The Rite of Appalachian Spring

Today is the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring.”

October 30, 2044 is the 100th anniversary of Copland’s ballet “Appalachian Spring.”

I’m glad that musical genius Michael Monroe didn’t make us wait 31 years to combine them into one beautiful, brilliant spring mashup:

On the Air This Week

Highlights from May 28 to June 4

Tuesday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: From 1986, Dawn Upshaw’s first performance with the Orchestra, including Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

Wednesday, noon hour: Music with Minnesotans; Artist Dick Green.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The Choral Arts Ensemble from Rochester, led by Rick Kvam.

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Osmo Vänskä leads music of Richard Strauss and Mahler (last concert of broadcast season).

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Pipedreams Live! Rochester, Part 2 (encore).

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: An all-Beethoven concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Sunday, 5 pm: Regarding Broadway: Part 1: Cohan to Merman.

Thinking of Dawn Upshaw

It breaks my heart that Dawn Upshaw’s six-year artistic partnership with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is drawing to a close this weekend.

Dawn Upshaw is one of my favorite living musicians human beings.

She has an admirable dedication to new classical works, and premiered six new pieces with the SPCO during her tenure there. Ms. Upshaw also happens to have one of the most beautiful soprano voices you’ll hear (my personal favorite).

If you’re unfamiliar with her voice and work, here are some more wonderful ways to hear her sing:

One of her most famous recordings is of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 with David Zinman and the London Sinfonietta. It nearly stops my heart each time I listen.

Anything she recorded by Osvaldo Golijov.

This entire Schubert record with another favorite, Richard Goode.

She sang (in the final movement of) Mahler’s 4th Symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra and Christoph von Dohnanyi.

If you prefer something older, check out this, where she sings Purcell and Bach.

One of the most impressive aspects of Dawn Upshaw is her versatility. Schubert, Bach, Mahler, Crumb, Schoenberg, Purcell, Haydn, etc.

And of course, Maria Schneider.

If you want to catch her before she’s finished with her SPCO collaboration, you’d better grab tickets to one of the three shows scheduled this weekend in various community venues around the TC.

And, Ms. Upshaw, thank you for being a part of our community. Thank you for singing for us. Thank you for bringing us new music, and thank you in advance for the many times I hope you’ll return.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from May 21 to 28

Wednesday, noon hour: Music with Minnesotans: Kelly Carter and Tricia Morgan-Brist of ACME (Advocates of Community through Musical Excellence).

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The NDSU Concert Choir and Wind Symphony in Jocelyn Hagen’s Swimming into Winter.

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Appalachian Spring and Carmina Burana, with the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Boychoir, and soloists.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Pipedreams Live! Rochester, Part 1 (encore).

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra plays Shostakovich, Prokofiev,and Korngold.

Monday, 8 pm: Café Europa: Dan Chouinard and guests, in stories and songs of a trip through Europe which follows the path of American troops in WWII.

Tuesday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: From 1986, Dawn Upshaw’s first performance with the Orchestra, including Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

Beethoven for iPad or iPhone

Ludwig van Beethoven

Certainly one of the most addicting apps I’ve downloaded in quite some time, Touch Press’s “Beethoven’s 9th Symphony” will make you fall in love with Beethoven all over again.

Commissioned by pianist David Owen Norris, the app features four recordings of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, all from the Deutsche Grammophon label. You can hear the Berlin Philharmonic in 1958 led by Ferenc Fricsay’s, or Herbert von Karajan’s 1962 one with the same orchestra. Leonard Bernstein’s 1979 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic includes video of the performance, and John Eliot Gardiner rounds out the four with the recording made in 1992 by the Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra.

When you press play, you have some options. You can watch the score scroll by in real time, and touch a different conductor’s name to hear their version. The switch happens instantly (a little shocking since Gardiner’s orchestra is tuned a half-step lower), making comparisons easy.

