Foolish Classics

I love April Fools’ Day. A day to stop taking ourselves too seriously, which is certainly a problem in the world of classical music. So to help, here are a few videos of classical music pieces and performances on the lighter side.

1. Sir Malcolm Arnold: A Grand, Grand Overture – features vacuum cleaners, a floor polisher, guns & ammo. Who could ask for anything more?

2. Ernest Tomlinson: Fantasia on Auld Lang Syne – depending on who’s counting, this work features between 129-152 references to other pieces of classical and film music. How many can you count?

3. Charles Ives: Piano Trio, Op. 86: ii. “TSIAJ” – The title of this movement “TSIAJ” stands for “This Scherzo is a Joke,” which is a joke in and over itself, since “scherzo” means “joke.” Yes, Ives is saying “This joke is a joke.” And later he’ll tell you where to find an ATM machine.

4. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 93: ii – It’s not roflmao funny, but Haydn does end the second movement of this symphony with a bassoon fart. And farts are funny. At least they were in fourth grade. (Jump to around 12:00-12:30ish for the flatulence.)

5. Gioachino Rossini: Duetto buffo di due gatti (“humorous duet for two cats”) – Okay, Rossini didn’t actually write this, but it’s been attributed to him because it uses themes from his opera Otello. Whatever. It’s two sopranos singing nothing but “meow” for three minutes. The internet ought to love this one.

6. Franz Reizenstein: Concerto Populare – If you know Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in a minor, you’ll love this one.

7. Georges Bizet: Le docteur Miracle (Dr. Miracle): “Make Way For the Omelette” – Four opera singers singing about how great an omelette is.

8. Happy Birthday – Because it’s awesome.

9. W.A. Mozart: Leck mich im Arsch – I’ll let you guess what this means in English. Go ahead, sound it out…or Google it. (Make sure you include “Mozart” as one of your search terms, otherwise the results are very decidedly NSFW…or so I would imagine.) It’s Wolfy being kinky. That’s right, the same guy who wrote Ave Verum Corpus, wrote this.

I know I’ve left out lots of funny ones. If your favorite isn’t on this list, please leave me a link in the comments. I’d love to know what tickles your classical funny bone.

Domingo To Take It Up A Notch

Placido Domingo

With 144 roles and nearly 3,700 performances under his belt in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Berlioz to Wagner to Ginastera, there’s little that 73-year-old Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo can’t do–and hasn’t done already in his illustrious 57-year professional singing career.

Add one more thing to that long list.

Domingo announced this week he will sing his first countertenor role this fall in his hometown of Madrid, at the Teatro Real. The special gala performance features two one-act operas: Handel’s Acis and Galatea and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, with Domingo in the pit conducting the former and singing the role of the Sorcerer in the latter.

“Over the last few months, I’ve been trying some new warm-up exercises that are designed to bring more depth and richness to my lower range, but they ended up opening the highest registers of my voice as well.”

Domingo, who has been singing baritone roles almost exclusively in recent years, said he wasn’t surprised his voice is still evolving.

“I started out as a baritone,” he said, “Then for so many years I was a tenor. Now it’s back to baritone and also these new high notes.”

It’s not uncommon for baritones to make the switch to countertenor. Just ask David Daniels and Andreas Scholl–two of the top countertenors today who both started their careers as baritones. But usually the upward migration of the voice happens early in a singer’s career.

Domingo, whose motto is “If I rest, I rust,” says he’s embracing his new-found range, but he cautions audiences not to get too excited about his renaissance as a countertenor.

“I’ve had a good career. The public has been very kind to me. This will be a fun thing to try for my voice, but I’m not expecting to perform as a countertenor too often.”

In other words, if you were hoping for The Three Countertenors, don’t count on it.

2014 LA Phil Radio Broadcasts


Below you’ll find the complete listings of the 2014 LA Philharmonic radio broadcasts, which begin locally on KUSC this Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. (National syndication continues this season as well, with air dates/times varying by market.)

A few things about this year’s series, which I’m particularly excited about:

  • 5 world premieres (all are LA Phil commissions): Peter Lieberson’s Shing Kham, Magnus Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No. 2, Daníel Bjarnason’s Blow bright, Terry Riley’s new organ concerto At the Royal Majestic, and Andrew Norman’s Release for piano and orchestra.
  • Seven of the 13 concerts are conducted by the LA Phil’s Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel, now in his fifth season. This gives audiences the opportunity to hear the many different facets of Dudamel’s artistry.
  • Two concerts conducted by the LA Phil’s Conductor Laureate, Esa-Pekka Salonen, including a return to WDCH of Salonen’s Grawemeyer Award-winning Violin Concerto, which was premiered on Salonen’s final concerts as LA Phil Music Director, and which is a farewell letter to the orchestra.
  • The concert featuring the Corigliano Symphony No. 1 was a late addition to this season’s schedule, and after hearing the LA Phil perform this incredible work in Boston last weekend, I’m so happy we added it at the last minute.
  • Great pianists galore! Yefim Bronfman, Yuja Wang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Garrick Ohlsson, Emanuel Ax, Lang Lang, and Hélène Grimaud.
  • Plus: Leila Josefowicz, John Adams, James Conlon, Cameron Carpenter, and a cellist who has given the world premieres of 25 (!) concertos, Anssi Karttunen.
  • Approx 34,000 people tune in each week for KUSC’s local broadcasts of the LA Phil. Or about 15 Walt Disney Concert Hall’s worth.
  • Total audience size for KUSC’s 13 local broadcasts of LA Phil concerts equals nearly eight Dodger Stadiums at capacity.
  • This will be my seventh season hosting or co-hosting the LA Phil radio broadcasts. It is the first time during my tenure that Sibelius’ 5th Symphony appears on the series. Just a coincidence, nothing more.

Sundays at 7:00 p.m. on Classical KUSC. Each performance will be archived for on-demand streaming for one week following the broadcast at

AIR DATE: March 30
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Pedro Carneiro, percussion
Lieberson/Knussen: Shing Kham
Schubert: Symphony No. 4
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1

AIR DATE: April 6
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Anssi Karttunen, cello
Women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale
Debussy: Nocturnes
Lindberg: Cello Concerto No. 2
Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta

AIR DATE: April 13
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Leila Josefowicz, violin
Ives: The Unanswered Question
Salonen: Violin Concerto
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5

AIR DATE: April 20
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Yuja Wang, piano
Bjarnason: Blow bright
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3
Stravinsky: Petrushka

AIR DATE: April 27
Lionel Bringuier, conductor
Camilla Tilling, soprano
Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Berg: Seven Early Songs
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4

Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1, Winter Daydreams
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6, Pathétique

AIR DATE: May 11
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Corigliano: Symphony No. 1
Brahms: Symphony No. 2

AIR DATE: May 18
Charles Dutoit, conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloé

AIR DATE: May 25
James Conlon, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Schulhoff: Scherzo, from Symphony No. 5
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21
Brahms: Symphony No. 1

AIR DATE: June 1
John Adams, conductor
Cameron Carpenter, organ
Gordon: Sunshine of Your Love
Riley: At the Royal Majestic
Adams: Naïve and Sentimental Music

AIR DATE: June 8
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Emanuel Ax, piano
Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
Norman: Release
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2

AIR DATE: June 15
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Lang Lang, piano
Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3
Desenne: Sinfonía Burocratica ed’ Amazzonica
Ravel: La valse

AIR DATE: June 22
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Hélène Grimaud, piano
Mozart: Serenata Notturna
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
Mozart: Symphony No. 36, Linz

Street Symphony’s Musical Activism: “We’re creating deeply vulnerable spaces where we’re allowed to feel.”

Gupta“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.” ~Robert Schumann

Schumann’s simple creed has become the mission of a group of local musicians and musical activists known as Street Symphony: the brainchild of LA Philharmonic violinist Vijay Gupta, who tells me it grew out of a relationship he had with Nathaniel Ayers—the Juilliard-trained musician, whose battles with schizophrenia had left him homeless, living on Skid Row. Ayers’ story was chronicled in columns in the LA Times by Steve Lopez, which became the book and eventually the movie, The Soloist.

VG: “Alongside a number of LA Phil I became one of Nathaniel’s friends. First his friend, and then he started asking for violin lessons from me. So, the beginning was him trudging up to Walt Disney Concert Hall and us working together in a practice room. And this is an event that really opened my life and opened my world because I witnessed Nathaniel have a manic episode in a practice room at Walt Disney Concert hall holding a violin. The only thing we had in common at that moment was that I was also holding a violin. So, we started to make music together. I started to play for him and he started to play back to me; and it was the beginning of this relationship that we had. Eventually, I started to visit Nathaniel on Skid Row and I started to go to him [for our lessons]. Along with the geography of the lessons changing, I think the role of the mentors actually changed. Because, I started to learn a lot from Nathaniel. I started to learn about Skid Row, how horrifying it is, how real it is, and how close it is. It was a place where words failed. And yet, it was in this place, that Nathaniel showed me that he could still make music with me, I could still make music with him, and we could still communicate in the same way we did at Walt Disney Concert Hall. And that music was this incredible language that transcends barriers and breaks barriers. It doesn’t matter where it’s placed, if it’s within the context of human empathy.” Continue reading

5 Things I’m Listening to Right Now

Giant-SpeakerWelcome to a new periodic feature on the blog, where I will be asking musicians, writers about music, composers, and all manner of musically-connected people to share a few (oh, say, five) pieces of music that happen to be on high-rotation in their playlists. The musical world is vast. We will never be able to listen to it all. But the act of sharing what inspires us, makes us weep, or helps us escape is a beautiful act of community.

I’ll start.

1. Ravel: Sunrise, from Daphnis et Chloé – Of all the depictions of sunrise in classical music (and there are many), this is by far my favorite. I’m rarely finicky about my suspended cymbal interpretations, but in this particular piece, only this recording with the Berlin Philharmonic and Pierre Boulez will do. Sorry, everyone else. Make them hit it harder.

2. Baths: Apologetic Shoulder Blades – A few nights ago, my wife and I had some friends over for dinner. We played a game of word association to make the evening’s playlist. Four people; four rounds. The 16 words we generated became the search terms for songs or artists, from which I built a playlist without previewing any of the songs. One of the words was “shoulder.” (Don’t ask.) From that, came our introduction to a fellow from Tarzana named Will Wiesenfeld, who goes by the stage name of Baths. None of us knew his music. All of us liked it. #MusicDiscovery!

3. Valentin Silvestrov: The Messenger – With a mix of sadness, horror, and inspiration for the power of the human spirit, I have been following the demonstrations in Ukraine. As violence ramped up in recent weeks, I found myself turning to the immensely peaceful music of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. An emotional juxtaposition, to be sure. This is one of Silvestrov’s best-known works–a Mozartian mix of haunting, halting, almost uncomfortable phrases and pauses. And, oh so beautiful.

4. Beady Eye: Flick of the Finger – This is angrier protest music. And damned if it doesn’t get me fired up.

5. Alexander Scriabin: Le Poème de l’extase – The Canadian ice dancing team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (yes, I watched ice dancing during the Olympics, what of it?) choreographed a routine to what was billed at Glazunov’s The Seasons. That was ostensibly true, however, there were a couple of other pieces of music that were cut in to the music, including 3-4 measures of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in the middle of the dance and, at the end, the closing moments of Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in f-sharp minor. Glazukovbin? Scrikovunov? Whatever. But that got me re-listening to Scriabin’s music, of which I’m a pretty big fan. The Piano Concerto, by the way, is great. As are the symphonies. However, I always find myself coming back to this suitable-for-blasting Poem of Ecstacy, which Henry Miller once described as “a bath of ice, cocaine, and rainbows.” He might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.

I just spent 31 of your hard-earned dollars and you will thank me for it later

I’ve been working on my click-bait headlines. How am I doing, UpWorthIt?

Okay, emotional manipulation aside, there are many ways you could spend $31. You could buy this crow bar…this Himalayan Salt Lamp which is also an air-purifier (huh?)…two of these Runny Nose Shower Gel Dispensers, one for your shower and another for the kids’ shower, I suppose.

ORYou could choose to spend your $31 by hooking yourself up with two of the best recordings to come humanity’s way in a long, long time. (I know, I know…you crazy kids these days with your Napsterfy and your Rhapsodora accounts. You scoff when I suggest you “buy” a “recording.”)

Coincidence that they both involve the music of Igor Stravinsky? (To the millennials, that’s iGor.) Probably not.

The first is this unassuming-looking release from Steinway & Sons. Yes, the piano makers now have a record label.

JennyLinStravinskyJenny Lin, who seems to specialize in performing music by “Composers I Like,” (Shostakovich, Silvestrov, Stravinsky, Seeger, and others whose names don’t start with S) has turned her attention to a lesser-known side of the man who brought us The Rite of Spring. Probably the most famous selection on this recording are the three movements from The Firebird, which give the Taiwanese-born American pianist a chance to display her awesome power at the keyboard. These movements don’t always work as solo piano pieces, but in Lin’s fingers (wrists, arms, shoulders), it’s spine-tingling.

Everything on this album is excellent, so I’ll draw your attention to three more of my favorite moments:

  • the Sonata from 1924, which sounds like it could be from 1724 and written by a fellow whose middle name is Sebastian.
  • the Etudes, which predate The Firebird. You know, from before he got famous.
  • the all-too-brief Sketches of a Sonata, from just a couple years before Stravinsky died. About 30 seconds of what-if, from Stravinsky’s LA years.

Jenny Lin: Stravinsky Solo Piano Works is out 2.25.14. You should buy it. You’re welcome.

Here’s the other recording you should buy:

BadPlusRiteYes, this is a piano-bass-drums don’t-call-it-jazz trio doing “the most important piece of music of the 20th century” (Lenny). There are many excellent versions of The Rite, but if you ask me (did you?), this is the greatest of them all. Second only to iGor’s original, of course. All three players employ dazzling special effects: pizzicato trills on the double bass, eerie high-pitched squeals and all manner of grunts/groans from percussion instruments being played in unorthodox ways, and general bad-assery from the piano.

In fact, everything about this Rite by The Bad Plus is badass. At first, you think to yourself, Oh, they can’t possibly pull that off, but then you keep listening and realize that you are totally hearing a recording of them pulling it off–like for real–and here they are, reconvincing you of everything you’ve always known about the explosive innovations of the original Rite and when it all comes crashing to a chaotic halt half an hour later, you think to yourself: Holy shit. So that’s what it felt like to hear The Rite for the first time back when it was new.

And here you are, hearing it like new, 101 years later. You lucky bastard.

The Rite of Spring, by The Bad Plus, is out 3.25.14. You should buy it. You’re welcome.