Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…A Symphonic Revolution


What if there were only nine symphonies? That’s the question CK Dexter Haven over at All is Yar asked himself over the holiday season, while on his way to Santa Barbara wine country. (Ah, the things we ponder while pursuing wine…)

“Nine has been a magical number of sorts for symphonies ever since Beethoven wrote that many and stopped,” CKDH wrote. (There’s also that whole curse of the ninth thing.) So, CKDH proposed making a list of nine he couldn’t live without. His ground rules included:

  • Only one symphony per composer
  • Only symphonies numbered 1-9.  No names either: e.g. Symphonie fantastique, Symphony of Psalms, Symphonic Dances, etc. (Or even Harmonielehre, even though that’s totally a symphony no matter what John Adams says.)
  • No duplicate numbers. In other words, one Sym #1, one Sym #2, one Sym #3, etc.

CKDH called this a “puzzlechallengegame of sorts.” And then he challenged me to come up with my own list.

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My response?

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And “fun/impossible” is exactly what it turned out to be. Nevertheless, I have done it…for now…and I absolutely reserve the right to change any or all of these at any time in the future, because I’m *not* stuck on a desert island, damn it! At least, not yet.

Okay…deep breath. Continue reading

13 Awesome Classical Music Things that Happened in 2014

solfege tatooThis is my version of a year-end list. There are a million blogs out there about the best classical recordings and performances of 2014. Go read them too. But for pure classical music awesomeness, this is the place. (Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know, it’s not comprehensive. So, feel free to leave more awesome classical happenings in the comments section.)

1. Opera dazzled at the Super Bowl and World Series. The People’s Diva, Renée Fleming, became the first opera star to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Kansas City native–and passionate Royals fan–Joyce DiDonato did the same at Game 7 of the World Series. In both cases, viewers were treated to solid intonation, minimal improvisatory ornamentation, excellent vowel placement, and when the singers went for the high note at the end, they actually hit it. Bravi tutti!

2. Richard Strauss turned 150 years old and the world played a lot of his music. Particularly his operas. The hotbed of the Straussian bacchanalia was Dresden, which played host to no fewer than nine premieres of the composer’s operas during his lifetime. This year, various companies in Dresden presented full performances of Elektra, Feuersnot, Ariadne auf Naxos, Salome, Guntram, and Arabella. The Metropolitan Opera staged three Strauss operas and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Chicago Symphony each staged one.richard-strauss-birthday-1402418664-article-0

3. The Minnesota Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony went back to work. In the Twin Cities, an acrimonious lockout of 16 months ended and the management that presided over it was booted. In Atlanta, the lockout was shorter, but no less contentious as it was the orchestras second lockout in two years. (The Metropolitan Opera avoided a lockout of its own with an 11th-hour labor deal after months of fruitless negotiations.)


4. Two music directors endeared themselves to their musicians. In both of the aforementioned orchestra lockouts, the orchestras’ music directors–Osmo Vänskä in Minnesota and Robert Spano in Atlanta–sided with the musicians in the dispute. As members of management themselves, music directors usually keep silent on labor issues, but Vänskä resigned in Minnesota until a new management team was hired. And in Atlanta, Spano (and principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles) spoke out publicly against management and in support of the orchestra’s musicians. Spano: “Our brilliant and creative musicians, who need to be intimately involved in the creation of our path to the future, have been asked to leave the building — and Atlanta is left with a deafening silence.” Runnicles: “[The lockout is] a one-sided attempt to force the orchestra to its collective knees.”

Orchestra Musician Video: Osmo Vänskä’s first moments back on the podium as MN Orch music director:

5. Some guy on Slate tried to say that classical music was dead and classical music responded in spectacular fashion. The best smack-down was this infographic from Proper Discord. (And, no, I’m not linking to that stupid Slate article because I don’t want to help increase its pageviews.)

classical music not dead

6. A music festival in Scotland commissioned a giant portrait of Franz Schubert in the sand. Unlike the composer’s 8th symphony, the sand artist finished it. How awesome is this?

7. Classical-turned-techno violinist Vanessa Mae traded her electric violin for downhill skis and competed in Sochi Olympics. She finished 67th (dead last) and when it was discovered that her qualifying results were faked, she was slapped with a four-year ban by the International Ski Federation. Is this technically “classical music awesomeness”? Okay no, but it’s a pretty interesting story, right?


8. San Diego Opera closed and then it didn’t. It was drama worthy of the operatic stage: in March, the San Diego Opera’s board voted to close the company at the end of the 2014 season (its 49th), but after a passionate outpouring of support spearheaded by “Save San Diego Opera,” the board voted in May to reverse course. A new season, new fundraising initiatives, salary cuts, and lower ticket prices were announced. Opera in San Diego was saved.

9. Esa-Pekka Salonen, and his spectacular Violin Concerto, starred in an Apple iPad commercial. We watched him whistle while shaving and compose in the back seat of a taxi. We wished we were as cool as he is.

