All posts by Steve Staruch

Enjoying classical music on the go

The day was sunny and warm and music flowed from every venue in St Paul’s Lowertown. I had the privilege of hosting a number of St. Paul Classical Music Crawl tours this past Saturday, Oct. 10.

What a great group of people and what a great collection of musicians. We heard a string quartet from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (at Union Depot), the excellent singers from Glorious Revolution Baroque (at the Baroque Room), student music from the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota School (at Black Dog Café), and members of the Minnesota Opera (at Nautilus Music Theater) all in the course of two hours.

In the photos below (taken in the various venues our tour group visited), we’re all smiles because the day was just that good!





Click on Classical this Weekend: music goes to your head – in a good way

girls playing cello
Girls playing cello (photo by Marjan Lazarevski)
Saturday morning is going to be a cold one, a good time to nestle indoors and catch up on some music-related news items. Here are three picks you won’t want to miss:

The Minnesota Orchestra will go to Cuba

Just this past Thursday, it was announced that the Minnesota Orchestra will travel to Cuba in May to perform two concerts at the Teatro Nacional in Havana, as part of the International Cubadisco Festival. When it was known as the Minneapolis Symphony, the orchestra performed in Cuba in 1929 and 1930, selling out both shows. When it returns in May of this year, the Minnesota Orchestra will be the first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since the thaw in diplomatic relations began in December 2014.

Your brain on music

Did you know that listening to music is good exercise for your brain? When we listen to music, our brain works very quickly to interpret musical elements like rhythm and melody. And when we play an instrument, we actually get a full-body brain workout. All of our senses as well as our motor skills are engaged. Classical MPR’s Daniel Nass has shared a wonderful, four-minute, animated video from TEDEd that illustrates just how good playing an instrument is for our brains.

An “exciting and scary” concert

It’s not “scary” in the sense that young children can’t attend, but it stir a bit of trepidation for the performers — as happens whenever pieces of new music are played for the first time. That’s what will happen this Sunday, Feb. 15, at Sundin Music Hall at Hamline University when the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet will perform three new works by Minnesota composers. My colleague Alison Young welcomed the quartet on Friday, and they chatted about the upcoming concert and even performed a couple of selections as a preview.

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this Weekend: a cellist, a composer and a different ‘Companion’

Chris Thile
Chris Thile hosts ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ on Feb. 7 and 14 (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
As you’re browsing the Internet this weekend, here are three items you won’t want to miss.

The cello recital in the alley

Cellist and author Edward Kelsey Moore continues to share his great stories with us. This past week, Edward shared two very personal stories about why Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major is my favorite of the six Bach suites. As is typical of his writing, Edward tells these moving stories with humor and heart. Take a few moments to read Edward’s story; you won’t be disappointed.

A Duluth composer in the Regional Spotlight

Dr. Justin Henry Rubin is a professor in the music department at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. We were delighted this week to share a premiere performance of Rubin’s Concierto Pequeño, played by the Minnesota Sinfonia, on our Regional Spotlight. Visit the feature to hear this beguiling, six-minute piece.

A different ‘Companion’ this week

For the second time in the program’s recent history, A Prairie Home Companion will be hosted by someone other than Garrison Keillor. Chris Thile, a mandolin player who has played with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma as well as with his own bands Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, is stepping in to host Prairie Home this weekend and next. My MPR colleague Steve Seel sat down with Thile to talk about filling those big, red shoes, and Thile describes it as a great honor. Listen to Thile’s interview to get to know him a bit better before Saturday’s 5 p.m. broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion on Classical MPR.

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this Weekend: a brand-new website

new website screen grab
Navigating Classical MPR’s new website (MPR graphic/Brett Baldwin)
This week, Classical MPR unveiled its brand-new website. Make sure to take a tour — and to help you kick the tires on our new site, here are three feature recommendations for you.

How to navigate the new site

Learning a new website is a bit like arriving in a city you’ve never visited before: It’s important to learn your way around. After Classical MPR launched its new site on Wednesday afternoon, Managing Digital Producer Brett Baldwin put together this guide to navigating the new site. All the features you enjoyed before, like audio streaming and playlists, are still on the site — they’re just in different spots now!

How a composer feels at a premiere

Perhaps it’s like rolling out a new website, perhaps not … but how does it feel for a composer to hear a piece of music performed publicly for the first time? Daniel Nass, who’s a digital producer at Classical MPR, is also a composer. He recently premiered a piece in New York — an original composition for flute, alto flute and cello. As the ensemble performed the work, Dan explains his feelings, which are always a combination of fear, anxiety and exhilaration.

How to make a living building harps

Another Dan, MPR News reporter Dan Olson, recently visited Duluth, Minn., where he stopped into the workshop of harp builder David Kortier. A former orchestral musician (bassoonist), Kortier has been building Irish harps since the 1980s. Kortier’s approach to instrument building combines tradition, woodworking skills and musicianship. It’s a fascinating story, and Dan Olson’s photos are really captivating. It just may make you want to learn to play the harp — or learn to build them (Kortier might just want an apprentice).

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this weekend: dogs and music; choral concert; pond hockey

Composer Lisa Spector and her dogs (photo by Mark Holthusen)

As you’re browsing the Internet this weekend, here are some stories I think you’ll enjoy reading.

Sharing music with our dogs

Many people who enjoy listening to classical music report that it helps them relax or that it helps them to energize. It turns out dogs respond to music much the same way humans do. Heather McElhatton, the producer of a new American Public Media program called A Beautiful World, spoke to composer and dog lover Lisa Spector, who has worked on a series of recordings that can help dogs — and the people who love them — to relax and to feel less anxiety.

Celebrating LGBT rights with music

This weekend, One Voice Mixed Chorus — the Twin Cities premier LGBT choir — presents two concerts at the Hopkins High School auditorium. Titled, “Eat, Drink and Be Married,” the concerts celebrate the advances in equal rights for the LGBT community. Earlier today, my colleague Alison Young spoke with OVMC’s Sarah Ramseyer Miller and Allan Warrior about the concerts. We’ve also posted a video that takes you behind the scenes of the choir’s rehearsal for the show.

Checking in with the state’s talented teen musicians

Minnesota Varsity made an important step forward this week, announcing the Featured Round artists in the statewide showcase of teenage classical musicians. Instrumentalists, vocalists, ensembles and composers from up and down the state have been named to Minnesota Varsity’s Featured Round, putting them one step closer to the showcase concert at the Fitzgerald Theater on April 19.

BONUS: If Mother Nature cooperates, it’ll be a great weekend to get outdoors to play or to spectate at the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. Teams come from across the nation to compete for the Golden Shovel. MPR News’ Jeffrey Thompson has assembled a series of short videos that take us behind the scenes of this tournament that is characteristically Minnesotan.

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this weekend: lovely lullaby, talented teens and flying string players

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers (photo by Molina Visuals)

As you’re settling in during this chilly weekend, here are some features to browse on our website as you listen to classical music.

A beautiful lullaby

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers’s album, The American Masters, is featured on this week’s New Classical Tracks (incidentally, you can enter for a chance to win a copy of the CD). One of the pieces on the album is called “Lullaby for Natalie,” a beautiful composition written specially for Anne’s daughter, Natalie, by composer John Corigliano. Anne performs the work on the album, but she also reached out to filmmakers, asking them to create a video for the music. The winning entry is by Timo Henson — take a moment to watch Henson’s fairy-tale video as Anne plays Corigliano’s beautiful lullaby.

Well done, kids

For bigger kids, we have Minnesota Varsity, the statewide showcase of teen classical musicians, vocalists and composers. All the submissions are in, and they are now indexed at our site. You can listen to each participant’s recorded submission and learn a little bit about him or her. There’s even an interactive map that indicates the towns where the students live. You’ll be impressed by these young talents!

Enjoy the flight

Meanwhile, for professional musicians, there’s been an important development for those who fly with their musical instruments. Last week, we discussed the new U.S. Department of Transportation’s ruling that standardizes rules for musicians traveling with instruments. This week, we get insights and reactions from three musicians: violist Sam Bergman, cellist Ed Moore and bassist Ranaan Meyer. See what they have to say about the new rules that go into effect in February.

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this weekend: flying, liking and following

A cello on an airplane (photo by modenadude via Flickr)

As you’re browing the Web this weekend, here are some things for you to explore.

Carrying your violin aboard a plane

Musicians have encountered uneven experiences while flying with their instruments: some have had no difficulty at all, while others have been bumped from flights or asked to check expensive and delicate instruments as cargo. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a ruling this week that clarifies the rules for musicians who fly with instruments, in hopes of making the experience consistent across the industry.

Follow Classical MPR on social media

Between the music on Classical MPR, we often say, “You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.” What does that mean? It’s a great way for you to stay up to date on our on-air programs, live events and online features at Classical MPR. You can follow us in one of two ways — or both! — by liking our Facebook page or by following us on Twitter.

Subcribe to Classical Post

Whether or not you’re into social media, a lot of people enjoy receiving the Classical Post, the weekly email from Classical MPR. Each week, you’ll receive programming highlights, concert information and a rundown of recent articles and features. It’s also a great way to find out if there’s a New Classical Tracks CD giveaway, so you never miss the opportunity to enter for a chance to expand your CD collection. You can use this form to subscribe … oh, and it’s free!

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Click on Classical this Weekend: Blue Christmas, Abbie Betinis and Robert Ball

Abbie Betinis with The Fairlanes a cappella group. (MPR photo/Mike Pengra)

It’s been another great week of content on Classical MPR’s website; here are three items you may have missed, but you’ll want to browse as you’re enjoying some quiet time over the weekend:

Sad holiday songs need love, too

Come late December, not everyone is enchanted by Andy Williams singing about how “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” That’s certainly the case for author and cellist Edward Kelsey Moore. In his latest essay for Classical MPR, Moore writes about how his love for the melancholy Yuletide tunes began with a first-grade recital. Moore’s essay is called “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas, Thank You Very Much.” It’s a really good read; I think you’ll enjoy it.

Listen to a brand-new carol

Abbie Betinis continues a tradition begun in 1922 by her great grandfather, Bates Burt. who would write a new carol each year at Christmas. For the past 14 years, Abbie has been kind enough to share and premiere her carol on Classical MPR. Hear what Abbie has written, and hear her perform it with vocal ensemble The Fairlines, right here.

An even deeper appreciation for music

Each Tuesday on Music with Minnesotans, I invite a guest into the studio to talk about his or her life along with his or her favorite music. This past Tuesday, my guest was Robert Ball, an EMS at Hennepin County. Bob embraces all that classical music has to offer — and he even shares how a piece by Mozart helps him when he is saving lives.

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this Weekend: lutefisk, carols and hoops

Your vote can help determine the playlist for Carol with Classical MPR on Friday, Dec. 19 (Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

As the holidays approach, here are some must-see stories on our website to enhance your seasonal cheer:

Get a first-timer’s look at the St. Olaf Christmas Festival

A couple weeks ago, my colleague Alison Young interviewed a couple of women for whom the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has always been part of their lives. But what about for those who’ve never been there? Digital producer Jay Gabler recently attended the St. Olaf Christmas Festival for the first time in his life, and he shared his thoughts about the experience. If you’ve never attended, perhaps this may inspire you to try it next year.

Vote for your favorite Christmas carols

We’re trying something new this year: next Friday, Dec. 19, we’re airing a new, live, holiday special called Carol with Classical MPR in which The Singers will perform beloved carols during a radio broadcast, and we want you to sing along. But before then, we want your input as to which are your favorite carols. Visit this page to cast your vote for your favorite seasonal songs. Feel free to vote early and often.

Read about a different type of December ritual

My colleague Bill Morelock wrote a wonderful essay this week in which he describes a different December ritual that’s nothing to do with holly or jolly: Bill writes about basketball. More specifically, Bill describes his experience as a high school and college player, and how a particular basketball scrimmage in the 1970s remains an important touchstone for him to this day. It’s a thoughtful reflection and I encourage you to read it.

And don’t forget — for a charming musical vignette, watch how Farmer Derek Klingenberg uses “Jingle Bells’ to encourage his cows to come home.

Have a great weekend!

Click on Classical this weekend: Choirs aplenty and a Grammy nomination

Members of Giving Voice, a choir comprised of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers, rehearse for a concert Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 at MacPhail Center for the Arts in Minneapolis. (Jennifer Simonson / MPR News)

It’s an exciting weekend in music, and we’ve got stories to go with it. Here are three stories you won’t want to miss:

The healing power of choral music

On Saturday at Antonello Hall at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis, the Giving Voice Chorus will perform two shows — at 4 p.m. and at 6 p.m.

Giving Voice Chorus is composed of patients living with Alzheimer’s disease, and being in the choir helps them connect with loved ones and with one another through the power of music. MPR News Cathy Wurzer and Phil Picardi collaborated on this wonderful story about the chorus. It really shines light on music’s abilities to transform, even if for a little while.

Stephen Paulus nominated for a Grammy Award

Back in October, we lost one of Minnesota’s most prolific and talented composers, Stephen Paulus, at the age of 65. Today it was announced that Paulus has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his work, Concerto For Two Trumpets & Band, recorded by Eric Berlin, Richard Kelley, James Patrick Miller and the UMASS Wind Ensemble for their Fantastique album on MSR Classics.

St. Olaf Christmas Festival impressions

On Sunday at 3 p.m., Classical MPR will air the live broadcast of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival from Northfield, Minn. My colleague Alison Young recently interviewed a current St. Olaf student and an alumna about their experiences performing in the festival. Both describe their passion and fondness for the festival and its music. It really is an experience that lasts a lifetime.

Happy weekend!