Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Stay up to date at tprclassical.org
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That is where we are keeping things up to date, although you can still find great old entries here on blogger.
Thank you!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Catan's Il Postino on Itinerarios

Daniel Catan, March 2011
I first met Daniel Catan in 1982 when I was called on to play a new piece he had written, a pastorela, or Christmas play. I can't even recall the name, nor could Daniel when I mentioned it to him years later.

"Very nice piece," I told him, and it was. There was considerable craft, in the style on that day of Stravinsky.

"Oh, I don't write that way any more," replied Daniel.

I talked on about how much I had enjoyed playing his music, hoping to reinvigorate that stage music from so many years ago.

"Maybe I will revisit the score," conceded Daniel, but somehow I knew he was unlikely to do so. He had too many projects on his plate and little time to look back. One of those projects was a commission from the Houston Grand Opera for a Caribbean inflected opera titled Salsipuedes. Another was looming on the not distant horizon, a project for Placido Domingo and his Los Angeles Opera. This would become Daniel's final completed work, a little masterpiece called Il Postino.

I engaged Daniel in a series of phone interviews over a period of several years. It became comfortable conversation. We became friends and I was happy to share in his enthusiasm for Il Postino. It was based loosely on the Academy Award winning movie by the same title, though Daniel was quick to point out that he had gone back to the roots of the story, to the book Ardiente paciencia by Antonio Skármeta.

Those of us who had been following the career of Daniel Catan knew Il Postino would be good. We even thought it might be great. After all, he was creating a role for Placido Domingo. How often does one have that opportunity?

"I keep pinching myself," he admitted with obvious glee.

Some months passed as Il Postino opened and wowed the public. Immediately the production took flight with performances in Vienna and a highly anticipated date in Paris. In the meanwhile, Daniel came to Austin to do a bit of teaching and to work on a new project, an operatic retelling of the Frank Capra movie Meet John Doe. I finally had the opportunity to meet Daniel face-to-face, something I had not done since that first meeting in the 1980s. As I walked to his apartment in South Austin, he waited outside his front door. We recognized each other immediately.

"It feels as though we have known each other a long time," he said. Indeed it did.

I would see Daniel only once more after that final interview. We were to meet in Houston, where the Moores Opera Theatre was mounting Il Postino, but Daniel was curiously absent that evening. No one realized at that moment that Daniel had passed away the day before, in his sleep. Rest in Peace, my old friend.

There will be no time for this entire history Sunday evening (11/18/12) when I feature several excerpts from Il Postino within the context of Itinerarios, KPAC's weekly program of music with Latin American roots. Nevertheless, that history and more will surely be on my shoulders as I share the music and selected words from the various interviews with Daniel. Please plan to listen Sunday evening at 7 o'clock, and please ask a friend to listen too. This music just might touch your heart and soul.

James Baker, host and producer of Itinerarios

Thursday, November 1, 2012

30 Great Violinists

Janine Jansen and John Clare
This month, KPAC celebrates thirty years in broadcasting. Our hosts are having some fun sharing "30 lists" - artists, music, movies, and recordings you might enjoy and help shape the great sound of your classical oasis.
Kicking things off is Afternoon Host John Clare with 30 Great Violinists! (They are in no particular order, and were chosen keeping in mind the artist was available to be heard on Spotify)
Listen to these violinists on Spotify: http://spoti.fi/VG9KKJ 

1 Janine Jansen
(I remember exactly when and where I was listening to Janine's debut cd, and hearing her live is even better. We did an interview in Washington, DC after a concert. This is her answer about playing Bach.http://classicallyhip.com/sounds/janine/ending.mp3)
2 Itzhak Perlman
(It was a dream to interview the violinist who inspired me to play the violin, Itzhak Perlman - listen to our talk here: http://www.tpr.org/classicalspotlight/2011/03/cs1103172.html)
3 Jascha Heifetz
4 Mischa Elman
5 Leonid Kogan
(I was delighted to see the Faure Piano Quartet on Spotify, an all star group from Russia - while there are LOTS of recordings that might have shown Kogan's talent, to me, this is supreme music making on all parts!) 
Josh Bell and John Clare
6 Joshua Bell
7 Gil Shaham
(Gil is as nice a person as he is a great artist - and now he runs his own recording company!)
8 Midori
9 Sarah Chang
10 Maxim Vengerov
11 Isaac Stern
(A modern masterpiece for the violin, and one I adore hearing Stern play - Penderecki's 1976 Violin Concerto. I also treasure Stern's unique sound.)
12 Anne-Sophie Mutter
(Every chance I get, I try to hear Anne-Sophie Mutter live. She was a large inspiration as a teenager and her playing has only deepened. It was a dream come true when I interviewed her: http://classicallyhip.com/sounds/asm/ASM.mp3)
13 Viktoria Mullova
14 David Oistrakh
15 Gidon Kremer
(If Gidon recorded John Cage's 4'33" I would buy it. Pretty much anything he touches is gold.)
16 Nicola Benedetti
17 Yehudi Menuhin
(There is so much to love about Yehudi and his playing, but I couldn't resist also sharing a portion of on of his unknown commissions, Andrzej Panufnik's Violin Concerto!)
Hilary Hahn and John Clare
18 Hilary Hahn
(Since her Sony debut to her latest DG release of improvisations, Hilary plays perfectly. We also had a great run of yearly interviews as she played at the Las Vegas Music Festival!) 
19 Lisa Batiashvili
20 Nathan Milstein
21 Oscar Shumsky
22 Toscha Seidel
(They say that if Jascha Heifetz was the angel in Leopold Auer's violin class, that Toscha Seidel was the devil - and with an instrument that is often associated with Ol' Nick, it certainly is a compliment to Seidel! I was delighted some of his artistry can be heard on Spotify!!!)
23 Anne Akiko Meyers
(This stunning virtuoso calls Texas home but plays worldwide, and is a great mom, too! How does she do it all? Listen to our interview about Air: http://kpac883.blogspot.com/2012/02/annes-air.html)
24 Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
John Clare and Mark O'Connor
25 Mark O'Connor
(This amazing fiddler plays it all. Classical, jazz, bluegrass, swing, you name it. Nowadays not only does he share his artistry but has a new spin on technique, one that he teaches in various camps as well as method books!)
26 Rachel Barton Pine
27 Pinchas Zukerman
(Such an outstanding musician, known for his violin and viola playing, plus an international career as a conductor.)
28 Simon Standage
(A period performer, Simon does amazing things with music that you might not have realized you liked, or even heard of, all with a very old violin!) 
29 Lara St. John
(I wondered about some of her album cover choices, but Lara proves you can't judge a recording by the cover! We talked Mozart not long ago: http://www.tpr.org/classicalspotlight/2010/10/cs1010145.html
30 Julia Fischer
(Another musician who I would buy their recording if it were the phone book...she is also an amazing pianist - having recorded Grieg's Piano Concerto on DVD! We talked Paganini and more one day: http://www.tpr.org/classicalspotlight/2010/09/cs1009094.html)

There are lots of great violinists - who are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below or on facebook!

We're Baaaack !

courtesy of Wikipedia

With the change of the Seasons, longer nights, Halloween and Dias de los Muertos it's not surprising that this time of year as plenty of mystical associations.

On the Piano this Sunday, more music for this Spectral time with a Witches Sabbath, marauding trolls and magical collectors of the heroic dead.

Even Beethoven gets involved with his ideas of an opera based on Shakespeare's Macbeth haunting a piano trio he was working on at the time.

