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Composer Cagematch!: Dvorak vs. Copland

WELL. THAT was certainly exciting.

First it was Debussy! Then Ravel! Then tied! Then Debussy! Back and forth and back and forth it went; at one time Debussy was three points ahead, only to have Ravel come from behind and take a one point lead a few days later. But when the polls closed, Debussy had clawed his way back to the top by a mere one point himself.  So don’t think your vote doesn’t count, dear public.

Next we take a departure from the countryman-against-countryman theme and branch out a bit. Get ready to think outside the box, people, because in this corner, talking all kindsa smack about American composers, it’s

ANTONIIIIIIIIIIIN DVOOOOOOOOOORAAAAAAAAAK!

And in this corner, countering with an Appalachian Spring to the face, it’s

AAAAAAROOOOOOON COOOOOOPLAAAAAAAND!

“From the New World,” or actually from the New World? The rustic energy of Rodeo or of Slavonic Dances? The stirring bombast of Fanfare for the Common Man or the classic beauty of Serenade for Strings? Don’t look at me; I’m not allowed to vote. Get to it.

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Everybody digs a swingin’ cat

My mom sent me this. Thanks, Mom!

Related anecdote: while I was at Universal, my friend Rebekah took care of my two cats. Rebekah is a cello teacher and holds some of her lessons at her house. She told me that often when she was teaching a student, Ruffian would come and sit in her lap — until Rebekah started keeping time by patting her back, whereupon she would jump down and stalk off in a huff. So remember, kids, all appearances of this video to the contrary, your cat is not a metronome. Please do not keep time to him. Thank you.

Pa… Pa… Pa…

Tossing LOL Friday again today for a recap of last night’s Die Zauberflote. Regular LOL Friday format to return next week, assuming I don’t have something else I feel like talking about. We’re going to a do this bullet point style, because I had a rough day yesterday. Thank heavens it was a comic opera and not, say, Tristan und Isolde.

  • Vienna-style orchestra seating. Interesting!
  • Two TVs set up in the orchestra tier that focused on Marin Alsop’s conducting. I assume so that the vocalists could see her instructions while still facing the audience? They were turned off for awhile, so I’m not 100% sure. Opera people, enlighten me.
  • Not being so well-versed in opera and having seen little of it live, I found the dichotomy of the listening experience. The BSO itself, usually at the forefront of my attention, becaming a supporting player I scarcely noticed as I focused on the vocalists. Which I suppose is the way opera is supposed to be — you only notice the musicians if they make a mistake — hence their relegation to the pit. But it’s not how I’ve been accustomed to listening to live music, so it was a different experience for me.
  • The girls got pretty dresses and veils that fit their roles; Papageno (Daniel Chi, I think? they announced him as a replacement and I’m not sure Daniel Cilli) got a vest and feathers in his hair; the rest of the men got… tuxedos. Yes. Because when I bolt off on heroic quests, I always shake out my tuxedo first.
  • I really wanted to swap Tamino (Jonathan Boyd) in for Papageno and vice versa. Both were good in their roles, but Tamino was just too… verklempt in his gestures for my taste. I understand that, what with the fainting and all, Tamino is not supposed to be the perfect protagonist, but still, I think he’s supposed to be more amusing in the ridiculous ideal he represents. I found him inherently silly, and that would’ve done well for Papageno.
  • By contrast, Papageno performed his funny business very well, but there was a lanky elegance about him that I think would’ve better suited Tamino.
  • All the same, he did a great job when he was trying to find a girl to kiss — both in a hanging scene and the part where he came on to Marin Alsop (bahahaha).
  • But forget them — I’m throwing in my lot with the Queen of the Night (Mari Moriya). Did she hit those high notes? Yes she did! Although oddly enough I found her lower notes leading up to it a teensy bit inaccurate; nervous anticipation, perhaps? Her three ladies were also pretty fantastic.
  • The Three Spirits were repeatedly referred to as boys. Note to costume designers: throwing cummerbunds and caps on what are clearly girls from an anatomical perspective does not turn them into boys.
  • I found Monostatos (Peter Joshua Bourroughs) the weakest of the cast — he had a very nice voice but didn’t project like he needed to. I loved his red Chuck-wearing, jump-roping henchmen, though.
  • Sarastro (Morris Robinson) could project his voice ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
  • Pamina (Emily Albrink) did a good job. That’s all. Next!
  • In the immortal words of Tigger: It’s the Narrator! There was an explanatory narrator, since this production was only semi-staged and cut a bit. His name was Tony Tsendeas, and he did a great job with a potentially cheesy role that was essentially made up and included a stint as a hanging tree. Well done, sir.
  • “Nein, nein” is funnier than “Ja, ja” when sung. Fact!

