Following up on my post, Jack Benny and the Violin, here are two more funny violin-centered comedy clips. First, Jack Benny demonstrates the subtle differences between a Stradivarius and an average violin:
Comedy aside, Strads really don’t play themselves. It takes time to learn exactly how to make these violins sing. Many violinists comment on the endless colors and expression they discover as they play these great instruments. I’m reminded of a story about Jascha Heifetz:
[quote]After one concert, a fan entered the dressing room to compliment the artist on his performance. She told Heifetz “what a beautiful tone” his violin had had that night. He turned around, bent over and put his ear close to the violin laying in the still open case and said, “I don’t hear anything”.[/quote]
This clip features Jack Benny with a young Dylana Jenson. Jenson went on to win the Silver Medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition. Her 1981 recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra is hailed as one of the finest interpretations of the piece.
Here is a great recording of a 13-year-old Jenson playing Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata. Listen to the second movement here.
Pablo de Sarasate’s violin showpieces evoke the sunny, exotic warmth of Spain. A violinist and composer, Sarasate (1844-1908) contributed greatly to the development of the violin. Here are a few legendary performances of his short, technically dazzling pieces.
We’ll start with a performance of Zapateado from Midori’s 1990 Carnegie Hall debut recital. I featured another piece from this recital in a past post. Zapato is the Spanish word for “shoe.” Zapateado is a dance which originated with native Mexicans and was discovered by Spanish explorers who brought it back to Europe. You’ll hear violinistic effects such as left hand pizzicato, up bow staccato and harmonics:
Here is a 1952 recording of Ruggiero Ricci playing Playera. He is accompanied on the piano by the legendary violinist and teacher, Louis Persinger. Listen to the persistent underlying dance rhythm and the seductive vocal quality of the violin line:
Sarasate’s most famous piece may be Zigeunerweisen, or “Gypsy Airs.” Here is a 1959 recording of Michael Rabin with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Felix Slatkin. Rabin’s life was cut short tragically, but his recordings cement his legacy as one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists:
[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Share your favorite recordings.[/typography]
Leave a comment in the thread below with your thoughts on these performances. Also, share your favorite Sarasate recordings. Which violinists do you particularly admire and why?
[quote]“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.” -Wolfgang von Goethe[/quote]
[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]A Living Room for the City[/typography]
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall, the gleaming, iconic home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, designed by Frank Gehry. The hall is more than a monument to a world class orchestra in the middle of a world class city. It’s a reminder that, like sports, music is a public, collective activity. It brings us together. In a city which hasn’t always been known for its great public spaces, Gehry wanted to create “a living room for the city.” He blurs the lines between architecture and sculpture, showing that buildings can curve, swoop and catch the changing light in exciting new ways. Disney Hall’s soaring “sails” are clad in sleek, shimmering titanium. Gehry used the same material for his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Inside, the audience surrounds the orchestra, creating a feeling of intimacy. Disney Hall captures the unique spirit of a maturing Los Angeles and conveys the message that symphonic music is essential, dynamic, democratic and anything but stuffy.
Frank Gehry talks with LA Phil CEO Deborah Borda here:
The Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrates the history and impact of Disney Hall here. To get the perspective of musicians in the orchestra read this interview. Also read this article from the Los Angeles Times and a story from NPR. Take a virtual tour here and learn more about the design from Frank Gehry.
For a live concert in Disney Hall, here is the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel:
Disney Hall isn’t the only architecturally daring concert hall to be built in recent years. The Kansas City Symphony got a new home when the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened in 2011. Situated on a prominent mound on the edge of downtown Kansas City, the building was designed by architect, Moshe Safdie. He talks about the building in this interview with the PBS Newshour:
[hr] [typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]What Makes a Concert Hall Great?[/typography]
In the end, the most important aspect of any concert hall is how it sounds. An acoustically good space allows the audience to hear each musical voice clearly, whether high or low. Patrons should be able to sit anywhere in the hall without encountering “dead” spots. It’s also important for musicians on stage to be able to hear each other clearly. A concert hall can change the way an orchestra plays. Musicians always listen to the sound as it reverberates and “play the hall” as if it’s another instrument. This video will give you an idea of how acoustic engineers were able to shape the sound of the Kauffman Center. A period of adjustment and “tuning” of a concert hall takes place over time as engineers hear the orchestra. Watch the first rehearsal of the Kansas City Symphony in the new hall.
Last March, cellist Lynn Harrell and a host of fellow all star musicians, including John Williams and Jessye Norman, released a special recording called We’ll Paint You a Rainbow. The recording raises money for the HEARTbeats Foundation, a project Harrell and his wife founded in 2010. The Foundation’s noble goal is to bring the transformative power of music to disadvantaged children throughout the world. The joyful reaction of these children in Nepal is a testament to the universal appeal of music and the value of the project. Check out Harrell’s account of the trip to Nepal here and read an article in this month’s Strings Magazine.
Here is an excerpt from the recording session featuring Harrell and soprano Christine Brewer performing Harold Arlen’s Over the Rainbow. Enjoy the music and consider supporting the HEARTbeats Foundation’s mission.
[button link=”http://www.heartbeatsforchildren.org/product/well-paint-you-a-rainbow/”]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Well-Paint-You-Rainbow/dp/B00F9QNWLO”]Find on Amazon[/button]
Here is the Overture to La forza del destino performed by Riccardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic. What moods and dramatic situations are suggested by the music? How does Verdi convey these emotions?
[quote]The greatness of Verdi is a simple thing. Solitary by nature, he found a way of speaking to limitless crowds, and his method was to sink himself completely into his characters. He never composed music for music’s sake; every phrase helps to tell a story. The most astounding scenes in his work are those in which all the voices come together in a visceral mass— like a human wave that could carry anything before it. The voices at the end of Simon Boccanegra, crying out in grief; the voices at the end of Un ballo, overcome by the spiritual magnificence of a dying man; and, of course, the voices of “Va pensiero,” remembering, in a unison line, the destruction of Jerusalem. In the modern world, we seldom find ourselves in the grip of a single emotion, and this is what Verdi restores to us— the sense of belonging. -Alex Ross, Listen to This[/quote]
Here is a great performance of Verdi’s Requiem by Semyon Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Riccardo Muti has some interesting things to say about this piece here.
What is it about the greatest music that keeps us coming back? Mozart’s music, written in an era of powdered wigs and aristocracy, speaks to us as powerfully today as when it was written over 250 years ago. It embodies a universal reality which transcends fashion and style. Meanwhile, Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), a respected contemporary of Mozart, is now little more than a historical curiosity.
You may remember this scene from the 1984 movie, Amadeus in which Salieri laments his mediocrity when compared to Mozart’s genius. Along the way to the film’s powerful and thought provoking themes, the real Salieri gets a bum rap. In reality Salieri represents most of us. He never poisoned Mozart. He was actually an excellent composer, firmly in control of his craft. Towards the end of his life he taught several young students whose names you might recognize: Beethoven, Liszt and Schubert. But where Salieri’s music ended in good craftsmanship, Mozart’s continued with that extra “something” which is hard to define…perfection and inspiration on a different level. Its source is a mystery. Mozart was able to tap into the highest level of “hearing.”
Consider Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Picasso and Einstein and you find the same level of inspiration at work. “God is in the details.” said the great twentieth century architect, Mies van der Rohe. As an architecture buff, I was fascinated to discover that Mies, who designed New York’s famous Seagram Building, elevated something as mundane and utilitarian as a gas station to high art. Can you identify what sets this gas station apart from millions of others? Is it the materials and sense of proportion?
Gas stations aside, let’s listen to two piano concertos, one by Salieri and the other by Mozart. Here is Salieri’s highly enjoyable Piano Concerto in C Major performed by Heeguin Kim and the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra. There are three movements: Allegro Maestoso, Larghetto (8:51) and Andatino (15:58).
Now, here is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414. The performance is by Murray Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra.The movements are Allegro, Andante (10:31) and Allegretto (18:50):
Think about what you just heard. What makes Mozart’s concerto so extraordinary? What sets it apart from the Salieri? Share your thoughts in the thread below. Also, what music from our time do you think will endure? Don’t worry too much about the last question because it’s almost impossible to know how music will withstand the test of time. At one time J.S. Bach’s music was considered outdated and only useful as a source of study.
As musicians we’re challenged to open up our ears and imaginations, “hear” the music as clearly as Mozart did and let the musical vision come to life. It’s a nearly impossible task, but one we must strive to fulfill every day.
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mozart-the-piano-concertos/id394314313″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Mozart-Piano-Concertos-Nos-And/dp/B000QQUZTE”]Find on Amazon[/button]
As an alumnus of the Eastman School of Music, I was saddened to hear that Eastman’s Dean Emeritus, Douglas Lowry passed away yesterday. I never met Lowry, but I knew that he was a respected composer. He served as Dean from 2007 up until last week and presided over several significant building projects at Eastman. These included a renovated Eastman Theatre and a brand new wing containing a state of the art recital hall.
You can read more about Lowry’s life and legacy here and here.
Lowry shared some inside Eastman jokes in his 2013 Eastman Commencement Address. He also had some inspiring thoughts regarding how musicians should approach life after conservatory training: