5 Classical Music Stories That Prove 2016 Wasn’t a Total Loss



image: @christhebarker

I read the news this year, oh boy…

And so the Year of Death and Brexit and #MAGA comes to a merciful end. Yes, it was a horrific year for unity and truth and famous people staying alive. The awfulness extended to the classical music world as well. We said goodbye to far too many titans this year: Pierre Boulez, Auréle Nicolet, Steven Stucky, Louis Lane, Otto-Werner Mueller, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Brian Asawa, Jane Little, Huguette Dreyfuss, Gustav Meier, Inocente Carreño, Gregg Smith, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Neil Black, Sir Neville Marriner, Zoltán Kocsis, Jules Eskin, Pauline Oliveros, Karel Husa, Heinrich Schiff, and many many others.

But 2016 wasn’t all bad.


1. A new work by Igor Stravinsky was performed. That’s right, music by Stravinsky from 1908 that most scholars believed lost forever, was discovered last year and given its first performance in 2016. You can watch/listen to it here.

Berlin orchs.jpg

2. Three Berlin orchestras performed a free concert for refugees. It was a rare joint appearance by the greatest of the Berlin orchestras: the Berlin Philharmonic, the Staatskapelle Berlin, and the Konzerthaus Orchestra Berlin. The concert was titled “Welcome in our Midst,” and featured performances by all three orchestras and their principal conductors Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim, and Iván Fisher, who addressed the audience in Arabic at the beginning of the concert. “As musicians, we feel welcome anywhere in the world,” the three conductors said, in a joint statement. “We hope that this also applies to people who have been hit hard by fate and who were forced by war, hunger or persecution to leave their homeland.”


3. For the first time in 113 years, an opera written by a woman received a performance at The Metropolitan Opera. It’s a gasp-worthy stat that represents a reality at The Met that is wholly indefensible and which led composer Kaija Saariaho–whose opera L’Amour de Loin received a highly-successful run this December–to declare with a certain amount of exasperation, “You know, half of humanity has something to say, also.” Are you listening, arts org admins?


4. An orchestra, comprised entirely of refugee musicians, gave its first performance. The Refugee Orchestra Project was founded last year, but gave its concert debut in May, 2016, and its second performance a month later on World Refugee Day. The ensemble, led by conductor (and refugee from Russia) Lydiya Yankovskaya, performed music by composers who also were forced to flee their countries as refugees. Yankovskaya says, “I hope to demonstrate just how many refugees are around us each day and what we bring to the world.”


5. Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) had a banner year. The orchestra of young musicians (many of whom come from extremely challenging circumstances) celebrated its 10th anniversary year in a major way. (YOLA is a partnership among the LA Philharmonic, Expo Center, and Heart of Los Angeles.) In October, they capped off the party with their very first tour on their own, with a finale concert in Oakland conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Earlier in the year, members of YOLA had the honor of performing at the White House at a dinner honoring the previous year’s National Medal of Arts winners. YOLA musicians also traveled to London to lead a symposium on music education and performed new music at the venerable Ojai Music Festival. Oh…and you may have also seen them at Super Bowl 50, alongside Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars.

So, yeah…2016 wasn’t a total loss. (And there were many more incredible classical music stories this past year that are not listed here.) Tonight, I’ll raise a glass to more inspiration and uplift via classical music in 2017. Happy New Year!

Mozart at the Bat


With opening week of the new baseball season upon us, I was thinking about the various songs the players choose for their walk-up music as they head up to bat. It’s totally their choice and the picks range from something with a good thumping bass to get the adrenaline flowing to music of menace and intimidation for opposing pitchers. Chipper Jones always used Crazy Train, by Ozzy Osbourne; Yasiel Puig prefers Turn Down For What, by DJ Snake and Lil Jon; while Nick Punto let his daughter pick his walk-up music. Her choice? Shake it Off, by Taylor Swift, of course.

It’s not just batters who get to choose entrance music: two of the best closing pitchers in MLB history chose “lights out” music as they entered from the bullpen. Trevor Hoffman always entered to AC/DC’s Hells Bells, and Mariano Rivera actually earned his nickname from his theme song: Metallica’s Enter the Sandman. Both are awesome tunes to intimidate visiting batters while their opponent’s most dominant pitcher warms up.

As far as I know, only once has a Major League Baseball player opted for a classical tune as his walk-up music. That’s Prince Fielder, who uses the Rex tremendae section of Mozart’s Requiem as he strides to the plate. But that got me thinking (and talking to my KUSC colleagues) about what would make the best classical walk-up music. Below are nine possibilities–a full lineup’s worth, which I’d be happy to recommend to any MLB team if they’d like to do a classical music promotion night.

1. Carl Orff – “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana: A classic to lead off, with the added bonus of familiarity.

2. Igor Stravinsky – “Infernal Dance,” from The Firebird: Again with the intimidation factor here. This has the added benefit of probably causing many in the stands to jump in surprise after the first chord.

3. Johannes Brahms – opening of Symphony No. 1: Some nice, solid power here from a composer who also hits for average and makes every at-bat count. Exactly what you want for your #3 hitter.

4. Hector Berlioz – “Tuba mirum,” from Requiem: In baseball, you save your power-hitters for the cleanup spot in the batting order. This is cleanup music. (Suggested by Alan Chapman.)

5. Béla Bartók – opening of Miraculous Mandarin Suite: Whoever bats behind your cleanup hitter better be a decently scary presence at the plate. #5 protects #4, after all. Suggested by Gail Eichenthal, here we have music with what she calls “fear factor.”

6. John Adams: opening of Harmonielehre: Quite simply, one of the most badass pieces in all of classical music. Perfect for a hitter wanting to get the adrenaline pumping.

7. Hector Berlioz – “March to the Scaffold,” from Symphonie fantastique: When I asked Jim Svejda for his walk-up music pick, he suggested this piece, emphasizing it was perfect for Alex Rodriguez. I guess we know how Jim feels about A-Rod. The embattled Yankees DH bats seventh, and now, so does his execution walk-up music.

8. Gustav Holst – “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from The Planets: You didn’t think I’d forget this one, did you? It’s a good one for stat nerds too, because any good baseball player should be the bringer of WAR.

9. Serge Prokofiev – “The Alien God and the Dance of the Pagan Monsters,” from Scythian Suite: I mean, you don’t even need to hear it to know this is intimidating music, right? Do take a listen, though, because this is the piece I would likely choose as my walk-up music. And, yes, I would be batting ninth…frequently replaced by a more talented pinch-hitter.

So, there you have it. My starting lineup of Classical Walk-Up Music. I’d love to hear yours. Leave it in the comments…or blog about it and send me a link. In the meantime, here’s a Spotify playlist of my picks for your listening pleasure.


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

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.

Remixing the Rite

It’s not every day that electronic music DJs dabble in the classical music realm…but often, when they do, the results are less than thrilling.

Okay…Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won an Oscar for that last one—a remix of In the Hall of the Mountain King, from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt.

“There’s this increasing wave in my part of music of the lack of respecting an original work for what it is,” says Stefan Goldmann, a DJ and composer of electronic music who lives in Berlin. He told me, he struggles with the idea of DJs remixing other people’s work.

StefanGoldmann1“So, someone composes a piece of music in a certain way and somebody else just instantly says, ‘Oh, I can do better,’ and changes it around? At some point, I thought, why would everybody just change what I do as a music composer and producer to suit some different idea and we never get to hear the original anymore?” 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