All posts by gmartin

The Greatest Orchestra in the World

You may have heard us congratulating the Minnesota Orchestra for their fabulous review in this week’s New Yorker.

Music critic Alex Ross wrote about the large number of different orchestras which had performed in Carnegie Hall recently, and concluded the piece with this bold statement:

For the duration of the evening of March 1st, the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world.

You can read the whole piece here.

Confessions of a Drum Dork

When Jauvon Gilliam heard that the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., was looking for a new timpanist, he wanted that job. Bad.

So on the 26-hour drive from Winnipeg, he called up other professional timpanists along the way and asked to play for them, so that he could get used to playing nervous and in unfamiliar settings.

The prep paid off, and he got the job. Read more about this self-identified “drum dork” and get a peek into a timpanist’s world here.

James Galway Can't Play the Flute

Well, not with two broken arms, he can’t.

Apparently Sir James took a nasty fall around the start of the New Year, shattering the elbow on one arm and breaking his wrist on the other. Ouch.

While he’s cancelled all his February performances, he hopes to be back in the game by March, according to a statement on his website.

When he gets to Michigan in early March to play with the Detroit Symphony, I’m sure he and conductor Leonard Slatkin will compare notes about unexpected medical leaves.

Emerson String Quartet in Winona

The Emerson String Quartet performs in Winona tomorrow night under the auspices of the Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

The four of them have played together for more than 30 years now. What’s the secret to their longevity?

Cellist David Finckel says that their friendship is solid, but what drives them is the work itself: “There is so much to do, just to play everything we are committed to, and to do it at the level that people have come to expect of us.”

Read more about what Mr. Finckel has to say about the Emersons, the state of string quartets generally, and his (lack of) work-life balance in this two-part interview by Madison, WI-based critic and blogger Jacob Stockinger.

Cleveland Orchestra Musicians Go On Strike

“We may be considered to be amongst the best in the world musically, but we are a far cry from being compensated that way or treated that way,” say the musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The orchestra’s board of trustees, on the other hand, said it recognized the musicians’ “incredible artistry” but was committed to “ongoing prudent cost control.”

That disagreement led the musicians to go on strike as of midnight Sunday night. Read more about what both sides have to say here.

On a facetious note, as the musicians picket in the chilly Cleveland weather this week, I wonder how many of them will wish they’d waited to strike until after their Miami residency?

Vancouver Symphony Just Says No to the Olympics

Remember the fuss when the big name classical performers at President Obama’s inauguration did not play live at the event, but mimed to a recording of themselves?

Or the lip-synching controversy that erupted after the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics?

My personal view is, “Well, that’s show biz,” at least when it comes to enormous public events in which music is only one small part.

But Bramwell Tovey, conductor of the Vancouver Symphony, took a much harder line when the organizing committee for the upcoming Winter Olympics asked the orchestra to pre-record. See what he had to say here.

The SPCO's Stravinsky Festival

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra sure knows how to warm up a Minnesota January. In 2009, they did it with their International Chamber Orchestra Festival. In 2010, they’ll spice things up with their three-week-long Stravinsky Festival.

It will feature a concert performance (no sets, no costumes) of Stravinsky’s only opera, The Rake’s Progress, as well as performances of several of his ballet scores. The festival culminates in a joint performance by the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra of Stravinsky’s earth-shaking (or at the very least, floor-board shaking!) The Rite of Spring.

For your enjoyment, here’s a 1965 video of the great man himself conducting the “Lullaby and Final Hymn” from his ballet Firebird.

Conductors and Batons

No matter what your line of work, just the right tool can make a big difference in how you perform. For most conductors, that tool is the baton:

The baton is a “living thing, charged with a kind of electricity,” Leonard Bernstein once said, “which makes it an instrument of meaning in its tiniest movement.”

Read more about conductors and their intimate relationships with their batons in this article.

Warning to the grammatically sensitive: In the course of this article one esteemed conductor uses the word “architect” as a verb. Just so you know.

The Myth of High-Priced Tickets

I was very disappointed to see this comic strip in yesterday’s Star Tribune advancing the myth that “only rich people can afford” tickets to the symphony.

(Especially since I had just read this article about ticket scalpers asking over a $1000 a piece for tickets to an upcoming U2 concert a 2007 Hannah Montana concert.)

Tickets to major orchestras (like the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony or our own Minnesota Orchestra or Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra) are comparable in price, and often cheaper, than tickets to pop/rock acts such as Bon Jovi, U2 or Taylor Swift.

I don’t hold comic strip creators to the same professional standards as reporters, of course, but would a little fact-checking be so bad?