Hear some great music with another worldly connection on the Piano this Sunday afternoon at 5 on KPAC and KTXI.

host, Randy Anderson

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween premieres

Two great works had their world premiere on October 31st: in 1955, Alan Hovhaness' Symphony No. 2 ("Mysterious Mountain"), was played for the very first time by the Houston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

and in 1970, George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children, in Washington, D.C. as part of the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation's 14th Festival of Chamber Music.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Smaller Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio Thinks Big

On Friday October 26th the Chamber Orchestraof San Antonio opens its concert season. No, this is not a branch of the venerable San Antonio Chamber Society nor an extension of the San Antonio Symphony. Then, what is it? It is an extraordinary complement to both, filling in that large body of music ranging from the vast repertoire of chamber orchestral music and chamber transcriptions that are rarely heard. The world of nonets upwards; its musical contingent normally ranges from ten to thirty musicians. It’s that rich shadow world consisting of everything from Arnold Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night” and Charles Ives’s “The Unanswered Question” to the chamber works of Bliss, Enesco, Brahms (chamber version of his Serenade #1) and Copland’s original version of  “Appalachian Spring.

Where did COSA come from? It is the brain and heart child of, among others, co-founders Robert Ehlers, Paul Montalvo and Silvia Santinelli- Ehlers. They are each   professional musicians, adept amateurs or profound music lovers. They, on a given night at dinner a few years ago, decided that there was an entire body of music that was well worth hearing and rediscovering that was neglected because much of it fell between the two worlds of the grand orchestral tradition on the one hand and the classical chamber world of trio to octet on the other. More research uncovered that many of these works may have never been presented in public performance in San Antonio before. They decided to do something about it and began the arduous and extremely time consuming process of making this dream a reality; all have other very demanding jobs. The result is their upcoming first concert. It is an interesting historical survey of music from Claudio Monteverdi to Edgard Varese and Charles Ives with Richard Wagner and J.C. Bach thrown in for good measure.

To compliment this tantalizing night is a lecture-discussion component. In this case a conversation with Professor of Philosophy Kathleen Higgins (of the University of Texas )  with a concentration on music and the “philosophy of the emotions.” She offers her considered views on each of the musicians, the program and the historical context of the works as a survey of styles and musical thoughts in the western tradition.

Please take some time out Friday night at the Pearl Stables 7:30 pm Oct. 26th and you’ll hear some wonderful music. For a pre-concert peek, visit TPR.ORG to John Clare’s interview with conductor Carlos Izcaray who will lead the COSA orchestra and hear a complete interview with Kathleen Higgins.

- Ron Moore


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vivaldi’s Fanarce, A Revelation

Antonio Vivaldi and his titanic opera Fanarce, like George Frederich Handel and his many stage works are the product of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in the classical music repertory and performance practice over the last forty years. Beginning sometime in the late 1960's and early 70's a strange series or recordings began to appear. The music centered on the neglected works of Mozart (his then rarely heard Opera Seria’s); the unknown operatic world that Haydn cultivated in the little theatre at Eszterhaza and the works of the French and German baroque. The standard bearer and inspiration of this movement was Nikolaus Harnoncourt, his wife Alice plus a group of friends including Gustav Leonhardt , Franz Bruggen and Jaap Schorder. The tuning was odd, to ears modulated to equal temperament, the instruments sounded like something from another and very fascinating planet. Twenty years later many more groups had sprouted up all over Europe and America. By then these troupes began to tour widely after a generation of listeners had now absorbed their treasure trove of recordings. After recording the totality of Bach, and in the final and most extravagant gesture they began to present whole operas. Handel was the first to be completely reevaluated on the basis of works that had existed as only names in history - now refashioned as living things. There followed Rameau and Lully who arrived in New York with William Christie’s Les Arts Florrisants and finally, now Antonio Vivaldi and the much praised and little known Fanarce.

courtesy of Wikipedia

Like Handel before him Vivaldi is known almost exclusively as a composer of endless concerti, a series of deft sacred works and of course the Four Seasons. That he composed over forty known operas (he claims 90!) while also completing his more than 500 instrumental works has been little discussed and few of them heard.

The man known as a great violinist in his time, called ” the Red Priest”, sometime around 1727 began the first version of what is now considered perhaps his supreme masterwork for the stage, Farnace. The plot concerns a character taken up later by Mozart in Mitridate Re di Ponte. Fanarce. Son of King Mitridante rebels and briefly allies himself against his father and brother and sides with Pompey during the third Mithridatic War. Father and son battle over a women, split the kingdom and then reconcile. In Vivaldi the same character fights for his beloved wife (Tamiri)  after suggesting she commit suicide and murder their child rather than be taken prisoner. The plot is complicated by an implacable and bothersome mother-in-law, Berenice, Queen of Cappadocia. Moreover, two nobles vie for Tamiri’s affections, Aquilo and Gilade. Tamari must navigate these treacherous waters to save herself, her son and Kingdom, not lose her virtue and she hopes to even salvage her mad husband. Vivaldi worked and reworked the opera throughout the last years of his life. There are at least three extant versions written between 1727 and 1739. He was so proud of the result that he argued with theatre after theatre over its presentation, brooking no alteration. He claimed in one letter, like Mozart, that it was so well conceived that “Not a note could be cut, even with a knife.” Its incredible power and level of invention are presented in the first bravura aria:

                                              Benche vinto e sconfitto,

                                                Perfide stele, io son Farnace ancora.

                                        Though beaten and defeated,

                              Treacherous stars, I am still Farnace.

courtesy of Wikipedia

That he could write this single aria marks him as a master, what follows lifts him into the lofty company of Gluck, Handel, Rameau, Lully and early Mozart. What we have heard in the playfulness and virtuosity of the Four Seasons, the vocal agility and expressiveness of the Stabat Mater and Gloria and the lyrical tenderness of the Mandolin Concerto is now all combined and harnessed to a great dramatic idea. And although it continues in three acts and over three hours, he was right you can’t cut a note, even with a knife.

Hear the other side of Vivaldi this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and the only baroque opera of the season with Antonio Vivaldi’s Fanarce.  That’s here at noon on KPAC and KTXI.     

by Ron Moore

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Orquesta Tipica Sexteto de Diez

It would be well beyond facts to make the claim that every comedian is also inherently musical. However, I expect the exceptions would be a meager number when compared to those comedians who are, or in the case of comedians of yesterday, were endowed with significant musical abilities. Consider Steve Martin, today as much musician/banjo player as comedian. Even the recently departed Phyllis Diller played piano, apparently well enough in her younger years to consider a career in music. And what about Charlie Chaplin, who wrote music for his films?

This consideration of comedians as musicians is prompted by a postcard I recently pulled out of a box of Mexico memorabilia. It pictures a mural called "Comedians of the 20th Century." I'm not sure who painted the mural, but I believe it might be in San Miguel Allende. Pictured, from left to right: Will Rogers, Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Cantinflas, Rafael Mendez, Buster Keaton, and Laurel & Hardy. Conducting, of course, is Charlie Chaplin. I'm not sure who the harpist is, but perhaps it is Harpo Marx. There's plenty of detail here to keep one engaged for quite some time. I especially like the humor of the group's name: Orquesta Tipica Sexteto de Diez (Sextet of Ten).

It was no less than Charlie Chaplin who crowned the Mexican comedian Mario Moreno, better known throughout Latin America as Cantinflas, "the world's best comedian." I think the title of best "musical" comedian might have to go to Danny Kaye, but perhaps Cantinflas would have run a somewhat close second. The musical scene in the 1952 Cantinflas movie, "Si Yo Fuera Diputado (If I Were a Deputy)," is pure joy. Here we find Cantinflas slipping past security to get backstage at a concert hall. The police are in hot pursuit, eventually leaving Cantinflas no where to go except, unwittingly, onstage. He's trapped, with no choice but to conduct the concert.

Hope you enjoy this excerpt as much as I did.

James Baker - host and producer of Itinerarios: Music with Latin American Roots.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

COSA begins

Carlos Izcaray, courtesy of the artist
The Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio begins Friday night at Pearl Stables with a concert called The Perennial Contest. Classical Spotlight host John Clare posed these questions from conductor Carlos Izcaray.

