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Fictional Composers

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Music

Imaginary Concerts

By Alex Ross
New Yorker

The most potent sensual jolt in the first book of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time is felt when Charles Swann falls under the spell of "a little phrase" in a violin sonata by a provincial composer named Vinteuil. In creating Vinteuil, Proust ventures into an esoteric subcategory of fiction-stories about composers who exist only in the pages of books.

To read the literature of fictive music in sequence is to see the rise and apparent decline of classical music as a medium of cultural power. Writer describes the work of E.T.A. Hoffman and his fictional composer Johannes Kreisler, who affected the real music of the nineteenth century, inspiring Robert Schumann. Tells about Balzac's 1837 novella Gambara about Paolo Gambara, an Italian composer living in Paris. In the second half of the nineteenth century, composers achieved almost godlike status in Europe and America. The cult of musical genius turned feverish in Romain Rolland's Jean Christophe, published in installments between 1904 and 1912, which tells the story of the German composer Jean-Christophe Krafft. Krafft fashions a synthesis of French and German musical values, but Rolland fails to give us a clear idea of what this sounds like. "In Search of Lost Time" traverses much of the same territory with far greater authority. Writer describes the inspiration behind and the music of Proust's fictional composer Venteuil.

Thomas Mann, driven into exile by the Wagner-loving Hitler, decided to dismantle the myth of the Tragic Artist in Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend, published in 1947. Writer describes Mann's use of sketches by Theodor W. Adorno in constructing Leverkühn, and Leverkühn's influence on real composers. Discusses Randall Jarrell's 1954 academic satire Picture from an Institution, which signaled a change in how novelists depicted composers and classical music. Contemporary novelists tend to see this world in tragicomic terms. If the present state of imaginary music seems bleak, science fiction suggests a brighter future. Kim Stanley Robinson's novel The Memory of Whiteness looks ahead to 3229 A.D., when a mechanical orchestra is the star act of the solar system.

Read more about this at the New Yorker website:

   www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2009/08/24/090824crat_atlarge_ross

Distinguished Critic Dead At 80

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Michael Steinberg

Michael Steinberg 1928-2009

Michael Steinberg, among the pre-eminent music critics of our time, died on Sunday, 26 July 2009 at the age of 80. Despite the onset of cancer more than three years ago, he continued to live a full and vigorous life. He was revered by professional colleagues – the musicians, conductors, fellow writers, composers, educators, and orchestra executives with whom he collaborated over the course of a six-decade career – and loved by hundreds of thousands of audience members whose ideas and feelings about music were shaped by the unerringly lucid and insightful commentary he provided in program notes and pre-concert talks. A teacher of music history and criticism, a chamber music coach, a narrator, he was also the premier writer of program notes for audiences of orchestral, choral and chamber music, his works appearing not only in symphonic program books, but also on recordings, most notably those of John Adams' operas Nixon in China (1988) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1992).

Steinberg was born on October 4, 1928 in Breslau in the last years of Weimar Germany and spent his adolescence in England, his mother having campaigned successfully to get him to safety via the Kindertransport, a rescue mission that saved nearly 10,000 children in the months leading up to World War II. By the end of the war, Michael, his mother, and a brother 15 years his elder, Franz, had emigrated to St.Louis, Missouri. Steinberg studied at Princeton with Strunk, Babbitt, and Cone, graduating in 1949 with a degree in musicology. On a Fulbright scholarship, he spent two years in Italy, where he met his first wife Jane Bonacker (they divorced in 1977). Upon his return from Italy to the U.S., he was drafted and spent two years in the Army stationed in Germany in the 1950s. He served as head of the music history department at the Manhattan School of Music (1954-55; 1957-64), and taught at Smith College, Hunter College, Brandeis University, and the New England Conservatory. During these years, he was appointed music critic at the Boston Globe; his tenure in that position is the stuff of legend among serious writers about music.

Steinberg's first staff position at a major orchestra was Director of Publications for the Boston Symphony (1976-79). In 1979 he joined the San Francisco Symphony as Publications Director and Artistic Adviser (1979-1989), which combined the tasks of writing program notes and designing the season's repertoire, in close consultation with then music directors Edo de Waart, followed by Herbert Blomstedt. In 1983 he married Jorja Fleezanis, the Associate Concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony; when she was named Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra in 1989, they moved to Minneapolis. He became program annotator to the New York Philharmonic in 1995, while continuing to serve as pre-concert lecturer in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. He took the post of Artistic Adviser with the Minnesota Orchestra, while maintaining the positions of program annotator for both the San Francisco Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.

Even after announcing his formal retirement in 1999, Steinberg kept working. He wrote for the San Francisco Symphony. For the West Coast chamber music festival Music at Menlo, he introduced programs, coached ensembles, and led several evenings of their "Encounter Series." He also coached students at the International Festival-Institute at Round Top, Texas. Each summer, public poetry readings were highlights of both the Menlo and Round Top festivals, where Steinberg not only gave his own memorable readings but also selected poems and lovingly coached both students and faculty in their readings. He believed poetry to be a vital component of music-making, and that performing musicians could arrive at a better understanding of musical phrasing and impulses by reading poetry aloud. In Jorja Fleezanis' words, he believed that "rhythm, the gait, and the expression required to read poetry well are intimately linked to what is required to play music well."

A frequent narrator, he gave the first performance of Aaron Jay Kernis' La Quattro Stagioni dalla Cucina Futerismo (The Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine) in 1991, and was often heard as the narrator in Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, Survivor from Warsaw, and Ode to Napoleon, as well as Aaron Copland's A Lincoln Portrait.

Larry Rothe, Publications Editor of the San Francisco Symphony and co-author of Steinberg's last book, For the Love of Music (Oxford University Press, 2006) noted:

0195370201
"In the last years Michael defined what it means to battle an illness. He continued to hang tough, determined not to let anything keep him from doing what he had always done, which was to put listeners in touch with the music. In his writing and in his talks, Michael knocked down walls with intelligence, wit, and a broad sense of culture. He was a great storyteller. He expected much from his readers and offered much. You get a taste of all this in his books: The Symphony, The Concerto, and Choral Masterworks, three compilations of his program notes. …
"In the way he lived, Michael mirrored music at its best. He was affirmative and honest and uncompromising, elegant and ornery. He spoke in beautifully-paced full sentences and paragraphs. He wrote with the eloquence and generosity and fierceness he believed the music demanded. He knew that what happens between music and listener is a kind of love, and that music, as he said, 'like any worthwhile partner in love, is demanding, sometimes exasperatingly, exhaustingly demanding… [but] that its capacity to give is as near to infinite as anything in this world, and that what it offers us is always and inescapably in exact proportion to what we ourselves give.'
"Writers have many reasons to write, but all writers share one goal: to remind readers what it means to be human. Not every writer gets there. Michael did."

Michael Steinberg is survived by his wife, Jorja Fleezanis; his sons Sebastian and Adam, both from his first marriage; his granddaughters Ayla and Rae; his grandson Julian; his first wife Jane Steinberg; his nephew Tom Steinberg; and his nephew Andy (and Val) Steinberg. Concerts to celebrate Michael Steinberg's life will be presented in San Francisco and Minneapolis at times to be announced.

The family will be receiving friends at home in Minneapolis on Tuesday, 28 July 2009 from 4pm-8pm.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to:

The Michael Steinberg & Jorja Fleezanis Fund to Spur Curiosity and Growth through the Performing Arts and the Written Word
attn. Shelli Chase
CHASE FINANCIAL
7900 Xerxes Avenue South
Suite 910
Minneapolis, MN 55431
PHOTO BY TERRENCE McCARTHY COURTESY OF KATHRYN KING MEDIA

Artists in Exile

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Artists in Exile by Joseph Horowitz

The exiles who wowed America

How exiled European artists reacted to the energy and freedom of the US

By Clive James
The Times Literary Supplement

Imagine Balanchine watching a bunch of cheerleaders and you've got this book in a flash. Vignettes are its basic strength, as was bound to be true. The subject of the twentieth-century European artists in exile is too big for one book. Jean-Michel Palmier proved it by publishing his pioneering compendium Weimar en exil (1988) as two books, one of them called Exil en Europe and the other Exil en Amérique. Since there could easily have been others – Exil en Australie would have been interesting – it will be appreciated that Palmier himself felt obliged to limit his purview.

Joseph Horowitz gets the story into a single volume, Artists in Exile, by concentrating on a single destination, America, and even then he trims the field. His subtitle "How refugees from twentieth-century war and revolution transformed the American performing arts" leaves out the writers, painters, photographers and architects, which means we aren't going to hear much about any of the Mann clan, and nothing at all about Mondrian, Ernst, Léger, Moholy-Nagy, Mies, Gropius, Andreas Feininger, Lyonel Feininger … but let's stop. Horowitz gives us mainly those exiles who worked in music, theatre and film. Even then, there are more than enough names to be going on with: Balanchine, Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, Toscanini, Stokowski, Kurt Weill and Rouben Mamoulian are only the most prominent.

Read the complete review at The Times website:

   http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article4618457.ece

An Atmosphere of High Seriousness

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Why So Serious?

How the classical concert took shape.

