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Classical Net: May 2008 Archives

Funeral Music


Songs in the key of death

Edward Wickham on how modern tastes in funeral music owe it all to a medieval composer who went out in style
Guardian UK

Even if it is an urban myth, it deserves retelling. A bereaved family requested Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for their loved one's funeral service. A CD was duly played, but the organist allowed it to run on to the next track: Another One Bites the Dust. This is up there with another, perhaps mythical, occasion when an organist misinterpreted a couple's request for "the theme tune from Robin Hood" and, instead of playing Bryan Adams's (Everything I Do) I Do It for You from the Kevin Costner film, launched into this bracing lyric from another era: "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen."

Choice of funeral music dates us just as surely as clothes or what children's programmes you remember with affection. One of the UK's current favourites, according to a recent survey, is Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. The well-balanced funeral or memorial service will, of course, provide an opportunity for both celebration and seriousness: there is a place for Monty Python and Monteverdi. And the best composers of funeral music can turn on a sixpence. Purcell's apparently simple Funeral Sentences masterfully moves from melancholy to hope in just a couple of chord changes.

Read more about this at The Guardian website:,,2282432,00.html

Scanning Improvisation

fMRI Brain Scan

Study: Prefrontal Cortex In Jazz Musicians Winds Down When Improvising

Scientists funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) have found that, when jazz musicians are engaged in the highly creative and spontaneous activity known as improvisation, a large region of the brain involved in monitoring one's performance is shut down, while a small region involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors is highly activated.

The researchers propose that this and several related patterns are likely to be key indicators of a brain that is engaged in highly creative thought.

During the study, six highly trained jazz musicians played the keyboard under two scenarios while in the functional MRI scanner. Functional MRI (fMRI) is an imaging tool that measures the amount of blood traveling to various regions of the brain as a means of assessing the amount of neural activity in those areas.

Read more about this at the website:

Improve Your Health


Blood Pressure High – Turn To Classical Music For Relief

The Link

Suffering from high blood pressure? Well then all you need to do is listen to just 30 minutes of rhythmically homogeneous music every day. Researchers at the American Society of Hypertension's Twenty Third Annual Scientific Meeting and Exposition (ASH 2008) reported that patients with mild hypertension who listened to just half an hour of classical, Celtic or raga music a day for four weeks experienced significant reductions in 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure (ABP).

Read more about this at The Link website:

New Found Mozart?

Wolfgang Mozart

Unknown Mozart's compositions in Poland?

New Poland

Experts from famous Mazarteum in Salzburg in Austria will probably examine wheather compositions, which were found in musical collection in Jasna Góra, signed by Wolfgang Amadeusz Mozart, are really the famous composer works of art. On 24th April Polish Press Agency (Polska Agencja Prasowa) informed that in collection in Jasna Góra, unknown Mozart's compositions may be found. On 2th May, during International Festival of Sacred Music "Gaude Mater" (Miedzynarodowego Festiwalu Muzyki Sakralnej) in Czestochowa, one of the composition, an aria, was peformed.

Read more about this at the New Poland website:

Learning To Be An Elitist

Snob Ven Diagram

How to be a classic snob

Learning the tricks behind having a snotty attitude about orchestral music.

By Joel Stein
Los Angeles Times

Afew years ago, I began working toward my retirement goal of being an intolerable old man. I'm way ahead of schedule on knowing enough about wine to bore anyone, but classical music has proved much more difficult, largely because no matter how much you listen, it does not get you drunk.

But because my cultural 401(k) depends on being able to cite conductors, orchestras and recording years, I called David Moore, a bassist for the L.A. Philharmonic, and asked him to get me on the road to insufferability. Moore met me at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and said that, like me, he got into classical music late – in his case at USC, where he started out majoring in jazz, which he discovered by getting into guitar solos in Rush and Iron Maiden songs. New York is the center of high culture because its orchestra members keep these kinds of things secret.

Read more about this at the L.A. Times website:,0,1045111.column

Oooo, That's Scary

Moog Theremin

Ghost in the machine

They make the sound of aliens, magic and the cosmic unknown. But just how do you get music out of the theremin and the ondes Martenot?

By Pascal Wyse
Guardian UK

In Pamelia Kurstin's Vienna apartment, I have my back up against the wall and am attempting not to breathe. My hands are stuck in mid-air like a neglected shop dummy, and I am told to imagine I'm in a tub of "very thick fluid". Before me is what could be a little robot with two antennae. I carefully reach out towards it and it makes a seasick whooping sound.

Kurstin lets out the first of many enormous giggles. She is giving me a lesson on the theremin: an early electronic instrument that became the universal sound of aliens, ghosts and other voices from the B-movie ether.

Read more about this at the Guardian UK website:,,2281481,00.html

Love Triangle


Making noise

Misunderstood and underappreciated, percussion players step forward to tell their story.

By Graydon Royce
Star Tribune

For three hours, Joe Nathan sits and watches the Minnesota Twins play ball. Then, the relief pitcher is asked to get three quick outs in the ninth inning. In 2007, the Twins played 1,458 innings. Nathan pitched in 72. Yet if he fails, a victory is lost. He is indispensable to the club.

Imagine now the percussionist perched at the back of the Minnesota Orchestra. He waits in fretful anticipation as the instruments around him furiously exhaust themselves, playing Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Finally, Osmo Vänskä fixes his eyes on the percussion section and gestures for the cymbals.

Read more about this at the Star Tribune website:

Go Jam, Young Man

Preston Stahly

Classical Musicians Learn to Improvise

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim
Wall Street Journal

Bach employed it at the request of kings, Beethoven used it as a weapon in duels, and women swooned when Liszt got carried away. But at some point in the early 20th century, improvisation disappeared from classical-music performance. Now a new generation of composers and performers is rediscovering it as a central part of the creative process – and, quite possibly, as a remedy for the shrinking of classical-music audiences.

For Preston Stahly, a composer and 1982 winner of the Charles Ives Prize, it's one of the most important issues in music today. He uses the term "avant-pop" to describe his own music and that of a heterogeneous group of other composers who grew up playing rock and jazz while studying counterpoint and 12-tone music in college. The wall separating the two worlds turned many composers away from academia and into an alternative music scene that is driven by composer-performers and chamber-music ensembles capable of playing and improvising in a number of styles.

Read more about this at the Wall Street Journal website:

Resurgent Met

Peter Gelb, by Dario Acosta

New Era Brings Buzz (and Big Budgets) to the Met

By Anthony Tommasini
New York Times

In his mission to reinvigorate the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, who completed his second season as general manager on Saturday night, has inaugurated outreach campaigns and digital-media ventures that are the envy of the opera world. There have been the enormously popular live high-definition transmissions of broadcasts to movie theaters worldwide, and the Met's lively 24-hour station on Sirius satellite radio. Mr. Gelb has proved a master of marketing and drawn high-profile directors from film and theater into the house.

It has all been exciting. It has also been expensive. As The Wall Street Journal reported last month, the Met's operating budget has grown more than 21 percent in two years, to a projected $268.3 million, and the company is drawing down nearly 6.5 percent yearly on its endowment. Mr. Gelb confirmed on Tuesday that this year's deficit will be $6 million to possibly $10 million. He added, though, that last year the Met had a break-even budget, and he anticipates another for next year.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

Great Music and Fine Food

Fine Food

The best meals and the best music make up a menu for the senses

By Paul Horsley
Kansas City Star

It's the night before Dubravka Tomsic's recital on the Friends of Chamber Music's piano series, and dinner is served.

The guests have worked up a sharp hunger in the living room with appetizers of Cognac-cured salmon on cocktail loaf, spread with butter-horseradish mustard.

Hosts Cynthia Siebert and Larry Hicks have spent the day preparing a gourmet meal for their guests, among them the Slovenian pianist who the next night would deliver two hours of stellar pianism to a Folly Theater audience.

Such dinners are an integral part of the Friends series, Siebert said, engendering a relationship that nourishes body and soul.

Read more about this at the Kansas City Star website:

New Music from Osmo Vänskä


Vänskä sets down the baton and takes up the pen

The famed music conductor makes his second foray into the world of composition with a nine-minute work that reflects the 35W bridge collapse.

By Graydon Royce

Osmo Vänskä, composer, has struck again. The music director of the Minnesota Orchestra has knocked out a new work titled "Bridges" that will have its premiere on Sunday with the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. The nine-minute piece was inspired by the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge last summer.

Bill Schrickel, principal bass with the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor of the Metropolitan Symphony, had been nagging Vänskä to write something since 2006, when the Minnesota Orchestra performed his composition "Here!...Beyond?"

Read more about this at the Star Tribune website:

Mariachi Meets Mozart

Symphonic Mariachi Champaña Nevín

Ensemble brings music of Mexico to concert series

By Jennifer K. Mahal
San Diego Union-Tribune

Classical music and mariachi have always gone hand-in-hand for Southwestern College music professor Jeff Nevin.

Advertisement As a teenager in Tucson, the trumpet player joined the symphony orchestra the same year he became a member of Los Changuitos Feos de Tucson, a youth mariachi group whose name translates to the Ugly Little Monkeys of Tucson. For his undergraduate audition at the University of Illinois, Nevin began playing classical music, but changed to mariachi when nerves made him flub the notes.

And for his doctorate in music theory and composition, one of the three topics for his qualifying exams at the University of California San Diego was on mariachi trumpet styles. The research turned into his first book, "Virtuoso Mariachi."

Read more about this at the San Diego Union-Tribune website:

Performing More Works by Women

Judith Lang Zaimont, composer

Lend Me a Pick Ax: The Slow Dismantling of the Compositional Gender Divide

By Lisa Hirsch

In the world of classical music, as elsewhere, women have made tremendous progress over the last 30 years. Following the introduction of blind auditions in the 1970s, which greatly reduce bias, women now make up about half of the string and woodwind players in American orchestras. Women occupy prominent administrative positions in major musical institutions. Women direct and design productions at important opera houses.

Women also make up about 30 percent of composition students in American colleges and conservatories. While this is a vast and positive change, it's still not easy for women to get their works performed, especially by symphony orchestras. During the 2004-05 concert season, works by women accounted for only one percent of all pieces performed by the 300 or so member orchestras who responded to the repertory survey of the American Symphony Orchestra League (now the League of American Orchestras, or LAO). The following year, with a boost from Joan Tower's widely-performed Made in America, the number rose to two percent.

Read more about this at the NewMusicBox website:

Are Robots the Future of Conducting?

Honda's Asimo Robot

DSO led by robot maestro

Asimo nails waltz with lifelike skill

By Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press

If this keeps up Leonard Slatkin, the new music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, might be out of a job before he starts his tenure.

Asimo, Honda's humanoid robot, made its conducting debut Tuesday at Orchestra Hall, leading the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in "The Impossible Dream" of Broadway fame.

Let's say right away that the display was a technological marvel and as cool as all get-out. But it was conducting in only the most limited definition. In other words, Slatkin's job is safe, and Asimo shouldn't quit its day gig.

Which is not to pooh-pooh the achievement. Asimo – which stands 4-foot-3, weighs 119 pounds and favors a white jump suit rather than black tie – walked confidently on stage, waved and said in a high chirp, "Hello, everyone!"

An engineer cued Asimo wirelessly. It lifted its arms and gave the downbeat, conducting waltz time with fluid, lifelike gestures. It deliberately slowed down for the big finish, shifting into 6/8 time and ending with a dramatic held note. Bravo!

Read more about this at the Detroit Free Press website:

America Honors Opera

Leontyne Price

NEA Launches National Opera Awards

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post

Think of American art forms, and opera doesn't typically spring to mind. But now the federal government is setting out to change that.

Yesterday the National Endowment for the Arts announced the four winners of the first annual NEA Opera Honors, the first new program of national arts awards since the Jazz Masters awards were established in 1982. The first opera honorees are the great soprano Leontyne Price, conductor James Levine (who has led the Metropolitan Opera for 32 years), composer Carlisle Floyd ("Susannah") and administrator Richard Gaddes, who will retire this year from the Santa Fe Opera. Each will receive $25,000 in a ceremony on Oct. 31 at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, since the Washington National Opera is the NEA's partner for this first presentation.

Read more about this at the Washington Post website:

Bach in Bolivia

International Festival of Renaissance & American Baroque Music

Music transforms kids and towns in remote area of Bolivia

Inspired by a biannual baroque festival and the legacy of missionaries, young people join choirs and take up the violin and Vivaldi in parishes across the country's eastern lowlands

By Sara Miller Llana
The Christian Science Monitor

San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia – Life moves slowly in this town deep in the jungle of Bolivia, 280 miles from the nearest city, where most streets are swaths of red earth, money is made off the land, and TV, for those who own one, is not an after-dinner ritual.

It is not the kind of place one would normally seek out high culture.

But on a recent evening, off the neatly manicured central plaza, the sonatas of Vivaldi and Haydn pour from the town's imposing cathedral. Even more unusual is who is crowding many of the pews: sneaker-clad youths. They are not here under the duress of some imperious teacher. They're eagerly absorbing the sounds of string and wind instruments redounding through the wood-beamed church.

Their rapt attention is one of the most visible legacies of the International Festival of Renaissance and American Baroque Music, which may be leaving as big a mark on the small towns of eastern Bolivia as anything since the Jesuit missionaries 300 years ago. Perhaps in few places on earth is music transforming the lives of a new generation more than in this remote low-land section of South America.

Read more about this at The Christian Science Monitor website:

The Psychological Ballet

Antony Tudor

Under Analysis: The Psychology of Tudor's Ballets

By Alastair Macaulay
New York Times

When the choreographer Antony Tudor, whose centenary is being celebrated this year, moved to America in 1939, the moment could not have been more right. He was known as the psychological choreographer, and he arrived when psychology entered American popular culture. In 1938 Fred Astaire played Ginger Rogers's psychoanalyst in "Carefree"; in 1942 Claude Rains steered Bette Davis back from a nervous breakdown in "Now, Voyager." Later Martha Graham would become yet more famous for the Greek myths she turned into modern-dance psychodramas, but that phase – like Hitchcock's (notably in "Spellbound," 1945) – had not yet arrived.

Back in 1936, however, in none-too-psychology-friendly London, Tudor created "Jardin aux Lilas" (sometimes called "Lilac Garden"), often labeled the first psychological ballet. Nobody played a psychiatrist in it, but its steps, gestures and phrases showed flickering aspects of repression, denial, private longing, heartbreak, personal conflict and hypocrisy, all against a setting both romantic (a garden with lilacs in full bloom at twilight) and conformist (with characters in Edwardian dress, middle-class and formal).

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

Breakthrough in Vienna

Vienna State Opera House, Herbert Lehmann

Staatsoper Taps Woman Concertmaster

By Susan Elliott
Musical America

Thursday, May 8, 2008 may go down in history as a major milestone in classical music. The Wiener Staatsoper, most of whose orchestra members comprise the Vienna Philharmonic, appointed a woman as its concertmaster. Albena Danailova, of Sofia, takes first chair in September. According to custom, if all goes well for two years, she will then move into the position permanently.

Her appointment is significant for two reasons: One, she is the first woman to have the post at the Staatsoper, and two, in her new job she will oversee a core of instrumentalists – the Vienna Philharmonic – that has long deemed women musicians to be inferior to men.

Read more about this at the website:

End of the Road in Columbus

Columbus Symphony

Symphony will shut down for summer with future in doubt

Picnic with the Pops series canceled

By Jeffrey Sheban
The Columbus Dispatch

After 57 years of music making, including a triumphant concert in New York's Carnegie Hall, the Columbus Symphony says it will shut down June 1.

Out of money and having failed to reach a new labor agreement with the musicians, the orchestra's board of trustees said today that it is canceling the summer Picnic With the Pops and Popcorn Pops series and most likely its 2008-09 season, scheduled to begin in October.

Columbus would become one of the nation's largest cities without a full-time professional orchestra.

Read more about this at The Columbus Dispatch website:

Concert for the Lost & Found


Cabdriver Thanked for Returning a Stradivarius

By Richard G. Jones
New York Times

Newark, New Jersey – The violinist stood on a makeshift stage between two lampposts crowned with a patina of bird droppings, under a weathered vinyl canopy hastily erected outside Newark Liberty International Airport in the taxicab holding area. The audience watched him in awe, about 50 drivers in three rows, their yellow cabs a few feet behind, some lined up neatly, others askew.

As Philippe Quint spent half an hour playing five selections, the cabbies clapped and whistled. They danced in the aisles, hips gyrating like tipsy belly dancers. "Magic fingers, magic fingers," one called out. Another grabbed the hand of Mr. Quint's publicist and did what looked like a merengue across the front of the "stage."

Afterward, the virtuoso was mobbed by drivers seeking his autograph on dollar bills, napkins and cab receipts.

"It was so pleasing to see people dancing – that never happens," said Mr. Quint, 34, a Grammy-nominated classical violinist. "These people, they work so hard, I doubt they get a chance to get out to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center."

So Mr. Quint took Carnegie Hall to them, in a miniconcert that was his way of expressing a simple sentiment: Thank you.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

Vivaldi's "Argippo" Found

Antonio Vivaldi

Vivaldi's long-lost opera returns to Prague after 278 years

After hunting the missing manuscript down in a German archive, Czech conductor revives "Argippo"

By David Randall

A long-lost opera by Antonio Vivaldi was to have its first performance in centuries last night. Argippo, discovered by a Czech musician as he rummaged through an old archive of anonymous scores, was being staged at a castle in Prague, the city where it had its premiere in 1730. Fittingly, it will be conducted by Ondrej Macek, the man who found the manuscript, and played by his Baroque Music Ensemble Hofmusici.

Vivaldi, called by contemporaries "the Red Priest" for the colour of his hair, is known these days, to all but serious lovers of Baroque music, for a single work: The Four Seasons. However, he was a prolific composer who produced more than 500 concertos, 73 sonatas, numerous pieces of sacred music and 46 operas. One of them, Argippo, opened in the Palace of Count Spork in the centre of Prague 278 years ago. The Czech capital was then a city of arts with some of the best music of the time, often performed by the continent's most prominent singers and musicians.

Read more about this at The Independent website:

Classical Music in Arabia

King Fahd Cultural Center, by John Paul Jones

Saudis mix genders at 1st public classical concert

By Donna Abu-Nasr (AP)
Seattle Times

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – It's probably as revolutionary and groundbreaking as Mozart gets these days. A German-based quartet staged Saudi Arabia's first-ever performance of European classical music in a public venue before a mixed-gender audience.

The concert, held at a government-run cultural center Friday night, broke many taboos in a country where public music is banned and the sexes are segregated even in lines at fast-food outlets.

Friday's concert of works by works by Mozart, Brahms and Paul Juon was the first classical performance held in public in Saudi Arabia, said German press attaché Georg Klussmann.

Read more about this at the Seattle Times website:

Riccardo Muti

Muti to be Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director

By F.N. d'Alessio (AP)
San Jose Mercury News

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association named maestro Riccardo Muti on Monday as the next music director of the CSO, the 10th conductor to hold the prestigious post.

CSO Association President Deborah Card announced that Muti, 66, had signed a five-year contract to serve as music director beginning in September of the 2010-2011 season. The post has been vacant since Daniel Barenboim retired in 2006.

Under the terms of the contract, Muti will conduct a minimum of 10 weeks of CSO subscription concerts each season, plus lead the orchestra in domestic and international tours.

Read more about this at the San Jose Mercury News website:

Ballet Thriving in San Francisco


Is ballet's future in America?

San Francisco Ballet's New Works Festival has been warmly received by an eager public. It makes English ballet look secretive and cautious

By Judith Mackrell

I was in San Francisco last week for the launch of San Francisco Ballet Company's New Works Festival. The levels of adrenaline and enthusiasm that were buzzing around put British ballet culture to shame.

It wasn't just that SFB were premiering an astonishing 10 new ballets over three successive days (compared to the two being offered by the Royal Ballet during their entire next season). It was that the city as a whole appeared to embrace ballet so energetically. This ambitious and expansive festival included choreography by Mark Morris, Paul Taylor and Christopher Wheeldon and a newly commissioned score from John Adams – yet most of the funding had been raised from local sponsors.

Read more about this at the Guardian website:

Performers to the Rescue

Kristjan Jarvi, by Peter Rigaud

More power to the performer

By Matthew Westwood
The Australian

Classical music, as it grew progressively more complex through the romantic period onwards, evolved into a mind game where the composer always had the psychological lead.

Musical scores came to be written as if dogma, down to the last pedantic detail; performers, even brilliant ones, became mere instruments to the composer's vision.

That may be a bleak view of the concert hall. But Kristjan Jarvi, the energetic Estonian-born conductor, is disdainful of the pseudo-intellectualism of some contemporary music and the "academic blackmail" to which it subjects performers.

The pianist and conductor is doing his bit to address the perceived imbalance between composer and musician. It's not so much a contest of wills as a spectator sport in which music as well as audiences should benefit.

"It is really important to make the performers feel that they have freedom, that they can express music rather than just play the notes," Jarvi says on the phone from Hanover, Germany.

Read more about this at The Australian website:,,23624489-16947,00.html

Into the 21st Century


Gramophone to put 85 years of classical music articles online

By Mark Brown
The Guardian

Gramophone magazine has always had an impressive list of contributors, from Rachmaninov to Barbirolli to Rattle – but the problem has been reading them all. Yesterday the 85-year-old magazine announced it is putting its entire archive online as well as entering the commercial download market. The magazine has never missed a month's publication since Compton Mackenzie founded it in 1923, even during the war years.

After 18 months' planning, editors said yesterday that, by early September, every word ever printed in the magazine will be available free in its searchable online archive. It also believes the classical music recording industry has been slow when it comes to digital downloads, so by January 2009 the archive will be linked to a download and mail order service.

Read more about this at the Guardian website:,,2277562,00.html

O2 - Millenium Dome

Wanted: 18,000 classical music fans for O2 big, brash gig

By Ben Hoyle
Times Online

There will be naked dancing girls, bungee ropes, a four-storey tower wreathed in fireworks and the theme from the Old Spice adverts amplified so that 18,000 people can hear it.

Puritannical music lovers should probably run for the hills: the stadium classical music gig is coming to Britain. O2 , the concert venue in the former Millennium Dome, announced yesterday that it will stage a monumental production of Carmina Burana next January.

It plans to follow Carl Orff’s frenetic and instantly recognisable work with productions of Carmen, Aida and The Nutcracker. A musical adaptation of Ben-Hur has also been mooted.

Read more about this at The Times Online website: