In-flight entertainment: cello and beatbox

A cello gets its own seat aboard a flight. (Flickr / modenadude)

According to a report from Classic FM, a cellist and an air steward on a flight to Denver teamed up to treat the other passengers to an improvised cello/beatbox duet of the Bourrée from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3.

The flight attendant, known only as Maximilian, can be seen crouching in front of cellist Francisco Vila on the Southwest Airlines flight in the video taken earlier this month, as the pair put an inventive spin on a Bach cello piece:

Meryl Streep to play not one but two opera singers

Actress Meryl Streep (Brigitte Lacombe)

Yesterday, we speculated on which actors might play composers in an imagined series of biographical films. Today, we’ve learned actress Meryl Streep has been cast (in real life) to play two different opera singers in two different films.

Streep is to star in a biopic of the famously awful opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins for director Stephen Frears, reports Variety.

The three-time Oscar-winning actor will take the role of Jenkins, an heiress who used her wealth to embark on a singing career that took her to concert halls across the U.S. in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s despite her complete inability to hold a note or stay in time. Hugh Grant is in line to play the soprano’s partner and manager, St Clair Bayfield, with the film titled simply Florence.

And, as reported this past summer, Meryl Streep is to star in an HBO film as legendary opera singer Maria Callas, the U.S. network has confirmed.

Based on the Tony-winning 1995 play by Terrence McNally, Master Class shows Callas in later life, teaching students at New York’s Juilliard school.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from October 28 to November 4

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: Minnesota Youth Symphonies.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Mitch Pearlstein, founder of the Center of the American Experiment.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight: Minnesota Youth Symphonies.

Wednesday, 8 pm: Minnesota Opera: Dominick Argento’s The Dream of Valentino.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Verizon Hall Spotlight.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Michael Tilson Thomas and Jeremy Denk perform Beethoven and Copland with the San Francisco Symphony.

Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Jay Kernis.

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Sue Bowcock, elementary music teacher, Owatonna.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Sue Bowcock, elementary music teacher, Owatonna.

Tuesday, 8 pm: The Lucerne Festival.

Casting Call: Which actors would play these composers?

A friend of mine works in the development of motion pictures, and a critical component of his work is getting actors attached to projects. That way, when he goes into a meeting with potential investors, he can make a much more potent case if he has, say, Ben Kingsley or Meryl Streep committed to play a key role in a prospective film.

It got me thinking that if I were to cast a series of biopics about the lives of composers, which actors might I seek? Here’s a shortlist, based on physical resemblances and acting chops.

Hector Berlioz — James Cromwell

Hardworking and versatile, James Cromwell seems a great pick to play the French composer who wrote Symphonie Fantastique.

Claude Debussy — Ricky Gervais

Another French composer, Claude Debussy, bears a resemblance to Ricky Gervais. As his French name suggests, Gervais has French ancestry (which could be about 400 years removed via his Canadian-born father), but perhaps there is some shared genetic history.

Francis Poulenc — John Turturro

Known for his fine work in films by Joel and Ethan Coen, Turturro seems a fine casting choice in a film about the curious life of Francis Poulenc. Poulenc was originally set for a career in business, but his passion for music led him to a largely self-taught musical vocation. And speaking of passion, Turturro worked on a 2010 film called Passione, about the music of Naples, Italy.

Ludwig van Beethoven — Trevor Peacock

Perhaps you know-know-know Trevor Peacock from his role as the dithering Jim Trott in the BBC series The Vicar of Dibley. Among his many credits, Peacock also appeared in the Dustin Hoffman-directed Quartet, a film set in a residence for retired musicians. And it’s notable that Peacock himself is no slouch as a composer, having written a number of songs, including the proto-twee-pop hit, “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, made popular by Herman’s Hermits.

Maurice Ravel — John Slattery

Slattery, of Mad Men and West Wing renown, seems a strong choice to play the Impressionist French composer who took America by storm during a tour of the U.S. in the 1920s (which, according to local tradition, included a train change at St. Paul’s Union Depot).

Richard Strauss — Richard Dreyfuss

In addition to his work as a composer, Richard Strauss was also a conductor, and we’ve seen Richard Dreyfuss handle that role with aplomb in the 1995 paean to music teachers, Mr. Holland’s Opus.

Guiseppe Verdi — Scott Wilson

A fine choice to play operatic storyteller Verdi is Scott Wilson, known widely for his work in the role of Herschel, the Obi Wan of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Ottorino Respighi — John Malkovich

Based on the photo above, Malkovich may already be auditioning for a role as Respighi. Among many interesting facets of Respighi’s life is his friendship with the scientist Enrico Fermi, who asked Respighi to explain music to him in terms of physics. Respighi was unsuccessful, but certainly there’s a well of riveting dialogue there that’s waiting to be tapped. And who would play Fermi? I’m thinking Kevin Spacey. Cast Malkovich as Respighi and Spacey as Fermi and watch the sparks fly. Maybe this one is a theater production.

