Archive pour la catégorie ‘Music and…’

Hack the orchestra: a first

22 May 2015

This weekend, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony will host the world’s first orchestra hackathon, during which hackers from multiple disciplines will brainstorm and prototype ways to use technology to enhance the experience of a live orchestral concert – whether for the audience, the musicians, or the production crew. The hackathon takes the form of a 36-hour competition. C 

Teams will attend a “typical” KWS concert today and then work over the weekend to create technological solutions that improve or enhance the concert experience.

Speaking about the event, Steve McCartney, VP of Startup Services at Communitech (a key hackathon partner) says, “the genius of classical music and the power of the orchestra meet the disruptive world of the hacker; unfettered exploration, creation and fusion. The KWS, a regional treasure, will combine with the wonderful young minds of our tech community. I’m very excited to see what happens when these worlds meet up in this first-ever Hack the Orchestra event!”

On the morning of May 24 a panel of expert judges will select three winning solutions. Each will then be demonstrated at a series of three Beethoven piano concerto concerts on September 25 & 26, 2015. Cash prizes will also be awarded to the top 3 winners.

For more information and know the names of the winners on Sunday…

Classical music’s offering fantastic at the FIFA

13 March 2015

The International Festival of Films on Art starts soon and 230 films from more than 30 countries will be presented from March 19 to 29. In the lot, the following ones will surely interest the classical music fans.

JONAS KAUFMANN – BERLIN 1930 by Thomas Voigt and Wolfgang  Wunderlich. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle  – 25/03/15 – 6:30 p.m. and Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium  29/03/15 – 4 p.m.)

EVERYWHERE AND FOREVER: MAHLER’S SONG OF THE EARTH by Jason Starr (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 22/03/15 – 1:30 p.m. and Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 26/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

RICHARD WAGNER ET LES JUIFS by Hilan Warshaw. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 21/03/15 – 6:30 p.m. and Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 25/03/15 – 6:30 p.m. and 29/03/15 – 1:30 p.m.)

CALLAS VS TEBALDI, LA LÉGENDE DE LA TIGRESSE ET DE LA COLOMBE by René-Jean Bouyer deals with the legendary rivalry which opposed in the 1950s the two greatest singers of the era. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 22/03/15 – 4 p.m. and / 27/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

THE INDIAN QUEEN by Peter Sellars. An unforgettable version of Purcell’s last, unfinished opera. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 29/03/15 – 1:30 p.m. and Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Fernand-Seguin – 22/03/15 – 1:30 p.m.)

I’M A CREATIVE ANIMAL by Barbara Seiler follows Canadian soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan. (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 29/03/15 – 4 p.m. and Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 25/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

NDIPHILELA UKUCULA: I LIVE TO SING by Julie Cohen is the portrait of three rising opera stars, black students at the The Cape University. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 22/03/15 – 4 p.m. and 27/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

RAMEAU, L’INCOMPRIS MAGNIFIQUE by Olivier Simmonet is a vibrant homage to a composer too often misunderstood. (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 21/03/15 – 1:30 p.m. and Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 28/03/15 – 4 p.m.)

You can view the complete program and reserve your tickets on the FIFA official website here…


Classical music gets a new treatment in Birdman

20 January 2015

Oscars are fast-approaching and the lists of finalists were made public last week. Some films stand out nominations wise and that is the case of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, an intriguing – and demanding – film that makes you believe that it is made from only one long sequence-shot. This most ambitious project by Mexican director can be perceived as a reflection on cinema itself as well as critics (in this case theater critics, but one can very easily adapt this train of thought to other medias) and stands as well as an homage to giants of the past, including Orson Wells and Alfred Hitchcock. 

If the film was disqualified from the Oscars (because it is not only made up of original material), the soundtrack is especially fascinating. The director dared to juxtapose in a most unorthodox fashion the jazz drums of Antonio Sanchez (who can be seen at the end, giving us the illusion that maybe this all happened while he was rehearsing in some back room of the St. James) and classical works that are often taken in opposite stance. You can for example hear Mahler (his Ninth Symphony and “Ich bin der Welt anhanden gekommen”), Tchaikovsky (two symphonies), Rachmaninov (two excerpts from his Second Symphonye), Ravel (the “Passacaille” from the Piano Trio) and John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer  (Prologue: Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians). If one can understand how Tchaikovsky’s pathos can be easily juxtaposed to desperate moments from Riggan, a true has-been who tries to make it on Broadway after having being forgotten after numerous superheroes’ movies, the utilisation of Ravel left me stunned, music becoming a parallel narrator telling a tale that is almost contradictory to the one we see on stage. As the film as a whole, this most certainly gives us the impression that we are thrown, willingly or not, in somebody’s else dream – or nightmare. Fascinating!


The moon as creative inspiration

21 November 2014

The moon has always invited reverie. The play of light and shadow forming shapes on its surface has been interpreted in various ways, depending on the culture and the stirring of the imagination. Some people gaze up at the moon and see a rabbit, others, a buffalo, or the face of a man. Early astronomers thought that the dark areas (the plains) were great seas. The moon figures largely in mythology and folk beliefs. Some consider it as a deity, while others believe causes periodic insanity, giving humans the power to change into their bestial form, like werewolves, during a full moon.

The moon has inspired lovers, but also artists—fiction writers, poets, designers, filmmakers, and composers. Here are some examples:
• Jules Verne wrote two books about the moon: De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon) and Autour de la lune (Around the Moon).
• The moon was the muse of many a poet: including J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon, and Robert Louis Stevenson, who penned The Moon.
• You might know Hergé: who sent his fearless adventurer, Tintin, on a couple of missions, in Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon.
• As early as 1902, filmmakers looked to the moon for inspiration: Méliès created the film Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), and, more recently, Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey, which used an excerpt from Richard Strauss’s symphonic poem Also sprach Zarathustra.

Composers, too, got inspired of course: Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a well-known piece called the “Moonlight” Sonata, and Carl Orff created the comic opera Der Mond (The Moon). Like Debussy, Fauré composed a melody based on Paul Verlaine’s poem Clair de lune. It is interesting to compare how two contemporaries treated the same text and ended up with two entirely different works.

Here is the Fauré mélodie, sung by Jean-François Lapointe (accompanied by Louise-André Baril).

And there is Valérie Milot’s arrangement of Debussy‘s “Clair de lune” from Suite bergamasque…

Incarceration and musical inspiration

4 November 2014

MusicBox has just started yesterday what promises to be a very interesting series about teaching music theory in a maximum security prison. How did a then student teacher react when she was confronted with men who committed extremely violent crimes, but nevertheless wanted to know the rudiments of music to be able to express themselves in other ways?

The Music Theory and Appreciation course at Auburn Correctional Facility was implemented through the Cornell Prison Education Program. Through this program and for the past 15 years, incarcerated men can get associate’s degree (through Cayuga Community College) in genetics, constitutional law, medical anthropology, Asian meditation, writing, theater, economics, and music theory. The program aims to increase an incarcerated man’s chances of reintegrating into society upon release and lessens recidivism. Is this something all correctional facilities should consider?

Julia Adolphe writes:

“Each of the seventeen men seated around the room looked at us with calm curiosity and a sincere respect. Their eyes were wide like a child’s discovering the world, yet their capacity for intellectual and philosophical exchange transcended that of the average student. They were a striking mix of total inexperience and naïvety, having spent the majority of their lives within the narrow confines of prison, and a source of devastating experiences, having lived in dangerous communities, witnessing horrors, and committing the terrible acts that led to incarceration. One man, presumably involved in gang violence, told me that prison had saved him. He believes that if he had not been arrested and removed from his situation, he would be dead by now.”

To read more…

Stage fright and addiction

22 August 2014

One generally doesn’t associate drugs and classical music. Everybody knows that the “wild” musicians are the rock stars, right? Is is not as simple as this, as demonstrated Addicts’ Symphony, a documentary to be presented on the British Channel 4 network next Wednesday. Here, drugs are not taken because the musicians decided to “party hard”, but mainly to help with panic attacks about playing in public. The subject of beta-blockers, a common “help” to deal with stage fright for symphony musicians, is still a pretty hush-hush subject. Others will choose to drink or take Valium, amphetamines, cocaine or heroin, we learned in the documentary.

Ten musicians spoke about their problems and, along the process, were coached by the London Symphony Orchestra with the goal of performing a concert alongside them.

The Addicts’ Symphony is the brainchild of James McConnel, a composer who fought his own battle with alcoholism – and whose son, Freddy, died from a heroin overdose aged 18.

You can read more about the phenomena in this recent article in The Guardian…


Film music: some dynamic duos

12 August 2014

The Criterion Collection just released a box set with all the important Jacques Demy films. Movie buffs may be excited to take an in-depth look at some of the classics he produced, but music lovers will be most thrilled to hear once more all the wonderful soundtracks Michel Legrand wrote for Demy’s films. Legrand and Demy’s partnership is far from being unique of course in the history of the cinema. The Sergio Leone films would have been certainly less iconic without Ennio Morricone’s scores as Steven Spielberg’s blockbusters, if it were not for the very powerful music John Williams wrote for those. Let’s not forget either Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, Federico Fellini and Nino Rota or Tim Burton and Danny Elfman.

A look – and listen – back to some of those most memorable teams can be found here…

Nino Rota’s score for Amarcord as a bonus.

Samuel Beckett and music

8 August 2014

“Music always wins” may have seemed like an unexpected statement coming from Samuel Beckett, a Nobel prizewinner in literature, celebrated for his iconic plays as well as his novels, written in English or in French. But it comes as no surprise that he would include this line in his radio play Words and Music when one digs a bit more into Beckett’s life. He made music on an almost daily basis, listened to it constantly, whether alone at home or with friends. He was an avid concert-goer, whether he lived in Dublin, London, Berlin or Paris. He just loved the pianists Yves Nat, Alfred Cortot, Artur Schnabel, Solomon Cutner and Rudolf Serkin.

