All posts by Brian Newhouse

‘Pipedreams’ host Michael Barone pulls out all the stops

Laura Caviani, jazz pianist extraordinaire, grew up idolizing Pipedreams host J. Michael Barone as her local church organist in the St. Cloud, Minn., area. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, as part of Classical MPR’s Pop-Up Classical series, Caviani came and played the grand piano in the sanctuary of Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul — really charming renditions of holiday carols.

Afterward, Laura reunited with her organ idol and, well, here’s two minutes of Christmas cheer…

The piece they’re performing is Caviani’s own “Russian Strut,” modeled after Tchaikovsky.

(Kudos to Classical MPR’s Joe Trucano for Pop Up Classical, and thanks to MPR engineer Michael “Ozzie” Osborne for the spontaneous iPhone video!)

Cuba, Day 2: Education in action

Havana skyline

A few years after it got going in 1903, the Minneapolis Symphony learned that a path to community relevance took them right up to a school door. Since then, they’ve appeared in schools all across Minnesota and given countless Young Peoples Concerts at Orchestra Hall. Today that path grew a few thousand miles.

The Minnesota Orchestra dropped into two Havana music schools, playing small-ensemble concerts and then serving as workshop clinicians for the students. This passion for education is so deeply ingrained into the Orchestra’s mission now, that some players told me they were looking forward to the school visits even more than their sold-out Friday and Saturday concerts.

The kids ate it up. I loved how they filled the chairs and then stood along the walls of the classrooms to hear the Minnesota musicians. I loved how they especially whooped after a wild Piazzolla wind quintet. I loved how you could hear their tone waver with nervousness as they started playing for the pros, and then with the gentle coaching and encouraging, the tone got stronger, surer. Education in action. Thing of beauty.

Photos by Nate Ryan

Boarding the bus

Students at "Music City"

"Music City" students perform. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

Drums

"Music City" hallway. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

Manny Laureano and ensemble

Brass ensemble and students

Piano and trumpet. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

French horn student

Music teacher

French horn instruction

Horn instruction

Wind ensemble

Flutist Wendy Williams

Cubadisco panel discussion MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

Osmo interview

Osmo Vänskä gives an interview.

Outside the Teatro Nacional

Cuba, Day 1: From frost to incredible warmth

Street scene from the bus as during the Minnesota Orchestra's tour to Havana Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The day began with frost warnings up in the Arrowhead and the car heater on high for the drive to MSP. And it wrapped with the lovely humidity of what feels like a mid-July evening in Minnesota, set to the soft crash of Caribbean waves.

We’d been a little worried about receiving a less-than-welcoming welcome at the Havana airport, based on our tense relations with Cuba. But there was only the usual visa- and form-checking as in any international airport, no scowling guards, no guns—and then we were through doors and onto the sunny, palm-tree-lined Havana streets.

After only a day here, I realize I have too many headlines of tense US/Cuban relations archived in my head; of Castro throwing barbs at American presidents, and American presidents throwing them right back. What gets lost in all that political bristle are the beautiful individual faces I saw today. So many smiles at the visiting Americans, so many wishes of welcome to us, everyone hoping that this trip—the first of an American orchestra here in years and years—represents one small start for something miraculous to happen between our two countries.

Photos by Nate Ryan

View from the Melia Cohiba hotel where the Minnesota Orchestra is staying during their stay in Havana Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Bus trip to Hotel Nacional

A baseball stadium seen from the bus as during the Minnesota Orchestra's tour to Havana Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The Malecon, the Havana landmark road along the sea, seen from the bus as during the Minnesota Orchestra's tour to Havana Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Dancing stilt-walkers and street musicians welcomed the Minnesota Orchestra at the start of a brief walking tour of old Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Manny Laureano joins dancing stilt-walkers and street musicians as they welcomed the Minnesota Orchestra at the start of a brief walking tour of old Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Street musicians as they welcomed the Minnesota Orchestra at the start of a brief walking tour of old Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

(L-R) Roma Duncan, Manny Laureano, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, and Osmo Vanska, Kevin Smith, and Dianne Brennan with dancing stilt-walkers and street musicians as they welcomed the Minnesota Orchestra at the start of a brief walking tour of old Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Orchestra Musicians, and members of the People to people tour pose for a group photo  at the start of a walking tour of old Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Havana Cathedral photographed during a walking tour with The Minnesota Orchestra in  old Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Old Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The long first day of travel ended with a welcome dinner for the Minnesota Orchestra at the Hotel Nacional. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Prior to a welcome dinner Cuban choir, Coro Entrevoces  performed for the Minnesota Orchestra at the Hotel Nacional. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Prior to a welcome dinner Cuban choir, Coro Entrevoces  performed for the Minnesota Orchestra at the Hotel Nacional. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Mojitos welcome the Minnesota Orchestra at the Hotel Nacional. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Welcome reception at the Hotel Nacional. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The Malacon viewed from the Hotel Nacional. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The Malacon viewed from a reception for the Minnesota Orchestra at the Hotel Nacional. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The Malacon. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

A welcome dinner for the Minnesota Orchestra took place in the 1930 room at the Hotel Nacional, a reference to the last time the Minnesota Orchestra was in Cuba, back in 1930. Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The welcome dinner for included a performace by local musicians during the meal at the Hotel Nacional, Havana Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Marilyn Carlson Nelson and Manny Laureano dance the Cha-Cha during a welcome dinner at the Hotel Nacional, Havana Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The Hotel Nacional, Havana Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

More photos from Day 1 in Cuba

Michael Barone charmed 'em in Los Angeles

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For all who couldn’t be there, Pipedreams host Michael Barone charmed the heck out of about 2,500 people at a standing-room-only Walt Disney Concert Hall on the night of Sunday, Nov. 23.

