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July 2008 Archives

Reconstructing Music in Norway

Geirr Tveitt

Rediscovering a Norwegian Master

By Jeff Dunn
San Francisco Classical Voice

Last month I witnessed an unusual spectacle: the Bergen Music Festival in Norway. After three or four curtain calls, clapping in unison began and, as if by prearranged signal, everyone stood at once in enthusiastic acknowledgement. The orchestra that did the playing was the visiting Stavanger Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ole Kristian Ruud. The music that did the arousing was a new "reconstruction" of the Julekvelden (Yule Eve) Symphony No. 1 by Geirr Tveitt.


Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981, rhymes with "fire fight") is virtually unknown in this country, but the hundredth anniversary of his birth was being celebrated by the concert I attended, and other concerts elsewhere, for good reason. His music, in its stark power, speaks to the overwhelming influence of nature on those living among the deep fjords. His technique, superbly developed at the Leipzig Conservatory and subsequent studies in Paris and Vienna, was second to none of his generation of Norwegian composers. The range of expression found in his Hundred Hardanger Folk Tunes suites, and the instantly recognizable originality of his sound, makes him an artist of international significance.

Read more about this at the San Francisco Classical Voice website:

Obituary for Composer Norman Dello Joio

Norman Dello Joio

Norman Dello Joio, Prolific and Popular Composer, Is Dead at 95

Norman Dello Joio, a composer who achieved wide popularity in the mid-20th century with a proliferation of essentially tonal, lyrical works, died on Thursday at his home in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 95.

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times

Mr. Dello Joio wrote dozens of pieces each for chorus, orchestra, solo voice, chamber groups and piano, as well as scores for television and three operas. Church music, the popular tunes of the jazz age and 19th-century Italian opera were all influences on his style, which could be both austere and colorful.

In defining his musical approach, Mr. Dello Joio cited the advice of a teacher, the composer Paul Hindemith, that he should never forget that his music was "lyrical by nature."

That meant, "Don't sacrifice necessarily to a system," Mr. Dello Joio said on his Web site. "If it's valid, and it's good, put it down in your mind. Don't say, 'I have to do this because the system tells me to.' No, that's a mistake." He said he took the advice to heart, and jokingly called himself an "arch-conservative."

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

Prize-Winning Clarinetist is Machine


Linux-powered clarinet playing robot wins international prize

Entire computer-driven orchestras not too far away, says NICTA's chief technology officer

By Andrew Hendry

A team of experts and students from NICTA and the University of NSW have won first place in a major international technology competition for developing a robotically operated, computer-driven clarinet running Linux.

Developed over the last eight months, the automated clarinetist beat a Dutch developed guitar playing robot to the top gong in the Artemis Orchestra competition, thanks to its playing ability and the high level of complexity in its mouthpiece design.

Head of the project, NICTA's Dr John Judge, described the robot as an embedded computer system connected via specially constructed electronics to actuators – brass plungers with rubber nylon feet – that control the keys and mouthpiece of the clarinet.

Read more about this at the ComputerWorld website:;277215722

Making a Decent Living


Classical music: A fair wage – but those in bigger cities make more

By Kyle MacMillan
Denver Post

With bachelor and master of music performance degrees under her belt, Tamara Meredith envisioned a life as a college professor, focusing on her specialization in early music. But things didn't quite work out that way.

Instead, she is the full-time director of the Eaton Public Library, and the flutist and violist performs on the side with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado and the Dallas Bach Society, and substitutes as needed in a few area modern orchestras. She couldn't be happier. "I have a day job in a place that I really enjoy," Meredith said. "I get to help a lot of people with the work that I do, so that's very fulfulling. And my evenings and weekends, I'm free to perform whenever and wherever I want."

Read more about this at the Denver Post website:

Challenging Steinway

Estonia Piano

Estonian factory major player in piano production

By Shelley Emling for Cox News Service
Columbus Dispatch

Tallinn, Estonia – Buying a grand piano from Estonia might seem as absurd as looking for fine champagne at McDonald's. But what were once Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's favorite pianos are now in hot demand at dealerships across the United States.

Last year the Estonia Piano Factory exported 300 pianos, both grands and baby grands, with 90 percent headed to the United States. In quality and reputation, Estonia pianos are giving Steinway & Sons a serious challenge. And many discerning musicians say that owning an Estonia piano – almost completely made by hand – is akin to owning a Stradivarius, the iconic violin famous for the high quality of its sound.

Read more about this at the Columbus Dispatch website:

Taking Criticism Seriously

Keith Burstein

Panned by reviewer, then told to go bankrupt

By Amol Rajan

A British composer was told to go bankrupt yesterday after he unsuccessfully tried to sue the London Evening Standard for libel. Keith Burstein ran up legal costs of £67,000 defending a test-case libel action against Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Standard, over a critical review of one of his operas.

He told Chief Registrar Stephen Baister in the Royal Courts of Justice that he was taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The registrar said Mr Burstein was entitled to take the case in Europe but he was required to pay the legal costs already run up. This would entail complying with a court order against him by paying the £67,000.

When Mr Burstein told the registrar he could not pay, Mr Baister replied: "Then you go bankrupt." He added that, in balancing the rights of Associated Newspapers against the speculative nature of what Mr Burstein was hoping to do, it was proper to rule on the side of the newspaper group, which also publishes the Daily Mail, in forcing him to pay legal costs.

Mr Burstein, 51, confirmed that he would not be able to pay. He is working on a new symphony for the South Bank Symphonia and on an opera with Ben Okri, the Booker Prize winner. "I lead a rather simple life and don't have many material possessions," he said later.

Read more about this at the Independent website:

Wine and Music

Wine & Music

Music 'can enhance wine taste'

BBC News

Playing a certain type of music can enhance the way wine tastes, research by psychologists suggests.

The Heriot Watt University study found people rated the change in taste by up to 60% depending on the melody heard. The researchers said cabernet sauvignon was most affected by "powerful and heavy" music, and chardonnay by "zingy and refreshing" sounds. Professor Adrian North said the study could lead retailers to put music recommendations on their wine bottles. The research involved 250 students at the university who were offered a free glass of wine in exchange for their views.

Brain theory

Four types of music were played - Carmina Burana by Orff ("powerful and heavy"), Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky ("subtle and refined"), Just Can't Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague ("zingy and refreshing") and Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook ("mellow and soft"). The white wine was rated 40% more zingy and refreshing when that music was played, but only 26% more mellow and soft when music in that category was heard.

Read more about this at the BBC News website:

More Adventurous Programs Please

Thomas W. Morris by Fred Rothenberg

Adventures in Concert Programming

By Anthony Tommasini
New York Times

Thomas W. Morris, a former executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra and now a consultant to orchestras, is hardly naïve about the tradition-bound field of classical music. He realizes that conductors of American orchestras face many pressures to play it safe in choosing programs.

Still, it exasperates him that so many conductors seem so wary of taking chances with unconventional or challenging programs.

"When I'm on a consulting project and I encounter a boring program," he said in a telephone interview, "inevitably I'm told, 'The marketing department made us do it.'" But to him hewing to the timeworn three-part program (an overture, a concerto, a popular symphony) makes as little sense financially as it does artistically.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

Chinese Ban Foreign Artists

Free Tibet

China says it will ban performers

Steven Spielberg, Bjork among offending artists

By Alex S. Dai
The Hollywood Reporter

Shanghai – China is tightening the screws on political expression, saying it will ban foreign artists and entertainers who have ever engaged in activities deemed to "threaten national sovereignty."

The notice, posted Thursday on the Ministry of Culture's Web site, follows a March incident in which Icelandic singer Bjork yelled, "Tibet, Tibet, Tibet" after performing her song "Declare Independence" live in Shanghai.

Under the new mandate, Chinese event organizers will be expected to scrutinize acts and material and ban any performance that might threaten national unity, stir ethnic hatred or violate Beijing's strict policy on state-approved religions and "cultural norms."

[ Editors note: It is quite likely that by simply carrying this story and providing these links this article, and possibly all of Classical Net, will be blocked by Chinese censors. ]

Read more about this at The Hollywood Reporter website:

Classical Music is for Babies

Babies listening to classical music

Can't get it out of my head

A father's yearlong quest to grasp the infant musical mind

By Jeremy Eichler
The Boston Globe

I've never felt so paralyzed standing before my CD collection as the day I brought my newborn son home from the hospital and decided to play him his very first music. So much was at stake. Should it be modern or Baroque? Orchestral or opera? Would Mozart make him smarter? Would Schoenberg instill in him revolutionary tendencies? Would Wagner make him loathe his Jewish roots?

I settled on Bach's "Art of Fugue" in an arrangement for string quartet. Why not begin at the summit, and what's more, I imagined, all that searching counterpoint would be like honey for the infant brain. He responded with aplomb, conveying his wise, wordless mastery of the material by slipping into an eyes-closed, meditative state. OK, he fell asleep.

But my yearlong quest to understand the infant musical mind had begun. As it turns out, my timing was good, as the cognitive and neuroscience research on music has been exploding these days, driven by techno logical breakthroughs in brain imaging and a newly widespread openness toward music as a legitimate field of scientific study. It's hard to miss the reverberations. Keith Lockhart has been outfitted with sensors on the podium of Symphony Hall; Oliver Sacks's "Musicophilia" has brought strange tales of musical obsession to the bestseller list; the journal Nature has been running a nine-part essay series on the science of music; and a conference this weekend at Tufts University is convening more than 100 researchers from 13 countries to discuss the subject of "Music, Language, and the Mind." The art form that Claude Lévi-Strauss once dubbed "the supreme mystery of the science of man" is, one note at a time, becoming less mysterious.

Read more about this at The Boston Globe website:

Puccini's Secret

Giacomo Puccini

Scandalissimo! Puccini's sex life exposed

The private life of Giacomo Puccini was famously as colourful as his operas, but only now has the truth emerged about the scandal that almost undid him. It's an extraordinary tale of infidelity, jealousy and vengeance that continues to haunt the lives of his descendants to this day

By Adrian Mourby
The Independent

This year, the many celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Puccini's birth are set to include the unveiling of a new al fresco opera house on the shores of the lake where many of his masterpieces were composed. Giacomo Puccini was the most commercially successful opera composer there has ever been. At his death in 1924 he was worth well over £130m by today's standards.

Much of this wealth came from the wonder years (1895-1904) when the Tuscan maestro turned out in rapid succession three of the most widely performed operas in the world, La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly, while living in idyllic surroundings in Torre del Lago on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli. Then he seemed to run out of steam, not finishing his next work, La Fanciulla del West, until 1910. While accomplished, La Fanciulla isn't in the same league as Bohème, Tosca and Butterfly. So what went wrong?

Read more about this at The Independent website:

A Certain Apollonian Quality

Christopher Rouse by Christian Steiner

Christopher Rouse: Going to Eleven

By Frank J. Oteri
New Music Box

When most people think of the music of Christopher Rouse, the first thing they probably think of is how loud it is. Some years back there was even a notorious story about an orchestra musician who threatened to sue Rouse for subjecting him to such high decibel levels on stage. Ear-splitting volume is more commonly associated with hard rock than classical music. Rock was a formative influence on this Baltimore native, who as a child was immediately drawn to early rock and roll before his mother turned him on to symphonies, but he quickly grew most fond of raucous 20th-century fare, from Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Once he found his own voice as a composer, the visceral power of rock influenced an over-the-top compositional sensibility which has manifested itself in his two powerful symphonies, numerous concertos, and a massive Requiem which finally received its world premiere last year. His brand new Concerto for Orchestra, which Marin Alsop will premiere at Cabrillo this summer, also promises to pack a wallop.

But not everything Chris writes is completely in-your-face. At the 2007 Chamber Music America conference, the Calder Quartet played haunting strains of music sometimes at the threshold of audibility. In that crowded hotel conference suite you could hear a pin drop. Everyone stood still, including me. I came in late but had to stay until the end to find out what they were playing. When I learned that it was from the Second String Quartet by Chris Rouse, I was mildly stunned. That a composer I had known for years and had come to admire for his raucous percussion pieces such as Odoun Badagris and Bonham and the intense Second Symphony could also write music as subtle and fragile as this completely made me rethink his music. I pored over scores and was startled by how meticulously detailed they were – even the most cataclysmic passages.

Read the complete interview at the New Music Box website:

Scanning Strads

CT Scan of Starivarius Violin Cross-section

CT scans may explain Stradivarius violins' sweet sound

By Greg Gilbert
CBC News

Growth rings in the wood used to make Stradivarius violins in the 1700s may hold the explanation for their unparalleled sound, say Dutch scientists.

Researchers at the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, who put the instruments through a computed tomographic (CT) scanner, published their research Wednesday in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Many music lovers believe the classical violins made in Cremona, Italy, by famous masters such as Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu, produce unique tonal expressiveness and projection. Despite three centuries of technological advancement, modern violin makers have been unable to duplicate the sound.

The scientists, who tweaked a computer program used to analyze scans measuring lung density in patients with emphysema, said that may be because of important differences in wood from the 1600s and wood today.

Read more about this at the CBC News website:

Oh, The Horror!

The Fly

"The Fly" opera is buzz of Paris season

By Angela Doland
Yahoo News

Be afraid, be very afraid: David Cronenberg's 1986 horror flick, "The Fly," has undergone a bizarre metamorphosis. It's now an opera.

The new incarnation, with tenor Placido Domingo conducting a score by Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore ("The Lord of the Rings"), isn't as gory as the movie. Audiences will be spared close-ups of the title character's fingernails falling off as he makes the transition from mild-mannered scientist to giant insect.

Still, for an opera, it's pretty scary – even if there are touches of dark humor. Giggles broke out among those invited to Monday's dress rehearsal when a mezzo-soprano belted out the film's catchphrase: "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Cronenberg, who is directing the opera, wasn't sure what effect it would have.

"Someone's 6-year-old said, after seeing one of our rehearsals, that she thought she would have to sleep with her parents for a while," he told reporters. "So I guess it's working."

Read more about this at the Yahoo News website:

Not All Bad News, Journalistically

Anne Midgette

Washington Post Hires Full-time Music Critic

By Susan Elliott
Musical America

Amid the current trend to the contrary among newspapers, The Washington Post last week hired a permanent staff music critic to succeed Tim Page. Anne Midgette, who has been in the job on an interim basis since January, when Page took a leave of absence, has been hired officially as The Post's classical music critic.

"In light of all the lay-offs around the country, they're really bucking the trend in committing to serious arts journalism," said a delighted Midgette in a brief telephone conversation.

Read more about this at the Musical America website:

An Organization Reinvented

Symphony Silicon Valley

Symphony Orchestra 2.0

By David Bratman
San Francisco Classical Voice

San José, as its boosters like to point out, is now the largest city in Northern California. But if it's the leader in population, it has a ways to go to catch up to San Francisco in cultural influence. Still, San José is far from the cultural desert that its flat sprawling landscape might suggest to residents of hillier, more congested parts of the Bay Area. The lively downtown has a flavor to it that you could find, perhaps to your equal surprise, in places like Sacramento and Santa Rosa. And there are musical performances well worth hearing here, enough to enthuse the locals and perhaps even draw audiences from outside the city and its suburbs.

San José's leading concert ensemble is Symphony Silicon Valley. Born in 2002 out of the ashes of the old San José Symphony (see a story recounted by SFCV here), it has grown cautiously over the years, with surprising and gratifying success. The orchestra was artistically mature from the beginning, drawing most of its personnel from its predecessor. Where SSV has really grown is in scheduling.

Read more about this at the San Francisco Classical Voice website:

Leonard Slatkin, by Steve J Sherman

Conductor Comes to A Coda

NSO's Leonard Slatkin Leaves on a Note of Regret

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post

Leonard Slatkin is temperamentally nervous. When he takes the stage to conduct, he walks out rapidly, slightly hunched, his head thrust forward, as if moving through a gauntlet and trying to protect himself from the needling arrows of thousands of watching eyes. In person, in his office at the Kennedy Center, he sits back in a pose of assumed relaxation, his soft Muppet face marked with thick white eyebrows and a sharp line of a mouth, and chats.

But he skitters across topics, anticipating the criticism that may be lurking behind every question, mentioning it, steering away from it, then returning to it to show that he is not steering away from it, until one is left with the impression that outside criticism, despite his protests to the contrary, matters to him very much indeed.

The general impression is that conducting is a difficult metier for a man who describes himself as having been chronically shy in his youth. The particular impression, as Slatkin talks about his 12-year tenure at the head of the National Symphony Orchestra, is of encountering someone in the final throes of a failing marriage, going over ground that has been trodden many times before, prodding the scars of old wounds that still have a tired ache.

Read more about this at the Washington Post website: