Credit Where Credit is Due

I was all in a dither to read this article in the Toronto Post. It’s not just about a cello, but about a carbon fiber cello! Since I happen to own one of these little black beauties myself (one of the R & D models from a friend’s company, Quintus, in Camp Verde, Arizona), I thought the article would have a shout-out to the Cook clan of AZ…stir up a little home-state pride, y’know.

Not so much.

No mention of Quintus. The story refers only to carbon-fibre instruments by a company called Luis & Clark, which has the weight of celebrity endorsements on its side, with kudos from Edo de Waart, Kurt Masur and Yo Yo Ma. They’re also the first hit when you google “carbon fiber instrument.” The instruments were developed by Boston Symphony cellist Luis Leguia and a sailboat-making pal of his. Apparently it was Leguia’s love for sailing that got him thinking about building a sturdier, lighter, more weather-proof instrument. How can I not root for a guy who’s been playing the cello his whole life AND loves the feel of sun and spray on his face?

And yet…it made me feel a bit sad that the article made it seem as though Messrs. Luis & Clark are the sole pioneers in this weird little field.

Both companies seem to have launched products around 1996 – essentially simultaneous development of the same thing at the same time. Is this just another example of what scientists call parallel evolution? Or what more mystical types think of as the collective unconscious?

Who'll take a chance on nine young composers?

If you’ve ever said (or thought) that symphony orchestras need to be more in touch with the musical language of our time and you live within hailing distance of Minneapolis, then Friday is put-up-or-shut-up day. For just $15, you can hear the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Osmo Vanska perform music by nine emerging American composers. The oldest of them is 39, the youngest 24.

They’re participating this week in the orchestra’s annual Composer Institute, designed to teach them more about their craft and to give them an all-too-rare chance to hear a real orchestra perform their music. Friday night’s concert will be the first full-length evening performance in the ten-year history of these new music workshops. If you want a taste of what’s in store, there are audio samples here.

Sounds like an adventure to me! Bring along the kids!

(And listen to Karl Gehrke’s profile of Minnesota Orchestra New Music Advisor Aaron Jay Kernis here.)

Passing of Robt. McFerrin, Sr

I was sorry to read this morning that Bobby McFerrin’s father died last Friday of a heart attack at the age of 85. In case you don’t know, Robert McFerrin, Sr. was a pioneering opera singer. He was the first black man to sing solo at the Metropolitan Opera. His appearance at the Met in 1955 in “Aida” came just three weeks after Marian Anderson made her historic debut as the first African-American to sing a major role at the Met. HIs obituary is in today’s Pioneer Press.

He that hath ears to hear…

I’ve got some hearing loss in my right ear, but like many of my fellow sufferers, I’m not wearing a hearing aid…yet. The technology is certainly a lot better and more discreet than when my grandfather’s unit would make feedback whistles from his breast pocket. But there’s still a stigma associated with the device, and with the very idea of admitting that you are hard of hearing.

Music means little if you can’t hear it, so tenor Placido Domingo, along with the Vienna Philharmonic, are leading a campaign called “Hear the World,” to raise awareness about hearing loss, and to help bring the latest technological help to those who need it. They plan a major announcement tomorrow (Tues.) at Carnegie Hall. More details in this story from the Associated Press.

Classical Guerillas

Val Kahler’s previous post reminded me of a project of mine that never got off the ground.

Back when I was still playing my trombone I thought it would be great to have a group called “The Guerilla Brass Quintet.” The idea would be that we’d show up in some public place, unannounced, wearing gorilla masks, and play music for people as they head off to lunch or home from work.

Unfortunately, by the time I came up with this scheme, I was no longer playing with my quintet and never got around to getting some more “Gor/Guerillas” together. Maybe it’s time for someone else to take this idea and run with it.

A bandsman I know told me a while back that there’s a brass band in Colorado that does something similar. They sort of show up, like an art rave, gathering from all corners of town, and suddenly, they are giving a concert.

