Archive pour November, 2010

Reach out and touch someone

29 November 2010

The debate on the pertinence of classical music has become tiresome to say the least. Is it still possible for the classical performers to reach out and touch the young? Is there a way to make classical music more accessible to all without toning it down too much? There has to be a way, of course! Audio engineer, composer and guitarist Josh McNeill is fed up with all this non-sense and takes a stand in a recent post on his blog.

“The implication here being that young people simply can’t hear the greatness that is classical music. The music is simply too complex for their dumbed down ears. This sort of statement doesn’t seem to phase the classical audience that will likely be reading it but anyone who’s not already in that circle is probably going to feel, as I did, that this is a bit of a shot at those who listen to popular music.

The intentions in all of this are great. We need more people asking questions about why the classical audience is aging and trying to find out what will keep this tradition vibrant but it’s at least a little ironic to me that the very people doing this tend to perpetuate some really bad PR. It’s all seems to add up to people asking, “How can we get people to step up to our level?” As opposed to asking, “How can we make ourselves relevant to a world that doesn’t even know we’re here anymore?””

You can read it all here…

Maybe you’ll also want to consider the new reading of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier by German breakdancers Flying Steps, performing tonight and tomorrow night at St. James United Church?

Food and Opera

26 November 2010

You love opera and are an admitted gourmet? Do your tastebuds get excited when there is mention of food or if there is a banquet in an opera scene? This game is for you (and may not be as easy as it looks).

You’ll get to listen to six unidentified excerpts from the operatic stage. Then you can match each food-focused morsel with the correct culinary image. Have fun here…

Violinist Timothy Chooi wins the OSM Competition

24 November 2010

Last weekend, the 71st edition (for strings and harp) of the OSM Standard Life Competition came to an end. The 16-year-old violinist Timothy Chooi was named the Grand Prize winner. Yesterday, he performed the Sibelius Violin concerto twice with the OSM: first as part of a concert last night and earlier the same day, at an open dress rehearsal for a student audience.

A new feature at the Competition this year: in the framework of a “mentoring” component, 11 OSM musicians spent time with the 20 semi-finalist candidates this year. The young musicians taking part in the rounds were able to benefit from professional musicians’ support and advice, a happy contact adding even more to what is already the enriching and educational experience of the OSM Standard Life Competition.

Saint Cecilia

22 November 2010

November 22, St. Cecilia’s Day, patron saint of musicians. But who is this mysterious St. Cecilia?

Partly built on legends, the story of St. Cecilia is known since the Cecilia Passion, written in 535. Born into a noble Roman family, Cecilia possessed grace, beauty and was gifted in the arts, with a special talent for music. Very young, she decided to devote her life to God and vowed to remain a virgin. Married against her will to a pagan named Valerian, she convinced her husband that she was accompanied by an angel watching over her. “If you touch me in the context of marriage, he’ll get angry and you will suffer. If you respect my decision, he will love you as he loves me.” Valerian accepted the deal, dazzled by the strenght of his wife’s faith. With the aid of Pope Urbain St, Cecilia managed to convert her husband to Christianity and, once baptized, he can see that when she is praying, an angel with wings of fire stands next to her. Their happiness would be shortlived, since cruel persecution by the emperor Marcus Aurelius sealed their fate.

Until the Middle Ages, the patron of musicians was Pope Gregory, but when the music academy of Rome was founded in 1584, it was placed under the protection of St. Cecilia. Already present in paintings, frescoes and mosaics, she would inspire many composers, including Purcell, Handel and Britten.

Since the 15th century, the emblem of St. Cecilia became the organ. She is the patron saint of music, musicians, composers, instrument makers, singers and poets.

A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves

20 November 2010

Like me, you had the strange idea to go outside around 8:30 this morning and were caught in the middle of a very strange mix of electric storm, hail and snow storm? In a second, you suddenly realised that Christmas was around the corner? To get in spirit, why not look at the video of A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves, featuring harpist Valérie Milot (who, at this instant, is playing as a finalist of the OSM Standard Life Competition, good luck to her!) and violonist Antoine Bareil. Aren’t you almost looking forward to the holidays now?

To listen to and download the album…

Berlioz talks about Beethoven

18 November 2010

I like it a lot when a composer talks about the work of another composer and brings a new perspective on a work. The book Berlioz devoted to Beethoven’s symphonies is fascinating in that respect, especially since Berlioz doesn’t just talk about compositional devices but most often, he shares how he reacts to the music. I’m sharing a few excerpts from his reading of Beethoven’s Eight Symphony, often lost in the midst of its famous cousins the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies.

While reading about it, of course do listen to the symphony, as performed by the Orchestre de la Francophonie under Jean-Philippe Tremblay. (It is on CD 4.)

“The andante scherzando is one of those creations for which there is neither model nor counterpart: it drops from heaven complete into the composer’s imagination; he writes it at a single stretch and we are amazed to hear it. The role of the wind instruments is here the opposite of their normal one: they accompany with repeated chords, played pianissimo eight times in every bar, the airy dialogue a punta d’arco between violins and basses. This has a gentle innocence which is delightful in its nonchalant manner, like the song of two children picking flowers in a field on a fine spring morning. The main theme consists of two sections of three bars each, the symmetry of which is broken by the silence which follows the basses’ reply; as a result the first section ends on the weak beat and the second on the strong. The harmonic ticking of the oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons so captivates the listener that he does not notice the lack of symmetry in the strings’ melody which results from the additional silent bar.

The function of this bar is evidently to leave exposed for longer the delightful chord over which the lively melody flutters. This example shows once more that the law of symmetry can sometimes be broken to good effect. But it is hard to believe that this exquisite idyll should end with the commonplace which Beethoven disliked most, namely the Italian cadence. At the moment when the instrumental dialogue of the two small orchestras of wind and strings is at its most enchanting, the composer, as though suddenly obliged to stop, makes the violins play tremolo the four notes G, F, A, B flat (sixth, dominant, leading note, tonic), repeat them several times in a hurry, exactly as when the Italians sing Felicità, and then come to an abrupt halt. I have never been able to make sense of this musical joke.”

You can read Berlioz’s completed analysis of the symphonies here…

Christmas music for download

16 November 2010

Your old Christmas albums are collecting dust and you would like to replace some of them by new classics? Analekta has several choices for you. Besides Angèle Dubeau’s Christmas album, Analekta just launched three albums, available exclusively in download. Two feature more traditional fare (one is filled with songs, the other with classical music associated with the holidays).

The thrid is much more unusual and features five duets for violin and harp, performed by Antoine Bareil and Valérie Milot. The arrangements are clever and are a real treat if you have classical references. The album features Silent Night, Greensleeves (or if you sing it with the alternate set of verses, What Child is this?), Mon Merle, Are you Going to Scarborough Fair and Veni, veni, Emmanuel.

Discover it here

Henryk Gorecki passed away

14 November 2010

I heard of the passing of Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki a few moments only after it was announced by the Polish Press Agency. “I love Gorecki”, he wrote me. “Even though I have never met him, I know him. Even if I never spoke to him, he directly spoke to me.”

Born on December 6, 1933, he came into the limelight with the reedition in 1992 of his Symphony No. 3, also known as “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, for soprano and orchestra (1976), a work that sold more than one million copy, something truly spectacular for a contemporary work. He also composed Genesis I, II, III (1962-1963), Three Pieces in Ancient Style (1963) and Beatus vir (psalm for baritone, 1979).

“I think about my audience, but I am not writing for them,” Mr. Gorecki said in a 1994 interview. “If I were thinking of my audience and one likes this, one likes that, one likes another thing, I would never know what to write. Let every listener choose that which interests him.”

As natural extension, the soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian in the deeply moving slow movement from the Third Symphony.

Making it work: getting people in the concert hall

12 November 2010

Greg Sandow just completed a series of compelling posts about making it work in the symphonic – or even classical at large – world. Is it possible, in this day and age, to connect more to one’s community as a musician?

“And then, within any given place, there’s surely more than one community, more than one subculture in your town that you might connect with. That’s something we in classical music don’t always remember. We talk about “the audience” as if it was one thing, and always the same. They don’t make that mistake in pop. They know that different artists attract different audiences, that a classic rocker won’t draw the same crowd as an R&B star or an indie band. This is something classical music should learn about, and see how many different audiences it can learn to find. I’ll note this for future reference, but not say any more about it just now.”

The first instalment can be read here… Click on the more recent links to read the others in this series.

Alain Lefèvre named international personality of the year by the AIB

10 November 2010

The Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) announced the winners of its annual global media excellence awards at a gala event in London last night. These awards are fairly unique since an independent panel of judges consisting of respected professionals from the broadcasting and wider industries select the winners among a record number of entries submitted from all over the world.

Pianist and composer Alain Lefèvre, popular radio host on Espace Musique, was named International personality of the year – radio. “His genuine passion for the things he talks about comes across so clearly,” explained the jury.

Established in 1993, the AIB is the international industry association. With a reach of over 25,000 communicators and media professionals, AIB is a unique centre of information about international broadcasting, covering TV, radio, online and mobile.