His piano playing, even in his youth, was considered “intense”. His cousin Morris Sinclair remembered well “with what conviction and elan he would play the last movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique. The intensity of his absorption was almost ferocious.” In the late 1960s, when his sight was beginning to fail, Beckett wrote a humorous description of himself: “… bought a little German piano (a Schimmel) in the country and take it out on Haydn and Schubert … my nose so close to the score that the keyboard feels behind my back. Get it by heart in the end and lean back.”

He loved the works of his contemporaries, including Poulenc, Debussy, Ravel and Bartók (whose Microkosmos he would play), but Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert were without a doubt his holy trinity. He wasn’t fond of the other two Bs: Bach and Brahms (though he played some of his intermezzi). 

You can learn more about the importance of music for the author in this very interesting article, published last week in The Guardian

Musical friendships: creating tight bonds

1 August 2014

If playing an instrument is a solitary activity (whether in the rehearsal room or on stage), sharing musical moments is generally done in numbers. It is a pretty safe bet to assume that the first caveman who discovered the pleasure of hitting an animal skin transformed into a drum was to join in with the other members of his tribe chanting songs. While it remains the language of the unspeakable and emotions, music is meant to be shared. It is therefore not surprising that several musicians and composers have thus developed close ties. Some composers maintained a relationship of respect, Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin, for example. Others rubbed elbows on a regular basis, including Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner (buried side by side) or members of the Group of Five, bound by a deep friendship and the ideals and objectives (Mili Balakirev, César Cui, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov). In other cases, the friendship led to love, as it was the case for the couple Robert and Clara Schumann (both composers, even if Clara had a great career as a performer).

Several circles of musicians have emerged over the centuries. Georg Philip Telemann, Georg Frideric Handel’s friend founded in 1704 the Collegium Musicum, which a few years later (from 1729 to 1739), will be placed under the direction of Johann Sebastian Bach. The members of this informal group of amateur musicians met weekly outdoor (weather permitting) or in one of the cafes of the city including the Café Zimmermann, located rue Sainte-Catherine in Leipzig. Bach’s sons and students often joined local and virtuoso musicians who were visiting the city. The designation “Collegium Musicum” has been used many times since, both by amateur and professional ensembles.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) also was seen in cafes on a weekly basis and performed his new works for or with the musicians who gathered there. In something that looked like today’s “jam sessions”, the Schubertiades brought together twenty participants who read through recent works, chosen according to the available scores and instrumentalists or singers present that day. What better way to get to know and discover music together?

At the beginning of the 20th century, six young composers fresh out of the Conservatoire met every Saturday evening in a small restaurant in Paris: Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre. They were joined by pianists Marcelle Meyer and Juliet Meerovitch, Russian singer Koubitsky, painters Marie Laurencin, Irene Lagut and Valentine Gross and writers Lucien Daudet, Raymond Radiguet and Jean Cocteau. After dinner, the Groupe des six and their friends went to the Foire du Trône or watched the Fratellini brothers at Circus Medrano. The evening ended at Darius Milhaud’s house or at the Gaya Bar. Cocteau would read his latest poems. Milhaud and Auric, joined by Arthur Rubinstein played a six-hand version of Le boeuf sur le toit. The atmosphere was invariably festive.

If composers have always shared the joys and sorrows of creating new works with their loved ones, they often dedicated to their friends (musicians or otherwise) some of their works. If Beethoven refered to a universal friendship in his “Ode to Joy”, the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, Schubert did not hesitate to write for four-hand piano Our friendship is unchanging, an eloquent testimony of how important this universal feeling was to him.

Classical music as part of TV drama

14 March 2014

Music seems to become more and more part of TV offerings. Now in its last season, Glee certainly did a lot to make choir singing appealing to the young crowd and Smash did the same with musicals. But how about classical music? Can classical musicians become interesting characters?

Amazon has put eight TV pilots online and wiewer feedback will make the difference here. Interestingly enough, one of them is called Mozart in the Jungle, created by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers and starring the very sexy Gael Garcia Bernal (as a conductor who many will find a not-so-distant “cousin” of Gustavo Dudamel), Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters and Lola Kirke. It is based on a memoir of the same name that was subtitled “Sex, Drugs And Classical Music,” published in 2005 by New York Philharmonic oboist Blair Tindall.  

Yes, some things are a bit exaggerated… but nevertheless, it this show gets picked up by an American TV conglomerate, I will make sure to watch – at least a few episodes.

On the big screen, you may be interested in the just released in the US Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack. In this, a virtuoso pianist, played by Wood, makes a come back after one disastrous performance five years earlier. He already has nightmares about his performance, but this takes on a whole new meaning when a message that reads “Play one wrong note and you die” on his music stand makes it all the more challenging. This will do nothing to ease stage fright with students – and professionals -, that’s for sure.