All posts by Fred Child

Music world reacts to Paris attack

Police forces gather in street outside the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday, after armed gunmen stormed the offices. (Martin Bereau AFP/Getty Images)

On tomorrow’s Performance Today, we’re broadcasting a concert recording from Paris, from a venue very close to today’s Charlie Hebdo attack.

Musicians are among the millions around the world who have reacted with shock, anger, and in many cases, with new resolve to the Charlie Hebdo attack.

American cellist Alisa Weilerstein tweeted “Long Live Freedom of Speech.” And she used the hashtag “#JeSuisCharlie.” I am Charlie.

Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola lives and works in Paris. He tweeted “with all my heart near my friends in Paris.”

The Martha Graham Dance company tweeted: “We stand in solidarity with artists from all over the world: for freedom of speech and expression. #jesuischarlie.”

How should … and how CAN artists respond … to violence?

Three days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, conductor Leonard Bernstein wrote: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

And I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with composer John Luther Adams. We talked about how artists respond to terrible events in the world.

He mentioned the great painter, Claude Monet. At the height of World War I, Monet retreated to the gardens of his home in the French countryside. Not simply as an escape: his own son was in the war. The front moved to within about 30 miles of the garden. But still — every day — Monet stepped outside … and painted water lilies. In full awareness of what was going on around him. Composer John Luther Adams picks up the story from there.

“He confided to a friend that he felt guilty pursuing his ‘little studies,’ as he put it, of form and color, while so many people were dying and suffering. The irony is that those last paintings of the water lilies were his greatest gift to a troubled world. So that spoke to me the imperative of art in our times … and in all times.”

On behalf of each one of us at Performance Today: Je suis Charlie.

Watch a live web stream of Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (photo by Simon Pauly)

Big news in the world of concert/media collaborations — tonight you can watch a live video/audio stream of Joyce DiDonato‘s concert as it happens at Carnegie Hall. (Produced by

Looks like you have to sign up for an account, but I’m told there is no charge to watch and listen. (Paid subscribers get access to archives and other material.)

This is the first in a series of four live web-streams from Carnegie Hall this fall:

All concerts begin at 7 p.m. Eastern / 6 p.m. Central.

More info on the series here.

Joshua Bell brings music to Union Station once again

Remember this 2007 story that got everyone talking (albeit briefly) about classical music? Violinist Joshua Bell played incognito at a Metro station in Washington, D.C., during rush hour, in an “experiment” designed by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten:

Commuters brushed past one of the great musicians of our time — he was almost universally ignored — and Weingarten’s WaPo story won a Pulitzer Prize.

On Tuesday this week, Joshua Bell got a do-over of sorts, playing a well-publicized event in the main hall of Washington, D.C.’s Union Station … and several thousand folks showed up. There are more details here from PBS’s News Hour.

Said Bell to the crowd: “This is more like it!”

Yukie Ota, 'Madame Butterfly', takes 2nd place at Nielsen Competition

First-prize winner Sébastian Jacot: “I didn’t even think about winning … I have never won a competition or audition.” (photo courtesy

Yukie Ota (she of the butterfly landing on her forehead during the first round, currently Principal Flute in the Kalamazoo Symphony) took second place this weekend at the Carl Nielsen Flute Competition in Copenhagen.

First place went to Sébastian Jacot, a 27-year-old Swiss flutist, who had his own adventures in the first round: Two hours before he played, part of his wooden flute broke. Jacot used his back-up … and prevailed.

Read more about first-place finisher Sébastian Jacot in this story by Anne Termanson.

A violinist and her dog

Violinist Ida Kavafian has been raising Viszlas (Hungarian hunting dogs) for years. She’s a regular at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show every February at Madison Square Garden. This year one of her beloved pooches won “Best of Opposite Sex” (which goes to the best female if a male wins best of breed, as happened this year).

Her dog is officially named Brittania N Bayviews Ida One (although…I’m sure they have a cute nickname for her!). Here’s a picture from yesterday at Madison Square Garden, with Ida Kavafian holding the ribbon.

