All posts by John Zech

Rostropovich has died

The news just came across the wires early this morning. Here’s the obit from the A-P:

MOSCOW (AP) – Famed master cellist and conductor Mstislav

Rostropovich has died.

The maestro, who was 80, died in Moscow.

He had lived abroad for years in self-imposed exile and became a

courageous champion of the rights of Soviet-era dissidents. Later

he triumphantly played Bach below the crumbling Berlin Wall.

Rostropovich was hospitalized in Paris in February, suffering

from intestinal cancer. After he took a turn for the worse, his

family arranged for him to be flown back to Russia. Among those who

called on him to pay respects were Russia’s President Vladimir


He was well enough last month to attend a celebration at the

Kremlin honoring his 80th birthday.

Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency reports he was hospitalized again

several days ago.

World's Largest Orchestra…of coconuts!

Okay…not quite classical, perhaps. But it’s a lot of fun.

The Monty Python gang, in a shameless bit of promotion for their musical Spamalot, got together 5,567 of the Python faithful in Trafalgar Square to set a world record for the largest orchestra of coconuts ever assembled.

If you aren’t aquainted with the “Knights Who Say Ni,” find a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and pay special attention to the horses the Knights are riding (or not).

Of course video from the event is on YouTube.

More details on the story here.

Happy Birthday, Niles!

The TV series Frasier was one of the smartest comedies on the air, and the writers were pretty good with classical music, too.

David Hyde Pierce, the actor who played Niles, turns 48 today, and by way of a birthday tribute, here’s one of the funniest bits from the glorious history of the show…choreographed to Mozart. Enjoy!

Creepy Guitar

Joaquin Rodrigo, the blind composer who wrote the very popular Concierto de Aranjuez, once said the ideal Spanish guitar for composers would be a “strange, fantastic, multiform instrument with the wings of a harp, the tail of a piano, and the soul of a guitar.”

I think I found one. It’s actually weirder than what Rodrigo imagined, but then he didn’t have YouTube. Jeff Esworthy put me onto this, and it’s creeping me out….

Boulez birthday bomb

Just in cast you think the classical music world is all tuxedos and concert halls, consider the case of composer/conductor Pierre Boulez who celebrates his 82nd birthday today.

Boulez has always been in the avant garde when it comes to advocating for new music, and one of his “revolutionary” remarks got him into some hot water a couple months after the attacks of September 11th.

Boulez once suggested that, as a radical break with the past, all opera houses should be blown up—a remark that put him on a list of “terrorist suspects” in Switzerland, and led police to briefly seize his passport at a Basle hotel in the early hours of Nov 2nd, 2001.

This, coming from a man who, in 1973, wrote a piece called explosante-fixe.

You can find lots more about Boulez, and other musical revolutionaries by searching the archives at

A slice of musical Pi

It was almost exactly twenty years ago when I was visiting my friend Miklos in Budapest. Miklos is a mathematician, and a great lover of music, and when I came over to his apartment he had a copy of Bach’s Two-Part Inventions sitting open on his piano. He picked it up and said, “John, isn’t that beautiful…it’s mathematics!”

Today March 14th…3/14… is “Pi Day,” so called because the date expresses the beginning of the magical number that apparently is a a world without end (amen). Pi is defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, it’s the number that starts 3.14159….and just keeps going.

Pi Day is being celebrated worldwide by a certain type of person (aka “geek”) who finds numbers and ratios not only exciting, but, believe it or not, beautiful..

Math and music have a close relationship (since they’re both binary–duh!!) and it’s no surprise that somebody has used Pi in his composing. You can read and hear more in a Science News piece called “Sound -Byte Math Music.”

And then there’s “Pi Diddy” who does a Pi rap (I kid you not!). Of course, you’ll want to sing about Pi later this year, so he’s got some carols like this:

Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi

You’re truly transcendental.

Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi

You’re physical and mental.

You stretch the bounds…of all we know,

And tell our circles where to go

Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi

Your digits are so gentle.

Violins in the Media

Lotsa news this weekend about expensive violins. In Paris police say they have recovered two violins, together worth more than $250,000, stolen from a musician with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in December. More details here.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Symphony is going to be selling off their so-called “Golden Age” collection of rare stringed instruments purchased at the supposedly bargain-basement price of $17 million four years ago. The Symphony is strapped for cash and this sale could give them some security, but it’s also just another page in a rather bizarre story involving philanthropy, tax fraud, questions of fakery and more.

Quote of the day

As I was playing a selection from Anna Netrebko’s latest CD, the “Russian Album” I was reminded of a line from one of W. C. Fields’ movies.

In “The Old-Fashioned Way” Fields plays the Great McGonigle, leader of a struggling 19th century theater troupe that regularly has to depart hotel rooms in the middle of the night to avoid paying the bill.

When McGonigle finds a wealthy widow interested in backing his show, he courts her favors by paying a visit and listening to her absolutely atrocious singing–think Florence Foster Jenkins without the technique or finesse.

Her audition piece (“Gathering up the Shells”) goes on for too many verses and finally he interrupts saying, “Wonderful. Wonderful. You make Jenny Lind sound like a mangy alley cat with asthma.”

Ah, yeeesss.

Rostropovich discharged from Hospital

The great Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, went into the hospital in Moscow last month under rather hush-hush circumstances. The C word was being used a lot in speculations about his health, but people are keeping mum.

The good news is (maybe) that he was discharged from the hospital yesterday and “feels well” according to his press secretary.

The story was filed on the A-P this past hour.

What I've learned from liars….

I have known a number of liars in my life, and in my experience that leopard never changes his spots. Liars lie. They always will. And they keep doing it.

The latest in the “Hattogate” scandal in England is that the husband of English pianist Joyce Hatto has now admitted to faking most of her recordings, but he says he had a good reason to do it: It mader her happy.

“Joyce’s life was hell. She was in such pain and it was so humiliating for her for such a long time.”

Our well-intentioned faker went to prison in the 60s for tax evasion. His latest fakery seemed to boost his wife’s reputation in the piano world, and for a while it seemed to work. But now her name will always be tainted.

Rabbie Burns was right about the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men.