"Vanska's Mahler, though, felt all wrong"

Congrats to the Minnesota Orchestra on the completion of their European tour! There have been a number of stellar reviews (at least one posted to this blog earlier in the month), and Osmo seems to have the Midas Touch. But not entirely, if you’re to believe Edward Seckerson in The Independent.

For those of you who heard our live broadcast of this concert, what did you think of the Mahler 5? Post your comments here. And if you didn’t hear the concert, you can decide for yourself when Classical Minnesota Public Radio rebroadcasts this Proms concert on Monday Sept 4 at 8pm.

Half the Battle

The very beginning of a piece gives a composer an opportunity: to create atmosphere instantly, to present us with a striking idea . . . .sometimes half the battle is already won if the composer comes up with a good beginning, as Schubert does in the Fantasy that Brian Newhouse submitted just below.

So let me put in another plug for this piece. If you’ve never heard it before, do check out the opening measures (and then find the time to listen to the whole thing).

Menlo listening highlight

Schubert: Fantasy for Piano, Four Hands, in f, D. 940

Jeffery Kahane, Wu Han, piano

Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

I think Schubert must have had read some twisted, tragic story before sitting down to write this, because he’s so clearly trying to do the same with this music. He tells it as a story in four movements—four chapters, if you like—but each one flows without a break to the next. Jeffrey Kahane takes the lower part, while Wu Han plays ‘right hand.’ Afterward Jeffrey was telling me how surprised he was at the power of this particular Steinway, especially the low end, and that if he’d had another set of hands he would’ve covered his ears! (see post Menlo: noisy world)

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Dawn Upshaw News

Buried at the end of today’s Minnesota Orchestra tour journal in the St. Paul Pioneer Press was the most significant news:

“Later, the news arrives that Dawn Upshaw, who canceled her plans to sing on this tour, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, which has been caught early and for which there are high hopes for thorough recovery.”

I hope so too; she is a wonderful human being, and an incredibly gifted artist.

Complete article here.

Cleveland v Minnesota

Cleveland Orchestra musicians agreed to a new three-year contract that keeps their salaries in line with those of the nation’s other top orchestras. Base minimum (virtually everyone makes more) is $104,520 this year. The agreement was reached just in time for the orchestra

Towards less savage breasts

On a nursing home visit a few years ago I was pleasantly surprised to see a woman playing familiar old songs and hymns on a celtic harp. She was a music therapist, and her instrument provided a nicely portable way of bringing some joy to some of the residents in their rooms without being too instrusive or loud.

It seems the celtic harp is finding its way into the recovery rooms of some hospitals as well. But the tunes on this playlist are not familiar ones. Apparently easily recognizable songs can trigger negative responses from patients. One harpist likes to use some very old tunes from a book called “The Healer’s Way: Soothing Music for Those in Pain.” There’s more in a story in today’s NY Times.

A lot of our listeners say they listen to classical radio because it’s “soothing.” Does that mean we should be playing more harp music?

Wolfgang Amadeus Cropart

It’s Minnesota State Fair time, when Minnesotans get in touch with their agricultural heritage, and yes, it’s true . . . I own a crop-art picture of Mozart.

Sorry I can’t post the image, but you can get a certain sense of what it might look like on this site, which contains other works by Lillian Colton, the artist who created the Mozart.

And if crop art, a. k. a. seed art, is a totally new concept to you: these are pictures made, mosaic-fashion, out of seeds, grains, and the like. When you commission a piece from Lillian Colton (which is how the Mozart portrait came to be), you also get a guide to the materials used. In this case, they were:


red clover

ground white corn

pine needles



white millet

pearled barley

Pluto, The Bringer of Ice to the Party

The International Astronomical Union has been meeting in Prague over the past week to determine, among other things, what is and what is not a planet. Today the assembled astronomers voted and the official definition is now “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a … nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”

What this means is that Pluto is out. It is automatically disqualified because its orbit crosses that of Neptune. This also means that Gustav Holst had it pegged when his Suite for Large Orchestra, “The Planets” ended with Neptune. Since Pluto is now officially a “dwarf planet” (new designation) that also means that its name has been changed to Sneezy.

Menlo listening highlight

Mozart: Church Sonatas in F, K. 244; E-flat, K. 67; C, K. 336

Ani Kavafian, Tein-Hsin Wu, violin; Peter Wiley, cello; James Welch, organ

Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

These churchy pieces always make me smile, knowing a bit about the complexity of Mozart’s character, especially his delight in bathroom humor. But here he is being a good pious young man, and a professional composer trying to please his boss.

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