On the Air This Week

Highlights from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6

Wednesday, 12 noon: Music with Minnesotans: Graphic artist Sam Hiti.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Mozart, from the Bridge Chamber Music Festival in Northfield.

Friday: Minnesota Orchestra: Beethoven Skrowaczewski, and Brahms.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: The Man from Alsace.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra and pianist David Fray.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The Queen of Tonga – larger-than-life or just kinda chubby?

queen of tonga.jpgShe was larger than life – both figuratively and in reality – one paper said she was 6’4″ and 280 pounds; another pegged her at just shy of six feet and a few stone less. But just looking at the picture of the Queen of Tonga next to Britain’s newly crowned Queen Elizabeth and you get the picture.

The papers agree on one thing: when the two met, Queen Salote wore a skirt made of pounded bark and a coconut-husk belt – and her manner and warm grace won everyone’s hearts, including England’s monarch.

This morning, I’ll finish our Dominick Argento birthday week with his humorous Haydn-esque “Homage to the Queen of Tonga” who was considered back in 1953 to be the most popular of ALL the coronation guests.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Oct. 23 to 30

Wednesday, 12 noon: Music with Minnesotans: Billy McLaughlin, guitarist.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Recorded in August, the MMEA All-State Mixed Choir led by Rollo Dilworth.

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Gilbert Varga conducts a program of Rossini, Walton, and Dvorak.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Minnesota Music.

Sunday, noon: From the Top: today’s program includes Minnesota Varsity artist Xavier Jara.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Berlin Philharmonic.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Mozart, Adams, Strauss.

More Augmented Chords, Please

I’d like to say a quick ‘thank you’ to the soundtrack of the game Portal 2 for reminding me how amazingly creepy augmented chords sound.

I’ll explain what all this has to do with Portal 2 in a moment, but a couple things first. Portal 2 came out last year. It and its predecessor, Portal, taught millions of unassuming gamers all about physics and properties of motion. If the player shoots their ‘portal gun’ and puts two portals on the wall, whatever goes in one will come out the other. You can view some gameplay footage here.

A ‘normal’ major triad is composed of one major third and one minor third. As you can see in the image, an augmented triad is created from two major thirds. In the image, the augmented chord is made of C – E – G#.

Augmented chords are byproducts of whole-tone scales (something Claude Debussy was fond of); see how you can find the C – E – G# within this scale?

Soooooo, I was listening to the Portal 2 soundtrack this morning before work, the entirety of which is available as a free download here.

The track called Technical Difficulties is built off of these same elements: whole-tone scales and augmented triads. You can clearly hear the augmented triads in the harp. And later, you’ll hear a gorgeous bass flute come in, dabbling around the tones of that scale.

It’s a beautiful reminder of how unsettling those elements (augmented triads and whole-tone scales) can sound. Traditional elements that we’re used to hearing in Western music, whether we’re able to define them or not, are absent in this type of composition. We are unable to guess where the notes will go, as we often are able to do in the music of composers from Bach to Brahms to the Beatles.

In any event, here’s an example of Debussy’s use of the whole-tone scale and augmented triads:

German Orchestra creates Star Wars theme flash mob

Making the rounds at Classical MPR today is this little video gem.

Known for adept adaptations of 20th C. and contemporary music, the WDR Symphony Orchestra based in Cologne, Germany surprised passersby with a growing flash mob presentation of the theme from Star Wars.

A little bit of history on this particular orchestra: it was founded after World War II in 1947 by Allied occupation authorities.

More at their site: wdr.de. (Google Translate may be helpful)

Path of Miracles

Next weekend, The Singers, directed by Matt Culloton, will perform a monumental work called Path of Miracles by Joby Talbot.

It’s rare to hear an hour-long composition for a cappella choir (there is a little percussion, played by the choristers). Talbot’s four-movement opus takes us on a literal journey: recounting the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, by way of Roncesvalles (in the foothills of the Pyrennees), Burgos and Leon. The choir sings in various languages, with a libretto by Robert Dickinson inspired by reflections of the pilgrimage juxtaposed with extant mediaeval texts.

Listen below to Joby Talbot’s interview with WNYC’s John Schaefer for his New Sounds program.

"Quartet" vs. "A Late Quartet": two new classical music movies

With tonight’s opening of the Twin Cities Film Fest, let’s encore an earlier post about two classical music movies that are included in this year’s festival…

late quartet.jpg

Don’t confuse the two; Quartet and A Late Quartet are different films, albeit with similar themes about classical music and the passage of time.

A Late Quartet just debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s the story of a string quartet’s breakup, evidently based on the play “Opus.” Fantastic cast, including Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. Here’s the trailer (thanks Beethoven):

Next, Quartet. It’s the story of a home for retired opera singers, where the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents. Starring Maggie Smith, with Dustin Hoffman making his debut as a director. US release is officially 4 January 2013, but BOTH films will be screened in October at the Twin Cities Film Fest.

To watch the trailer to A Late Quartet, click here.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Oct. 9 to 16

Wednesday, 12 noon: Music with Minnesotans: Potter Glynnis Lessing.

Thursday, 3 p.m. hour: Regional Spotlight: Jay Fishman leads the Minnesota Sinfonia.

Sunday, 6 a.m.: Pipedreams: Rachel’s Children.

Sunday, noon: From the Top: Including, from Minnesota, Quartet Tzigane and pianist Evren Ozel.

Sunday, 1 p.m.: SymphonyCast: Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in works by Ravel, Stucky, and Stravinsky.

Monday, 8 p.m.: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Stravinsky, Haydn, Dvorak, Beethoven.