If you don’t read music well, but appreciate the idea of it being presented similarly to a score, you can instead listen to the recordings while viewing a simplified score. Rather than notes and rhythms, the music appears as colored blocks.

But the most enlightening way to hear and watch the music is the BeatMap option, which grants a color to an instrument, plops all those colored dots into the shape of an orchestra, and the dots blink each time that section or instrument plays during the Symphony.

I don’t have an iPad, only an iPhone, so I can’t enjoy all the features of the app. The iPad app includes more than 90 minutes of interview clips from musicians like Gustavo Dudamel and Gardiner, as well as a book about the symphony written by Norris.

The app is what’s called ‘free-to-play’, which means the app is free, but the free version only allows access to the 2nd movement. It costs $7.99 to unlock all features of the app.

Classical Music and Video Game Music

My first love has always been classical music. Maybe cats. But probably classical music. A runner-up would be video games. I feel like I got pretty lucky once games started recording orchestral soundtracks.

I remember the first time I heard Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. I’m talking about the entire symphony, not just the first four notes or whatever. I’m talking about the super-awesome part between the third movement and the fourth movement, which happens without pause (a rare occurrence at the time). So the third movement goes BAM right into the fourth… and the entire time up until that moment, we’re in this dark, minor, serious place. But that fourth movement absolutely bursts with triumph and valor and courage, in C major and all its glory, and I thought, this sounds like movie music.

And every single time I hear the final movement of Beethoven’s 5th, I think of the imaginary scene that that music conjured in my mind in that moment more than 20 years ago.

This sounds like movie music.

For a while, I was a film soundtrack junkie. Randy Newman’s score for The Natural was one of my favorites, and that led me straight into the arms of Aaron Copland. John Barry’s Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves led me to Ralph Vaughan Williams and Jean Sibelius.

Fortunately for us in 2013, we also have game soundtracks to lead us into classical music. And I love classical music for many of the same reasons I love playing games – it takes me somewhere.

Here are some pieces I often think of when I’m playing games.

Gustav Holst – The Planets (1914-1916)

When Holst finished writing The Planets in 1916, Pluto hadn’t been discovered (or subsequently demoted to a dwarf planet) yet. And Holst was fascinated by astrology, which makes a difference in understanding how he put it together. Since astrology studies the impact of planetary bodies on our own Earth, Holst didn’t write a movement for it. That leaves seven planets, therefore seven movements, each of which had a subtitle indicating its astrological character.

Like Mars, the Bringer of War. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. Mercury, the Winged Messenger, etc.

Each movement has a unique character, inspired by these subtitles. “Mercury, the Winged Messenger” features really fast scales up and down the orchestra. “Mars, the Bringer of War” is perhaps the most famous movement, in the unusual and unsettling time signature of five beats to a measure – lots of drums and brass… because war, that’s why.

“Neptune, the Mystic” not only featured an offstage female choir, but was one of the first pieces to feature a fade-out ending.

In many ways, Holst took musical paradigms and over-exaggerated them, or maybe he just perfected them. Regardless, The Planets will rock your world.

I think of The Planets so often it would be difficult to pinpoint a specific soundtrack. Tomb Raider by Jason Graves comes to mind, mostly due to the grandeur of Graves’s score.

Also hear: Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations

Ralph Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910)

I mean, seriously. This piece. Just… just listen to this piece. Vaughan Williams was great at capturing one word into music – lush. Interestingly enough, Vaughan Williams was doing what many composers at the turn of the 20th century ended up doing – looking backward with the future in mind.

If that makes sense.

The theme Vaughan Williams used came from 16th century composer Thomas Tallis, but VW gave it the 20th century touch by writing it for a massive orchestra. Strings only, though; no brass or percussion parts in this one. The Fantasia is written for two orchestras plus a string quartet.

Normand Corbeil’s score for Heavy Rain is reminiscent of this style of composition.

Also hear: Maurice Ravel, Mother Goose Suite

George Crumb – Black Angels (1970)

For any budding numerologists, Black Angels will keep you busy for a time. Unless you just look up the answers on the Internet, I suppose.

