Wednesday, October 5

Vladimir Horowitz in recital at the White HouseTwo special concerts from the White House allowed audiences (and the sitting presidents) to witness a show-stopping arrangement of themes from Bizet's Carmen that were a signature piece of a piano master...

It was Kiev-born piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, who triumphantly returned to perform at the White House at the request of then President Jimmy Carter, who called the proud naturalized citizen a "National Treasure". The East Room concert was aired as a PBS special, and it marked the 50th anniversary of Horowitz's debut in America. When he had played at the White House for the first time, for President Herbert Hoover, the pianist ended his recital with his own pyrotechnic arrangement of themes from the opera Carmen, which he did again for President Carter.

The Horowitz version of the Carmen Variations remains popular to this day - Here's Yuja Wang in a practice room, giving it a go...


Tuesday, October 4

E-flat MajorA look today at the key of E-flat Major, which has more than its share of memorable masterpieces. Perhaps thats because as one musicologist described it, the key "boasts the greatest variety of expression... At once serious and solemn, it is the exponent of courage and determination and gives the piece a brilliant, firm and dignified character."


The pieces heard in the montage are listed below. To reveal them, click and drag over the white space.
  1. Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4
  2. Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, 'Emperor'
  3. Bernstein: Candide Overture
  4. Mozart: Magic Flute Overture
  5. Haydn: Trumpet Concerto
  6. Mussorgsky: "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Pictures at an Exhibition
  7. Elgar: "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations
  8. Mendelssohn: Octet
  9. Schumann: Symphony No. 3, 'Rhenish'
  10. Bruch: Scottish Fantasy
  11. Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
  12. Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, 'Eroica'

Monday, October 3

Michael Morgan - Oakland SymphonyOakland Symphony begins its season with a program of Romantic music, with a dash of the political... Music Director Michael Morgan welcomes baritone Hadleigh Adams for some Mahler songs, there's an infrequently performed triple concerto, "Southern" music by Elgar, and an election-themed premiere by a Berkeley composer. The concert is Friday, October 14th at the Paramount Theatre.

There's more information about the performance at the Oakland Symphony website.

"We’re starting with a piece by Berkeley composer Clark Suprynowicz, who wrote this piece, Red States Blue States some time ago," Morgan explains. "It was read by the Berkeley Symphony, but it hasn’t been performed publicly yet. And so, it ties in with the election year, so, I thought it was the thing for us to start with." They'll follow that with the guest ensemble Delphi Trio, who'll play Russian-born Swiss composer Paul Juon's Episodes Concertantes. Morgan describes it this way: "Sort of edgy, end-of-Romanticism, headed into the 20th Century but not quite there yet sort of a piece. It’s very big. What the trio is asked to do, particularly the piano, the piano part is ridiculous." Former Adler Fellow Hadleigh Adams will sing Mahler's Rückert Lieder with the orchestra, before they take on Elgar's Italian vacation postcard, In the South. Morgan describes those works as "three very different views of Romanticism."

Friday, September 30

CATcertoAdd Nora to the list of musical superstars with just one name... At least, she's an internet musical superstar. She's the featured soloist in a performance of a work by a Lithuanian composer called 'CATcerto...' for obvious reasons.

Mindaugas Piečaitis was inspired to orchestrate the random (but gentle) pawings of 'Nora, the Piano Cat' from an uploaded YouTube 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, September 29

Layla and Majnun at Cal PerformancesThe traditional Middle Eastern story of Layla and Majnun gets a world premiere adaptation this weekend at Cal Performances, as the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Silk Road Ensemble collaborate in a staging with traditional Mugham singers from Azerbaijan, Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova. It's the tenth Cal Performances commission of a Mark Morris work, helping to launch their new season.

There's more information about the production at the Cal Performances website.

The 7th Century Persian tale of the ill-fated lovers was made into an opera by Uzeyir Hajibeyli in the early 20th Century, using traditional instrumentation, and has been adapted by Silk Road Ensemble members Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, with singer Alim Qasimov. "Layla and Majnun, throughout the middle East, North Africa, South Asia, everybody knows this story, it’s part of the culture," Mark Morris says. "The character is actually named Qays, Layla and Qays. But because he’s so… he’s driven mad by his love for Layla from childhood… He’s labelled crazy." Because of his odd behavior, Layla's parents refuse his request to marry their daughter.  Morris wanted to set the piece in this multi-discipline form (sets and costumes are by the Bristish artist Howard Hodgkin) to help the rest of the world learn of this story. "It’s such beautiful, profound moving music, and wouldn’t suffer from staging and choreography, it would actually enhance it – and make it more comprehensible for a non-Azerbaijani audience to get the message of it, which is a message of course of profound, abundant, eternal love."

Wednesday, September 28

Elevate EnsembleA work that Igor Stravinsky wrote in the 1920s has inspired the programming for Elevate Ensemble's next concert, this Sunday night at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His Octet is scored for flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets, trombone, and bass trombone; Artistic Director Chad Goodman and Executive Director Aaron Gervais chose works for different combinations of those instruments, and include two new works that use the same orchestration. 

There's more information about the concert at Elevate Ensemble's website.

The Octet is the centerpiece of the concert, says Aaron Gervais: "The way we decided to structure this program is we wanted to feature each of the instrumental combinations within the octet separately, and then bring them all back together into larger pieces, including the Octet." Gervais wrote two pieces that will have their premieres Sunday, Puppies!!!, a duet for the trombones, and an expansion of that duet for all eight instruments in the second half, called Don't Look At. "It’s a quote that’s mis-attributed to Richard Strauss: ‘Don’t look at the trombones, you’ll only encourage them.’ He actually said something more like ‘When you cue brass instruments, make sure it’s brief and direct,’ but everyone remembers it the wrong way." The other new piece using all the instruments (plus one more) is Nick Vasallo's Atum: Everything and Nothing, It's a piano concerto, with the ZOFO piano duo playing four-hands one piano accompanied by the octet. 

Tuesday, September 27

Cappella SFCappella SF premieres a work by composer Mark Volkert this weekend, called Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, in concerts in Saratoga and San Francisco. The composer is also an assistant concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, where Ragnar Bohlin first heard one of his pieces. The ensemble will be joined by organist Jerome Lenk for a few works, in a program called Immortal Fire: A Musical Tribute with Voices and Organ.

There's more information at the Cappella SF website.

The work that Artistic Director Ragnar Bohlin heard the Symphony play was called Pandora. "And that just blew me away," he explains. "I loved it – so I stepped up to Mark after that and asked him if he ever wrote for choir, and he said no, he hadn’t done that, but he would be willing to try." The piece is a setting of a poem by Thomas Campion, called Sic Transit. Volkert says, "I’ve written some choral music, but this is kind of a new venture for me, so I appreciate any suggestions that he makes, and he does such a beautiful job shaping the chorus and making the most out of the music. And so I couldn’t be happier with what they’re doing." For the work, they'll be performing in 'surround sound' encircling the audience at St. Andrews in Saratoga on Friday, and at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco Sunday afternoon.  The other works on the program are J.S. Bach's Jesu, Meine Freude, Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia, and a solo prelude and fugue by Maurice Durufle played by Jerome Lenk, who will accompany the singers for Arvo Part's Salve Regina, and Jonathan Dove's Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars.

Monday, September 26

Philip GlassPhilip Glass wrote twenty Piano Etudes over the course of about twenty years - first just a few, as a birthday gift for conductor Dennis Russell Davies, then as a way of improving his own playing. The composer and four other pianists will be playing the complete collection this Thursday as Stanford Live launches their season at the Bing Concert Hall. 

There's more information about the concert at the Stanford Live website

The other pianists who'll be joining Glass are Anton Batagov, Sarah Cahill, Aaron Diehl, and Jenny Lin, each playing two from the first 'book' of ten, and two from the second. Glass says that after the first few of the etudes were written, he decided to write 20, and use them for their original pedagogical purpose: "I picked things that were difficult to do, and I made pieces out of them." Writing operas, symphonies, and film scores kept him from finishing the set until just a few years ago. Now, he describes the experience of hearing all of them played together as being like a musical biography, unintentional, but unavoidable. As his 80th birthday approaches at the end of January, he's continuing a busy schedule, taking time last week to be awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama.