Schiff on Beethoven, Again

Andras Schiff has been spending a lot of time with Beethoven in recent years, playing all 32 piano sonatas in a series of 8 recitals in London, New York and Los Angeles (and maybe other cities, too?). He’s gotten reviews like this one from Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times:

He’s thought these pieces through very thoroughly, and he is gadding about the country delivering his cycle, yet he manages to make every gesture seem as though he were discovering it for the first time. He is a remarkable Beethovenian — fresh, original, riveting.

He’s recorded them all, too, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio will bring those recordings to you in December. Starting Monday, listen in the 10 a.m. hour for your daily dose of Beethoven.

Looking for extra credit? Here’s a link to audio for a series of lecture-demonstrations Schiff gave about the Beethoven sonatas when he played the whole cycle in London.

R.I.P. Richard Hickox

British conductor Richard Hickox died suddenly Sunday. He was just 60 years old.

You hear his name a lot on Classical MPR: he founded the City of London Sinfonia and helped to found Collegium Musicum 90; he had a long association with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia, and made many recordings of 20th century British music. He was also well-respected as an opera composer, and he was to have opened a new production of Vaughan Williams Riders to the Sea on Thursday.

Here are various obituaries: from the BBC, from London’s Guardian newspaper, and from the New York Times (registration required).

Shostakovich the Fireman, again…

From the “LAist” blog:

“A group of classical musicians on their way to a Riverside Philharmonic concert this weekend were on the 91 freeway as the fire literally crossed it. They took this video (it gets crazy at 47 seconds in) and being orchestra geeks, most appropriately gave it the soundtrack of Shostakovich’s Symphony #10.

“I chose this music for several reasons, but mostly because we were actually on our way to perform this piece at the Riverside Philharmonic concert that evening,” wrote the videographer on the YouTube description. “We found it interesting that the music we were about to perform matched the intensity of the fires we witnessed.”

The piece–specifically the 2nd movement–was also written after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. “In this composition, I wanted to portray human emotions and passions,” Shostakovich wrote about his piece.

One thing the author didn’t point out is that Shostakovich was a volunteer fireman during the Siege of Leningrad. Meanwhile, check out the astonishing video!

Cantus: Nine Guys = A Perfect Ten

Congrats to the our good friends , the Twin Cities’ men’s vocal ensemble, for getting a perfect review of their new Christmas CD, “All is Calm.” The CD tells the story of the famous WWI Christmas Truce of 1914. Critic David Vernier writes:

With first-rate new musical arrangements by Cantus members Erick Lichte and Timothy Takach, and with dramatic recitations by members of Minneapolis-based Theater Latté Da, whose artistic director Peter Rothstein conceived the project, the program artfully leads, from the point of view of the soldiers, from a Prologue (a beautiful rendition of the song “Will Ye Go to Flanders?”) through various stages of the men’s experience at the beginning of war–“Optimistic Departure”–to the “Grim Reality” of battle, cold, hunger, and death, and then to the events of the Christmas truce itself….As you will expect if you’ve ever heard a Cantus performance, the singing is absolutely top-notch, and the spoken parts…are equally eloquent and moving, and are perfectly juxtaposed with and often simultaneously performed with the music.

You can read the entire review here.

Classical Minnesota Public Radio broadcast the first performances of this show last year, and we’re pleased to bring it back to the radio again for Christmas 2008, on December 23 at 7pm.

Cantus performs this show live at the Pantages in Mpls, Dec 18-21. Classical Minnesota Public Radio will give you a special discount on tickets too.

Rachel Rocks Out

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine is a distinguished classical musician–but she’s also a metal head, as you can see from her website. In concert she’s performed her arrangements of songs by Ozzy Osborne, Metallica and Black Sabbath, among others.

I came across this video of her performing Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell” in a faculty concert at Mark O’Conor’s Strings Conference this summer. The cellist is Mike Block. You’ll have to imagine the fog and the laser show yourself.

Thanks to for the video.

I gave a standing ovation yesterday.

Now, I’m not a stander, generally. At the end of a concert, I may be smiling broadly and clapping energetically, but I tend to remain seated, even if those around me are standing.

But then I was in Orchestra Hall yesterday morning and heard cellist Steven Isserlis and the Minnesota Orchestra strings perform John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil. I was spellbound. I was near tears on several occasions.

When the piece ended, I smiled broadly and clapped energetically. But I felt this inner tension, too, like that wasn’t enough to communicate to Mr. Isserlis how much his performance had touched me. That’s when I realized, “Oh! I could stand! This is why people stand!” And by golly, I did.

The Orchestra has one more performance of The Protecting Veil tonight at the Cathedral of St. Paul. If you can’t get there, listen to it live on Classical Minnesota Public radio, tonight at 8.

How to Carry a Spear

Ah, the things you can run across on the Web. . . .

Here’s the handbook for supers at the San Francisco Opera. (“Supers,” or supernumeraries, are the non-singing performers who play “the people,” “the crowd,” “knights and ladies,” etc.)

There’s always something fascinating about glimpsing backstage, and you get the answers to some interesting questions here.

Can I strike up a backstage conversation with, say, Anna Netrebko? (No–page 11.) I have a visible tattoo. Am I disqualified? (The makeup artists are pros; so not necessarily–page 8.) Do I need to know the story of the opera in question? (It’s a good idea–page 6.) I’d like to get more roles as a super; what do I do? (It’s the Woody Allen answer: show up. Page 3.)

The Fauxharmonic

In the battle between humans and machines, it’s nice to see the humans win once in a while.

Ten days ago, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and it’s conductor Markand Thakar (also music director of the Duluth Superior Symphony) went head to head with the Fauxharmonic Orchestra, a digital orchestra that uses samples of real instruments, and is conducted by someone wielding a Wii-mote. The Fauxharmonic was developed by conductor and composer Paul Henry Smith.

In the opinion of Steve Smith of the New York Times, the live musicians came out on top, though it was closer than you might think:

The demonstration was genuinely impressive. But when the Fauxharmonic was followed by the real orchestra in successive performances…the confrontation was less Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman than Bobby Flay pitted against a George Foreman grill.

Mr. Smith’s account had a realistic tone and adequate flavor, though no one would mistake the fifelike trill of his virtual concertmaster for the work of a real violinist. The orchestra, conducted by Markand Thakar, had greater warmth and substance, along with tangy nuances (and, yes, occasional blemishes) resulting from 21 individuals working together.

Read the whole article here (registration required).