Ida Kavafian and her prize-winning dog


(And btw, Ida’s husband is Steven Tenenbom, violist in the Orion String Quartet. He’s as much into the family dogs as Ida…)

Orchestras take on The Harlem Shake

If you live within 50 miles of this wacky thing called “The Internet,” good chance you’re aware of the latest meme, the Harlem Shake. (According to our friends at YouTube, as of last week about 4,000 Harlem Shake videos were being uploaded to their site…every day.) The videos are usually 33 seconds long, beginning with one crazy dancer who goes unnoticed by the rest of the crowd. At a particular moment in the song there is a sudden cut, and everybody is dancing wildly, often in costume. Several orchestras have contributed recently, including The Knights (a chamber orchestra based in New York):

Now watch it again, and notice…what appears to be Frieda Kahlo, sitting perfectly still in the lower left. (That’s flutist Alex Sopp, in full Kahlo regalia.)

How about an orchestra from Puerto Rico?

(again, with reference to a famous painting in the lower left!)

Unexpected Connection

I’m endlessly fascinated by unexpected connections, so the multiple layers of connection here make this all the more entertaining.

We sometimes see art and commerce as polar opposites, but in the early 1600s English composer Orlando Gibbons turned commerce into art with a wickedly creative piece called “Street Cries of London.” He strung together several dozen short rhythmic hawking calls of street vendors, and set them over a lovely instrumental bed.

We hear all kinds of things for sale. Food: hot apple pies, pomegranates, rosemary, milk, cabbage, oysters. Also ink and pens, candles, perfume, shirts. A few service providers pipe up: a chimney sweep, a makeshift podiatrist who wonders if you have corns on your feet, blacksmiths ask if they can fix your bellows. There’s even a lost and found section: a gentleman asks if anyone has seen a grey mare with a long mane and a short tail. It’s like Craigslist set to music. Which brings us, of course, to the Craigslistlieder.

In 2006, American composer Gabriel Kahane took eight actual ads from Craigslist and set them to music, including this one, which is rapidly becoming a modern classic. The words for “Neurotic and Lonely” are from the personals section of Craigslist. “Neurotic and lonely, average height, brown eyes, slightly disproportionate. brown curly hair, Jew-fro, 20 years old. Slightly hunched, occasionally employed. Currently living with parents.”

And to complete the circle, we come back around to what amounts to a modern version of Gibbons’ “Street Cries.” In 1975, Tom Waits set the seductive hyperbole of American sales language over a swinging bass line in the song “Step Right Up.”

Art and commerce merge, and everything old becomes new again. Tune in for a remarkable performance of Orlando Gibbons’ “Street Cries of London” from a concert three weeks ago in London, Friday on APM’s Performance Today.

Forbes "30 under 30" Musicians has one Classical Player

Conrad Tao

Alongside Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Adele, Taylor Swift (and Taylor Swift’s tour marketing manager!) Forbes magazine’s list of “30 Under 30” musicians includes pianist, violinist & composer Conrad Tao.

Conrad is all of 17, but he has one of the most wide-ranging and penetrating musical minds I’ve ever encountered. He is an accomplished violinist, he is fast becoming a world-class pianist, and he is a fascinating composer. I was lucky to meet him five years ago, when he played his own bravura set of variations on “Happy Birthday” for conductor David Zinman’s 70th at the Aspen Festival. Even at age 12 it was clear Conrad was something special… not just a virtuoso prodigy who plays fistfuls of notes, but a thinker about music.

Last season, at age 16, Conrad was Composer in Residence for the Music in the Loft series in Chicago. This year he was named a US Presidential Scholar in the Arts, he’s appeared on PBS’s Great Performances. In September, on 36 hours notice, he filled in for Louis Lortie at a major Cliburn Series concert in Fort Worth, Texas. Reviews were glowing.

For each of the last 8 years, Conrad has won ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer awards. (Yes, 8 years. Do the math.)

Conrad Tao is currently in the Columbia/Juilliard joint degree program in New York, and a composition student at Yale. He has solo piano recitals coming up in Berlin and Paris this winter, in addition to a full schedule of concerts around the country.

And lest you think his work as a classical pianist, violinist and composer is too limiting, Conrad is also busy writing about his favorite alt-rock and electronica bands for Bjork is among is current faves.

I can’t wait to hear what Conrad might be up to in the next few years.