First Floor, Women's Shoes and the Philadelphia Orchestra

“Outreach” is a big watchword for orchestras these days; that’s why the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performs in several different locations, and the Minnesota Orchestra has its UPbeat Greater Minnesota program. They want to go to the audience sometimes, rather than relying on the audience to always come to them.

I’m sure that’s why the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra found themselves wedged between women’s shoes and handbags in the Macy’s store in downtown Philadelphia last week, performing with the world’s largest pipe organ, which is permanently installed there. Read more about it here.


I have long been fascinated by perception and brain science, so I was delighted when a recent internet search for “Vladimir Ashkenazy” turned up this excerpt from a recent book by Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia: Tales of Music & the Brain. (Sacks’s best known book is probably The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.)

The excerpt tells the stories of a couple of people who were more or less indifferent to music but then became obsessed with it after their brains got knocked around a little.

If you’re interested, check out Daniel Levitin’s book This is Your Brain on Music, too.

Wedding Crasher

The wedding was lovely, I’m sure, and the reception would have been a delight even if all had gone as planned. But when an unexpected guest showed up–well, it got even better.

Famous flutist James Galway happened to be rehearsing in a hotel ballroom in Belfast when he and his wife stumbled across a wedding reception going on in an adjacent space. Find out what happened here.


Finally made it to Orchestra Hall Saturday night…..after two years here, it was about time, right?

Wow, what a night! Allow just a bit of gushiness please. As glorious as it is to hear our wonderful Minnesota Orchestra on the many recordings we play on Classical Minnesota Public Radio, it is simply over-the-top to hear them LIVE in the concert hall.

Viva Espana took the audience on a musical journey through Spain and Mexico, courtesy of Emmanuel Chabrier, Joaquin Rodrigo, Manuel de Falla, Alberto Ginastera and Aaron Copland. Minneapolis native Sharon Isbin was brilliant playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra. But the real stars of the evening were the members of the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Osmo Vanska. It was definitely the quickest (and best) two hours of my weekend!

In fact, it almost felt like being at a Vikings game with the chants of “OS-MO, OS-MO, OS-MO” after each piece by more than a few enthusiastic listeners. “Stuffy” was nowhere to be found Saturday night. I’ll be back – soon!

Classical Geniuses

If you’ve been waiting by the phone for the MacArthur Foundation to call, I’m sorry to break the news: If you’d been selected for one of their $500,000-over-5-years “genius” grants, you’d already know.

Of the 25 selected fellows, three are musical:

Violinist Leila Josefowicz, 30, was honored for “broadening the instrument’s repertoire and captivating audiences through her juxtaposition of the avant-garde and eclectic with the more traditional.” She’ll be in the Twin Cities twice this season: with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on December 11, and with the Minnesota Orchestra April 23-25. Find her personal website here.

Music critic Alex Ross, 40, got the nod for “offering both highly specialized and casual readers new ways of thinking about the music of the past and its place in our future.” MPR brought him to the Fitzgerald Theater last November to chat about his book The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century. He writes a column for The New Yorker, and he’s got a great blog, too. Has this increased the value of the books he signed that night, I wonder?

The third musician is Walter Kitundu, 35, an instrument maker and composer honored for “inventing instruments inspired by experimental and traditional musical forms to produce electro-acoustic works that navigate the boundary between live and recorded performance.” He, too, has Minnesota connections: he was a guest artist at the Science Museum of Minnesota in 2004, and in 2003 he created and performed a score for a show at Pillsbury House Theater in Minneapolis.

How hard is it to update a website, anyway?

Please allow me an “Andy Rooney” moment.

As a classical music announcer, I spend a lot of time searching the Web for current information about musicians to share with you, the listener.

What I find a little irritating is that many big-name classical stars–those who probably have “people” to handle these things–don’t keep their websites updated. A household-name pianist’s calendar claims, “No tour dates are currently scheduled, please check back soon.” Oh, really? Or a major violinist’s website reads, “In the 2006-2007 season, he will be touring Asia.”

So, if you’re a big name star reading this blog, help me help you. Update your website, so I can sound “with it” and well-informed, and listeners can know you’re still alive and working.