Thank you Classical 2011! You've Been Grand!

Happy New Year!

I sat down at work today and realized the quiet. Of course, there remained an uncanny hustle and bustle throughout the city with professionals in their daily activities and duties – the city never sleeps no matter how calm the façade. Enclosing that motion was a silence that intrigued my ears and I soon realized that the silence’s fountainhead came from reflection.

And how could it have taken me so long to realize that the holidays were staring me in the face, wrapping themselves around me? The juxtaposition of deeply religious rituals and the severally secular Western celebration of a New Year (ironically, a celebration from a calendar instigated by the papal authority in the 16th century, but I digress).

So, in honor of the end of 2011 we will dedicate this post to the reflection on the classical music world of this past year.

We will circle ourselves around several themes: the wonderful tradition of summer festivals, the financial woe epidemic amongst musical organizations, the growth of virtual distribution and widespread access to performances and within we will touch on some of the Minnesota regional highlights.

Let’s celebrate the New Year by reflecting and paying homage to this last one. So, will you join me in saying, “Thank you 2011! Your classical music was grand!”

Summer Celebrations

Arguably the largest music festival to grace human history is the BBC Proms in London at the Royal Albert Hall. The cream of the crop are invited to perform in this practically two-month long festival.


This year hosted an array of creative programming including the largest symphonic work, Symphony No. 1 in D minor “The Gothic” written by Havergal Brian, several works written by transcendent French composer Olivier Messiaen, opening the festival with the rarely heard Glagolitic Mass by Leos Janacek, an entire Steve Reich concert with the composer himself performing, appearances by American ensemble Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and an obscure piece written by the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev, Gabriel Prokofiev, his Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra (DJ Switch is perhaps the only t-shirt wearing musician to grace the Royal Albert Hall stage). Overall, an extremely successful event!

In America we host a vast amount of summer festivals as well; the Tanglewood Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School, Marlboro Music Festival, the Grand Canyon Music Festival, Interlochen Center for the Arts and the list goes on and on…

A favorite amongst the prior list would be the Aspen Summer Festival and School. In 2011 conductor Robert Spano was named Music Director-Designate and led a fabulous summer festival where professionals and up-and-coming musicians are able to mingle and collaborate.

Marlboro Artistic Directors Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida lead a truly collaborative effort, marking this year as Marlboro’s 60th anniversary!


The Twin Cities hosts many summer celebrations as well, but the cherished Minnesota Orchestra Sommerfest is a Minnesota favorite. This past summer they performed many great works throughout classical history: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Petrushka, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, an all Gershwin program, an all Mozart program and some very interesting guest artists; the Beatles tribute band “1964” and pop-indie band Cloud Cult.

A very successful, entertaining and meaningful summer music scene. Thank you 2011, your summer music was fabulous!

Financial Woe

Though the financial woe has been surfacing ever since the 2008 economic crash, this year seemed evermore potent and laden filled than usual.

A short recap…

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

In an already struggling and seemingly desolate economy, the once thriving automotive city of Detroit clung to their artistic hope and supported an orchestra. This was true up until October of 2010 when unsatisfied musicians went on strike, which lasted through the following year of 2011.


Striking to the brink, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was able to pull itself up from the bootstraps and come to an agreement on April 3, 2011, concerts resuming on April 9. Close call…

Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphia Orchestra broke records being the very first major orchestra to file for bankruptcy. In poetic fashion the newly appointed music director-designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin offered to work a whole week without pay to symbolize not only his commitment to music but his willingness to personally assist in the financial crisis. Because the Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 they are still allowed to continue their operations, but this will certainly put a stunt in the ensemble’s future growth.

Opera Boston

The Christmas present nobody wants to hear or have… On December 23rd, 2011 Opera Boston’s board of directors issued a press release announcing that the curtains on the Opera Boston stage will be drawn for good. The city has had a history with financial hardship within the opera world going back to 1915 when Boston Opera Co. filed for bankruptcy and in 1990 with the Opera Company of Boston folding after 31 years of fine programming.

Local Impacts

Here in Minnesota our orchestras and choirs seem to be staying upright and have even, in some respects, been thriving, namely with the new Orchestra Hall construction and the proposal of a new performance space for the SPCO.

However, look into any school district’s budget and you will see that the arts are struggling more than ever.

The financial woe epidemic touches every aspect of human culture and society. Now, more than ever, in our financial dire straits we as a society need to embrace the hopeful and meaningful gifts that art can bring.

Thank you 2011 for opening our eyes and ears!

Virtually There

It’s been here for a while, the theatre streaming of the Metropolitan Opera Company, but will this great idea be IN our future scope or BE our future scope of classical music exposure?

Among the productions streamed were: Rossini’s Le Comty Ory, Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, Adams’ Nixon in China, Verdi’s Il Trovatore and many others.


I have been to these productions and they are pretty neat! I saw Richard Strauss’ Capriccio and I got lost on stage. In fact, I felt as though I was missing my cues or something because all I was doing was watching instead of interacting with the performers.

Check these out in 2012! Some great productions coming up: Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Handel’s Rodelinda, Gounod’s Faust and a new production of Massanet’s Manon.

There are many locations throughout the Twin Cities that these theatre experiences are available: AMC Rosedale 14, Oakdale Cinema, Brooklyn Center 20, Eagan 16, AMC Eden Prairie 18 to just name a few. Check out Fathom Events at their website.

Thank you 2011 for continuing to bring us onstage!

Attractive Liberties

If you think about it, in some way or another sexual appeal has been a part of the classical music scene for, well probably since its beginnings. It could be as reactionary as Lisztomania to being deeply imbedded in the message of the music itself, just listen to any Wagner opera…

However, this year brought some new and interesting liberties in way of classical attire.


This past fall 24 year old pianist Yuja Wang was regarded as though she were some pop star celebrity. Basically, she wore this very short and quite tight orange dress to play a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The proceeding conversations hardly focused on her actual playing, of which she did a most outstanding job. Rather, these conversations were side to side bantering about the morally correct thing to wear on stage at a classical performance.


The winner of a 2011 Echo award, 31 year old violinist David Garrett, who might be confused as Kurt Cobain, has pushed us to the brink of ambiguity as to what a “typical” classical musician looks and dresses like.

In this case I will allow the pictures to speak my 1,000 words.

Final Thank You!

We want to thank you classical world of 2011 for bringing joy, for bringing us sorrow, for being sexy, for being poor, for being profound, fun, engaging and for filling our ears and hearts with music that we love! Thank you 2011. But, we must bid you adieu as we welcome 2012!

2011 in Classical Music


Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Grammy Classical Record of the Year, for the Verdi Requiem); Zhou Long, (Pulitzer Prize, for his opera “Madame White Snake”); Esa-Pekka Salonen (Grawemeyer Prize in composition for his violin concerto); Alisa Weilerstein and Francisco Nunez (MacArthur “genius” grants)


In January, a grand piano mysteriously appeared on a Florida sandbar. In December, a photo of Yo-Yo Ma and a wombat went viral on the Net.


James Levine, forced to cancel the year’s performances by health problems; the Philadelphia Orchestra, for its continuing struggles with bankruptcy; Keith Brown, father of the 5 Browns, imprisoned for sexual abuse of his children; the Detroit Symphony, where a long musicians’ strike finally ended; the Stradivarius violin known as the “Lady Blunt,” auctioned off to provide funds for Japanese earthquake relief; manuscripts of Jean Sibelius, which may be material for his supposedly lost Eight Symphony; the YouTube Symphony, who drew large crowds in Sydney, Australia, and on the Internet


