Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Identifying the Spies - James Baker

"They couldn't have been spies...Look what she did with the hydrangeas." Thus observed a neighbor of one of the recently accused Russian spies, disbelieving the veracity of the government accusations.

Back in 1981 I joined the Orquesta Filarmonica de la Ciudad de Mexico. It was a dream job: great salary, great orchestra and an extended tour of Europe on the near horizon. As it turned out, the tour failed to materialize and the salary toppled when the Mexican currency suffered a precipitous devaluation. However, the orchestra remained very good. It was a mix of fine Mexican players, very talented Americans, numerous other Latin Americans, a generous handful of skilled Polish musicians, and a group of 8 or 9 Russian players which was sponsored by the USSR.

One of the games back then was to watch the Russians, speculating on who might be headed toward defection and who might be the KGB agent. It was assumed there must be an agent, someone to keep the others toeing the line, and especially someone to insure the Estonian cellist didn’t stray. That cellist, Pieter, had let some of the Americans know that he was, in fact, looking to defect.

We Americans came into the orchestra with certain preconceptions about what a KGB agent looked like. Too many spy movies, I guess, or excessive hours leering over Spy vs Spy in Mad Magazine. Armed with this profile, we agreed that Oleg, one of the bass players, must surely be the spy. He looked like the KGB but was otherwise friendly and outgoing. In fact, all of the Russians were more or less friendly toward the Americans. This put us into somewhat of an awkward position. Many wanted to get to know the Estonian cellist a little better. It wasn’t that we had any means to help him defect, but still we were curious. However, if you invited one of the Russians for coffee, you invited all the Russians for coffee. And that’s what we did. They caravanned out to a little compound of duplexes where several Americans lived and we proceeded to enjoy coffee brewed Russian style (the ground coffee spooned directly into the cups of hot water and then allowed to settle) along with an attractive setting of Mexican pastries. There was somewhat the air of a chess match as we opened conversation, probed a middle game and eventually ended with a stalemate. It was a fine afternoon of détente.

From this afternoon and others like it (the Russians reciprocated by having several of the Americans to dinner at their apartment) we came to like each other while remaining convinced that good-natured Oleg was the KGB agent.

Amongst the Russians was a violinist said to have been a concertmaster at the Bolshoi. Boris was elderly and struck everyone as their surrogate grandfather. We all trusted this gentleman and admired him too. It was said he had climbed mountains in the Urals. He was quiet and noble but in the end turned out to be the KGB connection. Boy, were we surprised!

“He can’t be a spy….Just listen to how he plays the violin.”

By the time the Russians received their orders to return to Moscow, Boris had done his job well. Pieter had not defected, nor had any of the others stepped out of line. As for Oleg, spy or not, he made it back to Moscow with some great bowings for Moncayo’s Huapango.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

GTOC: 8 days a week

We managed to keep Monday going and going with a 5am wake up call in Hong Kong and most of arriving at 9:30pm in San Antonio Monday night! I pointed out to some students that our boarding pass for Japan was at 5:20pm Monday and that our boarding pass for Dallas was at 5:10pm Monday!!! No one thought Professor Dumbledore was involved with a time travel watch, but the weather once again, played a role for our trip...
In Hong Kong, groups B & C (the ones stranded in Tokyo on the trip starting off) got delayed an hour & a half. When we arrived, some got the rest of their boarding passes to San Antonio. (Unfortunately, not everyone did and would play a BIG role later!)
When we arrived in Dallas, lightning prevented our luggage from being unloaded and we waiting two hours...then we were told we could go on, and then that we couldn't. In the confusion between airline and customs some left without their luggage, and some were able to check through with the luggage arriving. Those without boarding passes however were stuck in Dallas.
The majority of YOSA students made it back Monday night and of this morning, just two students and Executive Director Steven Payne will come back this morning. Pictured are students on the fairly empty flight from Dallas to San Antonio.
Keep an eye out for more pictures and video of the #greattourofchina of YOSA and the adventures of host John Clare here on the KPAC blog and on facebook!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Classical Vuvuzela Revealed!

We knew it would be only a matter of time before the "classical" vuvuzela emerged from the jungle of World Cup mania. Can we be far from a Vuvuzela Orchestra? Hear the madness.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

GTOC: Hong Kong Concert

Here is YOSA with the Hong Kong Youth Symphony after Smetana's Moldau.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

GTOC: Hong Kong

Saturday was a great day for slowly getting back to a western style of and food! A morning with rain didn't allow us to go to Splendid China but instead one of the great malls for Shenzhen. (I wound up getting a suit tailor made!)
Next it was getting to Hong Kong via bus across a great bridge - but first Chinese Customs - while Hong Kong belongs to China now (since 1997) they do not enjoy free travel. We arrived and checked into our last hotel, the Empire Kowloon Hotel. The real catch was that between customs and traffic we did not eat lunch until very late and had scheduled more "western" food - PIZZA! for dinner. Seen left is "Erhu" bus.
Hong Kong definitely has a different feel than any other place we have visited - and certainly provides another urban look at China...the overall impression from this reporter is that commerce is above everything, all talk among locals seems to focus on money.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gone too soon, but oh what a ride!

Some of the most beautiful and moving funeral monuments of ancient Greece and Rome are for those who died young. Strong, tall and graceful if commemorating young men and poignant and beautiful if female. In a computer society we have other options when it comes to remembering those who, however filled with promise, are gone.

On the Piano this Sunday some recent releases featuring two pianists that
had it all and suddenly were gone. American William Kapell and Russian Youri Egorov. The Kapell recording comes from his last tour and you can hear an amazing rendition of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7. On the Piano this Sunday afternoon at 5 on KPAC and KTXI.

host, Randy Anderson

GTOC: Travel

Friday was full of transportation for YOSA in China. More rain greeted us but it was mostly viewed from boats, planes and buses!
We started in the romatic Hangzhou, and took a cruise around Westlake. Everyone seemed to enjoy the folklore and cool weather. Here is one of the chaperones, Julie, taking a Titanic moment on our ship.
We had a delightful lunch and made our way to the airport for a Chinese flight to Shenzhen. I can't say it was very different from a normal flight, and yet it was...not alot of communication and I heard a rumor that there was smoking on the flight from passengers (not in our group!) but all in all, the Boeing 737 on Xiamen Air was good.
(Pictured is Jacob on the flight line as we were boarding.)

After a lengthy bus ride, we made it to dinner and our at our hotel. Coming up are Hong Kong and our final concert on the tour - things we are really looking forward to experiencing!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

GTOC: Hangzhou

We're making our way across China with the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio & Music Director Troy Peters. Thursday we went from Shanghai to Hangzhou with a brief stop at the "Venice of China," Wuzhen. Here is Executive Director Steven Payne with Adam Paarmann before our tour in Wuzhen (everybody has been wondering where Adam is on facebook!)

We then had a nice visit from the students at Hangzhou Shangmao Vacation School (HSVS) who played several wind band selections. They made special preparations for YOSA's visit during their final testing period. Thank you so much!

Next was a rehearsal and concert, which all of the students from the HSVS came to...and loved it! Here is bassist Alejandro Juul getting mobbed for pictures and autographs!

Friday is another travel day, on to Shenzhen..

GTOC: Expo

YOSA performed two mini concerts (30 minutes each) Wednesday in Shanghai at EXPO 2010. Over 402,000 people were at the world fairgrounds and quite a few enjoyed hearing Prokofiev, Bizet and Gershwin by the San Antonio orchestra!
The day started very early and security was high. After the stage was set and a rehearsal, YOSA got VIP treatment at the USA pavilion. There they were greeted by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (on the video screens - gotcha!) and were delighted to find woodwind players on staff at the pavilion there!
Concerts took place at 11 and 12, and from there the group broke up into 3 groups - exploring Australia, Indonesia and Thailand. Then we were on our own for the day. I spent some time in Cuba enjoying the music and mood! Read about the student views online at the YOSA website and on facebook!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Wadenpfuhl Legacy: RIP Jay Wadenpfuhl (1950-2010)

It continues to baffle me when I hear the question: "How are we ever going to guide a younger audience to classical music?" The fact is, they are already out there, primed for classical music and, in many cases, for careers in music. For all the grumbling about there being no music in our public schools, band, orchestra and choral programs are alive and mostly well. We should all wake up to the fantastic job so many of our music educators are doing and say "thank you."

"Oh, those band kids are all just geeks who don't fit in elsewhere." That's one statement I heard recently. Many will also cast aspersions upon the music these youngsters are learning, especially those "geeky" band kids. Truth is, there is a lot of great music they are learning to play, much of it as closely related to "classical music" as the looney tunes and movie music we often cite as gateways to classical music. Not all of these kids will stick with their music educations, and most won't pursue anything in music beyond high school; however, these band, chorus and orchestra geeks will come away with an appreciation for great music. They will also pick up problem solving skills and discipline which will serve them well in their later lives as doctors, lawyers, teachers, public servants and th
e myriad other careers they will follow throughout their adult lives. Some of these kids will even become supporters of public radio.

Texas is blessed with some of the greatest music educators in the country. But the Wadenpfuhl Family is exceptional even by Texas standards. Karl Wadenpfuhl was born in Louisiana and educated at LSU, where he played trumpet in the ROTC Cadet Band. He would later switch to French horn when he joined the U.S. Army Air Force Field Band. Karl's early career as a music educator took him through several posts before arriving in Kirbyville, Texas in 1949. There he put down roots, started a family, and began to produce a long string of award-winning bands. He and his wife, Lottie, also began producing a family of musicians; all four of their children became musicians and music educators. In 1997, Karl Wadenpfuhl was inducted into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.

While in high school, I had the good fortune of advancing in my senior year to All-State Band. On the first morning of the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) convention, 16 of the best high school French horn players in the state sat in a semi-circle within a huge conference room at the Rice Hotel in Houston. The final audition which would determine our overall ranking began. I
knew I was somewhat out of my league when some of those kids began to play. In particular, there was a spectacular player from Beaumont who won the cherished first horn position. His name was Jay Wadenpfuhl, son of Karl and Lottie Wadenpfuhl. As the years rolled by and my music education took me to the University of Texas at Austin, I continued to see the name Wadenpfuhl at the All-State level. This was becoming a horn player dynasty.

In fact, both Jay and his brother Ken Wadenpfuhl went on to highly successful careers as orchestral players. Jay landed his "plum" job in 1981 when he won a position in the Boston Symphony. A recent inventory of the Wadenpfuhl family legacy reveals 10 horn players in just 3 generations. In addition, the family has produced 4 celebrated band directors.

My reasons for writing of the remarkable Wadenpfuhl Family are twofold. One is to demonstrate that there are indeed generations of music lovers flowing through our public schools, many touched by extraordinary teachers such as Karl Wadenpfuhl or, in my case, the Victoria High School band director Fred Junkin. These young people may not transition directly into San Antonio Symphony ticket holders, or members of KPAC, but many will eventually get there, thanks to their positive public school experience.

The second reason for introducing you to the Wadenpfuhls is somber. Although I never really knew Jay Wadenpfuhl beyond his bigger than life reputation (he called himself Tex on Facebook), I was nevertheless deeply saddened to learn of his passing this week, after an extended illness. He touched many with his gifts as a player, teacher and composer. May he Rest in Peace.

Frank Epstein, a longtime BSO colleague and chair of Brass and Percussion at the New England Conservatory, said this about Wadenpfuhl: “Jay, was a one of a kind personality, emotionally charged yet highly committed to all things musical. An unusual talent, he was a composer of brass music and loved to conduct pieces in the brass repertoire. His playing was elegant, stylistically fluent and secure, his tone beautifully centered at all times, while his playing was always musical with an extraordinary sense of good taste. He was also a committed teacher.”

Sadly, I must also report that within the past 6 months, both Karl and Lottie Wadenpfuhl also passed away. One is tempted to sum this up as the end of an era, except there are more Wadenpfuhl musicians just emerging from major music schools across the country. The spirit and the name live on.

Submitted by James Baker

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

GTOC: Food

One of the great things about visiting abroad is dining. It has been different to say the least, and ranged from incredible to very good. We've also had a chance to check out different flavors in Tokyo, Beijing and now, Shanghai.
Today's lunch menu wasn't too different from what we've enjoyed (usually a rice, noodle, soup, bok choy, watermelon and varying degrees of meat, pork, fish and chicken) but the presentation was a real delight. Here's the chicken (below left):

And our fish (seen right):
Today I also got to sample some soup dumplings with director Troy Peters and know that we will be eating them as often as possible!
Tomorrow (Wednesday) we'll be at the EXPO 2010 and looking forward to see what food will be around as we'll be there for lunch and dinner.

GTOC: Shanghai

A night on the train led us to Shanghai on Monday morning. Once off we were on the go to a musical instrument museum and a famous shopping area, Nanjing Road!
Here is a video of a big gong from the museum:

We then checked into the hotel and rested/washed up before dinner and the acrobats! Here is a great example of some of their feats:

Monday, June 21, 2010

GTOC: Great Wall

Sunday was a "great" day. Bags were packed and most of the morning was spent in anticipation of climbing/walking the Great Wall of China. We had to prepare for our overnight train trip - by removing liquids from our checked luggage and preparing an overnight bag carry on bag. (Yes, it is opposite for the train as it is a plane - liquids are allowed for train carry on.) After a ninety minute drive we arrived at the location where the eastern wall meets the western wall and one of the steepest sections open to the public. Several folks made the hike easily, and quickly to the top - others were satisfied with some shopping or taking a few small steps around grounds. I did a little bit of both, getting exercise and pictures, and then socialized with others. (Pictured left, look for the red tshirts in the crowd walking up - and a group photo on the YOSA blog)
After lunch we spent some time in an older neighborhood of Beijing and ended with an amzing dinner - everyone is still talking about it. The kids bought snacks at a grocery store and we headed off to the central train station for an overnight ride to Shanghai!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

GTOC: On the international stage

YOSA is currently in China, performing concerts and learning more about the culture. Over 12 days, the musicians will see 5 cities and perform music in different locales.
John Clare is with the group and has this update:

Saturday began with more exploring, including the Forbidden City. Throughout the day, kids were asked to pose for pictures, and also took pictures of themselves, family, sites and other interesting visitors (including soldiers on duty!)
Afterwards they rehearsed their program and then presented it at 2pm in the new national concert hall which holds about 5,000 people. (My guess is that it was 2/3rds full, although I heard it had sold out!)
Following the concert, there was a small reception and then an exchange with students of the National Conservatory. Folk melodies, as well as Paganini's Moses variations were played perfectly and quite touching by the young Chinese women. During one of the pieces, one of the YOSA members exclaimed "Awesome!" - and indeed it was an awesome performance!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nathan Cone Speaks with John Clare About China Trip

KPAC’s John Clare is traveling with the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio on their Great Tour of China.The group will be performing in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong while they learn about the history and culture of China first hand. Texas Public Radio's Nathan Cone spoke to John Clare on Friday about the loooong flight from Dallas to Tokyo, what YOSA will be performing in Beijing, and about the cultural exchange between the youth of San Antonio and China.

Hear the Interview: [mp3 file]

Record it again, Sam...

Recorded music has been around since 1877 and true to America's marketing genius we music lovers have been buying the same recordings again and again, the only difference being the format. 78 rpm, long play records, cassettes, El Cassettes, Reel to Reel tape, CDs and then super CDs with higher bit rates. On the Piano this Sunday the playing of Walter Gieseking in the cleanest sound yet. We hear him play Debussy's Suite Bergamasque and also a new recording of Schubert's mighty G major sonata with Seymour Lipkin.

The Piano this Sunday afternoon at 5 on KPAC & KTXI.

host Randy Anderson

GTOC: We're all in China

Well, it wasn't a slow boat, but our trip to China was delayed after weather in Beijing - and 2/3s of the group spent a night in Tokyo. Luckily we caught a morning flight and arrived this afternoon in China!
[odd side note - the Argentine National Basketball team was on our original flight on Thursday and would up on our flight today - they were very noticable in their VISA (c) sponsored sweats and quite friendly. We almost tried to get them to say something cool about the Spurs, and would holler Viva Argentina when we saw them in various places in the airport.]Arriving in China, we went to the Summer Palace. We was a real delight and quite historic. Everyone appreciated having some fresh air after riding on so many airplanes.
Here is a character we saw there, and took some photos with him. Note the camera he has. After we asked for photos with him, he asked to take photos of us!
We finally joined up with the first group who came on Tuesday, and had an amazing dinner with a grand finale of Peking Duck. We're at the hotel now and have a full day tomorrow that includes the Forbidden City and a concert at the new hall here in Beijing!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

GTOC: Delay!

Update! We have been delayed and the flight canceled due to weather. We will be in Tokyo for a bit. More to come - host John Clare embedded with the YOSA #greattourofchina.
*UPDATE - we are confirmed for a flight at 10:50am - no word on Great Wall, etc. But are at a hotel close to the airport.

GTOC: On the road

We've been to Dallas and are now at the Narika Airport in was a 12 hour flight and now have a layover before we go to Beijing.
Besides some shopping YOSA musicians are playing cards, and even practicing here at the gate.
Day one has been very good, and I think we're all looking forward to checking in to our hotel and for a big day ahead at the Great Wall.
Stay tuned for more updates of YOSA #greattourofchina!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

GTOC: szechuan beef, it's what's for dinner!

More from last night's farewell concert of YOSA and their #greattourofchina, the finale of Copland's Hoedown from Rodeo:
Watch for more details with host John Clare as he travels China with YOSA June 16th to 29th.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

GTOC: Rehearsal pictures

Troy Peters conducts the first rehearsal of YOSA's #greattourofchina program at Convenant Presbyterian Church. The farewell concert takes place Monday night.

GTOC: First Rehearsal

YOSA started rehearsing this morning for their #greattourofchina at Convenant Presbyterian Church. Troy Peters has selected a great program for the trip, here is a portion of the Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet suite:
They will also play some Latin selections, Chinese music and Smetana's Moldau.
Watch daily for updates from host John Clare who will accompany the group June 16-28.

Friday, June 11, 2010

On the Road with James Baker and Itinerarios

"Just across the street Mexico began. We looked with wonder. To our amazement, it looked exactly like Mexico." Thus wrote Jack Kerouac, seeing Mexico for the first time through the eyes of narrator Sal Paradise in the essential road novel On the Road.

My first Mexico road trip came in the early 70s, Spring Break from UT. I headed my naturally low riding Chevy Biscayne to the border, crossing at Reynosa. I intended to follow my nose, camping wherever I could pitch my one-man pup tent. This trip ignited a passion in me for Mexico, one which still burns white hot.

"Then we turned our faces to Mexico with bashfulness and wonder as those dozens of Mexican cats watched us from under their secret hatbrims in the night. Beyond were music and all-night restaurants with smoke pouring out of the door. 'Whee,' whispered Dean very softly." (On the Road, Jack Kerouac)

If you think you know Mexico from the border regions, think again. Although this is an important geography and culture - the border - it all changes within miles of the immigration station. The roads begin to wind through the countryside, expressing an abandon unknown in the world left behind. I headed my car in the direction of Monterrey, then further West, higher into the surrounding mountains. I camped at the end of a dirt road, listening to the sounds of a distant shepherd and his flock.

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac's On the Road characters, were seeing their slice of Mexico in the early 50s. The Pan-American Highway ran from Laredo to Monterrey, then South and East, unlike today's more common route which slices the Central Highlands through Matehuala (a great place to stop for the night), onward to San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, and Mexico City. That explains why Kerouac's characters found themselves passing through Montemorelos, Linares and Hidalgo, eventually stopping in Gregoria, a largely imagined town which was alive with music:

"Behind the bar was the proprietor, a young fellow who instantly ran out when we told him we wanted to hear mambo music and came back with a stack of records, mostly by Pérez-Prado, and put them on over the loudspeaker........In a few minutes half that portion of town was at the windows, watching the Americanos dance with the gals. They all stood, side by side with the cops, on the dirt sidewalk, leaning in with indifference and casualness. 'More Mambo Jambo,' 'Chattanooga de Mambo,' 'Mambo Numero Ocho' - all these tremendous numbers resounded and flared in the golden, mysterious afternoon like the sounds you expect to hear on the last day of the world and the Second Coming." (On the Road, Jack Kerouac)

Kerouac's journey to Mexico ended in Mexico City, the last of the road trips Sal Paradise would take with Dean Moriarty. My own road trip, the first one, ended in the mountains South of Monterrey when my gas tank snagged on logs across a small waterway. I looked back in the rear view mirror to see the tank rocking back and forth, back and forth. There was just enough gasoline in the fuel line to back up to the tank. Now the canyon came alive with Mexicans descending from the hills to watch the gringo on the edge of panic. They brought tools and offered advice as I managed to lift the tank back into place and secure it with the dangling straps. The crowd celebrated by jumping into my car for a joy ride, a ride which lasted until we encountered a bus going back to the hills from which the campesinos had descended.

"Adios!" they shouted. "Qué le vaya bien!"

This week, on Itinerarios, the mambos of Pérez-Prado will be found, played by the Mexico City based wind octet Sinfonietta Ventus. We will also hear a musical picture of another destination from On the Road, Pachuca de Soto. This week's program also takes us off road, to Lake Patzcuaro and the island Janitzio. Please join me as I share with you music from Mexico this Sunday evening at 7 o'clock, on KPAC-San Antonio and KTXI-Ingram. Not in the San Antonio area? Listen online at

James Baker, host and producer of Itinerarios

GTOC: Bonyage YOSA!

This Monday night, YOSA presents a Farewell concert on their way to China. Host John Clare will be embedded with the orchestra from June 16-28 and present reports onair and online! The first formal interview is with conductor Troy Peters, shot at the Alamo, about the concert and where they will be going in China:

GTOC: Troy Peters 1 from Classical Spotlight on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for more at and here on the KPAC blog!

Alpha & Omega

In the novel Steppenwolf the protagonist Harry Haller observes that Brahms and Wagner were seen as being as far apart in music as possible and yet in Hell they suffer for the same sin - over orchestration. Liszt and Brahms were both following the footsteps of Beethoven and they grew in totally different directions.

On the Piano this Sunday, Alpha and Omega, the music from different ends of the romantic spectrum. Hear the Piano at 5 this Sunday afternoon on KPAC & KTXI.

host Randy Anderson

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Behind the scenes

Host John Clare is pictured at the Alamo interviewing conductor Troy Peters for YOSA's Great Tour of China and their farewell concert coming up next Monday. Listen for the interview this Thursday on Classical Spotlight, and follow the tour online: TPR Classical Twitter
We'll also have live updates on air and more blog entries, as well as links to YOSA!

Schumann: 200 years

Today the world is celebrating a great composer, Robert Schumann, who was born exactly 200 years ago today. His music has inspired hundreds of artists and his music thrives today, and for the next 200 years we're sure!
This afternoon we'll play his Piano Quintet with the Amadeus Quartet and pianist Philippe Entremont. Check out the finale on this video:

You also might enjoy a Studio 360 portrait of Robert & Clara:
Listen here for two pieces, Florestan & Eusebius:

You see, these fictional figures Florestan and Eusebius, represent two contrasting sides of Schumann's personality. Florestan was impetuous, passionate, and forward-looking; Eusebius was a quiet, introspective, dreamer.
Musically and emotionally these two balanced ideas and themes, a sort of ying/yang.
We'll continue celebrating great music on KPAC & KTXI, still to come, the 100th birthday of William Schuman this August! (no relation to Robert, hahaha)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Entremont at 76

We wish pianist Philippe Entremont a happy 76th birthday today! He celebrated last year in Vienna:

Composing Thoughts Vienna from John Clare on Vimeo.

You can hear Philippe's artistry this afternoon playing Liszt on KPAC!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Brian Easdale, the Ondes Martenot, and The Red Shoes

The problem I have with film music as concert music is that they are for the most part incompatible. The best film music reinforces the action of the movie, sometimes so subtly that the viewer in the movie theater is unaware of the music. This is not to say the music is without value to the film. Take it away, and the experience of the film is diminished.

Pairing the right film, or film maker, to the right composer is almost as delicate a process as the marriage of composer and lyricist, or composer and librettist. Many a great composer has flopped miserably when engaged to score for the big screen. A great example would be Heitor Villa-Lobos. His composer credentials are absolutely in order, but Villa-Lobos never understood the role of music in the movie. Consider the film Green Mansions. Villa-Lobos either didn't understand or didn't care to understand the idea of film music as cues. He wrote in a broad sweep music which he intended to be heard. He simply would not rewrite the music to align with the frames of the movie and when others were brought in to do the hack work Villa-Lobos retreated, sorely disappointed with the experience. He reclaimed his music, restoring it into an extended concert form called Forests of the Amazon, and that is how the music survives today.

On the other hand, many composers work very well with film, understanding fully their music as underscore rather than the star of the movie. Bring this music to the concert hall and it is largely ineffective. Just listen to a soundtrack album to understand what I mean. Outside of the main title or occasional extended chase or love scene, the music is not allowed to say much of value. Take it away from the popcorn and milk duds and the music pales. This is why it is so extraordinary when film music does make the leap to the concert stage. In rare instances it can even make the transition without adaptation or rearrangement. However, the best of the best benefits greatly from adaptation into suites, thus allowing the music to rise and fall, soar and weep, without having to align to the despotic film frame.

Brian Easdale came to music as a "legitimate" composer, studying under Armstrong Gibbs and Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music. His earliest music was concert music. However, from the mid-30s onwards he was increasingly involved with film, writing for the GPO Film Unit - a division of the UK Postal Service. This would have been largely documentary film, allowing a much freer hand to the composer. During the years of World War II, Easdale was first assigned to The Royal Artillery, soon to be reposted to the Public Relations Film Unit, India. This is hardly the career path of today's film composers, but somewhat parallels the film period of American composers such as Virgil Thomson and others who worked on projects for the United States Resettlement Administration.

In 1948, Brian Easdale produced his most important film score for the movie The Red Shoes. This somewhat free adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story by the same name blossoms into a 17 minute dance section which, of course, allowed the composer to create music more akin to concert music than film music. Easdale did not waste the opportunity; the ballet music is one of the reasons Easdale's score won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, making him the first British composer to win the award. Contemporary accounts of the score describe it as modernist, though the most surprising "modern" moments are provided by Easdale's use of the instrument known as Ondes Martenot (French for Martenot waves - it was invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot). One of the earliest electronic instruments, the Ondes Martenot looks part mad inventor and part religious icon. The sound can be described as angelic or science fiction and there's little mistaking the sound when it emerges out of the orchestral soundscape.

Brian Easdale had one stipulation regarding his score for The Red Shoes. He asked that Sir Thomas Beecham be allowed to give an opinion on the score before submitting it. Thankfully, Sir Thomas liked the work and in fact volunteered to conduct the recording of the ballet segment. This brings us pretty much full circle in this brief discussion of composing music for film, for Thomas Beecham had little patience for the making of films. For this reason, he insisted the music be recorded first, leaving it to the dancers and the technicians to spot the frames to the music, rather than the other way round. One can almost hear Villa-Lobos complaining he should have had the same opportunity with Green Mansions.

submitted by James Baker

Friday, June 4, 2010

Honoring Lees

Benjamin Lees passed away last month at the age of 86. He was a well respected composer and musician published by Boosey & Hawkes and performed by the Tokyo & Cypress Quartets, Pinchas Zukerman, Pittsburgh & Dallas Symphonies just to name a few.

You can read a wonderful remembrance of Lees from the Cypress Quartet, who commissioned and are in the process of recording all of Lees' Quartets here on New Music Box.

John Clare spoke with Lees years ago for 20/20 Hearing, take a listen to their conversation here:
Part 1 [mp3 file]
Part 2 [mp3 file]

From a little acorn, a mighty oak grows...

Franz Schubert probably had no idea that a Piano Fantasie he composed for a pupil of Hummel would change the musical world but his "Wanderer Fantasie" did. Influencing Franz Liszt, who not only played this music and made it popular, but delved into this work and saw possibilities that Schubert never imagined. Liszt took to heart Schubert's intuitive genius, codified it and found a romantic work around to the aging Sonata form that had been the bread and butter of composers since the 17th century. This infuriated the conservatives and started a turf battle that lasted some 70 years.

Find out about the "Wonder of the Wanderer" on the Piano this Sunday afternoon at 5 on KPAC & KTXI.

host, Randy Anderson

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

SA Sym Season Finale

The San Antonio Symphony plays their season finale this weekend, take a look at the program with Christopher Seaman:

TPR's John Clare spoke with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and will have the interview on Classical Spotlight this Thursday afternoon at 2pm on KPAC & KTXI.