Category Archives: The blog

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

A musical mentor gets a Minnesota Fringe Festival tribute

Leaving St Paul Minnesota Fringe Festival

When I started work as a digital producer at MPR in October 2013, the very first story I assigned and edited for Classical MPR was Barb Teed’s moving (and amusing) tribute to her musical mentor: her father.

My father was fond of Vivaldi. As we listened to The Four Seasons, my father pointed out violin solos. “Do you realize how difficult it is to play that?” he said. As a first-generation German immigrant, my father had us listen to Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik and he spoke in German as he pointed out the different parts. […]

Beethoven’s ninth symphony was always played in its entirety, never just in isolated movements. During our lesson, my father pointed out the different instrumental parts (“the French horn! the bassoon! listen to the oboe!”). The seventh symphony blasted at us in high wattage as we sat in the middle of our living room concert hall.

Yesterday, I finally met Barb’s father in person—when he appeared, in a tuxedo, at the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Center to attend the premiere of a play about his own life, adapted and directed by Meredith Larson from a story by Barb. Leaving St. Paul is now playing on the Rarig Thrust as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

The play isn’t about music, except for an offhand mention of a piano that had to be sold after Arnold—the character based on Barb’s father, played by Kevin McLaughlin—loses his St. Paul real estate business because he’s willing to sell houses in all neighborhoods to people of all races and ethnicities at a time (the 1960s) when many whites were still trying to enforce housing segregation.

It’s a sad but true chapter of local history, and when the play ended—with Arnold’s character broke but defiant—Barb’s father made his way to the stage, flanked by both Barb and by her daughter Lindsay Teed, who portrays a young Barb in the play. To the strains of a jubilant performance by the group 94 East, Barb’s father took the stage and turned to receive a standing ovation.

Leaving St Paul

Before the show, Barb introduced me to her dad as her editor at Classical MPR. “I used to play piano by ear,” said her father, shaking my hand, “but then my ears started to hurt from hitting the keys.”

An erhu master takes on the ‘Queen of the Night’

Ehru Master George Gao (Courtesy of the Artist)
Erhu Master George Gao (Courtesy of the Artist)

The erhu is a two-stringed bowed instrument — sometimes referred to as the “Chinese fiddle” — with origins stretching back to over one thousand years ago (you can hear examples of erhu in the “Traditional Instruments of China” playlist in our Audio Backpack). The instrument primarily consists of a mahogany sound box (covered with a snake skin head) and two steel strings which are played with a horsehair bamboo bow.

Recently, Chinese ehru master George Gao performed the vocal part of Mozart’s famous ‘Queen of the Night’ aria, with accompaniment from a string quartet. Enjoy the rendition in the video below.

(For more of George Gao, you can see a video of him performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major on ehru here)

VocalEssence to perform with the Rolling Stones in Minneapolis

Rolling Stones

When the Rolling Stones perform on June 3 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, they’ll be joined by VocalEssence, the choir announced today.

“VocalEssence is honored—and thrilled—to be before an audience with the Rolling Stones. Could it get any better than this?” said VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle in a press release. Brunelle also pointed out that both he and Mick Jagger were born in July 1943. “Maybe we’ll have an early celebration on stage,” Brunelle speculates.

It hasn’t been announced exactly which song(s) VocalEssence will appear on, but at the Rolling Stones’ San Diego tour opener, they were joined by the Bob Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the opening song of their encore. In other words, if the Stones leave the stage next Wednesday and you haven’t heard VocalEssence yet, don’t panic.

For more on how touring performers hire local musicians, read my interview with Jill Olson Moser—a violinist who soloed with Stevie Wonder in March at Target Center.

Photo via the Rolling Stones on Facebook

‘Living on Love,’ play starring Renee Fleming, disappoints on Broadway

Renee Fleming

After fewer than 40 performances, the Broadway play Living On Love, starring renowned soprano Renee Fleming as a singer who’s in a troubled marriage with a conductor, will close on May 3.