Normally, I’d be really into the structure of a piece like Black Angels, but I’m more taken by the way it sounds.

And it’s kinda terrifying.

Written for electric string quartet (yep), the piece also requires the players to play gongs and crystal glasses. There’s chanting, too.

It’s an amazing example of the texture and color you can get from just four people, and if you like Garry Schyman’s BioShock scores, you’ll like George Crumb’s Black Angels.

Also hear: Krzysztof Penderecki, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

The Rite of Spring changed music forever – actually, the anniversary of its premiere is right around the corner. The premiere on May 29, 1913 is famous itself for the riots that broke out in the audience, mere seconds into the performance.

Just listen to it, and tell me if you don’t think it sounds like a pagan sacrifice of a virgin. Probably would’ve freaked me out in 1913 too. In addition, he used a lot of weird instruments people weren’t familiar with, like bass trumpet, contrabassoon and alto flute.

If you like Russian music, listen to (German) composer Boris Salchow’s score for Resistance 3.

Also hear: Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet

Ottorino Respighi – The Pines of Rome

Respighi hit this one out of the park. He actually wrote two other pieces about Rome, but we mostly don’t care about those (Fountains of Rome and Roman Carnivals). Not that they’re bad, they’re just not as absolutely frickin’ perfect as Pines is.

Epic comes to mind when I hear this piece. It’s really epic. And the end… oh, man. The end of this piece is SUBLIME.

Respighi really was great at just about everything. One of the things composers admire about him was his ability to write just the right melody for just the right instrument – he was an excellent “orchestrator”.

Inon Zur wrote a great score along these lines for a less-than-great game called Lord of the Rings: War in the North.

Also hear: Respighi, Ancient Airs and Dances Suites 1-3

To avoid overstuffing you, I’ll stop for now. But give yourself the luxury to listen. Take the time to listen. Let the music take you on a journey.

This article originally posted at

On the Air This Week

Highlights from May 14 to 21

Wednesday, noon hour: Music with Minnesotans: Jim Waldo, a founding member of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The Brasil Guitar Duo.

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Osmo Vänskä leads music of Prokofiev, Mozart, and Sibelius.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: A Wagner Bicentennial Celebration.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Chris Thile, mandolin, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: C. P. E. Bach and Haydn (end of regular broadcast season).

On the Air This Week

Highlights from May 7 to 14

Tuesday, 8 pm: Minnesota Varsity Showcase Artists Concert.

Wednesday, noon hour: Music with Minnesotans: Hennepin County Judge Elizabeth Cutter.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The Minnesota Sinfonia and pianist Inna Faliks play Mendelssohn.

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Osmo Vänskä leads music of Linkola and Mahler.

Saturday, 10am: Metropolitan Opera: Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (final broadcast of season).

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Going Organic.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra plays two Beethoven symphonies.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Steven Copes plays the Korngold Violin Concerto; also, works of Scarlatti, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev.

Showering with Beethoven, Headstands with Stravinsky

A new book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work — by Mason Currey, describes the habits of highly creative people.

Stuck on a big project? Need some creative inspiration? Take Beethoven’s advice:

Beethoven would stand at the washstand and pace back and forth and then go back to the washstand and put water on himself. It was an essential part of the creative buildup, but it also made him hated as a tenant and neighbor because he was splashing water everywhere.

More artists and creative individuals profiled at the Fast Company website.

Piano Music from South America

A listener writes with a question: Any recommendations for South American solo piano works?

Here are just a few names, to start exploring. Among composers, there are Alberto Ginastera (American Preludes and Argentine Dances), and Ernesto Nazareth, who wrote many delightful piano pieces based on popular Brazilian rhythms. Among performers, Mirian Conti and Gabriela Montero have brought out discs devoted to the music of their home continent. And if you like finger-busting repertoire, you might check out Rudepoema, by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

But this is only a start. Any other recommendations?