10. Yo-Yo Ma played a concert in the mall for some lucky holiday shoppers. Michael Bublé blaring over loudspeakers? Not here, not now. Speaking of Yo-Yo Ma, he also took a few moments after a recital in Boston to meet backstage with members of Youth Orchestra LA, who were touring with the LA Phil.

11. The almost perfectly-named cellist Kevin Fox solidified his badass credentials by playing his cello within mauling distance of a siberian tiger. Marketing gimmick? Yeah, probably. So? The song: a cover of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” of course.

12. The LA Phil musicians and guest conductor Charles Dutoit solidified their badass credentials by performing during an earthquake. Marketing gimmick? Hardly. A few minutes into Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, the ground started shaking, a number of audience members shrieked and headed for the exits, but Dutoit and the LA Phil didn’t stop the music. (There used to be audio of this on YouTube, but sadly it has been removed.)


13. Someone lost a piano in the East River. It became a social media sensation.


So, here’s to all of the classical music awesomeness that took place in 2014. Cheers to more to come in 2015.

In memoriam: Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Christopher Hogwood, Rafael Fruehbeck de Burgos, Gerard Mortier, Julius Rudel, Jerzy Semkow, Lee Hyla, Stephen Paulus, Robert Ashley, Carlo Bergonzi, Licia Albanese, Magda Olivero, Janis Martin, John Shirley-Quirk, Claude Frank, Deborah Sobol, Irene Alexander, Ray Still and Gladys Elliot.

Concert-going for the Affluent: A Takedown

music snob

I’ve been going to classical music concerts for as long as I can remember. At this point in my life, I attend about 40-50 concerts each year. But apparently, I’ve been clapping wrong this whole time.

That is, if Joy Weaver is to believed, I am most definitely applauding incorrectly. How to do it properly is one of a handful of classical music concertgoing tips for the wealthy in Weaver’s latest article for Affluent magazine. (I’d link to the article, but linking encourages clicking, which increases pageviews. Google it if you must.)

Yes, sadly, such a magazine exists. Its mission statement includes the reminder that “money may not buy happiness, but it definitely buys ‘happier,‘” and later goes on to discuss the etymology of the world “luxury.” (Lux = Latin for light, meaning Affluent must naturally be “a beacon of light that helps bring [rich people] more awareness, enjoyment and, hopefully, even more wealth and abundance [of money, time and spirit] then they ever thought possible.”)

Enter Joy Weaver, if that is her real name. An etiquette expert who, as I’ve learned, “frequently appears on Good Morning Texas” and name-drops Zig Ziglar, and who has penned (pen by Tibaldi, no doubt) an article for Affluent entitled: “Symphony Etiquette: Protocol of the Hall.”

It’s nauseating. As someone who has devoted his life to making classical music more accessible to as many people as possible, I couldn’t help but reprint Joy’s article here with a bit of translation/amplification. Continue reading

Music and The Wall


I was seven years old when the Berlin Wall came down. It was one of the first world events I remember. My parents, sister, and I gathered around our TV and watched the fuzzy images stream into our living room. I didn’t fully grasp the enormity of the moment, but I knew something big was happening.

Four years later, I would visit Berlin for the first time. Various museums had already sprouted up, telling the story of a divided Berlin. Sections of The Wall remained positioned around the city; people could walk right up to it, take a few swings, and bring a hunk of The Wall home with them as a souvenir. (Looking back, I’m sure this was probably frowned upon, but it’s something that literally everyone was doing. And I like the poetry of that: leaving a portion of the thing that represented oppression and violence in place and quietly looking the other way as citizens and tourists alike chip away at it for years.)

Julio Fernandez sprays air freshener while mopping up a mess in a bathroom at the Main Street Station casino, Las Vegas. The wall holding up the urinals is a piece of the Berlin Wall. The wall that once separated East from West Berlin has largely disappeared from the city. The few sections that remain stand as potent monuments to the ideological divisions of the Cold War. But 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell, some 120 parts of it can now be found in more than 40 countries, from Britain to South Africa and the United States. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Julio Fernandez sprays air freshener while mopping up a mess in a bathroom at the Main Street Station casino, Las Vegas. The wall holding up the urinals is a piece of the Berlin Wall. The wall that once separated East from West Berlin has largely disappeared from the city. The few sections that remain stand as potent monuments to the ideological divisions of the Cold War. But 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell, some 120 parts of it can now be found in more than 40 countries, from Britain to South Africa and the United States. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Conductor Daniel Barenboim happened to be in Berlin in November 1989, recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, when The Wall came down. Here’s how he described the scene that weekend:

“When I came to the recording studio on Friday 10 November I discussed with the musicians, who were in a highly excitable state, what we could do to mark the event. We planned a free concert on the Sunday evening exclusively for the citizens of East Germany, of Beethoven’s 7th, a purely practical decision because we’d been practicing it for the recording.

“There were no tickets, they just had to show their GDR ID cards. People were queuing outside from 4am in a line that stretched around the building. …

“After the concert I sat in my dressing room, and a woman came to the door accompanied by a young man, with a bouquet of flowers … she came up to me shaking and gave me the bouquet and thanked me profusely, saying the Berlin Wall had separated her from her son (the man with her) and that they had been reunited again just the evening before for the first time in almost three decades. I was moved to tears by her story and told the woman she could always reach me and I’d invite her to a concert.”

That “Concert for the Citizens of the GDR” was filmed and the Berlin Philharmonic recently made it available in the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall. I was hoping the orchestra would offer the concert free of charge during this weekend of the 25th anniversary of the falling of The Wall, but it doesn’t look like they will. Still, less than 10 Euros gets you a week’s pass to the DCH…and you can watch the trailer for free…and the Berlin Phil has put the final two minutes of the concert on YouTube. (The cheers of the audience get me every time.)

You can also watch an interview with Daniel Barenboim about the concert.

On Christmas Day, 1989, in the former East Berlin, another grand performance of a Beethoven Symphony took place. This time it was an ensemble made up of musicians from six different orchestras, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. In the final movement, Bernstein asked the chorus to sing the word “Freiheit” (freedom) in place of “Freude” (joy). That entire concert is available here:

And it was the legendary Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich–who was such a courageous champion of Soviet-era dissidents–who brought his cello to the crumbling Berlin Wall, and played Bach, triumphantly and “from the heart.”

An “Independence Referendum Day” Scotify Playlist

scotlandAs voters in Scotland decide whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom today, here is a playlist of some of the best classical music to come out of Scotland. (I especially like the bagpipe cameo in Davies’ “An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise.”) And despite her Italian name, violinist Nicola Benedetti–who just released an album of Scottish music–claims the Scottish heritage from her mother’s side of the family.


Here Are The Best Beatles Covers On Spotify

beatles-abbey-road_2220576bYou’re welcome.

There are nearly 250 Beatles covers here. That adds up to more than 14 hours of music. So, you could hop in your car and drive from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon without hearing the same song twice.

I’ve put it in alphabetical order, so it’s easy to find a specific song. (At least I thought I did, but that’s not the way it’s showing up in the embedded playlist.) If you’d just like to listen, I recommend putting it on shuffle and going along for the (ticket to) ride.

A few highlights:

  • Otis Redding losing his mind on “A Hard Day’s Night,” live at the Whisky a Go Go
  • Brad Mehldau’s perfect improvisations on “Because” and “Dear Prudence”
  • Two very different versions of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” (Fats Domino and The Feelies)
  • “Yesterday,” arranged for classical guitar by the contemporary Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu
  • Youssou N’Dour performing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
  • Johnny Cash’s wonderful and poignant “In My Life”
  • William Shatner’s take on “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which is everything you’d expect it to be
  • Speaking of L in the S with D, perhaps my favorite one of the whole bunch: The Flaming Lips featuring Miley Cyrus and Moby
  • A not-so-subtly political “Happiness is a Warm Gun” by Tori Amos
  • Several covers from Rita Lee, including “Here, There, and Everywhere” sung in Portuguese
  • Plus: Bono, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Phish, Michael Jackson, Yo-Yo Ma, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Little Richard, Rufus Wainwright, Sonic Youth, She & Him, Tom Petty, and many many more.

As I said earlier, you’re welcome.


Report: NFL Asks Coldplay to Pay to Play the Super Bowl Halftime Show


This is not satire. This is #truth. According to the Wall Street Journal, the NFL is asking the three finalists for the Super Bowl Halftime Show to pony up some ca$h for the privilege of doing what they do for a living. From the article:

The NFL has narrowed down the list of potential performers for the 2015 Super Bowl to three candidates: Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Coldplay, these people said. While notifying the artists’ camps of their candidacy, league representatives also asked at least some of the acts if they would be willing to contribute a portion of their post-Super Bowl tour income to the league, or if they would make some other type of financial contribution, in exchange for the halftime gig.

In other words, not only does the NFL not want to pay musicians for services rendered, it wants musicians to pay them for rendering said services. By this, the NFL is saying the halftime show is free advertising for the performers and it’s doing them a favor by giving them such a big stage.

But here’s the thing: the halftime performance isn’t just a giant commercial. The musicians are providing entertainment at what has become the most-profitable annual television event on the planet. Those profits go to the NFL. You know who else is providing entertainment at this event? The players. Is the NFL also going to ask the players to donate their services? But come on, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, think of all the promotional opportunities that could come out of this.

NFL MoneyDear NFL, pay the musicians. You have annual revenues of nearly $10 billion, with aspirations to reach $25 billion. Pay the musicians. Without musical entertainment during halftime of the Super Bowl, what would you put in its place? 15 minutes of commercials? No one would watch. Original television programming? That costs money to produce. Pay the musicians.

Yes, the platform of Super Bowl Halftime Show is huge. Millions of people will tune in and millions may also purchase recordings or concert tickets afterwards. But it is the musical, theatrical, and (yes, even) artistic prowess of the musicians in performance that compels people support an artist with their dollars–not the fact that the NFL provided them with a big stage.

The NFL is greedily trying to profit from the success of others. It is shameful. I hope each of the musical acts being considered for this year’s halftime show remain vehement in their opposition to this sort of workplace exploitation.