Composer Milton Babbitt; conductor Yakov Kreizberg; Wisconsin-born composer Lee Hoiby; soprano Montserrat Figueras; composer Peter Lieberson; violinist Josef Suk, a descendant of composers Suk and Dvorak; tenor Salvatore Licitra; mezzo Sena Jurinac, famed for Mozart and Strauss; Minneapolis pianist Richard Zgodava; conductor Kurt Sanderling; baritone Giorgio Tozzi; tenor Robert Tear; Minnesota Public Radio hosts Arthur Hoehn and Tom Keith


To the New World Symphony of Miami Beach, who opened a spectacular new concert hall; to Aristo Sham, winner of St. Paul’s Junior Piano e-Competition; to Erin Keeffe, new concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra

To our readers and listeners–our thanks and best wishes for a happy, productive 2012!

How many Cymbal crashes in Tchaik 4? 192!

The cymbal-ist playing Tchaik 4 has to be strong, agile, a great musician and have nerves of steel. This uber-musician must wait about 30 minutes before playing and pretty well all eyes are on him, so no clams allowed!

Just a side-bar, years ago I was on an audition committee for a percussion opening in our orchestra. It all started to sound kinda the same to me, but soon you could tell who had the chops especially when it got to the Tchaik 4 excerpts. Amazing to hear cymbals all day long…

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Dec. 28 to Jan. 2

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: holiday music from recent performances by the National Lutheran Choir, Kantorei, Choral Arts Ensemble, Magnum Chorum, and InVocation

Friday, 8 pm: The Minnesota Orchestra plays Haydn, Higdon, and Hanson

Saturday, noon: Metropolitan Opera: an archive performance of Johann Strauss’s Fledermaus

Saturday, 10 pm: A Prairie Home Companion’s Hawaiian New Year’s Eve, with Garrison Keillor

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: An Organist’s Yearbook

Sunday, 10 am: the annual New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic

Sunday, noon: From the Top

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in Faure, Debussy and Schubert

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; Chamber works of Kurtag and Mozart

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Dec. 20 to 27

Tuesday, 7 pm: Brother Heinrich’s Christmas

Tuesday, 8 pm: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Hodie

Wednesday, noon: Music with Minnesotans: designer David Simmer

Wednesday 7 pm: Minnesota Choral Christmas

Wednesday, 8 pm: Candles Burning Brightly

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: holiday fare from Magnum Chorum, the National Lutheran Choir, InVocation, the Master Singers (Eau Claire), baritone Robert Storeygard, and the Bethel University Wind Ensemble

Thursday, 7 pm: Echoes of Christmas

Thursday, 8 pm: La Nochebuena: Spanish Renaissance Christmas with The Rose Ensemble

Friday, 7 pm: Saint Olaf Christmas Festival

Friday, 9 pm: New York Polyphony: I Sing the Birth

Saturday, 9 am: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (live)

Saturday, 11 am: Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker

Saturday, 5 pm: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (repeat)

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: On Christmas Day

Sunday, noon: From the Top

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, from Dresden

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Dawn Upshaw sings Dowland, Golijov, and Lutoslawski

Forbes "30 under 30" Musicians has one Classical Player

Conrad Tao

Alongside Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Adele, Taylor Swift (and Taylor Swift’s tour marketing manager!) Forbes magazine’s list of “30 Under 30” musicians includes pianist, violinist & composer Conrad Tao.

Conrad is all of 17, but he has one of the most wide-ranging and penetrating musical minds I’ve ever encountered. He is an accomplished violinist, he is fast becoming a world-class pianist, and he is a fascinating composer. I was lucky to meet him five years ago, when he played his own bravura set of variations on “Happy Birthday” for conductor David Zinman’s 70th at the Aspen Festival. Even at age 12 it was clear Conrad was something special… not just a virtuoso prodigy who plays fistfuls of notes, but a thinker about music.

Last season, at age 16, Conrad was Composer in Residence for the Music in the Loft series in Chicago. This year he was named a US Presidential Scholar in the Arts, he’s appeared on PBS’s Great Performances. In September, on 36 hours notice, he filled in for Louis Lortie at a major Cliburn Series concert in Fort Worth, Texas. Reviews were glowing.

For each of the last 8 years, Conrad has won ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer awards. (Yes, 8 years. Do the math.)

Conrad Tao is currently in the Columbia/Juilliard joint degree program in New York, and a composition student at Yale. He has solo piano recitals coming up in Berlin and Paris this winter, in addition to a full schedule of concerts around the country.

And lest you think his work as a classical pianist, violinist and composer is too limiting, Conrad is also busy writing about his favorite alt-rock and electronica bands for Bjork is among is current faves.

I can’t wait to hear what Conrad might be up to in the next few years.

Beethoven the Charismatic!

On Saturday December 17th, 2011 erstwhile SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon returns as host. He is known for his wonderful impersonations and also his self-imposed laughter.

However, Fallon was able to keep his composure this past Saturday when he added Ludwig van Beethoven to his list of impersonations!

Beethoven is seen introducing the “band” to the newly composed Variations on “Ode to Joy” orchestral suite with the familiar Beethovean smooth jazz flavor!

Quite funny for both music aficionados, music lovers and classical music laymen alike!

A Twist of Xmas

This time of year, when even the moments of quiet contemplation are bought and paid for by a car manufacturer or jeweler, where does one go for some real Holiday feeling? Where are moods that reach beyond jolly?

twist of x-mas.jpgCollin Rae, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Naxos, has an answer. He and his team have combed through more than 2,500 recordings to gather together a truly lovely disc of music – A Twist of Christmas – that won’t make your tummy ache from the sweetness.

Although, looking at the cover, you can’t be exactly sure what it will do to your tummy. This is, you will quickly note, not your typical Holiday CD.

“I think the cover art infuses the ‘darkness’ I was pulling from the music, while it also infuses a cute sense of humor as well,” says Rae, who feels that, in our world of “dark cartoon culture,” these two extremes go together well.

Darkness is, indeed, the focus of the disc, with candles to light our way instead of blinking neon signs. The album moves beautifully through the centuries and across a range of textures, highlighting the essence of a season dedicated, at its core, to embracing both the darkness in the world and the brightness of the creative and emotional mind. “It leans,” says Rae, “towards dark and somber beauty without the jarring and scary elements.”

Rae and his team achieve this blend, moving deftly among Tchaikovsky’s seasonal Classics, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, Arvo Part, and even Krzystof Penderecki. “I can hear the sounds and pick the century of music I want to use to achieve that sound and flow,” says Rae. “I think the severity of the stylistic differences placed side by side, flowing into one another, made this haunting and effective. It won’t always work, but when it does, it’s magnificent.”

A Twist of Christmas is a follow-up to the well-received Naxos release Music for the Zombie Apocalypse, a beautiful and haunting collection born of Rae’s deep and lasting love of horror films and Zombies that started when his father took him and his siblings to a midnight showing of The Night of the Living Dead in the 1970’s.

As with A Twist of Christmas, the Zombie-inspired disc shifts across the centuries; with tone, feeling, and character all nicely blended and shifted to create an engaging and interesting listening experience. This matching of sounds is necessary for Rae’s vision, as “It needed to flow from the stark beauty of Faure, Mozart, and Rutti to the fierce and darker works or Coates, Penderecki, and Schnittke. I’ve seen people purchase this who would have never bought a recording by, say, Gloria Coates, or Penderecki, or even Faure. I find this very, very encouraging.”

Exposure to new kinds of music is important to Rae, who spent several decades in the record business building a love of a wide range of musics. Included in his lists of influences are (mostly European) soundtrack music from the 60’s and 70’s, electronic music, noise, jazz, punk, post-punk, and all those old cartoons. “I’m hoping that not only lovers of deep and more obscure pieces will gravitate towards this, but also those who were into the zombie album. It’s for people who are truly tired of the same old Christmas collection, and in my mind it’s great music for a get-together, or even Christmas dinner.”