Billboard notes that last week the play only made about 16% of the possible revenue it could have made if fully sold-out, and that its failure to earn a Tony nomination may have been the final straw for the play, written by Tony-winner Joe DiPietro and co-starring Anna Chulumsky (VeepMy Girl).

Photo courtesy Decca Records

Hilary Hahn’s violin case hears ‘graphic coughing’ in St. Paul

Hilary Hahn violin

One of the most popular Twitter accounts in classical music is that ostensibly run by Hilary Hahn’s violin case. After Hahn’s recital last Wednesday at the Ordway, WQXR noticed, her instrument insulation shared some candid comments about what seems to have been an unusual amount of hacking from the crowd.

Despite largely supportive responses, the case then clarified that “Hilary didn’t mind the coughing” and issued a self-deprecating response to a fan who asked why.

In the end, all feathers were smoothed, and the case—so to speak—was closed.

Hilary Hahn will co-host Performance Today on May 7, sharing some of her favorite recordings.

Publicity photo by Michael Patrick O’Leary

Leonard Nimoy on Naxos: American Jewish music available as podcast

Leonard Nimoy Milken Archive

As we mourn Leonard Nimoy, John Birge observed that classical music fans—particularly those interested in American Jewish music—may be interested in a 13-part audio series that Nimoy narrated in 2005.

The series, American Jewish Music from the Milken Archive with Leonard Nimoy, was originally a webcast via Naxos, and is now archived for streaming and download. Each two-hour episode explores a different theme—from klezmer to film scores to theater music to symphonic music and concertos.

The music in the series was drawn from the Milken Archive, a collection of recordings that began in 1990 with an aim to make a wide range of expertly curated Jewish music available to listeners.

“As was the case with so much of what he did,” wrote the Archive in a statement issued after the actor’s death, “Nimoy made the radio series his own. It seems impossible to think of the series without hearing the actor’s unique voice speaking with characteristic authority.”

Yes, this robot can actually play the trumpet


Last week, we published an essay about science and music, illustrated with a photo of a trumpet-playing robot.

The photo piqued the interest of our archivist Steve Barnett, who did some research and wrote in an e-mail, “I didn’t know about this at all, other than being aware that they were building ‘partner’ type humanoid robots in Japan. I found a YouTube video of the trumpet player doing a very nice rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ And as a former trumpet player, I can confirm that the fingerings are absolutely right for the notes he is playing (in the trumpet key of G Major, F Major concert, it’s a Bb Trumpet).”

This Toyota “partner robot” debuted in 2005. Impressive as it is, Wynton Marsalis doesn’t seem too worried just yet.

Is this the piano of the future? It sure looks like it

Gergely Boganyi 425.jpg

Has the evolution of the piano stalled? Having evolved from humble origins, the piano had reached more or less its present state — in both upright and grand configurations — by the end of the 19th century. While the 20th century saw a multitude of electronic keyboards put into use by musicians of all genres, the piano remained basically the piano. Gergely Bonányi thinks it’s time for that to change.

The Hungarian pianist says he’s spent ten years rethinking his instrument from the inside out, not a single one of the piano’s 18,000 parts being taken for granted. The result is an instrument built to sound as good as he imagined a piano could sound, manufactured by German company Louis Renner.

The manufacturer claims that the new piano, with a redesigned soundboard and agraffe system (the system of pins to which the strings are tied), produces “a more refined tone sensation” that “provokes a novel perception of sound,” whatever that means. Bonányi and Louis Renner claim that the piano stays in tune longer to boot, and is more resistant than conventional pianos to varying environmental conditions.

You don’t need to look under the hood, so to speak, to know you’re looking at a new piano: the entire frame, based on a concert grand configuration, has been redesigned to stand on two legs with a sweeping, airstreamed look.

Will the Bogányi piano become a new standard for classical musicians — or will it be the Google Glass of the concert stage, a pricey gadget that’s never quite taken seriously? Only time will tell. As they say on Composers Datebook, all music was once new — and so were all instruments.