Jacques Offenbach — Michael Emerson

After some time in hair and makeup, Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest) would likely savor the role of the prolific composer Jacques Offenbach, who also worked as a cellist and conductor. Coincidentally, Offenbach is the name of a residential street in greater Paris, and Emerson is the name of a residential street in Minneapolis, so there’s potential for future trivia questions, too.

What other casting choices can you think of? Share your ideas in the comments below.

How to make a carrot clarinet

Freshly picked carrots (MPR photo/Julie Siple)

It’s the time of the year when carrots and other root vegetables are in season. If you’ve got an extra carrot from your garden, CSA share or farmers market, why not turn it into a clarinet?

In this video from TEDx in Sydney, musician Linsey Pollak turns a carrot into a clarinet within five minutes. The resulting instrument sounds surprisingly good. Watch here:

And the funny thing is, the carrot is pretty much unharmed, so if you get hungry from playing, you can just eat the instrument when you’re finished.

Click on Classical: Prince's strings, a Jurassic laugh, and classical careers


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

Remember that discredited AP report that Prince had recorded a track with the Minnesota Orchestra? This week I got to the bottom of that rumor for a post on the Local Current blog: members of the orchestra recorded with Prince as STRINGenius, a local project that enlists musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra, the SPCO, and other groups to play with pop and jazz musicians.​ I talked with the leaders of STRINGenius and learned about how they’ve worked with Prince, Aretha Franklin, and other pop stars.

Jeff Goldblum’s growling laugh from the 1993 film Jurassic Park​ has taken on a life of its own, being incorporated into electronic dance music. It’s now been transcribed in musical notation, so it can be played on any instrument. Can the Goldblum Variations be far behind?

Musicians are often told to “follow their passion” — but what does that mean in the real world? David Lindquist wrote about how he’s working to balance his musical activities with a secure non-musical career, and he points out that he’s not the first classical musician you’ve heard of who’s successfully done so.

Click on Classical this Weekend: celebrating choirs and cellists

Composer Stephen Paulus (MPR photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

I’m back from vacation, and I have a number of very good things to share with you that you can find on Classical MPR’s website this weekend.

Remember Stephen Paulus

Last Sunday, we lost one of the region’s finest composers; Stephen Paulus passed away at the age of 65. But his music lives, and we’ve compiled an archive of Paulus’s music and interviews from Classical MPR. You can listen to that, and you can also read tributes from a number of people in the music world, and you can share your own thoughts as well.

Celebrate Philip Brunelle

On Thursday, we presented a special called “The Myriad Voices of Philip Brunelle”, a special all about VocalEssence (and its predecessor, Plymouth Music Series). The program includes pieces by Argento, Larsen and Paulus, and is hosted by my colleague Bill Morelock.

On a related note, I had Dale Warland and Dominick Argento in for Music with Minnesotans this past week, and they spoke about a piece by Argento that VocalEssence will perform this weekend.

Read a delightful essay

Edward Kelsey Moore is a professional cellist with the Chicago Philharmonic and the Chicago Sinfonietta, and he’s also the best-selling author of the novel, The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. Moore is going to write a series of essays exclusively for Classical MPR, and the first one published this past Tuesday. It’s a wonderful reflection about a useful expression Moore learned while performing at a long and arduous gig.

Have a great weekend!

Here's the musical notation for Jeff Goldblum's Jurassic Park laugh


Actor Jeff Goldblum’s growling laugh from Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Jurassic Park has taken on a life of its own. The laugh has been sampled and incorporated into electronic dance music by the artist FLIPSH0T, garnering the better part of a million YouTube views. Here’s the original laugh, as heard in the film.

Now, you can play Goldblum’s laugh on any instrument, thanks to a transcription by Evan Kent. In Kent’s transcription, the laugh should first be played mezzo-piano, rising briefly to Fortissimo before concluding mezzo-forte. Pick up your favorite instrument and play along with the movie!

On the Air This Week

Highlights from October 21 to 28

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Matthew Krage, of Virginia High School.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Dale Warland and Dominick Argento discuss Seasons.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Matthew Krage, of Virginia High School.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight.

Thursday, 7 pm: Dale Warland and Dominick Argento discuss Seasons.

Thursday, 7:30 pm: Archive on the Radio: The Myriad Voices of Philip Brunelle.

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Edo de Waart conducts works by Richard Strauss.

Saturday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto, with pianist Jeremy Denk.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: At Saint Paul, in St. Paul’s.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The New York Philharmonic plays Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

Monday, noon: Learning to Listen: Scary Sounds.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Mitch Pearlstein, director of the Center of the American Experiment.

Tuesday, 6:45 pm: School Spotlight.

Click on Classical: ​A musician's best friend, how to get to Carnegie Hall, and the woes of wedding gigs

Wedding 425.jpg

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

Emily Michael, a writer and singer who is blind, shared a fascinating essay on how she’s trained her new guide dog to maneuver in classical music halls — whether Emily is in the stalls or on the risers.

Karl Jenkins might write a short piece just for your choir — yes, yours​. The catch? You have to impress him (or at least his music publisher) first, on YouTube.

Many classical musicians love playing wedding gigs — but not Abigail Sandberg, who hates playing weddings and shared the five reasons why​.