-determine the actual moments when a musical-chemical reactions will happen (or even if they will happen). That's part of the fun.

That's one reason the above post from "On An Overgrown Path" is so relevant.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hyperpresent Improvisation 'Cross the Wide Missouri

. . . actually, it's 'cross the wide Pacific! This is an improvisation on Shanendoah that our son Ben Leddy did last week with other string players playing in various locations on the University of Illinois Campus and at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

Here's a lecture by the Benjamin Day Smith, the person who organized the project. He explains the technology. The video above clearly shows that it works.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Those Fabulous Philadelphians

The recent news about the Philadelphia Orchestra's declaration of bankruptcy made me curious about the orchestra's beginnings. It was a far more innocent time in America, musically speaking. I feel for the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

This data comes from the Appendix of Frances Anne Wister’s Twenty-five years of the Philadelphia Orchestra

1900-1901 Season

Six regular concerts, one in Reading, Pennsylvania = 7

1901-1902 Season

Fourteen regular concerts
Fourteen public rehearsals
Twenty-four concerts elsewhere in Pennsylvania = 52

1902-1903 Season

Fourteen regular concerts
Fourteen public rehearsals
Five Beethoven concerts
Five popular concerts
Five young people’s concerts
Twenty Eight concerts in PA, NY, CT, MD, and NJ = 71

1903-1904 Season

Fourteen regular series concerts
Fourteen public rehearsals
Five Beethoven concerts
Five popular concerts
Five young people’s lecture concerts
Five people’s concerts (?)
Two special concerts
One Special (Thibaud) concert
Seventeen concerts in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Boston, and New York = 59

1904-1905 Season

Fifteen regular series concerts
Fifteen public rehearsals
Five People’s Concerts
One Special (Weingartner) Concert
Two concerts (Harrisburg, and Washington) = 38

1905-1906 Season

Eighteen regular series concerts
Eighteen public rehearsals
Four lecture concerts
Eighteen concerts elsewhere in MD, NY, NJ, and PA (and Washington) = 58

1906-1907 Season

Twenty regular series concerts
Twenty public rehearsals
Twenty-two concerts elsewhere = 62

1907-1908 Season

Twenty-two regular series concerts
Twenty-two public rehearsals
One memorial concert (Fritz Scheel)
Eighteen concerts elsewhere = 63

1908-1909 Season

Twenty-two regular series concerts
Twenty-two public rehearsals
Two concerts at the University of Pennsylvania
Seventeen concerts elsewhere = 67

1909-1910 Season

Twenty-two regular series concerts
Twenty-two public rehearsals
Ten popular concerts
Twenty-six concerts elsewhere = 80

[The 1916-1917 season had 112 concerts: 50 in Philadelphia, a series of 10 in Pittsburgh, and lots of touring. The right hand margin has been cut off the rather poor scan of the Appendix, which also includes (partial) scans of the Orchestra's conductors, soloists, and rosters by instrument, so it isn't possible to show their growth in their second decade here.]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Comparison Students Can Understand

This comparison has nothing to do with the merits of Wagner as a composer, but it is a good way of helping students understand the size of his ego and the amount of power and influence he had. There are also striking physical similarities.

At any rate, my students understood exactly what I was trying to relate, and I thought I'd share it here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ach Bächlein, liebes Bächlein

Twenty years ago I had the privilege of hearing Nathan Gunn and John Wustman perform Die Schöne Müllerin, and yesterday I got to hear them perform it again.

In 1991, when Wustman was 60 and Gunn was 20, Gunn's presentation of the song cycle was almost like a storyteller singing empathetically and engagingly about the experience of another person's imagination (the Miller). It was quite a difficult task for a 20-year-old student to accomplish, particularly after having learned the song cycle by the pianist who clearly has the "inside track" on what Schubert is all about. It was a journey of a young man with a marvelous voice and a tremendous imagination, navigating the eternally flowing stream of an old and wise brook. It was one of the most thrilling musical experiences of my life.

Yesterday's performance was a gift to the community--a free concert. Nathan Gunn studied at the University of Illinois, and after twenty years of a most spectacular career as an opera singer, he returned to his musical roots as a Lieder singer, something he became as a student of John Wustman (and of Schubert). I can think of few other singers, dead or alive, who are equally superb in opera and Lieder. The parallel I keep drawing to Nathan Gunn and John Wustman is that of Fritz Wunderlich and Hubert Giesen. I don't make this comparison lightly.

Die Schöne Müllerin was my first Schubert song cycle. It was the first piece of music I remember listening to on a recording. When I was around seven or eight I understood that the thing in our living room that looked something like this

was a record player. Nobody ever used it. (Yes. In a house of musicians.)

There was a record of Die Schöne Müllerin in one of the slots inside, and and I figured out how to play it (perhaps with help). I remember listening to "Das Wandern" and "Der Jäger" over and over again (until the machine, which was in bad shape, stopped working altogether). I had no idea what any of it meant, but I loved it. When I lived in Austria, I taped about half of a concert performance on the radio that was sung by Peter Schreier, and the piano part was played on the guitar. I used to listen to it again and again. It was pretty much the way I learned German. I was only 20 then, and I still didn't understand anything beyond the surface of the piece.

I have heard many Schöne Müllerins since hearing Nathan Gunn in '91. The recording of Fritz Wunderlich and Hubert Giesen is one of my favorites. I listened to it in anticipation of yesterday's concert. My expectations were high, and I took deep personal risks by putting Gunn and Wustman to the Wunderlich/Giesen test (I was deeply disappointed by a performance of the cycle I heard a few weeks ago by another highly-successful 40-year-old opera singer, and needed to put things into perspective).

I arrived at the hall an hour early (what's an hour when it's been twenty years?). There were other people there who had heard Gunn and Wustman perform Die Schöne Müllerin in 1991. In fact there were people who had heard Wustman and various students perform all 600 of Schubert's Lieder during his seven-year marathon in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Schubert's birth.

This was a Schöne Müllerin of experience. Nathan Gunn has lived his own life (he now has five children), but he has also lived the lives of some extremely complicated operatic characters, who all had complicated illusions and expectations about life and love. He was also reunited with his mentor in Schubert (kind of like swimming the the water where he learned to swim, if you will forgive my heavy-handed water analogy), who, when at the piano, seemed unchanged in 20 years. Wonders of nature, if allowed to be, only become more beautiful.

It was a Schöne Müllerin that Schubert and Müller never could have imagined. Wilhelm Müller died in 1827 at the age of 33, and Schubert died at the age of 31 in 1828. It was a profoundly moving hour, filled with profoundly-moving minutes, seconds, inflections, colors, articulations, diction, and Schubert. I was overcome with emotion after it was over, and in my post concert funk, just before turning down the wrong street, I saw a young (he is 20) pianist friend, and I encouraged him, since he hadn't known about the afternoon performance, to go to the performance of Die Winterreisse that Gunn and Wustman were doing in the evening (a concert I had to miss). Perhaps that performance will be central to his life. Who knows?

With everything going on in the world, with all the changes, revolutions, upheavals, expressions of greed, unfairness in government (which Schubert and Müller both understood far too well), struggles, and wars that have happened between 1828 and 2011, Schubert, Gunn, and Wustman teach us that it is really music that matters most of all.

Death of classical music? It won't happen as long as we have Schubert, who keeps giving to us and renewing, and filling us with hope. It won't happen as long as we have singers like Nathan Gunn, who understand and fill their responsibility to all of us. It doesn't matter whether my hope is real or imaginary, and one of the lessons of Die Schöne Müllerin is that there's no difference between hope that's "real" or hope that's "imaginary."

Dann, Blümlein alle,
Heraus, heraus!
Der Mai ist kommen
Der Winter ist aus.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

"E lucevan le stelle" doesn't ever get old

It gets me every time, particularly this performance (which ends too abruptly--so be prepared).

Friday, April 08, 2011

Visigothic Neumes

Click here for a giant sized picture

You can go to BibliOdyssey to see more of this magnificent 11th-century manuscript (which is itself a copy of a 7th-century Antiphonal).

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Where are They Now?

The life of a child prodigy through the window of YouTube is very different from the lives of child prodigies of decades past. I do like to keep up and watch my favorite YouTube kids develop.

The five-year-old who played an impressive and expressive Bach Gigue

is now nine, and playing a Chopin Waltz.

Then there's Umi Garrett who played a highly-impressive Gnomenreigen at eight,

a slightly faster Gnomenreigen at nine,

and she has also been playing chamber music.

Two Unconventional Orchestras

Jay Shulman just sent me some information about a film about the Kinshasa Symphony, an orchestra that makes its home in the largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is central Africa's only symphony orchestra.

I doubt that this film will make it to my part of the central Illinois, but I'm certainly planning to watch it when it comes out on DVD.

The other unconventional orchestra in this post is the YouTube Symphony, which could be considered the polar opposite of the Kinshasa Symphony. My thoughts were prompted by David Cutler's post "What Professional Orchestras Should Learn from YouTube."

I was rather unimpressed with the first YouTube Symphony concert. It sounded to me like a college orchestra that had gotten together to play for a very short music festival. This time around the organizers improved everything about the venture, and the product is really quite impressive. I listened to the viola auditions, and I voted on the people I would like to have as section mates. Everyone I voted for seemed to be in the viola section (which does sound really good), and they are even seated in my order of preference. I must have come to the same conclusions as the panel who made the final choices (and in order to insure the highest quality players, they had a panel which took "suggestions" from the voting public).

The YouTube Symphony is not a professional orchestra. Professional orchestras are business entities that pay professional musicians to play professionally. It is very rare that they get the amount of corporate support that a corporate entity can provide, unless they wear that corporate entity's name.

The players in the 2011 YouTube Symphony are really fine. There's really nothing like hearing an orchestra made of all hand-picked players who have diligently practiced their parts and have been coached to play well together in their sections, playing under the leadership of a first-rate conductor. The added plus of the wonderful hall, the light show (just in case the audience gets bored) arranged in such a way that it doesn't distract the musicians, the chance to be in the world spotlight and have your concert broadcast all over the world, and the singular escape of being at a music festival where all cares about the world outside of the musical experience at hand are left at home--in another hemisphere. The festival is short enough so that there is always the spark of new friendships, and no time for the negative feelings that can pop up at the end of a summer-long festival.

The NBC Symphony was a professional orchestra that was owned and paid for by NBC. CBS also had a professional orchestra. Perhaps YouTube (or Google) can take a cue from the NBC Symphony and use its vast financial resources to create a full-time professional Symphony Orchestra (as big as the one that played in Sidney) to play concerts all over the world. (I don't think that the name "Google Symphony Orchestra" would work quite as well as YouTube Symphony Orchestra.)

Corporate entities have their names all over concert halls, so why not branch out to the orchestras themselves? If corporate America (which seems to stoke the engine of certain parts of the American congress) wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the organization that helps performing organizations have a leg up towards making ends meet, perhaps they should offer to sponsor and fully fund America's performing organizations.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A Case for HAHN-BIN

I must admit that I was really not looking forward to playing a concert with HAHN-BIN (his name is spelled in all capital letters) as the soloist (I wrote something about him last month). He played Sarasate's Carmen Fantasie and Ziegeunerweisen.

He came to rehearsal in full makeup, and his rehearsal makeup was not the same as his concert makeup (the concert makeup was far more subdued). He has a fantastic violin (made just last year in Michigan) that has a huge sound. It sounds particularly wonderful in the extreme high register, the extreme low register, and when playing harmonics and left-hand pizzicato, so it's perfect for Sarasate. And he is indeed a very solid fiddle player and an effective performer.

I would not go to a concert because of the soloist's looks (that's just me), but I do believe that his "look" drew people to the concert who would otherwise not go. Many were young people. The house was nearly full, and the audience REALLY responded to HAHN-BIN's Sarasate. A positive audience response is nothing to scoff at. I thought we did a fine job accompanying him (not an easy task when much of the accompaniment consists of off-beats moving through periods of constant rubato), but the audience just took our contribution for granted, and they applauded the soloist. That is what this music is all about.

I don't know if I would like to hear him play Bach or Beethoven or Mozart, but he's not presenting himself (or his management is not presenting him) as that kind of violinist. They are presenting him as a celebrity of sorts. Not everyone can go the pure class and route like Augustin Hadelich (HAHN-BIN's polar opposite, perhaps) and get hired as a soloist.

The thing is that he delivers what he promises to deliver. We really shouldn't judge him on anything besides what we see and hear. What we see takes considerable work and skill (diet, make-up, exercise, practice), and what we hear takes considerable work and skill (Sarasate requires serious technique). If the sound were less than beautiful, I could criticize it; if the playing were out of rhythm, I could criticize that; if he didn't play in tune, I could criticize that; and if the sound didn't project, I could criticize that. I can't criticize him on any of those counts.

I was not terribly impressed by his YouTube videos, but in real life music sounds different from the way it sounds through a computer. You can't actually hear the projecting qualities of an instrument or of a violinist (or any musician) in a recording. Isn't this kind of thing as good a case as any for actually going to a concert to hear music rather than "getting" all of your musical experiences from videos on computers or through engineered recordings?

N.B. The fiddle looks (and sounds) like it might have been made by Joseph Curtin, but that's just a guess. Does anybody know for sure?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Intonation Game

I just came across an interesting intonation game that offers electronically-generated pitches and asks you to determine whether they are too high, too low, or just right. I wonder if these pitches were generated acoustically, on an actual violin, if it would be as easy to tell whether they matched. I also wonder if it is even possible to sustain an exact pitch on a stringed instrument, microtonal or otherwise, for more than a fraction of a second, since acoustic sound waves are living and moving entities.

This brings up my previous thoughts about the actual ability for anyone to truly play microtonal music accurately.

Related posts:

Bohlen Pierce Scale
Microtonal Ramble
Lend Me Your Ears

Nobody has answered the question I asked at the end of the Bohlen-Pierce Scale post.
Can anyone (who doesn't have perfect pitch) explain how a person with only a western musical background could sing microtonal or alternative-scale music accurately.
I'm still waiting!

Friday, April 01, 2011


The people at Wikio came out with their listing of the most popular classical music sites, and it seems that this blog, for whatever reason, is rather high on the list! That is nice to know. Here's the complete list. There are a few here that are new to me (and perhaps they might be to you as well). It's always good to have new perspectives on this "thing" we refer to as "classical music."

1Clef Notes
3Opera Chic
4Opera Today
5Proper Discord
7The Opera Tattler
9Musical Assumptions
10Nico Muhly
12Michael Huebner's Blog & Column -
13Of Music and Men
14Andrew Patner: The View from Here
15Eric Edberg
16The Collaborative Piano Blog
18Summer is Coming In
19Lynn Harrell
20Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog
21A Beast in a Jungle
22Chamber Music Today
23The Classical Beat
24Likely Impossibilities
25The Stark Raving Cello Blog
26Bryan Pinkall's World of Opera
29Brian Dickie

Ranking made by Wikio