Girl Power!

The “Girl King,” Christina Wasa of Sweden was an intellectual prodigy. It’s claimed that she brought Descartes to Stockholm so she could carry on a conversation about the meaning of love. Sweden’s famously cold temperatures and her early-morning study sessions contributed to his sudden death from pneumonia.

In the 1933 movie based on the life of Christina, Greta Garbo speaks a line that sums up her life in that cold, distant country, “One can feel nostalgia for places one has never seen.”

As a ruler, Christina ended the Thirty Years War, maybe a bit too hastily as the Swedes were not able to capitalize on the spoils of war. But as far as music and the arts go, she enticed one of the most glittering and creative crowds of musicians and composers to her court from the far reaches of Europe, including places she had never seen but felt nostalgia for, like Italy. The group only disbanded after she abdicated the throne in her thirties to follow her zeal for Catholicism.

You can hear some of the music from her court and more tales about this amazing woman ahead of her time with the Minneapolis group The Rose Ensemble in concerts beginning next Friday.

Rostropovich Remembrances

From the many remembrances of Mstislav Rostropovich that have appeared, here are just two, from Washington, the U. S. city that knew him best: an online chat with music critic Tim Page, and an obituary which includes this anecdote:

He demanded much of his orchestra. In return, he offered loyalty and friendship, not only to his musicians but to the support staff.

In 1982 a stagehand named Bull McNeil, who traveled with the orchestra, died. At the Alexandria funeral parlor where the wake was being held, Rostropovich showed up unannounced with his cello shortly before closing time. He walked over to the open coffin, said a short prayer, played some music on the cello and then left, in silence.

Rostropovich has died

The news just came across the wires early this morning. Here’s the obit from the A-P:

MOSCOW (AP) – Famed master cellist and conductor Mstislav

Rostropovich has died.

The maestro, who was 80, died in Moscow.

He had lived abroad for years in self-imposed exile and became a

courageous champion of the rights of Soviet-era dissidents. Later

he triumphantly played Bach below the crumbling Berlin Wall.

Rostropovich was hospitalized in Paris in February, suffering

from intestinal cancer. After he took a turn for the worse, his

family arranged for him to be flown back to Russia. Among those who

called on him to pay respects were Russia’s President Vladimir


He was well enough last month to attend a celebration at the

Kremlin honoring his 80th birthday.

Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency reports he was hospitalized again

several days ago.

Brave New New York Phil

From the New York Times this week:

“The New York Philharmonic, hunting for a successor to its music director, Lorin Maazel, has decided to divide up its leadership by adding the new position of principal conductor, orchestra officials said yesterday.”

Here’s one wag’s version of the new org chart

Musicians can stop singing the Delta blues

If you’re Delta Airlines, what’s the bigger relief? That a bankruptcy court yesterday approved your $2.5 billion reorganization plan? Or that the American Federation of Musicians today ended its year-long boycott of your flights?

Well, here we care about the music story:

The AFM called for the boycott about a year ago, saying the airline was going too far in restricting musicians from carrying their instruments on board planes. Here’s the background, from a statement the union released today:

Restrictions on carry-on items were tightened following 9/11. In response, the AFM lobbied Congress and the administration, seeking support for carry-on rules that reflected the value of musical instruments and the importance of allowing them on board. The AFM’s efforts were successful in winning a formal statement from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allowing passengers to carry one musical instrument through security screening checkpoints in addition to the standard allotment of one carry-on and one personal item.

Ultimately, most airlines allowed musicians to carry on their instruments. But each airline is free to impose its own restrictions, and Delta continued to be the most restrictive.

In 2006, AFM instituted an internal boycott that asked all of the union’s 100,000 members plus all local and international leadership not to fly the airline. Upon Delta’s announcement of its new policy allowing instruments on board, the union’s International Executive Board today voted to lift the boycott against Delta.

It’d be interesting to know how much difference the boycott made to Delta’s bottom line.

Further developments

Some follow-up on two posts last week:

German-born composer Carl Christian Bettendorf is the winner of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s first Emerging Composers Competition. In a concert Saturday night, SPCO musicians played his entry, Palimpsest, and pieces by the three other finalists. After an intermission and a brief discussion among the composers, the judges announced their decision. Then the ensemble, conducted by Scott Yoo (who was one of the judges), played the winning composition again for the audience in the intimate SPCO Center. Bettendorf’s prize is $3000 and yet another performance of Palimpsest–at an SPCO subscription concert at some point in the next few years. Karl Gehrke’s Friday story previewing the competition includes excerpts from the piece.

And if you’re interested in reading what Phoenix Symphony violist Karen Bea told a House subcommittee last Thursday, you can find her comments here. The American Symphony Orchestra League summarizes by saying her “testimony highlighted the public value of NEA funding, specifically describing the Phoenix Symphony’s NEA-supported One Nation project, a partnership with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.” The League says Bea was one of only two public witnesses invited to speak on behalf of the NEA.

World's Largest Orchestra…of coconuts!

Okay…not quite classical, perhaps. But it’s a lot of fun.

The Monty Python gang, in a shameless bit of promotion for their musical Spamalot, got together 5,567 of the Python faithful in Trafalgar Square to set a world record for the largest orchestra of coconuts ever assembled.

If you aren’t aquainted with the “Knights Who Say Ni,” find a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and pay special attention to the horses the Knights are riding (or not).

Of course video from the event is on YouTube.

More details on the story here.

Shakespeare's Hokey-Pokey

To honor the spirit of The Bard, we submit these humble rhymes in tribute:

Shakespeare’s Hokey-Pokey

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within

Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.

Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:

Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.

Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,

A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.

To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.

Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.

The Hoke, the poke–banish now thy doubt

Verily, I say, ’tis what it’s all about.

Life's too short not to live it elegantly

You know when your friends offer the advice “Life’s too short?” It’s usually followed by “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” or “Let it go and move on,” or “Follow your bliss!” For one concert pianist in Australia, time really is running out. 30-year old Aaron McMillan has brain cancer, and is doing all he can to use his remaining time to assemble his past 12 years of concertizing into a 9-CD collection. Aaron can’t get out of bed now, so his hospice room has become a literal production office.

His amazing story illustrates the sheer perseverance of the human spirit. Reading it, for me, is like the exercise of writing your own epitaph. What do you want to be remembered for? What really matters to you? What would you do if these were the last months, weeks, days of your life?

Aaron McMillan doesn’t talk about the inevitable and instead is using his time to compose a piano concerto “in the style of Schubert,” who died at 31 without having written one. I am particularly moved by Aaron’s words of a few years back, words that echo Victor Frankl and some of the great minds in human psychology: “I want to find elegant ways through everything.”