Video: Brass band on Wheels

Fanfare Le Snob perform in the streets of Paris (photo from artist website).

At first blush, it looks spectral, ritualistic and esoteric. But dig a little deeper, and it turns out the performances of Fanfare Le Snob are intended to be anything but inscrutable.

Based in western France, Fanfare Le Snob is a professional company that has gained local, national and international recognition for its live shows. According to its website, Fanfare Le Snob is a group composed of musicians and comedians who are committed to the shared values of making art that’s public, free and accessible to all.

Although they’ll certainly march down the street on their own feet, the performers of Fanfare Le Snob are often mounted on Segways — those two-wheeled, battery-powered, one-person vehicles. Wearing long robes, the members of Fanfare Le Snob seem to drift effortlessly above the road surface, playing their instruments while moving in choreographed patterns.

And speaking of their instruments, those are notable, too: the sousaphone player’s instrument is retooled to wrap around her body; the trombone player’s bell is bent up and outward, like something in a Dr Seuss illustration. The repertoire is less Holst and Elgar than it is brass settings of Floyd and Zeppelin.

But written description takes us only so far; here are a couple videos from Fanfare Le Snob’s Vimeo channel:

GLISSSSSSSSSENDO OPUS II version de jour from LE SNOB ET CIES on Vimeo.

GLISSSSSSSSSENDO OPUS II version de nuit from LE SNOB ET CIES on Vimeo.

A couple of dates in Montreal and in Quebec City are as close to Minnesota as Fanfare Le Snob have come this year. The videos above as well as additional finds on YouTube will have to suffice for now.

(H/T Andrew Cleveland)

On the Air This Week

Highlights from July 29 to August 5

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: writer Charlotte Sullivan.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The Miro Quartet plays Mendelssohn, from the 2008 White Pine Festival.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: A Sonic Blockbuster.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The China Philharmonic plays Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky at the 2014 BBC Proms.

Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.

Click on Classical: Stimulate your brain, confessions of an amateur, and how many ways you can hold a violin

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Every Monday morning at 9:15, I visit the Classical MPR studio to talk about some of the stories we’re featuring on our website. Here are the stories Melissa Ousley and I will be discussing this morning.

Can classical music stimulate your creative brain? Writer Cinda Yager believes it can. Before a day of writing, she likes to go for a walk while listening to classical music, and she says the music inspires creative thinking that might not have happened in silence. Click here to listen to a few of the pieces Cinda finds particularly invigorating for her brain.

Suzanne Shumway took up the clarinet in her high school marching band, and at age 53 she still plays. That doesn’t mean she’s a virtuoso, though: she admits that she’s a musical amateur, but she’s proud of that. Click here to learn why Suzanne believes music is for everyone — not just the pros.

Now imagine you are​ a professional violinist, and you’re posing for a promotional photo to advertise an upcoming concert or recording. How do you pose? Specifically, how do you hold your violin? I dug through Classical MPR’s photo archives this week, and found that violinists have become very creative in how they feature their fiddles in promotional photos​.

Local paper shines spotlight on Tesfa

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (far right) poses with Classical MPR’s Brian Newhouse and with composer/conductor Eric Whitacre (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

Fans of Classical MPR’s choral-music programming likely know of Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, having read his work in this very blog.

On Sunday, July 27, the Star Tribune‘s Kristin Tillotson published a profile about Tesfa. Entitled “Putting the Cool in Choral,” Tillotson’s article describes Tesfa’s youth in Memphis, Tenn., his work as a teacher in Orlando, Fla., and his new career in Minnesota.

Tillotson writes:

Wondemagegnehu, a young black singer and conductor from Memphis … has wowed the Twin Cities choral scene since arriving in town last summer … when he accepted a job as assistant artistic director for VocalEssence. Not long after, he was hired to help program and promote Minnesota Public Radio’s 24-hour streaming of choral music.

Last week, he went full time at MPR, where a new choral initiative will bring him to area schools for music outreach. He’ll also head up a new group of young singers, the APM Radio Choir.

The article also makes reference to Tesfa’s participation in the Dominick Argento “Seasons” premiere at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in Winona, an experience Tesfa shared in this blog post before the concert and in this post recapping the Twitter trends of the festival.

You can read all of Tillotson’s article on the Star Tribune’s website as well as in print editions of the Sunday paper.

Stephen Hough's tasty tweets

Stephen Hough in concert (photo by Hiroyuki Ito)

In addition to being one of the world’s leading concert pianists, Stephen Hough is a talented composer and a gifted writer.

It also turns out that this true renaissance man loves food and he tweets about it often. Many times the food items are connected to places and to people Hough is visiting.

Here’s a sampling of menu items Stephen Hough has shared via Twitter (where you can follow him @houghhough).

What the Critics Say: Pet Shop Boys at the Proms

Pet Shop Boys: Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (photo by John Wright).

Perhaps best known as electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe made their Proms debut as composers on Wednesday, July 23.

The BBC Proms, largely known as the world’s greatest classical music festival, runs July 18 to Sept. 13, with concerts every day at the Royal Albert Hall in London and in other venues around the UK and Northern Ireland. (Classical MPR will begin broadcasting highlights of the Proms on Sept. 1, leading up to the Last Night of the Proms on Sept. 13.)

Tennant and Lowe’s work, A Man from the Future, is a look at the life of Alan Turing, a cryptographer in World War II and a pioneering computer scientist whose work helped make possible the medium in which you’re reading this right now. In 1952, a time when homosexuality was illegal, Turing was prosecuted for being gay; he received a posthumous pardon in 2013.

“Turing was way ahead of his time in the realms of both technology and sexuality,” remarked Tennant and Lowe in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s concert. “His open expression of his homosexuality was astonishingly brave and forward-looking at a time when gay men were relentlessly persecuted by the government.”

The Proms concert featured Tennant and Low, as well as Chrissie Hynde (the Pretenders) on vocals, as well as the BBC Singers and the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler. Actress Juliet Stevenson — whom you may recognize from her role as the mother to Keira Knightley’s character in Bend It Like Beckham — provided narration.

Enjoying a Proms premiere is one more accomplishment for Pet Shop Boys, who have also scored films and composed for ballet and musicals. “This is proof of why these two gentlemen are more than just an ’80s throwback synth-pop band,” says Jake Rudh, host of Transmission on Classical MPR’s sister station, The Current.

In the wake of the premiere, reviews of the concert have been largely positive; here’s a roundup:

Kitty Empire, The Guardian:

What are we to call A Man From the Future … A pop oratorio? A classical audiobiography?

His tale works as an operatic tragedy and this piece is extensively sung: by the BBC Singers, augmented by Neil Tennant … This tribute is lavishly orchestrated. The BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler, is doing the heavy lifting …

Turing’s story is deeply affecting, and the telling of it by an establishment organisation (the BBC, which runs the Proms) in an establishment venue (the Royal Albert Hall) in an establishment idiom (classical) is cause for celebration.

But we really could have done with more from Lowe, and modernity more widely. Turing was, after all, a man from The Future. Even given the operatic nature of his tale and the rarefied Proms setting, wrapping this man up in strings seems a contradictory impulse.

Nick Hasted, The Independent:

… Getting the tale of Turing’s singular genius and representative tragedy across seems to outweigh the balance between words and music. “Conform, rebel or withdraw” are the choices the public schoolboy Turing is presented with, as ominous strings close in to cage him.

The remorseless glide of laptop-generated synth washes signal the machine-dreams which led him towards the computer’s invention. The BBC Singers then give the sensation of a dying fall, as the backroom heroism which turned the U-boat tide at Bletchley Park is passed over in a sentence. Tennant and Lowe aren’t interested in what Turing is belatedly honoured for now, but his shadow-life then.

Bursts of hot, frantic swing follow him mentioning his homosexuality, and the furious swell of the choir’s baritones greet his downward spiral towards chemical castration by the state. His hot blood and mechanistic visions’ merging is expressed in the orchestral-laptop score. It is always, though, subservient to the verbal tracing of Turing’s fate.

John Aizlewood, Evening Standard:

The 45-minute extended song-suite had its clunky moments but it was joyously light on its musical feet, encompassing sublime Kraftwerkian wonder, the sheer power of orchestra and choir at full pelt.

The sheer scale required to perform it may mean A Man from the Future is consigned to history. Let’s hope not: it deserves better.

Adam Sweeting, The Telegraph:

Who knows what the appropriate term would be to describe A Man From the Future … The text combined his scientific brilliance with the outspokenly gay sexuality that cost him dearly in the censorious Fifties.

Musically, the piece skilfully blended orchestral writing with shifting electronic layers, masterminded by a suitably enigmatic Chris Lowe. Turing’s fascination with a “universal machine” was evoked by a slice of dreamy electronica, though elsewhere there were witty interpolations of Fifties-style sci-fi effects or dark string passages.