So. Yeah. You should go see it at the Meyerhoff this weekend.

Life and viola jokes go on

Q. Why do dogs howl when violists play?

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Queen of the Nein

Guys. Guys. Are you sitting down? You should sit down. I am about to remove your brain from your head, blend it into a froth, and pour it back into your skull, such is the shocking nature of my coming statement.

This week’s BSO concert is a semi-staged production of Die Zauberflote, or The Magic Flute. It is by Mozart.

I am going. And what’s more, I AM EXCITED.

I AM GOING TO AN ALL-MOZART CONCERT AND I AM EXCITED.

Here, allow me to explain. This is why I don’t like Mozart: he’s so… dashed-off. He’s strangely fun to play — I think because, as an old  (pro-Wolfie) violin teacher once pointed out, he’s very sarcastic — but I always feel like somewhere underneath the notes Mozart is tugging at your sleeve, whispering, “Not bad, huh? I just busted that out on my lunch break. Took me like a minute and a half to write.”

Because of this, with Mozart, I feel like all I’ve done is play something pretty but entirely empty, because all the composer was trying to say with the music was “I’M BRILLIANT!” Ponder a Mozart symphony. Now ponder a Beethoven symphony. Which makes you feel like you’ve been somewhere?

Having said all that: I think Mozart’s operas really ARE brilliant. I think it’s because opera by definition has a narrative, thus forcing him to express ideas outside of his own genius. Instead of writing a piece as extraordinary Mozart, he must write the piece as overjoyed Papageno finding his Papagena, all the way across the spectrum to Don Giovanni as he meets his doom. Opera funnels Mozart’s creativity and talent into focus, and a focus at least partially away from himself. For me, that makes all the difference.

And so this Thursday, February 25 at 8 pm, I’ll be way at the back of the orchestra seats at Strathmore wildly excited for Mozart’s The Magic Flute (extra excited because I once had a Classical Kids audio book that told a version of the story). Join me there, or hit up the Meyerhoff on Saturday, February 26 at 8 pm or Sunday, February 27 at 3 pm. If you can; I think if not all then almost all tickets have been sold. People really love Wolfie.

Go figure.

A chance to shine, squandered

Bonus post! Just wanted to dash off a quick concert recap, since I attended the BSO concert with Ingrid Fliter last Friday. See?

It was good. And as my dad always says, the excellent is the enemy of the good; I must confess that I was a trifle disappointed. Don’t get me wrong — everyone sounded beautiful, Ingrid Fliter played very nicely (although I preferred her brief encore to the Chopin concerto itself), it was all very nice. But there was no fire, no passion, no oomph. It was phoned in.

Look, guys, I can understand why. As my concert companion Rebekah pointed out, Chopin’s concertos often lack flow; the pianist does a bunch of fancy stuff, and then he’s all, oops! Better give the orchestra something to play. And then the other two pieces — William Tell and Tchaikovsky’s symphony no. 2 — those poor musicians have probably played a elevently jillion times before. And that’s not even a number! (Yet.)

To that I say: so what? Unfortunately, a blase approach simply cannot work with these two pieces. William Tell is something of a cliche, I will grant you that. It still makes me smile, but I will grant you that just the same. However, it is a piece that calls for raucous energy by its very nature, and the version I heard was controlled, almost tired.

As for the Tchaikovsky, it is called the “Little Russian” at least in part because of its roots in Russian folk tunes. Folk tunes — especially, I would even venture, eastern European ones — are raw chunks of emotion and spirit. This was not. This was beautifully played, yes, but strangely full of ennui. What I find extra funny is that for Tchaikovsky, it’s way less Tchaikovsky-y than usual. Shouldn’t that make the Tchaikovsky snobs feel better and more excited?

I don’t know. Maybe the guest conductor Hans Graf was confusing them or something, although I wasn’t bothered by the tempi or dynamics. Everyone has an off night, I suppose, but let that be a lesson to you — even if it’s the thousandth time you’re busting out Pachelbel at your second cousin’s wedding, make like your aunt just gave you an ugly sweater for Christmas and fake some joy here, people!

Artistic expression counts for something after all!

I’m more of a hockey girl (Brooks Laich, call me!), but when I saw this bit from figure skater Ryan Bradley I knew it was Ain’t Baroque material. The only thing that could’ve made this better is if he’d worn a wig.

Updated to add: As a reminder, you have until February 25 to vote in the Composer Cagematch!

Adventures in hashtaggery

Yesterday evening I made an amazing discovery by way of the lovely @NaxosUSA: the Twitter hashtag #budgetclassical. These tweets are all terrible puns and mockery of classical music titles as they might have been had they been composed on the cheap. Since I spent something like two hours addicted to making and reading these, I’m tossing out the usual LOL Friday image format to bring you all the ones I made up myself. The hashtag is still happening; read ’em here and submit your own! (And when you do, make sure you add @aintbaroque so I can see.)

And now, in reverse posting order, one of my greatest strengths: horrible, horrible puns!

  1. Dies Felinae
  2. Flesh Wound on Tenth Avenue
  3. The Ambivalent Widow
  4. Transgendered Night
  5. Stars and Stripes for a Pretty Long Time
  6. Serenade for String
  7. Escape from the Questionable Massage Parlor
  8. The Wiccans’ Sabbath
  9. About Halfway Down the Steps of Central Asia
  10. March to the Lethal Injection from Symphonie Just Okay
  11. West Side Tweet
  12. Nopetha
  13. Music for the Sparklers in the Backyard
  14. Rhapsody in Teal
  15. What the Wildflowers Refuse to Tell Me
  16. Doctor Subatomic
  17. Saunter of the Valkyries
  18. The Beggar’s Opera (oh, wait…)
  19. Snapping Music
  20. Haydn’s Very Little Warning Symphony
  21. Three Little Swans and a Duck
  22. Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2: the “Embryonic Russian”
  23. Ives’ Chuck Rutlage
  24. Khachaturian’s Shuffle of the Rose Maidens
  25. Saint-Saen’s Petting Zoo of the Animals
  26. Mendelssohn’s Sicilian Symphony
  27. The Love for Three Clementines
  28. Polevtsian Marking the Steps
  29. Crash Landing of the Bumblebee
  30. Officer Cadet Kije
  31. Thus Whispered Zarathrustra
  32. Pete & Pete Grimes
  33. The Civil Ceremony of Figaro
  34. Pavane for a Princess Who’s Feeling Under the Weather
  35. Madama Caterpillar
  36. 4’33” of White Noise
  37. Smetana’s The Loaned-Out Bride
  38. Mozart’s The Regular Old Flute
  39. Appalachian Puddle
  40. The Bach Single
  41. The Brandenburg Concerto
  42. Gilbert and Sullivan present Lady-in-Waiting Ida
  43. Die Maus
  44. Die Bieberflote

Wow, I had no idea I did so many. I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed.

I’m not sure which group should be more offended

Q. Why are some violists switching to the accordion?

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CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

Oh, right! I was in Orlando two weeks ago! And I miss it every day.

As usual, I tweeted about my trip as I went along, adding the hashtag #aintbaroqueFL except for a couple times when I screwed it up because let’s face it, typing on a cellphone is hard and annoying work. If you missed it, you can read back over my tweets here (just keep clicking backwards till you hit ’em; apparently the hashtag is too old to be searchable. Lame, Twitter!).

And again, as I have before, I took music-related pictures! Follow the cut or miss an embarrassing photo of me doing karaoke.

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