By Alex Ross
New Yorker

The modern classical-music performance, as audiences have come to know it and sometimes to love it, adheres to a fairly rigid format. The music usually begins a few minutes after eight, listeners having taken their seats beforehand to peruse program notes or chat with neighbors. The evening falls into two halves, each lasting around forty-five or fifty minutes. An orchestral concert often proceeds from overture or short tone poem to solo concerto, and then to a symphony or some other major statement; a solo recital builds up to a big sonata or a virtuoso showpiece. The audience is expected to remain quiet for the duration of each work, and those who applaud between movements may face embarrassment. Around ten o'clock, the audience claps for two or three minutes, the performers bow two or three times, and all go home. Opera has a slightly looser code – the length of the evening depends on the composer's whims, and the audience makes its feelings known with sporadic applause and very occasional boos – but there, too, an atmosphere of high seriousness prevails.

Read more about this at the New Yorker website:

   http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2008/09/08/080908crmu_music_ross

Wine and Music

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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:

   http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7400109.stm

Chinese Ban Foreign Artists

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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:

   http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3ifcadec3fe426ce3c7520bfd16cebd716

A Clockwork Orange… In Reverse

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Prison Bars

Amid Despair in a Venezuelan Prison, Strains of Hope From a Music Program

By Scott Dalton
New York Times

Los Teques, Venezuela – When Nurul Asyiqin Ahmad was taken seven months ago to her cell at the National Institute of Feminine Orientation, a prison perched on a hill in this city of slums on the outskirts of Caracas, learning how to play Beethoven was one of the last things on her mind.

"The despair gripped me, like a nightmare had become my life," said Ms. Ahmad, 26, a shy law student from Malaysia who claims she is innocent of charges of trying to smuggle cocaine on a flight from Caracas to Paris. "But when the music begins, I am lifted away from this place." Ms. Ahmad plays violin and sings in the prison's orchestra.

In a project extending Venezuela's renowned system of youth orchestras to some of the country's most hardened prisons, Ms. Ahmad and hundreds of other prisoners are learning a repertory that includes Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and folk songs from the Venezuelan plains.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/23/world/americas/23venezuela.html

Everybody Gets A Piano

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Pearl River Piano Company

Keyboard moment in China's cultural evolution

By Petroc Trelawny
The Australian

As my plane makes its final approach into the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, the mountains give way briefly to green paddy fields, and then industry takes over.

Beneath are hundreds of vast blue-roofed sheds and smoking red-brick chimney stacks. The landscape is mapped with rail yards and lorry parks; heavily laden barges crawl along the creeks of the Pearl River. With a vast economy that's now larger than that of nearby Hong Kong, Guangdong Province deserves its title as the factory of China. …

I've come to visit a company that last year made 100,000 pianos. The Pearl River Piano Company says it's now the world's largest: 3000 staff work on eight production lines, and it feels more like a car factory than a place making things as delicate and tactile as pianos.

A basic Pearl River piano costs about $1600, a fortune to many Chinese, but well within the budget of the country's burgeoning urban middle class. Their new wealth, combined with a desire to give their offspring a better childhood than they experienced, has led to an obsession with the piano in China. Conservative estimates suggest that 30 million Chinese children are learning the instrument; many reckon the figure is much higher. One academic told me the country was in the grip of piano fever.

Read more about this at The Australian website:

   http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,23910488-16947,00.html

The Acquisition of Cultural Bling?

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Qatar Foundation

Qatar, land of oil and excess, gives us the first Arabian Gulf symphony

The United Arab Emirates are embracing classical music, but is this anything more than the acquisition of cultural bling

By John Evans
Times UK Online

Last week the Arabian Gulf, land of oil and excess, got its first symphony. The Qatar Symphony is a four-movement piece lasting almost one hour and is scored for full symphony orchestra. If I tell you that it's written by an Iraqi composer who once laboured under Saddam's regime, you won't be surprised to hear that it's a patriotic affair of whimsical folk tunes and strident marches. But if I then tell you that it's the first step on a journey to making the Gulf the new capital of high art and of classical music, you may fall off your seat.

Earlier, before the work's premiere at the Ritz Carlton in Doha, I'd watched a gang of bulldozers digging a hole for the planned skyscraper next to my hotel. Their ceaseless, subterranean activity seemed to me an analogy for the Gulf's classical-music scene. Bit by bit, it's taking shape – a conservatoire here, a concert hall there. By the time this new skyscraper is built, the foundations for a classical-music scene will have been laid. But is the Gulf really hungry for the arts, or is it building a cultural theme park?

Read more about this at the Times Online website:

   http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article4098647.ece

Classical Music in Turkey

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Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts

Istanbul Music Festival seeks to expand audience with new projects

By Ali Pektas
Today's Zaman

The Istanbul International Music Festival got under way yesterday with a concert by the Vienna Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring violinist Benyamin Sönmez as soloist, at the historic Hagia Eirene Museum.

The festival has a packed schedule in its 36th year and will bring more than 500 musicians from around the world together with classical music lovers through June 30. Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) with support from Borusan Holding, the festival will realize a first this year by bringing together the musicians with the audience, students and young musicians outside concert halls as part of a new project.

Read more about this at the Today's Zaman website:

   http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.do?load=detay&link=144098

Trumpet