March 18, 2014
Man Who Knew Too Much pic 3

As a kid, I always got a big thrill from the percussion section of a symphony orchestra. Maybe it was the memory of the beating of my mother’s heart or simply a child’s love of hitting things and making a big noise. Perhaps it was having watched the second version of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much which leads up to that tense moment when the cymbals will mask the firing of an assassin’s gun. Or that I grew up in a culture of percussion: claves, maracas, cowbell, gourds, drums, drums, drums. It still thrills me. Those musicians up … Continue reading

March 14, 2014

A long, but not too long, time ago in our own solar system . . . a composer set out to capture that very solar system in music. Gustav Holst‘s The Planets — along with much of Wagner, quite a bit of Stravinsky and a good share of Schoenberg– is the fountainhead of sci-fi music. And Holst’s inspiration having been more astrological than astronomical is fitting for this birth; after all, what is astrology but the original science fiction? Holst first wrote most of it for two pianos, but it’s the full orchestral treatment that best projects the big cosmic … Continue reading

February 28, 2014
Cleveland Orchestra and Frost School of Music string quartet at the workshop in February

Music performance is always a conversation. Between musician(s) and public, to be sure. But also among musicians. The conversation can be scripted, like a play, with room for interpretation, also like a play, and that is the case of classical music. It can be lightly scripted with lots of room for improvisation, and that’s jazz. It can be rowdy, and that’s rock’n’roll. It can be pious, in church, or profane, anywhere where liquor is served and sensuality is in the air. And it can also be just that, conversation, actual talk, which is what happens in a rehearsal. Frost School … Continue reading

February 22, 2014
Cleveland Orchestra octet and Frost student composers at a workshop in February

Does a reading of student compositions tell us anything about where classical music is or has been heading? As I listened to an octet of Cleveland Orchestra musicians perform the works of the very skilled composition students at the University of Miami Frost School of Music some thoughts came to mind. This exercise could not be more valuable, for the students not only heard their pieces played by professional musicians but by virtuosi of the highest order. And the students were becoming savvy to the specifics of writing for an orchestra — which the octet, conducted by Brett Mitchell, represented. … Continue reading

February 8, 2014
If they clap, shoot them!

To clap or not to clap, that is the question:/Whether ‘tis Nobler in Knight Hall to suffer/The itch and restlessness of a frozen audience,/Or beat your arms in applause at the end/Of every godforsaken movement. A thoughtful post (in Spanish) by Sebastian Spreng posed the question of applause protocol. Instead of the traditional silence, there is now some clapping between movements, a noisy behavior adopted and sanctioned by some in the classical music community. Spreng recalls a marvelous concert from his Buenos Aires youth. A nadie se le ocurría romper el hechizo, he writes. No one could imagine breaking the … Continue reading