Category Archives: In the media

Inuit throatsingers steal hearts at swearing-in ceremony

Inuit throat singing (also known as katajjaq) developed as a form of musical entertainment among Inuit women while men were away hunting. It’s regarded as more of an endurance contest than a ‘performance’. Two women face each other and hold each other’s arms, producing a mixture of sounds ranging from chanting, to growling, to singing (often trying to imitate animals or their surroundings). The first one to run out of breath, laugh, or stop for any reason is the loser.

During Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony for Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, two young Inuit throat singers from Ottawa —Samantha Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre — broke into adorable giggles after two rounds of katajjaq in front of Trudeau and Canada’s Governor General.  

A choral reflection for Delta State University

Delta State University campus
Delta State University campus (courtesy Delta State University via Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Although I am in Duluth for meetings and performances, I was thinking about the Delta State University shooting yesterday. I contacted my childhood friend from Memphis, Dr. Nicholaus B. Cummins, the former Director of Choral Activities of Delta State University (he just took a new job at Northwestern State University in Louisiana this summer), and he sent the message below. Delta State University, located in Cleveland, Miss., is only 115 miles south of Memphis, my hometown.

Dr. Nicholaus Cummins
Dr. Nicholaus Cummins (Northwestern State University Photo Services/Gary Hardamon)
Here is Dr. Cummins statement:

“For the previous four years, I had the privilege of conducting the choirs at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. I was selected to take a new position at a school in Louisiana, but was thrilled that Dr. Adam Potter was chosen as the new Director of Choral Activities at Delta State University. He has already done marvelous work with all the students at DSU. Today I was stunned at this campus shooting that occurred at DSU. Cleveland is a small college town that loves to support all aspects of campus life. Dr. Potter is locked into his office and the students are huddled in classrooms waiting for safety [Update: Delta State University has announced the lockdown has been lifted]. I pray that Cleveland and Delta State University are safe and peace is found soon. I hope this setting of Eriks Ešenvalds’ O Salutaris Hostia by the 2013 Delta State University Chorale will serve as a signal of peace in this tragic time.”

My heart immediately melted after listening to DSU sing the opening minute and change. That soaring, piercingly beautiful treble duet will hopefully help touch the hearts of those affected by this unfathomable atrocity.

Here is the translation of the very appropriate text.

O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of Heaven to us below;
Our foes press hard on every side;
Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.
To thy great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, One in Three.
O grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with thee.

Stravinsky work unearthed after 100 years

Igor Stravinsky at a 1965 press conference in London.  (Photo by Erich Auerbach/Getty Images)
Igor Stravinsky at a 1965 press conference in London. (Photo by Erich Auerbach/Getty Images)

In a back room of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, amidst a pile of dusty old manuscripts, an early orchestral work by one of the greatest composers of the 20th century has been discovered.

Long believed to have been lost forever, Igor Stravinsky’s Pogrebal’naya Pesnya (Funeral Song) was written as a tribute to his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, not long after Nikolai’s death in the summer of 1908. Stravinsky was 26 at the time he composed the work, and basically an unknown figure outside of Russia. The next four years were his most formative, in which the composer wrote Petrushka, The Firebird, and The Rite of Spring.

In a recent article published by The Guardian, Stravinsky specialist Natalya Braginskaya (who led a team of archivists in search of the work) described The Funeral Song as a “slow, unvarying processional with contrasting instrumental timbres,” reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov, and even Wagner.

It was only when the entire building had to be cleared last year that the work was discovered — among piles of manuscripts, undisturbed for years, and hidden behind stacks of piano and orchestra scores. Thanks to the alertness of a Conservatory librarian, the work was saved from ending up in the trash.

The full score is still missing, but will be reconstructed from the discovered orchestral parts.



Gustavo Dudamel cancels concert appearances due to back pain

Gustavo Dudamel
Gustavo Dudamel (photo by Vern Evans)
Back injuries are nothing to take lightly, even if you’re one of the most sought-after conductors in the world.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Gustavo Dudamel “has canceled upcoming public appearances in June due to severe pain in his back … The music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is suffering from intense lower back spasms and has been ordered to stop working for now,” Dudamel’s spokeswoman said.

Dudamel is expected to return to conduct the LA Phil on July 21.

Although this news has been reported by the Los Angeles Times as well as by Norman Lebrecht and others, as of this publication, there is no official statement on the LA Philharmonic website or on Gustavo Dudamel’s own site.

(h/t Elena See)

Music critic nabs concertgoer’s phone to keep her off it


Philadelphia Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns recently reviewed a Philadelphia Orchestra performance at the Musikverein in Vienna. The piece has been attracting more notice than the average orchestra review, though, due to Stearns’s admission that he made a bold move to address a nearby annoyance.

Despite a preconcert warning announcement, one woman pulled out her phone just as Lisa Batiashvili had begun the quiet, slow-burning opening movement of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Only eight rows from the stage, the phone kept beeping and burbling, its owner entranced by it and oblivious to those nearby shooting her daggers.

So the problem was addressed American-style: Yours truly reached over, took the phone out of her hand, and pocketed it until intermission.

Whether or not it’s accurate to describe Stearns’s approach as “American-style” (have you ever seen anything like that happen in a U.S. hall?), his action won praise from fellow music fans including The Guardian’s Tom Service, who writes,

There is such a thing as visual noise, where your attention is drawn by the baleful electric halo of smartphone blue that doesn’t switch off until sometime during the scherzo. Those distracting screens are – for me – just as ruinous as an audible ringtone. In any case: all hail David Patrick Stearns for calling time on smartphone insanity in the Musikverein.

Photo by Japanexperterna (Creative Commons)

Is the era of the celebrity maestro ending?


This past Monday, the Berlin Philharmonic was expected to choose a successor to chief conductor Simon Rattle, who is stepping down from his post in 2018. Instead, the orchestra’s musicians, who govern themselves, failed to reach a decision; we may now have to wait for up to a year longer to learn who will be the next maestro to take up residence behind that prestigious podium.

Responding to this development, The New Yorker‘s classical music critic Alex Ross writes that he “had a heretical thought: What difference does it make?” In a searing commentary, Ross argues that “the increasingly unworkable celebrity-maestro model” is going the way of the dinosaurs—and not just the maestro, but the entire canon. “Classical music is singular among art forms in its bondage to the past,” writes Ross.

It is fundamentally irrational for musicians to play the same passel of pieces over and over. Conductors serve to generate the illusion of novelty: as Theodor W. Adorno wrote, in his “Introduction to the Sociology of Music,” the maestro “acts as if he were creating the work here and now.” That top-tier conductors are almost always men is less an indication of institutional misogyny—though that certainly exists—than an inevitable consequence of the play-acting ritual: because the canonical composers are entirely male, so are their stand-ins. The modern orchestra concert is not entirely unrelated to the spectacle of a Civil War reënactment.

Whoa. (Also, love that umlaut. Never change, New Yorker.)

Ross, one of the best-known writers in classical music, was widely cited during the Minnesota Orchestra lockout: just before the crisis began, Ross had written a rave review of a concert at which, he wrote, “the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world.” That record-setting lockout is now over, and the orchestra’s returning hero Osmo Vänskä is leading his band on a triumphant—and historic—trip to Cuba.

The Minnesota Orchestra’s recent history seems to suggest that there’s still plenty of passion to be stirred—both on and offstage—by a talented artistic director. Meanwhile, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra are settling into their new concert hall and winning continuing acclaim under their longstanding cooperative model: instead of a single artistic director, the musicians enlist a rotating series of artistic partners. Other local ensembles—some of which include musicians from both the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO—are exploring new terrain both organizationally and artistically.

In Minnesota, it seems, we have room for both a celebrity-maestro model and other models as well. Will that continue to be true around the world? That’s a question that’s surely on the mind of the Berlin musicians as they continue their deliberations.

Charlotte Church sasses back against ‘Champagne socialist’ moniker

Charlotte Church

Welsh soprano Charlotte Church, the best-selling child prodigy whose career has taken her from classical music to the pop charts, has been vociferously protesting the Conservative party, which prevailed in the recent U.K. election.

As NME reports, Church, 29, has written a frankly critical open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, participated in a Cardiff protest, and challenged a right-wing journalist to a charity boxing match after a Twitter tiff.

Church says she’s not speaking out to be “self-aggrandizing,” but rather wants simply to “make a difference.” In response to critics who call the multi-million-selling singer a “Champagne socialist,” Church shot back, “I’m more of a prosecco girl, myself.”

Photo via Charlotte Church on Facebook

Berlin Philharmonic can’t make up its mind on a new conductor

Berlin Philharmonic conductor

The chief conductorship of the Berlin Philharmonic is arguably the single most prestigious post in all of classical music, previously held by legendary figures such as Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan. Simon Rattle, who currently holds the post, is stepping down in 2018—and somewhat to the surprise of the classical music world, his successor remains unknown.

Classical music fans around the world watched and waited all day yesterday as the orchestra’s musicians met to elect a new chief conductor; some likened the process to waiting for white smoke from a Papal conclave. It wasn’t until late in the day that the result was announced, and the result was: no result. Not being able to agree on a successor from among several likely candidates, the orchestra has said that the process now may take up to another year.

What are we supposed to do until then?


Photo at top via Berlin Philharmonic on Facebook. GIF via abril-rozen on Tumblr.

New website celebrates the centenary of John Cage

John Cage website

The New World Symphony has revealed a new site devoted to John Cage, commemorating the centenary of his birth. Funded in part by the Knight Foundation, Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration is a free website designed around videos of the New World Symphony performing Cage’s work during a 2013 festival held in the New World Center—the Frank-Gehry-designed home of the New World Symphony).

“Some of the videos primarily capture the live event,” explains the site. “Others take the performances much further, adding layers of visual interpretation that provide deeper insight into the spirit of his works.”

The New World Symphony pursues its mission of preparing “highly-gifted graduates of distinguished music programs for leadership roles in orchestras and ensembles around the world” by teaching experimental ideas and innovative thinking in order to enrich and challenge minds with classical music.

Music lovers can now find new understanding and love for one of the most important figures of the 20th Century.


Norwegian choir goes viral with farm video

Group photo of Pikekoret IVAR
Pikekoret IVAR (courtesy the artists)
After publishing a video as part of an online debate about the future of agriculture in Norway, a choir called Pikekoret IVAR have found themselves Internet sensations, BBC Trending has reported.

Composed of university women, Pikeoret IVAR is known for its lively performances and its use of floral themes in its costuming and concerts. Here is an example of a choral performance by Pikekoret IVAR:

But as Norway is embroiled in a political debate over pending legislation that may affect farm subsidies and the ownership of farmland, Pikekoret IVAR created a song and video in which they do dance routines with shovels and rakes in hand while singing: “Several generations have looked after the farm, but government reforms destroy the norms. Could we have a new government in this country, please?”

The video has been viewed more than 260,000 times since its publication on March 27. The treatment is much more in line with pop music than with traditional choral songs, but it’s indicative of the group’s creativity:

A look at its YouTube channel shows that this group is unafraid to push boundaries (and for those who speak Norwegian — I don’t — there is obviously much more to be appreciated in the lyrics).

Those who speak Norwegian can learn more about Pikekoret IVAR on its website, and music appreciators of all linguistic backgrounds will likely enjoy the group’s choral treatment, in Norwegian, of “Dream a Little Dream”: