Thursday, August 14

A to Z - Quartet and QuintetWhen you say Quartet or Quintet in classical music, you have to be a bit more specific. The most frequent instrumentation for four players in a chamber music setting is probably a string quartet - with a pair of violins, a viola, and a cello. It's a natural combination, because each instrument has a tone that's similar, but the ranges of each allow for the highest highs and lowest lows. It starts getting a bit more complicated when you talk about quintets... 



There are quintets that feature another solo instrument, like piano, or flute, but those really are more like scaled-down concertos, with a quartet sitting in place of the orchestra. When composers keep within one section, they can choose to add another violin, or, as Mozart popularized, another viola: 



Or do as Schubert did in his Quintet D.956 - and have a second cello:



You can also add a double bass to the usual quartet to strengthen its lower register. 

Brass ensembles tend to be made up of five players, as a rule - although it can vary whether they play trumpets or cornets for the top two parts, and flugelhorn, euphonium, French horn and trombone can all be found in the middle - with bass trombone, or most frequently, a tuba providing the support on the bottom. But although each has a slightly different sound, they're all essentially variations within the same brass family. The woodwind quintet, on the other hand, celebrates the differences in its instruments. As seen in the video below of Carl Nielsen's Wind Quintet: the flute, which is made of wood or metal and blown across a mouthpiece, the two double-reeds oboe and bassoon with a French horn between - not a woodwind at all, and the single-reed clarinet. Together, despite their differences, they make up a miniature wind section, and blend beautifully, while each line keeps its distinctive timbre:

Wednesday, August 13

Old World MapThis is the time of year when a lot of people are finishing up their summer vacations... If you're in the mood to travel, but can't actually hit the road, here's a whirlwind globe-trotting exercise. Can you name the geographically-themed pieces that are mashed together?  There are eleven pieces and thirteen locations, since two of the works are doing double duty.  
 


(To see the answers, click and drag over the blank space below!)
  1. George Gershwin: An American in Paris
  2. Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras
  3. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Souvenir of Florence
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven: "Turkish March" from The Ruins of Athens
  5. Camille Saint-Saens: Africa, Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
  6. Jean-Baptiste Arban: Variations on Carnival of Venice
  7. Max Bruch: Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46
  8. Aaron Copland: El Salon Mexico
  9. George Enescu: Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1
  10. Leonard Bernstein: "America" from West Side Story
  11. Xian Xinghai: Yellow River Piano Concerto

Friday, August 8

CATcertoOne of the more memorable YouTube clips that blends the world of classical music with the always-popular-on-the-internet genre of cat videos is a work called Catcerto, inspired by, and featuring a feline soloist, playing with a chamber orchestra.



The work is by Lithuanian composer Mindaugas Piečaitis, who was inspired to orchestrate the random (but gentle) pawings of 'Nora, the Piano Cat' from an uploaded video, giving them harmonic context and structure. The piece has received several live performances, accompanied (on video) by a patient Nora.

She became an internet celebrity, with her own webpage and was named "Cat of the Year" in 2009 by the ASPCA.



Here are the composer and soloist: Mindaugas Piecaitis and Nora the Piano Cat (with an unidentified feline fan).

Mindaugas Piecaitis and Nora

Thursday, August 7

Lute, Lachrimae and LamentGet out your handkerchiefs... Today's "A to Z" edition of The State of the Arts sheds a tear or two for the letter L... which stands this time for Lute, Lachrimae, and Lament. John Dowland turned a melancholy lute solo into a bit of a franchise, as Lachrimae became "Flow My Tears" and then a set of Pavans, all based on the same melody and weeping gesture. Plus "Dido's Lament", the hauntingly beautiful, sorrowful aria sung in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.
 

John Dowland's Lachrimae theme took many forms - along with the song "Flow My Tears", it became so popular that musicians would improvise on the theme as jazz players might on a 12-bar blues, or pop standard. Here's the way the song first sounded, as a lute solo:



And here it is as "Flow My Tears": 



Finally, a heart-rending version of "Dido's Lament", as sung by Jessye Norman: 

Wednesday, August 6

Music in the VineyardsThis is the 20th anniversary season for Music in the Vineyards, and to celebrate, Michael Adams, who co-founded the festival with his wife Daria, says they've planned a suitably huge celebration. The concerts began on the first of August, and this year will run until the 24th, with more than 40 musicians playing concerts at 18 Napa Valley wineries. They've got special guests and one jam-packed weekend they're calling 'Three By Three'.



You can find out more about all of the festival's programming at the Music in the Vineyards website.

Dawn Upshaw and Maria Schneider"Our big 'get' this year was soprano Dawn Upshaw," Michael Adams says, "who's coming in to sing some selections from the piece that was on the CD that won the Grammy for Best New Classical Composition this year." That CD, called Winter Morning Walks, had works by composer Maria Schneider, with the title piece played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories, played by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, where Daria Adams is a violinist. "And in recording the piece, my wife got this inspiration that given how the piece was orchestrated, she thought it would make a better, more intimate piece for a sextet of players and soprano. So Maria Schneider said, 'Sure, I'd be into trying that!'" Upshaw will sing the world premiere of the chamber arrangement of some of the pieces this Saturday night at Silverado Vineyards.

The 'Three By Three' concept for the weekend of the 15th through 17th of August means that they'll have three concerts instead of one each night, at three separate locations. Repeating programs allowed Adams to choose smaller venues: "We usually try to play halls that will hold 150 and above, and usually below 300. This time we're going for a little more intimate feel: some of the places will hold fifty to 120. So that's going to be a different experience, cause people will be right up on top of the musicians and very close to the action."
 

Friday, August 1

International Russian Choral Music FestivalBeginning this Sunday, the chorus called Slavyanka will host a week-long International Russian Choral Music Festival, which is the first of its kind on the West Coast. Irina Shachneva is the Artistic Director for Slavyanka, and was involved in the two Boston festivals that this one is modeled after. The aim is to celebrate the music, bring singers together, and will include concerts as well as workshops and presentations.



There's more information at the Russian Music Festival website, and more about Slavyanka here.

The choral tradition of Russia differs from that of Europe - which is one of the reasons people don't know as much about it. "In Europe, since the Renaissance," Irina Shachneva says, "the music spread out of the Church of the middle ages, an it was developed into a lot of instrumental music, different kinds of cantatas and Masses, and secular and sacred music. It was not the same in Russia. In Russia, the music has been folk music or liturgical music." And although it influenced the composers we know for their orchestral writing: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, that influence isn't overt and widely known in the West other than in Rachmaninoff's Vespers.

Slavyanka began in 1979, named after the Russian name for what we now call the Russian River near Fort Ross. Founding Director Paul Andrews had sung with the Yale Russian Chorus (Alumni singers from that group will be among the ensembles participating in this week's Festival). He says: "There's so much depth in Russian music that we don't find in so much Western music. It's very different and wonderful that way." He also applauds the leadership of Shachneva. "Irina is taking us to a whole new level of what we've been doing before. And a whole different level for Russian music in the Bay Area, frankly. For choral music, this is going to be a wonderful kind of gathering of all that energy, we hope."

Thursday, July 31

Milos KaradaglicGuitarist Miloš Karadaglić plays at the Bing Concert Hall for the first time next week, wrapping up the Stanford Live summer concert series with a solo recital. He's also got a recent CD called Aranjuez, with music by two of the great master composers for his instrument: Joaquin Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla. 



There's more information about the concert at the Stanford Live website, and about the disc at Miloš's website.

The importance of Rodrigo to the classical guitar repertoire can't be denied - "He wrote the most recognizable piece of guitar music in the world," Miloš says. "And he wrote a lot of other pieces like the Invocation and Dance (which is on the record), and a lot of other solo pieces and a few other oncertos... But he, with the Concerto put the guitar on the map, and made it stronger, and made it more proud next to other instruments on the international concert platform." The Concierto de Aranjuez, with the rhythmic flourishes of its opening movement, and melancholy adagio are instantly recognizable, and sound like they fit the instrument perfectly. But in fact, Rodrigo was a pianist, and as Karadaglić explains, "that's why he famously writes things which are almost impossible on the guitar. But at the same time, he keeps the sound of the guitar so perfectly, and so naturally that it feels like he was a fluid guitarist himself."

Wednesday, July 30

Lake Tahoe SummerfestThe three-weekend Lake Tahoe Summerfest begins its third season this Friday night, with a program of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Britten, with guest soloist, tenor Matthew Polenzani. Leading them is Artistic Director Joel Revzen, who conducts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (where 17 of the 40 orchestra members play). The festival will also feature pianist Simone Dinnerstein during its second week.



There's more information at the Lake Tahoe Summerfest website.

Joel Revzen says the orchestra's players have been so impressed with the experience of the festival that practically all of them have returned each of the three years - and that he's frequently asked by members of the Met orchestra whether there might not be openings for more players. Currently there are about 40 in the ensemble, and they play their concerts in a 500-seat acoustically designed tent and shell. "To hear music played in a really compelling way in a small space, an intimate experience," Revzen says, "I think creates an emotional response that you don't get when you're in a twenty-eight hundred seat hall, and sitting that far away from the music."  

The players, which also include principals from Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver, Toronto, and one from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, gather for a concentrated burst of music-making. "We do six orchestra programs in the first three weekends in August, and we do three programs that we call 'Meet the Music, Meet the Musicians,' which is a chamber music format, but we try to create an event around each of these Sunday concerts," Revzen says. Each of them has a unifying theme, and this year, it's a city that has inspired the music on the programs: Vienna, Paris, and London. "We also do children's concerts on Sunday morning (both the second and third Sundays). We've invited  the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, so kids performing for kids. And the third Sunday, we're doing the Britten Oboe Quartet, and Poulenc's L'Histoire du Babar, The Story of Babar, the little elephant."

Friday, July 25

Zoe KeatingODC/Dance will be presenting three performances next week of their 'Summer Sampler' - the first of which will be a benefit for their musical collaborator, cellist Zöe Keating, whose husband was diagnosed with metastatic cancer earlier this spring. They'll dance to a recording of Keating's original music, which she played live for the premiere of choreographer Brenda Way's Breathing Underwater two years ago. Also on the program is Way's Lifesaving Maneuvers, along with musical guests, the Magik*Magik Orchestra and Pacific Boychoir Academy. Scramble, another work choreographed by KT Nelson will appear on the other two programs, and danced to a recording of another cello work - Bach's unaccompanied suite no. 6.



There's more information about the performance at the ODC Dance website.

Zöe Keating, who has been called an "Avant Cellist", creates her music with a combination of acoustic cello and computer technology. For the premiere of the piece Breathing Underwater, she accompanied the dancers live, playing one part on the cello, and building up an evolving set of musical layers with her computer. "Here I have a phrase," she explained in 2012, "and now I'm going to play another phrase, and another. And those prases are both melodies and parts of a whole. And it's very organic and incremental in that the phrases have to go together, work vertically and horizontally, and I just really like that process of fitting them together. It's kind of like a game of Tetris." Keating also provided accompaniment for a dance ODC performed this year, called Boulders and Bones, choreographed by Brenda Way and KT Nelson. She said the way she composes is like dance itself, growing out of improvisation. "I've seen dancers work where they have their little phrases that they're working on, and they become enamored with a particular phrase, and then they might build an entire piece around that phrase - and that's how I do it. Since I have to perform all the parts sequentially as I record them, they all have to fit together. I can't have any wasted effort: I can't just go off and do some solo that isn't going to have anything that will fit with anything else later. So it's kind of like this experiment in efficient movement. Also something like dance."

Here's a video showing her process of layering ideas:

Thursday, July 24

Prince Lobkowicz' Legacy Celebrated at MenloMusic@Menlo's theme for their festival this summer is Around Dvorak... But as in past years that had a composer as the focus, the programming isn't limited to his works. In fact, one of this season's special guests (who will be leading an 'Encounters' series presentation tonight) isn't a musician at all - but is historically connected to the works that will be performed on Friday and Saturday nights: William Lobkowicz, whose ancestor, the seventh Prince Lobkowicz was a benefactor and dedicatee of Beethoven, Haydn, and others.



You can find out more about the festival at the Music@Menlo website

William LobkowiczWilliam Lobkowicz came to be invited to take part in this year's festival after forming a friendship several years ago with co-Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han. The musicians were travelling in the Czech Republic, and went into the palace that bears his family name. They asked if they might be introduced to someone from the family (as Finckel says, to express their gratitude for the music the patronage allowed to be written) and hit it off. William Lobkowicz had grown up in the U.S. (his father had come to the States as a refugee from the Nazis, and then the Communists in Czechoslovakia) and only was able to return to reclaim his family's property and belongings after the Velvet Revolution. Miraculously, the collection of 4,500 musical scores, 65,000 books, three to four million documents (including letters from kings and queens, and Beethoven), three castles and a palace weren't destroyed either by the Nazis or Communists. "What we're doing really is trying to take the mantle of this family history, but it's really a world history, and present it for the world... Because none of these things were ever open to the public before," he says. They don't have the benefit of the riches that the Seventh Prince had, despite all the treasure in the collection. Their hope is to create a center for European Cultural Heritage, since the reach of the family goes back far before current geopolitical boundaries existed - through the Austro-Hungarian and Holy Roman Empire, back to when what is now the Czech Republic was just a part of Bohemia.

The music on the program Friday and Saturday nights is Haydn's Quartet in G, Op. 77, no. 1; Beethoven's first Quartet (Op. 18, no.1) as well as the tenth, (Op. 74) known as "Harp", which will be played by the Danish String Quartet. Baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Gilbert Kalish will also play An die ferne Geliebte. Those were just a handful of works that were dedicated to Lobkowicz (as well as the Eroica, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Triple Concerto). William Lobkowicz says his ancestor might not have been fully rational when he decided to spend his fortune that way, but, "What is a patron? A passionate, really crazy person who just said, 'You know, the money is just the money. We have to do this. I have to do this. I have to do these things."

Wednesday, July 23

Time for ThreeThe trio Time for Three is made up of a pair of violinists and a double bassist (Zachary DePue, Nicolas Kendall, and Ranaan Meyer) who met when they were studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. What began as a bit of spontaneous 'jamming' in various styles has led to a successful career for the group as artists-in-residence with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and a brand new self-titled CD through Universal. They'll be playing at Yoshi's on the 30th, and then at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in early August.



There's more information about the group at the Time for Three website, and here's where you can learn about their upcoming dates at Yoshi's and the Cabrillo Festival.

Renaan Meyer says that their collaboration was, at first, just a way to play together and let off steam while at music school: "We got a gig to play down in D.C., and we were told we needed to put 25 minutes of music together. We were already jamming, just having a good time after orchestra rehearsals, and we were getting paid a little money, and getting a limo ride down to the gig.. Really we were doing it for all the perks as college kids, because we just wanted to have some fun." But he says the reaction they got made them take things a bit more seriously. "We played, and the audience loved it, and they wanted us to do an encore. We didn't have an encore, and we're shrugging our shoulders thinking, 'Man, this is really going well, maybe we should do this again.' And we did - and we had a similar reaction. So then we thought: 'this started organic, and that's all great, but now let's maybe put some thought and time into this and see what happens.'"

Their career as a trio got a boost when they were named Artists in Residence at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where Zachary DePue has ben Concertmaster since 2007. They've been in that position for five seasons, curating a "Happy Hour" concert series there that appeals to younger audiences, as well as stretching the boundaries of expectations of Classical Music. Some of the collaborations that they've had over the years are revisited on their new CD - with Alisa Weilerstein, Branford Marsalis, Jake Shimabukuro, and singer songwriter Joshua Radin appearing, with others. "We thought that the most authentic way to put our foot forward," says violinist Nick Kendell, "was to introduce the world to our natural affinity towards collaboration with artists that are as varied and diverse as our own musical tastes as a group."

Friday, July 18

Music NotationOn an "A to Z" edition of The State of the Arts, a look at musical Notation... which, like any writing, allows one person to transmit an idea to another without having to meet in person. A composer today can, it's true, make a recording, or even Skype into a rehearsal and let the players or conductor know how the performance should go... But the system of notation that's developed since the middle ages means that composer should be able to send a score off knowing it will be performed more or less as intended.



The standard of music notation that we use today is efficient - on a conductor's score, each individual line corresponds to an instrument or section of the orchestra; reading from left to right, you're moving forward in time... and at any point along the way, reading the page vertically will give a snapshot of the harmony being played.

Manuscript of Gregorian ChantThe standards of notation have been slowly refined over the years, although some of the principle ideas are very similar to the time of Gregorian Chants - when musical scores began to have an early "staff", and the direction of melodies were determined by the placement of the noteheads.  The shapes and groupings of the noteheads indicated their duration, and how the pitch would be approached - connected or detached from the note that came before, or with an ornamental melisma. But the text determined the rhythm and phrasing, and since they were sung in unison, dividing the melodies into measures wasn't necessary.

Bach ManuscriptHere's an example of J.S. Bach's handwritten manuscript, using notation that's much more familiar to anyone who's studied music. The staves are joined into a treble and bass grand staff, which is used for keyboard music, although this looks like one of the many Chorales that Bach wrote or reharmonized - which could be either played or sung. There are barlines separating the measures, and each of the four independent voices has a different rhythmic feeling. The melody in the soprano is slow and even, the bassline "walks" at a steady clip, and the tenor  voice has 'dotted' rhythms of long notes followed by short ones, in almost a heartbeat dah - - dit, dah - - dit pattern.

Chopin ScoreThis single measure from Chopin's Nocturne, Opus 2 No.1 trips off the fingers of a well-trained pianist, with a pattern of 22 notes meant to take the same amount of time as the 12 notes in the left hand. By not making the notes line up exactly, he creates a slightly relaxed and rhythmically free feeling (rather than one that tries to exactly work the math out precisely.) 


In Charles Ives' Concord Sonata, he does away with the barlines altogether at times; the piece is fiendishly difficult (but fortunately, it's only for one performer, and not an ensemble that has to stay together!)



 

Thursday, July 17

Midsummer Mozart FestivalThis marks the fortieth consecutive season of the Midsummer Mozart Festival, which opens with a concert at the Bing Concert Hall this Saturday night - which fittingly includes the 40th Symphony of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Or, as Music Director George Cleve points out, K. 550). There are concerts at Stanford and Berkeley this weekend and next, and San Francisco on Friday the 25th. 



There's more information about the festival at the Midsummer Mozart website

George Cleve says the idea for the festival was inspired by a local opera production he was involved with: "Some forty years ago, I was conducting a production of Seraglio with San Francisco Spring Opera, and after the rehearsal, some of the players and I would get together... and the gist of what we were talking about was 'This really is the best music, you know -- wouldn't it be fun to actually have a Mozart festival?'". Since that first year, he's been programming works that are both familiar and new. "I've always tried to combine the well-known, I wouldn't say the top ten, but maybe the top 150 with some of the works that have never been performed in the area, and in a couple of cases never been performed!" So for example, this year's first program, along with Mozart's 40th symphony and the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, there are two arias: "Chi sa, chi sa" and "Vado, ma dove" which were written to be inserted into another composer's opera.

The second program, which will also have a San Francisco performance on the 25th at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, will include the San Francisco Boys Chorus for Missa Brevis in C Major (Spatzan Mass) and selections from the Magic Flute, along with Laudate Dominum, a piano concerto with Seymour Lipkin as soloist, and pointing back to the festival's origins, the overture to Abduction from the Seraglio. Cleve describes his love of Mozart this way: "I feel a certain at-homeness with Mozart. I believe it was Artur Schnabel, the great pianist, who once said that 'Mozart is too easy for children, and too difficult for adults.' In answer to people who say 'How come it comes so naturally to you?' I say, 'Well, probably because I've remained a teenager all my life.'" There will be a wind serenade from last season's Midsummer Mozart Festival on this Sunday night's edition of Bay Area Mix.