All posts by Jay Gabler

Macy’s Flower Show in seven GIFs

The eighth-floor auditorium in Macy’s downtown Minneapolis store makes it a uniquely immersive venue for the chain’s annual flower show.

The theme for this year’s show, which opens to the public today and will remain on display through April 3, is America the Beautiful. The show is laid out to roughly correspond to a map of the continental United States, with regional flora arranged in bucolic scenes meant to represent each of seven different regions.

Last year, I talked with producer Mike Gansmoe, who curates the soundtrack for each year’s show. Classical music is always part of the mix, and this year — no surprise — there’s a lot of Copland. Cue up Appalachian Spring and take a glance at the show in these seven animated GIFs.

Macys-Flower-Show-1 Macys-Flower-Show-2Macys-Flower-Show-5 Macys-Flower-Show-3 Macys-Flower-Show-7Macys-Flower-Show-4Macys-Flower-Show-6

Former SPCO cellist caught with 113 pounds of marijuana

Oregon cellist marijuana

Recreational marijuana use is legal in Oregon — but it’s not this legal.

David Huckaby, a Juilliard-trained cellist who played with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 2009 to 2014, was arrested on Friday near Bly, Ore. — where he remains jailed.

After stopping the 33-year-old cellist for speeding, authorities found Huckaby in possession of 113 pounds of marijuana — an amount estimated to be worth over $200,000.

A native of Georgia, Huckaby trained at both the New England Conservatory and the Juilliard School. In 2009, he visited MPR’s studios along with his fellow SPCO newcomer Sunmi Chang. Hear their performance, and conversation with John Birge, from that visit.

This is the second recent example of a former Minnesota professional musician caught up in dramatic circumstances in the Beaver State. David Wright, a violinist who formerly played with the Minnesota Orchestra, lost all his possessions in a car fire last month in Portland.

Wright now tells Norman Lebrecht that he has “no interest in more orchestral work: 30 years of the privilege performing in the back of an ensemble as fine as the Minnesota Orchestra left me tired of the relative mediocrity of my own sound. I am now a writer, singer, and traveller, and continue to enjoy my life, very thankful to have escaped the fire just in time. I don’t need anyone’s help.”

Photo: Oregon State Police

After Minnesota revision, Glass’s ‘Appomattox’ wins raves

Appomattox Washington National Opera

When Philip Glass’s opera Appomattox, with text by playwright Christopher Hampton, premiered in 2007, critical reaction was muted — to put it kindly.

SF Gate called the opera “ambitious and maddeningly inconsistent.” The New York Times said the opera about the end of the Civil War was “preachy,” “ponderous,” and “prone to melodrama.”

For Glass and Hampton, it was back to the drawing board. First, Hampton revised his text for presentation as a standalone play — without Glass’s music — at the Guthrie Theater in 2012. Hampton completely reimagined the story’s second half, drawing parallels between the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Personally, I was unimpressed — but Glass was sold. “My God,” said Glass after seeing the new version, “we’ve got to rewrite the opera.”

That rewritten opera, now focusing closely on voting rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 rejection of the central components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, opened Saturday night at the Washington (D.C.) National Opera. This time, the critics are much happier.

The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette — a critic infamously averse to puffery — wrote that the new opera “sears across the stage like a firework of light and color and rage and pain and beauty.” The New York Times also appreciated the revisions (“This new act is altogether brighter and more confident,” writes Corinna da Fonesca-Wollheim), but still thinks the opera could use “another round of revision.”

Back to Minneapolis?

Production photo: Washington National Opera

Click on Classical: The Pope’s anthem, 2015 Gramophone Awards, Rufus Wainwright’s opera

Vatican flag

Every Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our websites. Here’s what we’ll be discussing today.

If you’ve been following the news coverage of Pope Francis’s visit to America, you’ve probably heard the Pontifical Anthem: the official song of the Holy See. Can you name the famous French composer who wrote it?

This year’s Gramophone Awards have just been announced; Paavo Järvi won Artist of the Year, and German pianist Joseph Moog took Young Artist of the Year honors. Poignantly, the award for Recording of the Year went to a CD that was recorded just a few months before its conductor’s death.

Prima Donna, the debut opera by indie-pop music star Rufus Wainwright, is coming to CD—on Deutsche Grammophon, no less. We’ll see if the critics are kinder to the recorded version than they were to the live performances.

Click on Classical: A sexy composer, a new book, and a choral reflection


Every Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our websites. Here’s what we’ll be discussing today.

Who was the sexiest composer of all time? In a new essay, a Pitchfork writer advances a case for one of the great Romantics.

On YourClassical, I reviewed a new book for young adults that tells the gripping, poignant story of Shostakovich and a symphony written under siege.

In the wake of last week’s tragic shooting at Delta State University, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu shared a reflection from a choral conductor who worked there for four years.

Click on Classical: Music for fall, Wagner for sale, and a welcome to baby Zelda

Classical music for fall

Every Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our websites. Here’s what we’ll be discussing today.

Love it or hate it, Labor Day is over and the feelings of fall are starting to stir. Fortunately, we have a multi-hour playlist of classical music that’s perfectly suited to the season.

If your fall plans include a walk down the aisle, you can give your accompanist the original handwritten score to Wagner’s Wedding March: it’s now on sale for $3.6 million.

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage—at least that’s the way it worked for Hilary Hahn and her husband, who’ve just announced the birth of their new baby daughter Zelda.

Click on Classical: Mythbusting, novel writing, and Brahms in the barn

Classical music myths

Monday mornings at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our website. Due to the Labor Day weekend, this week we’re having our talk on Tuesday. Here are the stories we’ll be discussing.

What are the top ten myths about classical music? As artistic director of the Discovery Orchestra, George Marriner Maull has heard his share—and he lists the  pernicious.

As the big fall books roll in, you may find yourself pulling your own manuscript out of that desk drawer. Daniel Johnson suggests some music for writing your novel.

The State Fair is over, but farm work continues throughout the year. Daniel Johnson also cues you in as to when to turn that barn radio from country to classical.

Click on Classical: Badlands, band, and Brahms

Badlands small

Normally on Monday mornings at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our website. This Monday I won’t be on the air—I’ll be at the Minnesota State Fair participating in our live blogcast—but here are three recent stories you might have missed.

Taylor Brorby recommends a little-known delight: Children’s March by Percy Grainger. Though Grainger was an Australian composer, Taylor finds the music perfectly-suited to a walk around the Badlands.

Dan Nass writes about a new study demonstrating that music education can have positive effects on the teenage brain.

In a compelling essay, Cinda Yager writes about a scary episode with a man who was terrorizing her; and reveals how she turned to Brahms’s First Piano Concerto to help her manage the agonizing uncertainty.

Click on Classical: Listening to women, hot new tracks, recording da Vinci’s piano


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

Have women’s contributions to classical music been underappreciated? Yes, argues Emily Feld in an essay highlighting the many accomplishments of female musicians and composers.

You’re used to hearing New Classical Tracks on Classical MPR, but there are many more new releases each month than we’re able to highlight in that feature. For that reason, we’re pleased to have experienced music writer Terry Blain spotlighting five notable new releases each month; his first monthly roundup has just been published.

One of our most-read features this year has been a story about the “viola organista,” an instrument Leonardo da Vinci designed but never got to hear. Now, we have an update: a Kickstarter to record a complete album of music on the instrument has just met its funding goal.

Click on Classical: Shape note singing, minimalism debated, vocalists learning from instrumentalists

Shape Note Singing Fort Snelling

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

Shape note singing is one of America’s oldest and most unique choral traditions—and it’s going strong in Minnesota. Emily Feld visited a local gathering of shape note singers and shared what she learned.

Is minimalist music relaxing—or maddening? There are partisans on either side of the debate, but Rebecca Wishnia argues that no matter who you are, there’s some minimalist music you’ll enjoy.

Earlier, Gwen Hoberg explored the question of what instrumentalists can learn from vocalists. This week, she turns the question around and asks vocalists what they’ve learned from instrumentalists.