Orchestrator Sven Helbig conjured a dazzling spectrum of colours from the orchestra and the BBC Choir, although powerful melodic ideas seemed thin on the ground. Whether including a recording of Gordon Brown’s apology for Turing’s appalling treatment (which included chemical castration), will enhance its box-office appeal, I wouldn’t like to say.

Neil Smith, BBC News:

Divided into eight sections, the Pet Shop Boys’ ambitious, sometimes atonal work marked a departure from such radio-friendly tracks as It’s a Sin and West End Girls.

Yet it still contained elements of the group’s recognisable computerised sound, alongside contributions from an 18-member chamber choir.

Now that you’ve read what the critics have said, you can listen to the music for yourself. BBC Radio 3 has made this Prom available for listening for 30 days. Launch the BBC iPlayer via this link.

Classical MPR will highlight performances from the Proms starting Sept. 1, leading up to the Last Night of the Proms on Sept. 13; listen for those Proms highlights each day at 10 a.m. and at 10 p.m. CDT on Classical MPR.

Video: Lang Lang and LeBron

Superstars, ambassadors, friends: LeBron James and Lang Lang (AP photo)

The Sporting News reports that the NBA’s LeBron James — recently in the news for leaving the Miami Heat after four seasons to return to Cleveland Cavaliers, where his career began — is now in China on a five-day goodwill tour sponsored by Nike.

Pianist Lang Lang greeted James on his arrival in China, and the two exchanged gifts; according to the Sporting News article, James gave Lang Lang a pair of basketball shoes, and Lang Lang presented James with a CD of his own music as well as an album of music written for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.

This YouTube video captures some of the fun had by the two superstars, including piano-playing by Lang Lang, a basketball showcase led by James — and a special treat at about 1:06 in the video, Lang Lang and James doing something of a piano duet together:

How many ways can you hold a violin in a promo shot?

You can stand ready to play your violin…

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…or you can actually play it.

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You can cradle it in your arm…

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…or you can just relax with it…

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…or you can really relax with it.

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You can hold it over a giant countertop…

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…or you can sling it over your shoulder like a Continental soldier.

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You can peek over the top of it…

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…or around the side of it…

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…or around the other side of it…

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…or around the side of it upside down.

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You can cuddle up with it…

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…or, you can just turn it around and cradle its strings to your heart.

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Photos, top to bottom: Sonja Harasim, photo by Richie Hawley; Nigel Kennedy, photo by Paul Marc Mitchel for Sony Classical; Hilary Hahn, photo by Michael Patrick O’Lear; Ray Chen, courtesy the artist; Rachel Barton Pine, photo by Andrew Eccles; Capucon Brothers,; Pinchas Zukerman, photo by Paul Labelle; Pamela Frank, courtesy IMG Artists; Jennifer Koh, courtesy Hemsing Associates; Nicola Benedetti, courtesy the artist; Francesca Anderegg, courtesy the artist; Sergey Khachatryan, photo by Marco Borggreve

3 Fun Facts about Eric Whitacre's Virtual Youth Choir

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#3 There will be 2292 singers from 80 countries across the world performing tonight.

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#2 The screen is 300 feet wide, over 40 feet tall and weighs over 83,000 pounds. Here is exclusive video of the screen from the stadium.

#1 Event organizers predict that an audience of more than 1.5 billion people will be watching the games from every country and territory.



Bonus Fact:

Eric Whitacre Hangs out with the COOLEST people! Come and hang with Eric and over 2000 singers tonight at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

EW Glasgow.JPGWatch the Official Virtual Youth Choir release HERE

Daniel Barenboim and Mariam Said issue joint statement on Israel and Palestine conflict

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The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded in 1999 by Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said as a youth ensemble uniting musicians from countries across the Middle East and Europe, aiming to promote intercultural understanding. Via Facebook, Barenboim and Said’s widow Mariam have issued a joint statement on current events in Israel and Palestine.

“We are deeply saddened and concerned by the news reaching us from Israel/Palestine and share the worries of our members. During these trying times, we must stress the importance of the art of listening. Listening skills are learnt and perfected by playing in the orchestra. We must remember how important it is to apply what we learn on stage to other aspects of our lives as well. To quote Schopenhauer, ‘Nothing will bring us back to the path of justice so readily as the mental picture of the trouble, grief, and lamentation of the loser.’ In this conflict, both sides are losers. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a community that is built on trust, respect, empathy, and a culture of listening and understanding. These values are the core of our work together. That is why the Divan is a beacon of hope for all.”

Hear the orchestra play Beethoven’s ninth symphony last year at Carnegie Hall, in a broadcast co-produced by WQXR and American Public Media: