Friday, July 30, 2010

Selling Symphonies with Sex

NPR Music posted a story this week about an issue that's been ongoing for the past 20-plus years in classical music (and indeed, in all forms of music). That is, does being good-looking help album sales? Is it appropriate to exploit that aspect of a performer in the name of building a fan base? The responses from the musicians in the story are pretty typical, but I found the NPR users' public comments interesting.

Annie writes: I work in a music store, and the classical section is often difficult for non-listeners to browse. Regardless of how the record sounds, most covers look non-descript. People will pick up whatever catches their eye, and these covers do. Artists have to distinguish themselves to both their fans and the non-listening public, and I’m glad these women can do it though self-expression. Go get 'em ladies!

HW writes: Look, the music is a hundred years old or more, played and recorded by countless others. Yet, it endures just like and old story that one never tires of hearing. At least I don't. So what if they put on a new dust jacket. Is that so bad? Easy on the eyes, lovely on the ears. They are both emotive - as it should be.

Erin writes: In a lot of these photos [at the NPR site], the women are wearing nothing less (or more) than women throughout the centuries have worn in concert settings. And I know plenty of men who complain about not being able to wear less in a concert setting--those tuxes are hot!

What are your thoughts? And in the meantime, I'll go back to gazing at Anne-Sophie Mutter whilst listening to her recordings.

--Nathan Cone

The Cicadas are buzz'n....

The Sun is hot, bone warming and relaxing; Summertime brings all kinds of sensations with it. Those at extreme latitudes can't wait for the short growing season when producing and canning food for winter is so necessary. San Antonio does summer well, probably because we get so much practice at it. Some years the heat starts in February and lasts till Halloween. On the next Piano program music associated with heat, laziness and reflection.

Hear the Piano this Sunday afternoon at 5 on KPAC & KTXI

host, Randy Anderson

Friday, July 23, 2010

Only thirteen movements to go...

In a country that discovered attention deficient disorder, the idea of the concentration necessary to enjoy a three hour piano sonata is frankly, daunting. But Andrew Violette did it and this Sunday you can hear the concluding thirteen movements that take us through Rocket Dance and a second Colorfield and to send us into a blissful repose... four adagios, one after another to bring this mighty work to a close.

The Piano, hear it this Sunday a 5 on KPAC and KXTI.

host, Randy Anderson

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sigourney Weaver and Fantasia

This past weekend, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" opened to a disappointing boxoffice of $24.5 million. Maybe they should have used more brooms and Paul Dukas and less special FX.

Sigourney Weaver reflects on the use of classical music in "Fantasia" in this video from the American Film Institute.

And just for grins, here's a deleted scene from the original film, featuring music of Claude Debussy.

--Nathan Cone

Friday, July 16, 2010

Half way through our Journey....

A Piano Sonata can range anywhere from six to fifty minutes and to go beyond that is really stretching the envelope. Why would anyone write out a sonata that comes in just under three hours? Andrew Violette as a répétiteur spent hours at the piano playing for modern dance companies and it was there he learned to concentrate and develop the muscles and calluses necessary to play for extended periods of time.

One the Piano this Sunday part two of Andrew Violette's 7th Piano Sonata, with the composer at the keyboard we cover movements 7 through 13. Colorfield 1, the 11th movement is not to be missed!

The Piano this Sunday afternoon at 5 on KPAC and KTXI

host Randy Anderson

Thursday, July 15, 2010

CPMF: Young Artist Program perform

Enjoy this performance of Colin Sorgi's Velocity, tailor made for Cactus Pear Music Festival Young Artist Program, and winner of the inaugural Xtreme Competition.

The Cactus Pear Music Festival continues tonight and this weekend through July 18th. There's more online at

Here are the young musicians in rehearsal:

Why do you want to dance? Why do you want to live?

The Red Shoes, the rapturous 1948 British film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is being released next week on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection after a lengthy restoration.

The Red Shoes is not just a great backstage film, it’s about the burning hunger that great artists have within them to create. In fact, The Red Shoes even goes as far as to suggest that art is something worth dying for. In the freshly post-war England, this must have been a daring thematic choice. After all, citizens for years had been dying for crown and country, and now, for dance? But for the artists of The Red Shoes, dance they must.

The film’s origins go back as far as the early thirties, when the British producer and director Alexander Korda was considering a project based on the Ballet Russes. The character of Boris Lermontov, who proclaims that a dancer who relies on the comforts of human love will never be a great dancer, was based in part on the great Ballet Russe impresario Sergei Diaghalev. Diaghalev’s most famous star, Vaslav Nijinsky, was a troubled man that spent the latter part of his life in institutions.

In The Red Shoes, conflict arises when the young star played by Moira Shearer finds herself torn between Lermontov and her newfound love, composer Julian Craster, played by Marius Goring. Craster accuses Lermontov of being jealous of Victoria. And he is, but not in that way. She’s not in love with Lermontov, and neither is he with her, but both of them know greatness, what it takes to achieve it, and the alternative to feeding that artistic hunger—oblivion.

The centerpiece of the film is the "Red Shoes Ballet," ostensibly a stage production, but in the film, it’s a fifteen-minute sequence that draws upon the conventions and techniques of silent film to create something that could only be produced on the screen. Camera tricks, flashy cutting, and the placement of the frame on stage give the viewer the sense that we’re in the ballet, rather than watching it from seats in an auditorium. So effective was the sequence that dancer Gene Kelly had his colleagues watch it somewhere between fifteen and eighteen times while they were preparing An American in Paris a few years after this film’s release.

Moira Shearer is perfectly cast as Victoria Page. It was Powell and Pressburger’s decision that they find a real ballerina for the part, rather than an actress that would be doubled on stage by a dancer; it was their luck that Page was as splendid an actress as she was a dancer, and with her fiery red hair, a striking presence on screen. As Lermontov, Anton Walbrook creates and artistic dictator that actually demands sympathy and understanding for his point of view. Like the artists that work for him, Lermontov is driven to create.

Scoring the picture was Brian Easdale, who had worked with Powell and Pressburger before. Musically, Easdale recognized that the ballet, like popular taste, had not yet caught up with the modernism of mid-20th century classical music. There was no way this dark fairytale could be brought to life with Twelve-tone music! So Easdale created a romantic score fitting of the Red Shoes 19th century origins, but brought it into the 20th century with the use of the Ondes Martenot, a unique musical instrument with an eerie sound akin to the Theremin.

The Red Shoes was badly in need of restoration when in 2006, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Foundation were approached to work on the film. As Red Shoes enthusiast Martin Scorsese so clearly explains on the new DVD and Blu-ray of the film, The Red Shoes was one of the prime examples of the three-strip Technicolor process, which provided radiant hues on screen. But the original negatives were in poor condition, suffering from mold damage, dirt, and color problems. 579,000 frames of film were scanned and cleaned to create a new master print of The Red Shoes. Now, the movie is on DVD and high-definition Blu-ray for all to enjoy, and it looks and sounds spectacular. There’s a great demonstration on the disc of the restoration process, a documentary on the making of the film, behind the scenes photos, and a commentary track that includes interviews with the film’s stars, as well as with composer Brian Easdale and cinematographer Jack Cardiff, both of whom won Oscars for their work on The Red Shoes.

Martin Scorsese, a huge fan of The Red Shoes, says he’s seen the film countless times since he was a young boy of 7 or 8. It’s a good bet that if the DVD or Blu-ray finds its way to your shelf, you may find yourself returning it to it many times, too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

RIP, Charles Mackerras

Sad news of the passing of Sir Charles Mackerras from his family on July 14, 2010.

The American-born (of Australian parents) Australian conductor, (Alan) Charles (MacLaurin) Mackerras, was taken to Sydney, Australia, as an infant. He was born November 17, 1925 in Schenectady, New York, USA. Charles studied oboe, piano, and composition at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. Then he was principal oboist in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (1943-1946). Subsequently he went to London, where he joined the orchestra at Sadler's Wells and studied conducting with Michael Mudie. He won a British Council Scholarship in 1947, which enabled him to study conducting with Václav Talich at the Prague Academy of Music.

Returning to London in 1948, Charles Mackerras was an assistant conductor at Sadler's Wells until 1953. The he was engaged as principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra (1954-1956). Subsequently he appeared as a guest conductor with British orchestras, and also had engagements on the Continent. In 1963 he made his debut at London's Covent Garden conducting Shostakovich's Katerina Izmailova. From 1966 to 1970 he held the post of 1st conductor at the Hamburg State Opera. In 1970 he became music director at the Sadler's Wells Opera (renamed the English National Opera in 1974), a position he held until 1978. In October 1972 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York conducting Gluck's Orfeo et Euridice. From 1976 to 1979 he was chief guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London. After serving as chief conductor of the Sydney (Australia) Symphony Orchestra (1982-1985), he was artistic director of the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff (1987-1992). He was principal guest conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Glasgow (from 1992). In February 1993, Sir Charles was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and later conducted its first professional performance in the UK of the "original version" of Glagolitic Mass with the Brighton Festival Chorus at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1993 he was also appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the San Francisco Opera.

Charles Mackerras has distinguished himself as an opera conductor by championing the works of Janáček. He is a specialist in the Czech repertory, notably Janáček. He has also conducted operas by Georg Frideric Handel, Glück, and Johann Christian Bach. He likewise is a discriminating interpreter of the orchestral repertoire.

Charles Mackerras has undertaken a great deal of research into performance practice of the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the highlights of the 1991 season was the reopening of the Estates Theatre in Prague, scene of the original premiere of Don Giovanni, in which Sir Charles conducted a new production of that opera to mark the bicentenary of Mozart's death. He has recorded all the symphonies and serenades of Mozart with the Prague Chamber orchestra for Telarc, and since becoming Principal Guest Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra has recorded The Magic Flute, Cosi fan tutte, Le Nozze Di Figaro, and in 1999, a new performance of Abduction from the Seraglio, which, in a joint production with the BBC and Antelope Productions, was filmed on location at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The new recording is scheduled for release in June 2000.

Charles Mackerras has for many years been associated with the Royal Opera House and he returns to Covent Garden in 1999-2000 to conduct Romeo et Juliet and Martinu’s The Greek Passion. In addition to his many appearances with the San Francisco Opera, he conducts regularly at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, where his recent appearances include The Makropulos Case, Katya Kabanova, Die Zauberflöte, and Lucia di Lammermoor. He made one of his many visits to Australia last year to conduct Opera Australia in a new production of Jenufa. He also made his debut at the Salzburg Festival conducting hugely successful performances of Le Nozze di Figaro with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Charles Mackerras has recorded a cycle of his operas with the Vienna Philharmonic. His vast discography includes an award-winning cycle of Janáček operas with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana (awarded Gramophone Magazine’s Best Opera Recording for 1994), and Dvorak’s Rusalka with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Notable are his recent highly acclaimed recordings of the Brahms symphonies and serenades with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for Telarc.

Charles Mackerras was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974, and was knighted in 1979 for his services to music. At the end of 1996 he received the Medal of Merit from the Czech Republic, and last year he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. He is a DMus (hon) of the Universities of Hull, York, Nottingham, Brno in the Czech Republic, Griffith in Brisbane, Australia, and Oxford. Sir Charles celebrated his seventieth birthday in 1995 with gala concerts with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh, Welsh National Opera in Cardiff and with San Francisco Opera.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chamber Music America Live Chat

Join in Wednesday July 14th @ 12pm central for a social media live chat via Chamber Music America!

Round Top finale

The International Festival at Round Top finishes this Saturday - don't miss an amazing finale with James Dick and the orchestra in Chopin's First Piano Concerto and Schumann's last Symphony!
Last week, they featured Frank Ticheli's Clarinet Concerto with JoAnn Falletta and the's more from the composer:

Find out more about Round Top here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

GTOC: Journey's End

Here are some never seen before photos and video coverage of YOSA'a Great Tour of China:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

GTOC: Radio Special

Enjoy the hour long special of YOSA's #greattourofchina now as an mp3 download:
Part 1 MP3 file (40 minutes)
Part 2 MP3 file (15 minutes)
Part 3 MP3 file (5 minutes)
Recorded on location in Tokyo, Beijing, Shangai, Hangzhou and Hong Kong!

Friday, July 9, 2010

One step at a Time...

The Chinese have a saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I don't why this comes to my mind when I listen to the music of Andrew Violette, maybe it is the concept of thousands and thousands of notes adding up to something bigger - more grand. In talking to today's composers the topic of tunes come up. Pop music still has tunes that are beautiful and endlessly repeated. Classical composers know that with twelve notes to an octave there are limitations on what one can say. Leonard Bernstein said he knew too much music to be an effective composer, these four notes remind him of Beethoven or Copland and there goes the creative energy down someone else's path.

Today's composers work more in rhythm and density that, coupled with the twelve notes of an octave gives much more material to work with. On the Piano this Sunday an artist that couples all of what has been mentioned with ten powerful fingers, incredible energy and imagination and you have Andrew Violette's Piano Sonata No. 7. Spanning three CDs this music is the journey of thousands and thousands of notes, with a logic that is bracing. Like with many long trips we can't reach the end in one go so, this whale of a sonata will be presented in three sections every Sunday through the month of July.

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

host, Randy Anderson

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Musical Genius at Work

Surely one of the musical highlights in the history of the San Antonio Symphony occurred when Danny Kaye came in 1976 or 77 to give a benefit concert, the proceeds to be used to establish a retirement fund for the orchestra. From the first moment of the rehearsal, when Danny Kaye flung his baton over his shoulder, leaving the orchestra stunned with delight, to the time he pulled exactly the same stunt at the beginning of the concert (no one expected him to do it again), to the final downbeat, both the orchestra and the public were under his musical spell. What a delight! He was a true genius. And let's not overlook the genius of Louis Armstrong, either.

GTOC: Student video

The latest YOSA Great Tour of China video is from Robert Ortiz who not only edited his own video, but wrote the music for it too!

Be sure to tune in this Sunday at 2pm for the Great Tour of China radio hour on KPAC & KTXI.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

GTOC: More from Hangzhou

The orchestra had a great time in Hangzhou, where they were greeted by the local music school (left) and performed that night.

YOSA also went on a lake cruise of the area (right).

Here are two excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

You can hear a special on the #greattourofchina this Sunday at 2pm on KPAC & KTXI!

Monday, July 5, 2010

GTOC: By George

After spending 12 days abroad I imagine the Fourth of July might have felt differently to some of the YOSA Great Tour of China travellers.
For the Fourth, here is an excerpt of George Gershwin's Porgy & Bess Symphonic Suite:

Catch an hour of YOSA's travels with host John Clare this Sunday at two pm on KPAC & KTXI.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

GTOC: Meet the students

One of the things I like to mention about the YOSA Great Tour of China is all of the experiences the students had...perhaps the most priceless was interacting with other music students.
The kids had three chances to meet other musicians.
First in Beijing...

Then in Hangzhou...

and finally in Hong Kong...
We'll share more about the trip and YOSA this next Sunday, July 11th with an hour long special on KPAC & KTXI, and also update you on YOSA's string camp coming up later this week!

Friday, July 2, 2010

GTOC: Fab Finale

From their final concert in Hong Kong, here is YOSA and Troy Peters collaborating with the Hong Kong Youth Symphony in Smetana's Moldau:

Making the most of what we have...

"America" conjures up so many thoughts and emotions; to me it was the mostly British colonialists deciding that life could be better if a government was designed on a clean sheet of paper with the everyday citizens in mind first. As this country grew and prospered it had it's own artists, but for many years American art followed European trends and it took visitors to our land to discover that we had developed, almost without thinking; a voice of our own.
On the Piano this National Birthday, Music America Built.

The Piano Sunday afternoon at 5 on KPAC and KTXI.

host, Randy Anderson

Oh Say Can You See? - Conductors Beware (by James Baker)

Our National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, is a land mine for performers. We have all seen artists suffer with memory lapses, forgetting words, or failing the challenge of the song's melodic range of an octave and a fifth. "And the rockets' red glare," gets into a no man's land for many untrained singers, as does "O'er the land of the free" in the final phrase. Of course, this is also the moment the "virtuoso" lives for, both singers and trumpet players, as they improvise the "high C" moment which the public has come to expect.

It's funny, in a sense, that performers get away with these idiosyncrasies, while poor Igor Stravinsky was threatened with jail when he dared to meddle with some of the Banner's harmonies. A popular myth has it that Stravinsky was actually arrested for his un-American activity, but it is exactly that: a myth. Imagine if we round up everyone who recomposes the Anthem into 4/4 time, rather than the proper 3/4? There's actually an early publication of the sheet music which shows it in 6/4 time!

The Star-Spangled Banner presents further complications for conductors, or more commonly celebrity conductors who don't quite get the idea of "pickup notes", notes which anticipate the true downbeat on "say can you see". I remember one San Antonio mayor who turned the meter completely around when conducting the San Antonio Symphony during a telethon from North Star Mall. Thankfully, the Symphony was adept at playing with blinders on, totally ignoring the guest conductor while still managing to beam broad smiles for the television cameras.

The most amusing disaster took place just after Victor Alessandro retired from the post of Music Director of the San Antonio Symphony at the end of the 1975-76 season. Until then, it had been tradition for the Symphony to open every subscription concert with the Anthem. The snare drummer would preface the evening with a drum roll, the orchestra would rise, as would the audience, and Alessandro (or whomever else might be conducting) would lead the orchestra and the public in The Star-Spangled Banner. However, when Alessandro stepped down (he passed away soon afterward, in November of 1976), it was decided that The National Anthem would be part of the pomp of opening night, but would no longer open every formal concert. This might seem like a mostly innocuous change in procedure, marking the beginning of a new era for the San Antonio Symphony, and it might have gone little observed if not for some unfortunate programming.

Once Alessandro vacated the Music Director position, the orchestra launched the by now familiar "search" for a new conductor. Guest conductors were lined up, while Roger Melone, previously the Orchestra's Associate Conductor, was charged with presiding over what was hoped to be a smooth transition. The opening of the 1976-77 season was a smashing success. The Star-Spangled Banner was exactly where the public expected it, and the orchestra began to test its mettle in a post-Alessandro era. The second concert of the season brought to the podium the first of the lineup of guest conductors. His name escapes me, but he was an Italian American who brought a full head of steam onstage. He challenged the orchestra with a program which included Rossini's La Gazza Ladra. His tempi were brisk, forcing a change here and there in the orchestra seating such that younger players began immediately to emerge to the fore after many years of living in the shadow of some of the veterans. In particular, Associate Principal Horn Steve Kraemer took the first horn part on the Rossini. It's not an easy part, particularly if the tempo is brisk. Still, Steve was on top of the part. It wasn't an issue.

If anyone anticipated the fiasco which was about to unfold, they had kept their opinions to themselves. La Gazza Ladra was the opener on the program. The house lights dimmed. Julius Schulman, in his second season as Concertmaster, came onstage to tune the orchestra. Finally, the hot-blooded guest conductor came onstage to rapturous applause. The orchestra rose to greet the maestro. But then the orchestra seated itself again. For the astute in the audience, there might have been the realization that this was a change in protocol. Nevertheless, the orchestra settled and the maestro cued the first of the antiphonal snare drum rolls which open La Gazza Ladra. The air rustled noticeably in the auditorium, then called Theater for the Performing Arts. The conductor felt the air press against his back and heard the thump of hundreds of theater seats as the audience obediently rose. The conductor froze as the orchestra sensed immediately what was going down. Ein Musikalischer Spass, the musical joke, could not have been choreographed more perfectly. The awkward chill was broken as a voice in the audience, obviously more accustomed to hot dogs and a ball park, roared out: "Go ahead and play The National Anthem!" That was the final straw. By now the conductor had signaled the antiphonal drummers to suspend their drum rolls. Now he stormed from the podium.

They might as well have sold peanuts and cracker jacks, for the beginning of the concert was suspended indefinitely as the orchestra management pleaded with the conductor to go back out, to try again. Meanwhile, the audience finally settled back into its seats. A full 10 minutes must have elapsed before the conductor finally returned to begin anew his carefully calculated Rossini. Only by now, his blood was rushing. He had been bitterly wounded by the insult and it all came out in his tempo, a full 10 beats per minute faster than he had rehearsed. The orchestra struggled to keep up and poor Steve Kraemer fought through his devilish solo passage, a bit ragged around the edges.

The rest of the concert held fewer surprises, though I am sure the audience was buzzing through intermission, reflecting on the part they had played in one of the funniest unintended musical jokes ever perpetrated. It wouldn't be until Danny Kaye came to town a few months later that there would be such mayhem within the environ of the Theater for the Performing Arts, only then it was intentional. Let this be a lesson to all who are giving July 4th concerts across the nation. Don't forget The Star-Spangled Banner, in 3/4 time I hope. Then you can play La Gazza Ladra.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

GTOC: Hong Kong Concert

Enjoy two selections from YOSA on tour in China, from Hong Kong here is the Spring Festival Overture: mp3 file
and the combined orchestras of YOSA with the Hong Kong Youth Symphony in The Moldau: mp3 file
Both are conducted by Troy Peters.