Music + Culture

 

In 2005, the film Brokeback Mountain broke ground as a major motion picture portraying a love story about two men: a pair of young cowboys, Ennis and Jack, in the 1960s. They fall in love during a summer spent tending sheep in the isolation of a fictional mountain in Wyoming. They spend the rest of the film — and their lives — grappling with a love that they have to keep secret. The film was based on a short story by Annie Proulx, and now it's been turned into an opera by the Pulitizer Prize...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86ukcgSnME0 The enduring power of Beethoven 's Ninth Symphony is undeniable. It's been the soundtrack for everything from the Tiananmen Square protests to the opening of the Berlin Wall. Musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) recently used this very famous music for a more localized purpose, infusing some delight into the often-dreary experience of spending a winter afternoon at a big-box store. Amidst the rows of Expedit shelving and with the mixed...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aJF5uoU7fI "New classical music is well and alive," Brad Wells, director of the vocal collective Roomful of Teeth , said yesterday as he accepted his Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. It was a comment that echoed throughout the classical Grammy awards, handed out at the pre-telecast ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Twenty minutes earlier, Wells' ensemble had performed a section of Partita for 8 Voices by...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXNhfEhzMgc This year at the Grammy Awards, Lifetime Achievement awards are going to bands like The Beatles and The Isley Brothers — long overdue, you could say. But they look like young punks next to another Lifetime Achievement recipient: Maud Powell. Powell was born in Illinois in 1867. She picked up the violin as a young child and really never put it down. At the turn of the 20th century, classical music in America was scoffed at by Europeans. But Powell...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEhr_3E3XEA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpdvoMFSqKY On Sunday, U.S. Downton Abbey fans were served a double dose of divas — one from the present and one from the distant past. Viewers may have recognized Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the creamy-voiced soprano whose radiant beauty graced the world's top opera houses from the 1970s through '90s. But far fewer probably know about Dame Nellie Melba, the Australian-born superstar Te Kanawa portrayed in the episode. Even...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XpHQ45RZhM Claudio Abbado, one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation, died Monday in Bologna, Italy, at age 80. His death was announced by a spokesperson for Bologna's mayor, saying that it followed an unspecified long illness. Abbado had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000; following surgery for that illness, he was transformed into a hauntingly gaunt figure. Over the course of Abbado's career, he led several of the world's most revered...

Odd musical mergers in the Grammy Awards telecast are nothing new — remember Paul McCartney, Linkin Park and Jay-Z singing "Yesterday?" Still, when thrash metal band Metallica and classical pianist Lang Lang take the stage together Sunday night, it may seem more like a head-scratcher than a clever match. Or will it? Metallica traffics in scorching guitar solos over drum detonations. But in 1999, metal mingled with Mozart when the band released an album with the San Francisco Symphony. As for...

She's probably not among your first, or second, or 10th, or 20th-round guesses, but the NFL just announced that American soprano Renee Fleming will sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2. Fleming is the first-ever opera singer to be given the honor. The winner of four Grammy Awards and the National Medal of Arts, Fleming has tried to cultivate an image of being an eminently approachable personality, much like Beverly Sills was for another generation; for years, her press...

Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz , who at age 20 swept all five top prizes at the 2005 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, can now add another prestigious award to his collection. Early Wednesday, Blechacz was named the 2014 Gilmore Artist. The Gilmore may not have quite the name recognition as the Chopin Competition, but it has a distinguished cachet of its own, plus a generous $300,000 cash award. Actually, the Gilmore isn't a competition. Named for a Kalamazoo, Mich. businessman and...

From The Top Auditions Due

Jan 7, 2014

Young classical musicans: send in your audition tape now ! Submissions are due at the end of the month. Northwest Public Radio is seeking applications from young musicians across the region to be on the April 24 show, at the Rialto Theater in Tacoma, sponsored in part by Ted Brown Music and the Broadway Center For The Performing Arts . Musicians are eligible if they are between the ages of 8–18 and have not enrolled in a college or conservatory. They should also live in, or have a significant...

A case stirring intense outrage in the classical music community and starting to gain steam in the mainstream press is getting more mysterious by the day. On New Year's Eve, the popular classical music blog Slipped Disc, written by London-based Norman Lebrecht, published a story with an incendiary headline primed to garner fury from musicians and everyday travelers alike: "Outrage at JFK as Customs men smash a musician's instruments." The details Lebrecht recounted were sketchy (and many of...

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That could be the annual mantra for the classical music world. It has been predicted to crumble for decades, just as optimists continue to point to positive trends. This year is no different. Despite two ugly black eyes — the death of the New York City Opera and the continuing, bitter stalemate between the Minnesota Orchestra's (locked out) musicians and management — terrific music is being made by marvelous artists. Here we offer a short...

As The Year Closes, A Concert Hall Remains Empty

Dec 28, 2013

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9TZjLjE47w Three hundred sixty-five. That's the number of days the Minnesota Orchestra will have gone without playing in its concert hall in 2013. The orchestra became the unwitting poster child for labor strife in the classical music world — and, to some extent, an emblem of the problems facing non-profit arts institutions across the country. In October, conductor Osmo Vänskä led the locked-out musicians one last time, just days after he'd resigned as music...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sBvZh_GI9A One of the world's oldest and most iconic piano makers, Pleyel, will close its factory doors in Paris at the end of 2013. The French press characterized the bankruptcy as inevitable in the face of cheaper competition from China. But many disagree: They say Pleyel could have survived by adapting better to the times. In his piano store, Bruno Canac, a former piano maker, tickles the ivories of a Pleyel piano conceived in the 1920s, when the company was...

Since 1973, the four-man vocal chamber group The Hilliard Ensemble has been breathing new life into the sounds of the Renaissance. Now that they've reached their 40-year anniversary, the members have decided to call it a day. Fresh off the new album Il Cor Tristo , the Hilliards will spend 2014 celebrating their long tenure with one last world tour. Then, a year from now, it's all over. Only one man has been with The Hilliard Ensemble this entire time: counter-tenor David James. In an...

The relationship between a teacher and a student can be transformative. It's a particularly important relationship in classical music. A teacher is part mentor, part manager — even a parental figure. Recently, I had the unique opportunity to sit down with two piano greats who bring a special dynamic to this conversation: pianists Gary Graffman and Lang Lang . This occasion marked the first time this teacher and former student have sat down together this way to talk about their work and each...

For 160 years, the pianos made by Steinway & Sons have been considered the finest in the world. So when hedge fund billionaire John Paulson recently bought the company, it struck fear in the hearts of musicians: Would the famously handcrafted pianos be changed, for the sake of efficiency? Paulson, who owns several Steinways himself, says nothing will change. Great pianists need great pianos. Vladimir Horowitz , the famous Russian pianist, used to travel with his own personal Steinway when he...

Add one of Northwest Public Radio’s favorite recipes to your holiday baking and entertaining traditions. Here are recipes Gillian Coldsnow, Robin Rilette, Thom Kokenge and the rest of us suggest for celebrating the season. Cheesecake Bars
Contributed by Kerry & Lisa Swanson

Prep: 20 mins | Cook: 40 mins | Ready: 1 hour
Ingredients:
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

Sergei Rachmaninov 's Piano Concerto No. 3 — "Rach 3," as fans fondly call it — is one of the most famously difficult pieces of music there is. The sheet music goes on and on, with notes so dense the pages start to look like modern art. The piece is so challenging that some noted pianists have declined to perform it — but Yuja Wang has recorded it for her newest album. The 26-year-old, Chinese-born pianist says there's something about the Rach 3 that reminds her of legendary improvisational...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JafpIyzXtfw On Guarding of the Heart , an evocative 20-minute piece for chamber orchestra by Serbian-born composer Djuro Zivkovic has been named the winner of the 2014 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. The prize, which includes $100,000, was announced this evening by the University of Louisville, which sponsors the prestigious award. Former winners include Esa-Pekka Salonen , John Adams , Pierre Boulez and Louis Andriessen . Zivkovic, who is also active as...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv3py3Ap8_Y The man who painted the Mona Lisa, and was the first to sketch out the helicopter and the submarine, also dabbled in music. So here's the question: What musical instrument did Leonardo da Vinci design? There isn't an easy answer. His 15th-century sketches indicate something between a harpsichord and a cello, where spinning wheels of horsehair run along the strings. He named it the "viola organista." Leonardo never did build the instrument. Others...

With the holidays upon us, our friends at member station WQXR invited me along with Washington Post chief classical critic Anne Midgette and Sony Masterworks producer Steven Epstein, the winner of 17 Grammy Awards, to sit down with host Naomi Lewin for a Conducting Business podcast on the topic. (Never mind the fact that all four of us, to one extent or other, are celebrating Thanksgivukkah this year, with a couple of Christmases thrown in as well.) You don't have to celebrate Christmas,...

As JFK Died In Dallas, Music Was Born In Boston

Nov 26, 2013

Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it's still shocking to hear Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Erich Leinsdorf announce the horrific news to a stunned audience. In a story originally reported for Time by former Gramophone editor James Inverne, BSO librarian William Shisler recalls the welter of emotions in the moment. Shisler rushed from the orchestra's library with the parts to Beethoven 's "Eroica" Symphony and distributed them to the musicians, so...

There's a beguiling photo of Krzysztof Penderecki , who turns 80 today, inside the brochure of this week's Warsaw music festival that bears his name. It shows the lauded Polish composer standing in his immense garden, surrounded by a labyrinth of trees and shrubbery trimmed to symmetrical perfection. In a way, it's emblematic of Penderecki's music: naturally vibrant, sensual and with a very personal sense of architecture. If you simplified the last 100 years of music as a war between the...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMRmV1Sj6j4 The Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki turned 80 on Saturday. You may think you've never heard Penderecki's music, but I'm guessing you have — because I'm guessing you've seen The Shining. Listen closely to parts of Utrenja or Polymorphia and you'll have a hard time not picturing Jack Nicholson's menacing figure. Kubrick's movie terrified me as a kid. I assumed the scary music had been composed specifically for the film — so, as a teenager, I was...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVNKNz-lc6k One of the most moving documents to emerge from the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination is a radio broadcast. It's WGBH's audio of what was supposed to be just another Friday afternoon concert given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra — which turned into an eloquent elegy for JFK. James Inverne, former European performing arts correspondent for Time magazine (and my former boss at Gramophone magazine, where he was editor and I...

I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to composer anniversaries but this year, marking 100 years since the birth of Benjamin Britten , has been absolutely fascinating for me. I am now living proof that such centenaries can indeed change the way we look at a composer and provide us with opportunities to explore their breadth and depth. In Britten I have found a new hero, a musically surprising and multi-dimensional citizen of the world. Discovering Britten through his monumental War Requiem has...

Composer Benjamin Britten was born 100 years ago today, and the occasion is being marked by performances of his music around the world, from Carnegie Hall in New York to Memorial Hall in Tokyo. Britten was a central figure of 20th-century classical music: He was a conductor, pianist and festival producer, as well as a composer. His best-known works include the opera Billy Budd , his War Requiem and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra . Britten skyrocketed to fame after the premiere of...

British composer Benjamin Britten was born 100 years ago this Friday, Nov. 22. Before you ask "Benja-who?" consider this: Did you see Wes Anderson's film Moonrise Kingdom last summer, or Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her back a decade or so ago? (Well, maybe you have to be an art-house denizen for those. But Moonrise Kingdom was more or less built around Britten's music.) Then you've already heard his music. Or, when you were a child, did your teachers or parents ever put The Young Person's Guide...

In the classical music world right now, many eyes are focused on Jeremy Denk . The 43-year-old pianist was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant in September, his new album of Bach 's Goldberg Variations is pleasing critics and this week he played Mozart brilliantly at Carnegie Hall with the San Francisco Symphony. Denk is also attracting fans beyond classical music. His reputation as a writer, with his disarming mix of thoughtfulness and wit, is growing in articles he's written for the New...

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