The KUSC Classical Top 100 Analyzed


Well, the KUSC Classical Top 100 has been fully revealed and with it, some predictable results…and more than a few surprises as well.

To recap, we asked KUSC listeners to vote on their favorite pieces of classical music and then we counted down the top 100 vote-getters on the air. You can view the entire list here. Before I get to what surprised me the most about the results, here are a few things that did not shock me at all. Continue reading

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

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.”

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

Arrested Development & Recapitulation

Created by @JamiePaisley

Created by @JamiePaisley

First of all, credit where credit is due: my puntastic colleague at KUSC, @JamiePaisley, created this, and many other, TV ad posters during our recent pledge drive. As a rabid fan of Arrested Development, this one was my favorite. And it got me thinking: what if the cast of AD were made up of classical composers?

Below, you’ll find my choices for which composer is best represented in the main characters of Arrested Development. Now…I could take this exercise deep into obscurity on either the AD or classical music side (see below), but for brevity’s sake, I’ve left it at just the main characters. So…where do I hit? Where do I miss? Let me know in the comments.

MichaelBluthMichael Bluth – Right away, we’ll start with some controversy. Allow me to summarize how I feel about the music of Johannes Brahms in one syllable: meh. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s why I think Michael Bluth is Brahms. I can also say it in one syllable: safe. Both are risk-averse, rarely challenge convention, and deride others who do. Plus, Brahms was a crusader against shoddy construction. “Without craftsmanship,” Brahms said referring to his rivals, “inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” Continue reading

Peter Sellars on the Threat of Cultural Impositionalism

On the flight to London last week, Air New Zealand had loaded up a bunch of James Bond movies on the monitors in our seats. An appropriate gesture, I think, to get us in the mood for our final destination. Naturally, I got sucked in. I watched 007 besting bad guys all the way from Los Angeles, over Central Canada, past Greenland and Iceland, and into Her Majesty’s airspace.

In the arts world, if you want something shaken, not stirred, bring in Peter Sellars. That’s just what the LA Phil did for the world’s music educators during the recent symposium “Future Play: Music Systems in the 21st Century” at the Barbican Centre. Sellars is a natural pick for an orchestra which purports to be–and by all accounts is succeeding at being–a 21st Century Orchestra. (Not to mention, of course, his decades-long relationship with the LA Phil.)

The LA Phil’s President and CEO, Deborah Borda, has long recognized that the days of an orchestra existing solely to play music by dead white guys are over. An orchestra–any arts organization, really–must be a vibrant, relevant member of a community as that community exists in the present.

Enter Peter Sellars, who stood in front of a room full of people who work for arts organizations and told them, “Arts organizations are my favorite fascist structures.”

Continue reading