Click on Classical: A Composer Quest, a "House of Cards," and the resurrection of a legend

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Each Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our website. Here’s what we’ll be discussing today.

A new joint project by local film organization MNKINO and the podcast Composer Quest is pairing filmmakers and composers to create original short films inspired by the theme “quest.” Created as an experiment in cross-pollination between the worlds of DIY movies and music, the exercise will culminate on August 14 when the films will be premiered — with scores performed by a live orchestra. Read Sheila Regan’s report to learn more about this challenge, and what historic St. Paul venue will be the site of the films’ premiere.

Garrett Tiedemann interviewed Jeff Beal, the composer who’s written music for both — soon to be all three — seasons of the acclaimed Netflix drama House of Cards. Not only does Beal discuss the nuts and bolts of writing for this innovative series, he talks about how he’s hoping to present House of Cards​ music on the concert stage in hopes of attracting new audiences to orchestral music. He also reveals how his House of Cards score has taken inspiration from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Fans of the BBC Proms — the summer concert series hosted at the Royal Albert Hall and elsewhere in London — will recognize, perhaps even venerate, the name of Sir Henry Wood, the Proms’ founding conductor. A new application by BBC Music Magazine​ allows music fans to put themselves on the cover of the magazine, posing with a bust of Sir Henry. Click here to see some of our Classical MPR staff pictured with the great musician, and listen in next month as we broadcast a number of concerts from what’s considered by some to be the greatest classical music festival in the world.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from June 24 to July 1

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: guidance counselor Anna Sattler.

Wednesday, noon: Regarding Broadway.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Tenor Anthony Dean Griffin sings Copland, from a Schubert Club recital.

Friday, 8 pm: : choral masterworks by Stravinsky and Orff, with the Minnesota Chorale.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: In Concert.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Maya Angelou perform Copland’s Lincoln Portrait.

Monday, noon: Learning to ListenThe Flute, with guest Julia Bogorad-Kogan.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.

Classical MPR staff meet Sir Henry Wood – virtually

As classical music fans around the world get excited for the annual Proms concerts in London (July 18-September 13), BBC Music Magazine has partnered with the application Blippar to allow users to pose for a photo with the bust of Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944), the Proms’ founding conductor. Here at Classical MPR, we had some fun posing with Sir Henry.

If you’d like to join the fun, download the free Blippar app (just search the app store on your smartphone or tablet) and use it to scan the cover of the magazine’s July issue; an image of the cover is also available here. Send your photo to if you’d like it included in a future post on our site!

Listen in later this summer as Classical MPR broadcasts numerous performances from the Proms.

Alison Young, Classical MPR host

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Brad Althoff, Performance Today producer

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Claire Philpott, education coordinator

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Fred Child, Performance Today host

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Jay Gabler, digital producer

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Luke Taylor, digital producer

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Steve Barnett, archive producer

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Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, choral stream producer

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Even the Current’s Barb Abney got some face time with Sir Henry

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Click on Classical: A new record store, music for mutants, and hearing composers' voices

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Every Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to discuss the stories we’re featuring on our website. Here are the stories we’ll be talking about today.

This week our writer Nina Slesinger reported that a trio of collectors plans to open a new store in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis; the store will feature books, posters, and records. Classical music — including vintage 78s — will be a specialty of the store, thanks to John Kass, owner of one of the largest private record collections in the area. The store will have a wry name; read the story to find out what it is.

Music for mutants? That was the challenge facing John Ottman, composer of the score for the new hit movie X-Men: Days of Future Past​. Garrett Tiedemann interviewed Ottman, a man of many talents who also edited the film. Though he’s writing music for big-budget blockbusters, Ottman explained why when it comes to music in movies, sometimes less is more.

What does it mean when someone refers to a composer’s “voice”? In an essay, Cinda Yager offered her view of how composers use distinctive styles, textures, and tones to create a sound that’s distinctly theirs. Read her essay, and hear samples of music to see if you agree with her about the “voices” of Shostakovich, Sibelius, and Brahms.

Osmo Vanska to be a welcome guest in Reykjavik

Osmo Vänskä (photo by Kaapo Kamu)

We’re not sure if Osmo Vänskä is a member of the Icelandair frequent flyer club, but he may soon be.

This week, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra announced it had appointed Vänskä its principal guest conductor starting in the 2014 – 15 season.

Founded in 1950, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra consists of 90 full-time members and gives approximately 60 concerts each season, a number that includes its concerts at home in Reykjavik as well as its international tour dates. The music director and chief conductor of Iceland Symphony Orchestra is Ilan Volkov.

According to Vänskä’s management agency HarrisonParrott, Osmo is no stranger to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra; he was its chief conductor from 1993 to 1996, and he conducted its Carnegie Hall debut in 1996. Vänskä has made annual guest-conductor appearances with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra since 2010.

Vänskä’s first appearance in Iceland under his new title is scheduled for February 2015, in a concert featuring music by Bruckner and Sibelius.

Met Opera Cancels "Klinghoffer" Broadcasts

Today the Metropolitan Opera announced its plans to cancel its broadcasts of John Adams’s opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

The opera is based on an actual event–the killing of Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew, by Palestinian terrorists. According to a statement from the Met, the cancellation comes amid concern that the broadcasts could be used to fan anti-Semitism.

The Met had planned an HD broadcast to movie theaters, and a Saturday radio broadcast. Though the broadcasts will not take place, live performances in the fall of this year will go forward.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from June 17 to 24

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: retired IT specialist Frank Tenczar.

Wednesday, noon: Regarding Broadway.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The Dale Warland Singers perform music by Carol Barnett.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Hooked on Boston.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, played by the Houston Symphony.

Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.

Click on Classical: Saying goodbye to a conductor and hello to a new concert hall

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Each Monday morning at 9:15, I go on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our website. Here are the stories Melissa Ousley and I are talking about today.

After several years with the Minnesota Orchestra, associate conductor Courtney Lewis has just led his final subscription concerts as he prepares to move to new jobs at the New York Philharmonic and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. This week, Lewis spoke with our writer Matt Beckmann. Lewis told Matt about why he has a passion for music education, and what he’s going to miss about Minnesota.

Though we’re saying goodbye to Courtney Lewis, we’re about to say hello to a brand new 1,100-seat concert hall at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Built to replace the 300-seat McKnight Theater, the new hall is designed to provide an optimal setting for classical concerts. This week the Ordway and its partners announced the name of the new hall and provided renderings of how it’s going to look when it opens in February.

The buzz of the classical world last week was the appearance of a very special guest vocalist with the Seattle Symphony. Renee Fleming? Bryn Terfel? No, it was 50-year-old Seattle native Anthony Ray, better known by his hip-hop moniker: Sir Mix-a-Lot. He joined the symphony for a performance of his ribald 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” in an arrangement by Gabriel Prokofiev — ​yes, Sergei’s grandson. Watch video of the performance, if you dare!​

Here's how the Ordway's new Concert Hall will look

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The Arts Partnership — a cooperative venture among the Minnesota Opera, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, the Schubert Club, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra — has raised the final beam on the new 1,100-seat concert hall being built to replace the 300-seat McKnight Theater. The new hall is designed for concerts by orchestras and other ensembles, whereas the Ordway’s Music Theater (1,900 seats) is most suitable for opera and theatrical presentations.

In keeping with the catchy “Music Theater” moniker, the new performance space will be named the “Concert Hall” — with a plaque at the entrance honoring donors John and Ruth Huss. Other surrounding spaces will bear the names of corporations that have supported the project: there will be 3M Plaza (the first floor and outdoor areas of the Ordway), Target Atrium (the second floor), the Securian Balcony Lobby (the existing third-floor lobby area), and the Securian Sky Lobby (a new third-floor lobby area outside the new venue).

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The Arts Partnership also shared renderings showing what the exterior and interior of the new Concert Hall will look like. The seats visible behind the stage will function as a choir loft for choral performances, and will be used for public seating at other performances. The building’s exterior will maintain the draped-glass facade in original architect Benjamin Thompson’s acclaimed design. The new hall is scheduled to open in February 2015.

Happy birthday, Richard Strauss! From your fan, Elvis Presley

On today, Richard Strauss’s 150th birthday, lots of people are remembering the composer’s big pop-culture breakthrough when the introduction to Also sprach Zarathustra was featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thanks to that placement, Strauss’s music later opened a stage spectacular that was perhaps even stranger than the far frontiers of Stanley Kubrick’s film.

When Elvis Presley opened a new run of shows in Las Vegas in 1971, writes biographer Peter Guralnick in Careless Love, Presley’s band began welcoming the King onstage to the strains of Strauss in an arrangement by Joe Guercio.

“Guercio’s wife, Corky, had suggested to him half-jokingly that the music reminded her of Elvis, and to his surprise, the orchestra leader agreed. When it turned out that Elvis, too, had had the same idea, they started fooling with it during the winter engagement, using it as a kind of overture to bring Elvis onstage sometimes, sometimes actually interrupting the show at Elvis’s instigation just so the rhythm section could try it on the audience. Now, with Elvis’s encouragement, Guercio developed the idea on a grand orchestral scale.

“‘We set it up to the point where you got to the last chord, and the tympanist played the final set of eight notes, and it would build to such a frenzy that it was orgasm time from then until Ronnie Tutt [Elvis’s drummer] took over — it was like the ultimate orgasm.’ That was how Elvis reacted to it, too: ‘he didn’t want to be just a guy walking out there, he wanted to be a god.’ And with the 2001 theme, he was.”