A Night Out, Guerrilla-Style

I’m neither a skilled enough cook nor an adventurous enough diner to think of myself as a card-carrying “foodie,” but I follow along at a distance and admire the fearless soufflé-makers and sweetbread-eaters as they go places I’ll likely never see.

It was with an outsider’s curiosity (and a little pang of jealousy) then, that I read about a newish trend in dining out – guerrilla restaurants. The hottest chefs (whose name-brand restaurants have 3-month waiting lists for reservations) set up their kitchens in temporary spaces, offer set-price (cheap!) chef’s menus and the chance to sample some new culinary experiments before they hit the menu at French Laundry or Chez Panisse. The catch? It’s advertised only word by word of mouth. Friend-of-a-friend stuff. People I will never, ever meet. *sigh*

Earlier this month, I read about classical music’s contribution to the guerrilla trend. This story in Musical America says the trend is reminiscent of the art scene in the 60s and 70s, with performance art “happenings” in abandoned warehouses and old lofts and the like.

Spurred on by a growing number of offbeat performance venues and enterprising young classical musicians, New York is experiencing a boom in small, largely below-the-radar concert series. There are opera nights at a Lower East Side dive bar, chamber music concerts at a boxing gym beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, contemporary music at a cabaret in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and avant-garde fare in a silo on the banks of an industrial canal.

Zach Layton is an Oberlin grad who organizes new-music nights in Brooklyn, says hipsters (and others) in their 20s and 30s are curious about classical music but aren’t keen on dropping a hundred bucks for a ticket.

“There are people who feel alienated by the extreme expense of the tickets that are sold uptown,” he says. “Presenting classical music in a non-traditional space like a bar opens up opportunities for people to hear music that they might not otherwise get a chance to hear. It’s also a psychological thing, because it just puts music in a more laid back space.”

It’s an excellent story, interesting and challenging. Just one answer to The Great Classical Music Question – where to find the next generations of listeners?

AARP synthesizer

Near the top of this week’s news in the classical music biz is the gutting of Sony BMG Masterworks. That company housed the remnants of several of the world’s mightiest classical music record labels. Reports in both The New York Times and Musical America say most of the top Masterworks executives were laid off–a sad, but not surprising development.

Today The Times published a story online saying that hope for the music industry’s health now resides in aging baby boomers. It says AARP is getting heavily into the music marketing game, mostly pop music from the sound of it.

But hmmm. Aren’t 50-somethings at the demographic heart of the classical music market? Sony BMG, have you thought about talking to the AARP?

Retirement for Mutter? "Nein"

Anne-Sophie Mutter on a radio interview in which she purportedly declared she would be retiring from the concert stage in two years on her 45th birthday:

“No! No no no no! That statement was completely misinterpreted. I’ve always said that I would not go on forever, because I didn’t want to fall into the trap of just repeating myself. When I think I cannot bring anything new, anything important, anything different to music, I will stop. But this is not related to age!”

She also says that despite their recent divorce, she and Andre Previn remain friends, and will continue to perform together. Full interview here.

Roles Royce

100 years ago today, Charles Rolls and Frederick Royce incorporated their new automotive venture Rolls-Royce, Ltd. Of Rolls-Royce, soprano Zinka Milanov comes to mind. She was famous for Verdi, especially Aida, which she sang at the Metropolitan Opera seventy-five times. After Birgit Nilsson’s first performance as Aida at the Met, Zinka Milanov climbed into a Rolls-Royce limousine that was waiting for Nilsson. As she step inside, Milanov said:

“If Madame Nilsson takes my roles, I must take her Rolls!”

BTW, for a musical tribute to another great automotive centennial, see entry and link for November 17.

The Classical Intersection

I’ve been reading with interest the comments of Don Lee and others about the intersection of classical music and popular — specifically, rock ‘n’ roll. I’m sure there are many other examples waiting to be cited.

But for a really productive era in this category, you’d need to go back several decades, to the years of swing and big-band jazz. “Let’s Dance” is a re-working of Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance, Fletcher Henderson did an arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero,” Duke Ellington did a “Nutcracker” Suite, and so on; it would be an interesting task to see just how many pop songs came out of this special relationship.