Brahms: Newly Performed, From the Past

tumblr_lmr2awKVcS1qeu6ilo1_500.jpgThink back to your time in high school, to middle school, or even grade school. Now accompany that thought with a comparing mind.

When you reach these moments in your past take out the stacks of old papers, assignments and arts and crafts projects and look at them. How do you feel about these now that all this time has past? Did you know anything then that you don’t know now? Or did you NOT know anything that you DO know now?

Well, a young Johannes Brahms did something quite similar to this. Brahms began composing as early as age 11, writing what we can guess were short piano works. Upon revisiting these pieces later in his life and deciding they weren’t worth saving — perhaps even a little embarrassed by his boyish compositional techniques — Brahms threw out most of these works.

However, as Brahms turned 20 he gradually started to save his boyish musical compositions after receiving notable recognition for his performing and compositions while on a concert tour with violinist Eduard Reményi where Franz Liszt read through one of his works. Later that year meeting Robert Schumann, who was impressed by his work, Brahms created a lifelong friendship with the musical duo, Robert and Clara.

Recently, while leafing though old Brahms manuscripts in the United States, British conductor and scholar Christopher Hogwood discovered a short unpublished piano work by the 20-year-old Brahms. The piece is titled Albumblatt, meaning “Album Leaf”.

BBC Radio 3 has dibs on the world premiere performance, which will be broadcast on the Tom Service show sometime next month. Pianist Andras Schiff has been asked to take on such an honor while Hogwood was asked to discuss his finding.

This is significant for the obvious reason that we are talking about Johannes Brahms here, a composer with a widely performed catalogue list of grueling length! His name has been engrained in our minds as one of the foremost composers of the Western world.

This new piano piece is short, lasting only a mere two minutes in length, but will soon be a prized work amongst concert pianists.

Perhaps Brahms never intended this work to be seen, performed or published. Regardless, let us welcome this new work into the world, a work written by Brahms almost 160 years ago!

Artist in Residence: Plans for 2012

Chad Hoopes

Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Happy New Year to all the fans of Classical Minnesota Public Radio! This is my first blog post as the Artist in Residence for MPR. It is an honor for me to contribute and be part of such an influential organization.

This residency is important to me primarily because I have the opportunity to participate in and lead educational activities at local schools. I look forward to expressing my views on the importance of music and the arts. Since I was young, I have been blessed to be involved in classical music. Fortunately, I have had a talent that has helped carry my passion for the violin. During this residency, my hope is to help every young person I collaborate with to discover his or her passions.

The beginning of my residency at MPR started this past August, when I performed an opening recital at the MacPhail Center for Music. Furthermore, I spent three days in the studios at MPR recording a CD that MPR will be producing. As I recorded, I felt as if I could express feelings and emotions that I have experienced in my life. I strongly believe that this is how one connects to a listener through a recording. I recorded works by Bach, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Ravel. This was a lot of repertoire, but I feel confident that it brings a variety of sounds and color to the listener. This was a special experience for me mainly because this was my first time making a professional recording. At the start of the New Year, I returned to MPR to do some editing and other work in the studio. This also contributed to the rich learning opportunity I had.

What a journey! I can confidently say that this has turned out to be an extremely positive experience. As you can imagine, all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of MANY people at MPR. So, here is a BIG thank you to you all!

Well, that’s it for now! I am humbled and I look forward to continue on this voyage with all of you! Thank you and may the New Year present us with prosperous opportunities!

Roll Credits: The Return!

It’s back! Lynne Warfel and Bill Morelock go to the movies with Roll Credits every Monday at 7 p.m. Tune in on Monday, Jan. 23, as Lynne and Bill offer up those good old reminders of the gravity-defying (Fly Me to the Moon), steadfast (I Believe in You), and dusty (Westerns!) reasons we all love film music.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Jan. 17 to 24

Wednesday, noon: Music with Minnesotans: Writer Erik Hare

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, performed by Jennifer Gerth, clarinet, Tamas Strasser, viola, and Susan Billmeyer, piano, at Alexandria’s Festival of the Lakes

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Bravo Brahms! Serenade and Song

Saturday, noon: Metropolitan Opera: The Enchanted Island

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Double Duty

Sunday, noon: From the Top

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Concertgebouw Orchestra in Respighi, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff

Monday, 7 pm: Roll Credits: with the Academy Awards approaching, we’ll talk movie music.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Chamber Music by Carter, Beethoven, and Mozart

Gustav Leonhardt (1928-2012)

One of the leading voices in the early music movement has died. Dutch Harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt passed away yesterday at the age of 84. In 1955, Leonhardt formed the Leonhardt Consort to perform the music of Bach. His students included Bob van Asperen, Christopher Hogwood, Philippe Herreweghe and Richard Egarr. Leonhardt recorded over 70 discs on all the major classical labels. A full obituary can be found here.

He performed steadily until about one month ago. Here’s a video from December 12, 2011

Mozart's Piano Sonata K. 545 Analysed — in a fun way

Mozart’s Piano Sonata K. 545 is a well known and light-hearted piece, but have you ever analyzed it?

In common practice period music, most music can be analyzed within the key by using chord numbers, indicated with Roman numerals. This piece is in C Major, so the I (1) chord — C E G — is the tonic or home chord. The V (5) chord (G B D) is the dominant chord and is built on the fifth diatonic (meaning within the key, or — in C Major — all of the white keys) note above the tonic. The II chord is build on D, the III chord is built on E, and so on.

All of these chords have an emotion attached to them which Mozart manipulated to create the work. This video has the Roman numeral analysis at the top, and a stick figure underneath representing the artist’s view of the emotion. Watch out for the V of V, he is quick. At 0:45 the piece switches to minor.

"Please, turn off all electronic devices!"

electronic punishment.jpg

We have all experienced it before: the clanging cell phone piercing its way between the middle of a concert, followed by the whispering shuffle as everyone is trying to locate the perpetrator. It seems so interesting that these interruptions still occur considering the massive amounts of “Please, turn off all electronic devices” that surround the concert-goer’s experience.

Classical music and its musicians have not been well-prepared for this. We don’t have ancient treatises’ for conductors and musicians that explain a counteraction to the rude disturbance, our editions can’t seem to catch up to the trends. The electronic device is a new demon lurking at the concert halls and has been dealt with in a multitude of ways.

Well, one such disturbance happened in outrageous form last night during a New York Philharmonic concert at Avery Fischer Hall. This time it was not lightly brushed aside but was confronted in full-force by Maestro Alan Gilbert.

The orchestra was playing Gustav Mahler’s 9th Symphony, an extremely important piece, not only for Mahler himself, but for the orchestra because of their close relationship with Mahler during the last years of his life.

Imagine this… Fourth movement. About 85 minutes into a 90 minute work. Orchestra at a pianissimo. Quieting down from a climax into serenity; a sighing breath from the Mahler storm. All are transcendent into what can only be described as the “Ecstasy of Mahler.” Then, about 15 measures until the final page turn… CUE: Marimba cell-phone ringtone

Mahler did not write for marimba. In fact, the marimba hadn’t even made its way into any radar of any classical composer at the time. This confused Gilbert and when it did not cease, it upset him.

Gilbert stopped the orchestra, turned to the man, who happened to be in the front row and had this conversation:

“Are you finished?”

No Response.

“Fine, we’ll wait.”

Audience chimes in: “Thousand dollar fine!” “Get out!” “Kick him out!”

“Did you turn it off?”

Man nods.

“It won’t go off again?”

Man shook his head.

After a final apologetic address to the audience he turned to the orchestra and asked them to start at 118. They finished the symphony in glorious fashion!

Of course, this is only one way to counteract such a disturbance. Perhaps Alan Gilbert was a little harsh. Perhaps he was right on the money. Perhaps the man in the front row had a wife in labor, or in the hospital, or any other possible emergencies that would need immediate contact. You could say, “Well, why are you at a concert then?” But, keep in mind he had a front row seat; those seats can cost well over $120, on an easy night.

Either way, the epidemic of electronic device disturbance is becoming an issue. So, I want to ask you: “How do you think these sorts of disturbances should be dealt with?”

Please, leave a comment. Let’s get this conversation going! Maybe, with enough input, we could write that treatise that all conductors have been waiting to read.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Jan. 10 to 17

Wednesday, noon: Music with Minnesotans: Writer Lorna Landvik

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Kate Hamilton, viola, and Cecilia Cho, piano: Gao Hong, pipa, with the members of Butterfly

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Bravo Brahms! James Ehnes performs the Violin Concerto.

Saturday, noon: Metropolitan Opera: Bellini’s Norma (archive performance)

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Jeremy Filsell, Artist at Large

Sunday, noon: From the Top

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The <a href="Concertgebouw Orchestra in Milhaud, Falla, and Ravel

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

Future Classics: Interview with Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway
Michael Holloway

For the past 11 years, the Minnesota Orchestra has been cultivating young orchestral composers through its Composers Institute. Writing for a professional orchestra can be exciting but extremely daunting, not to mention sitting in a rehearsal of your new work. This institute gives young composers valuable time working with an orchestra in a mentoring environment with composer Aaron Jay Kernis and other guests from the industry. This year a recent graduate from McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul was chosen to be among the six composers participating. Michael Holloway’s Rhythm: Theta Beta Theta receives its world premiere at Orchestra Hall tonight at 8pm. Michael answered some questions from Classical MPR’s Program Director Daniel Gilliam about his new work and the experience of writing for orchestra.

How long have you been writing for orchestra?

I’ve been experimenting with orchestral forms and textures since I began writing at the age of 10, but, more or less, this is my first fully fleshed out work for orchestra. I had sort of Brahms-ian thought processes regarding the orchestra, not so much that Beethoven and Mozart or any other composer had perfected the medium, but that it can be intimidating to write for an orchestra and it demands a certain amount or maturity on the composer’s part, both musically in terms of harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, etc. and I think mentally and emotionally as well, I am relatively young so that was in the back of my mind for quite some time. The orchestra itself sounds inherently pleasant, but I think it’s a medium in which flaws illuminate themselves in quite obvious ways.

What can you tell us about the process of writing Rhythm: Theta Beta Theta?

My work Rhythm: Theta Beta Theta was inspired by some work I was having done on my brain, I was having an EEG done and would watch the waves as they were being measured and found it to be incredibly musical, as I learned more about I found that there are many types of brain waves, 2 of them being Theta and Beta. Theta waves are slow oscillating waves and over time they it’s called a theta rhythm, the same holds true for beta waves, but these are waves that oscillate much quicker at a higher frequency. I began to postulate about a work that used brain waves as a sense of form and material. I began working on it in late 2010 during my sophomore year of my undergrad and finished it about 4 months later.

Who are some composers whose orchestral music has had an influence on your style?

This is a difficult question for me, perhaps because I’m not entirely sure the style of writing of composers whose symphonic works I most admire reveals itself in my work. I was discussing this recently with a friend and he said that my orchestral writing in some ways reminded him of Mahler, which admittedly is not something I had every considered, but I think my brass writing is very Mahler-esque, as well as German in terms of its broadness of scope. Liszt’s style of thematic transformation has always been interesting to me and my work Rhythm: Theta Beta Theta re-works a theme throughout the piece, not nearly to the extent of Liszt though, I tend to move a little more freely in terms of form, the beginning of the work also has a very Adams quality about it, although it quickly gets abandoned.

Is this your first professional orchestra experience? Are you nervous?

This is my first real orchestral premiere, I have worked with much smaller sinfonietta type groups but never with a group the size of the Minnesota Orchestra and certainly not as talented or refined in their craft. I must admit my nervousness was quite overwhelming, you wonder if your parts are prepared correctly, you pray there aren’t any missing measures which results in the trombones entering fortissimo during a pianissimo string passage, and these are just pedantic things, then you have to worry if it’s going to sound as good out in the hall as it does in your head, there are so many moving parts, so many things that have to go right, and making a mistake is typically very expensive, in every sense of the word. Thankfully there were not large issues in my work, just a missing slur or accidental here or there. The orchestra is really quite incredible, their first reading through my piece, which is by no means easy, was flooring, typically you have to discuss very large concepts after the first read through, you find yourself saying this entire section should be thought of like this or that, and it takes a while to get it to where it needs to be, but with the orchestra it was just things like, the brass should enter quieter at bar 142 or more strings at bar 50, simple, tedious things. To be able to start working at that level right away is incredible, and allows you to reach your true vision for the piece in a short amount of time.

What are your career plans?

I just finished my undergrad in late December and filled out my last graduate school application on the 1st of January, so that is the plan for the immediate future. I enjoy a lot of other disciplines and research so I would say that a Ph.D/DMA is something I will eventually tackle as well, teaching is also a big part of my life and a doctorate will allow me to continue doing that at a higher level.