Michael BaroneThe organ celebrated its 10th anniversary that evening, and Michael, who’d been part of a consulting group for its original design, was master of ceremonies. He was masterful: funny, encylcopedically (yes, I just made that up), knowledgeable, passionate, and kept spinning the wheel of organists who came out to do increasingly dazzling things with the Disney keyboard.

For star power, Cameron Carpenter capped the evening, but St. Paul’s Aaron David Miller stole the show with a jaw-dropping improv on the Superman theme, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” an original tune just submitted to him, and a few others.

At the party in Los Angeles, it seemed it was the stars from St. Paul — Michael Barone and Aaron David Miller — who shone brightest!

You can read more about the event in this recap by the Los Angeles Times‘ Mark Swed.

BBC Proms: Viktoria Mullova

Have a world-class Stradivarius you’d like to lend for a few days?

Violinist Viktoria Mullova actually already has one and it’s worth a fortune. But with the new airport security measures she’s not able to carry it onboard when she flies. She has to check it with luggage. Pause here to reflect: you own a priceless Strad and you’re sitting on the tarmac watching the luggage guys sling it under the plane along with the boulder-size bags of your fellow travelers.

When I talked with her yesterday (interview for our Last Night of the Proms broadcast) she really sounded worried about her Minnesota Orchestra appearance next week. Her plan is to drive with a friend from her London home to Heathrow, do her best to convince security to let her carry the Strad onboard in its case. If they refuse, she’s going to hand the instrument to her friend who’ll deliver it back home. When she lands in Minneapolis she’ll start scrambling for the best instrument she can find.

More…

Mullova defected from the Soviet Union 23 years ago. (Here’s a nice synopsis of a hair-raising story.) She was on tour in Helsinki and left her state-owned Strad lying on the hotel room bed and fled into Sweden.

Two weeks ago she essentially reversed that scenario when she went to play in Helsinki with the Minnesota Orchestra. This time, she had to ‘smuggle’ her new Strad into Finland onboard the plane. Refusing to check it with her luggage, she wrapped the instrument in a towel and hid it in a shopping bag.

BBC Proms: arrival in London

Producers Silvester Vicic and Lauren Rico are in London with host Brian Newhouse preparing for MPR’s Last Night of the Proms (LNOP) broadcast. Tune in Saturday at 1:30pm! It’s part-serious, part-silly, and just about every Brit near a TV or radio stops whatever he or she is doing for it. Oh, and a few million other people around the world join in via the BBC, too.

There’s a Russian thread running through this year’s LNOP, and the stars of the show are going to be two of Russia’s hottest musical exports of recent years, violinist Viktoria Mullova and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Here are a few snaps from the MPR staff as they get ready for Saturday’s show.

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Host Brian Newhouse and producer Lauren Rico quickly set up in a back office of the BBC for a Last Night of the Proms interview.

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Composer Colin Matthews and Brian Newhouse. Matthews scored a major coup for a contemporary composer this year: no fewer than five pieces performed throughout the Proms season. During our Last Night of the Proms broadcast, we’ll hear his brilliant concert overture, Vivo.

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Producers Lauren Rico and Silvester Vicic at Maida Vale, home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Singers.

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Producers Silvester Vicic and Lauren Rico in violinist Viktoria Mullova’s kitchen. The kitchen table was the site for our interview. She’ll be featured in the Last Night broadcast playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. As we finished, BBC engineers swooped in to set up for their own interview.

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Mullova is just coming off of a summer break from performing to spend more time with her three school-aged children. These bikes in the backyard of her London home got a lot of use.

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Thank heaven for little girls… Two Londoners on their way home from school prove that they are indeed perfectly capable of saying “stinky cheese.”

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Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky picking up after his kids in the backyard of his London home. He’ll be the star in the Last Night of the Proms broadcast, singing Verdi and Borodin arias, as well as pulling a Union Jack flag from somewhere within his tux and waving it while he sings the Toreador’s Song from Carmen. The crowd, guaranteed, will go absolutely nuts.

Menlo listening highlight

Antonin Dvorak: Piano Trio in e minor, op. 90, “Dumky”

Wu Han, piano; Ani Kavafian, violin; David Finckel, cello

Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

This piece also unfolds as a set of stories, though I don’t see a nice red thread running through it as you can in the Schubert Fantasy. Each of these six movements is its own brilliant dark world. To watch David Finckel’s face during the performance—you can tell he’s enjoying the music in that way, as story: surprised at this turn, almost frightened at the next.

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Menlo listening highlight

Schubert: Fantasy for Piano, Four Hands, in f, D. 940

Jeffery Kahane, Wu Han, piano

Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

I think Schubert must have had read some twisted, tragic story before sitting down to write this, because he’s so clearly trying to do the same with this music. He tells it as a story in four movements—four chapters, if you like—but each one flows without a break to the next. Jeffrey Kahane takes the lower part, while Wu Han plays ‘right hand.’ Afterward Jeffrey was telling me how surprised he was at the power of this particular Steinway, especially the low end, and that if he’d had another set of hands he would’ve covered his ears! (see post Menlo: noisy world)

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Menlo listening highlight

Mozart: Church Sonatas in F, K. 244; E-flat, K. 67; C, K. 336

Ani Kavafian, Tein-Hsin Wu, violin; Peter Wiley, cello; James Welch, organ

Listen to the piece Listen to the piece

These churchy pieces always make me smile, knowing a bit about the complexity of Mozart’s character, especially his delight in bathroom humor. But here he is being a good pious young man, and a professional composer trying to please his boss.

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