1. What sort of questions come to mind as you think of this program, “The Perennial Contest”?
This is a very interesting question, and quite a first question to ask! In the most obvious sense, the perennial contest deals with the seemingly endless debate regarding the aesthetics of tonality and its relevance in today's classical music world, that contest which is majestically inscribed without words in Ives masterpiece The Unanswered Question. This opener also leads to our "time travel" program that expands through almost 5 centuries, which also gives a sense of perennial or everlasting. But as the question also relates to "what comes to mind", then from a personal perspective I also add the fact that the separate words, perennial and contest, represent whole worlds in themselves. Perennial in the philosophical sense as it can relate to the concept of philosophia perennis, a term linked with the underlying traditionalist school of thought (Guenon, Schuon, Coomaraswamy, Hossein Nasr), as well as the writings of more popular thinkers such as Huxley and Osho. Then there is the other word, Contest, which on one side symbolizes the ongoing debate of such principles with modernity, and on the other side the much related topic of tonality vs. atonality. In other words, I believe there are esoteric and exoteric philosophical components to the title of the program.

2. How exciting is it to lead the first concert of COSA?
I am extremely excited about this wonderful opportunity that I have been entrusted with. At my age I believe I'm experienced enough to see when a music organization has a fresh outlook on matters such as the important role of culture and the arts in society. Fortunately that's the case here. On more than one occasion, I've observed organizations that have sadly fallen in the "same old, same old" approach to their performances and overall identity, and then curiously enough they wonder why they go though such perils as chronic financial instability and cultural irrelevance. In my conversations with the leadership at COSA, though, I've found a vibrant and in-tune attitude to what this event means for such an important city as San Antonio. To add the fact that all of this is being accomplished within these uncertain times is nothing short of miraculous. These wonderful people have been working arduously for years to make this happen, so it's quite an honor for me to be given the opportunity to kindle what I hope will be a great road ahead.

3. Are there different approaches to the music of different ages (Ives to Monteverdi?!)?
In a way all music must be approached the same way, meaning the search for homogeneity in sound, intonation, balance, beauty and exalting expression. The search for the latter two - beauty & expression - diversify the approach on how to tackle certain passages in the music at hand. When one is asking oneself "how should I play this piece?", one strives to attain the most sincere result by absorbing as many historical, aesthetic, and philosophical elements as possible that would have led to the creation it in the first place. One wants to hear that the Muse sang within the psyche of the composer. In the end, though, the approach of trying to understand how and why a piece is performed is intrinsically the same.

4. The ensemble varies in size in these works, is it difficult to arrange rehearsal and timings for these varied works?
Many of the great conductors I've been fortunate to meet and work with have told me the same thing: "The easiest part about conducting is conducting!". This is obviously not meaning to say that conducting is actually easy, but since it's such a pleasure to experience it once one is on the podium, specially if one's passionate about the art, then other aspects such as logistics become a heavier challenge. In this case, we've had to think a little extra regarding time and space management, but fortunately nothing to stress too much about.

5. What’s the philosophical bent for the JC Bach symphony? Other than a friend of Mozart, I don’t see/hear the connection.
There is a huge and important connection between JC Bach and Mozart. On top of being a good friend to Mozart, he was also a great mentor to the younger genius. Bach's departure from the aesthetics ruling over his father's mostly God-inspired perfectionist and baroque style, lead him to a lighter approach that would lead toward the "Stile galante", the classical concerto, and of course, Opera. This would be a great influence on Mozart, both aesthetically and personally. You can also hear the beginnings of the Sonata form in this Sinfonia which is also basically a pre-Classical symphony without the corresponding 4th movement. Regarding the "genius potential" of composition, obviously Mozart is quite apart from JC Bach, but that could be said about Mozart vs. most other composers in history.

Friday, October 19, 2012

San Antonio International Piano Competition: LIVE!

Use this link to watch the San Antonio International Piano Competition, live this weekend from the campus of Trinity University:

Watch live streaming video from saipc at livestream.com