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Concert Roundup Part Eleventy

No, seriously, I have no idea how many of these I’ve done and checking is cheating. Here are some concerts happening this week. You should go to one. Several, even.

  • For example, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has something interesting going on — a Richard Einhorn vocal piece called The Passion of Joan of Arc that scores a 1928 silent film of the same name. This is movie music of a different kind. March 3 at Strathmore; March 2 & 4 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Oh, man. First the BSO tries to convince me of Mozart’s genius; now the National Symphony Orchestra is corrupting the children with “The Mozart Experience” and the Magical Circle Mime Company. They’ve resorted to mimes, people. Mimes! You know who else was a mime? Salieri in a face mask. But fine, fine, go ahead and broaden your kid’s cultural horizons. See if I care. March 4. [ See it! ]
  • Or if you prefer your music of the chamber persuasion, NSO music director and in this case pianist Christoph Eschenbach gets his Schubert on with the assistance of baritone Matthias Goerne in the song cycle Winterreise on March 5. [ See it! ]
  • A smattering of upcoming Strathmore performances: a Weimar Cabaret singer and orchestra; a solo pianist; a solo violinist. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.


Composer Cagematch! Round 3: Stravinsky vs. Bartok

AHA! Finally I get a win!

In the last match of the second round, you chose Gershwin over Chopin to advance. Handshakes all ’round, guys. Good show.

And that brings us to round three, everybody — we’re less than ten matches away from crowning a winner. But before we can get started, I’d like to tell you a story.

A few weeks ago I stayed for a bit after ballet class to practice a dance we’re learning set to Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta; absolutely amazing, amazing stuff.* After I had run through it a few times, a lady from class came up to me and said, “So does this music just drive you crazy?”


“This music. It’s so… out there. Like Stravinsky just drives me nuts.”

I made some gentle protest in a nod-and-smile, nod-and-smile sort of way because anyone who doesn’t like Bartok OR Stravinsky should be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats, but whatevs. The point is… well, the point is that… the point is…

…that in this corner, he La Mer-dered Debussy! (All right, hot shot, YOU think of one.) It’s


And in this corner, he wrote Schoenberg a whole new set of compositional rules! It’s


So tell me… how would you like to be driven mad?

*In the interest of fairness I should note that Stravinsky also wrote amazing, amazing stuff. Petrouchka, for example.

That’s FrahnkenSHTEEN

Music tames the savage beast, so it’s perfect for those inconvenient moments when you realize that the amalgam of human parts you brought to life with electricity during your lunch break has escaped and is out there terrorizing the townsfolk and taking hot soup to the lap. The violin makes a good recon tool; here’s a handy tutorial for its most efficient use. Oh, and also,


A proper warmup is key

From The New York Times:

In a strip from 1953 Schroeder embarks on an intensive workout. He does push-ups, jumps rope, lifts weights, touches his toes, does sit-ups (“Puff, Puff”), boxes, runs (“Pant, Pant”) and finally eats (“Chomp! Chomp!”). In the last two panels he walks to his piano with determination and begins playing furiously, sweat springing from his brow.

The eighth notes above Schroeder’s head are from the opening bars of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata (Op. 106), a piece so long, artistically complex and technically difficult that it is referred to as the “Giant” Sonata. When Beethoven delivered it to the publisher in 1819, he is believed to have said, “Now you will have a sonata that will keep the pianists busy when it is played 50 years from now.”

Surely Schroeder himself has kept the pianists — and the pianists’ audiences — busy with his torch for Beethoven. Read the full article here.

Instruments not to scale

Q. Why is the viola bigger than the violin? Continue reading

The Greatest

Note: By the end of this post I will ask you to create your own list of the top ten composers. I’m ruining the ending for you because I think it might be neat if you do it now, before you’re corrupted by my list or the NYT list or your grocery list or what have you. Just a thought. Thank you; good morning!

Hey, remember how I said the lynchpin of the Composer Cagematch! is not who you feel is the better composer but rather who you love more? Well, put a pin in it. We’re playing a new game now.

A couple weeks ago while at my grandmother’s house my family got into a discussion about who the greatest composers of all time were — greatest, not our favorites. (Yeah, my family has random chats about classical composers — just wait until I tell you about the great Dvorak’s Origins Argument of Thanksgiving 2011. That one still resurfaces from time to time.) My mom pulled up a list from The New York Times music critic to get his top 10. Take a gander here.

His list began with the traditional top three but then had me ducking a few curveballs — Brahms? Really? Then he said in his article he would expect such skepticism — and it got me thinking as to what MY top ten would be. Naturally I don’t mean to say I’m a completely impartial judge (I’d say the immediately preceding sentence already knocked me out of contention for that title), but in making such a list I think one would have to look at quality over blind adoration. You’ll see what I mean.*

So… for now, here’s my top ten. I betcha my list could change as early as tomorrow, but in this moment, here are what I call The Greatest:

  1. Bach
  2. Beethoven
  3. Mozart
  4. Stravinsky
  5. Schubert
  6. Bartok
  7. Shostakovich
  8. Handel
  9. Haydn
  10. Prokofiev

What I find most interesting about this exercise is less about who made it but who didn’t — or rather, which sorts of composers didn’t. I didn’t name a single composer outside the Austro-Hungarian or Soviet area; nary an opera composer to be found. This is the hole in my classical understanding; this teaches me where I need to go next to expand my repertoire — and maybe revise my list once I have.

Well? How do you feel about my list? I expect some fightin’ words as opinions must always create. And what about you? For bonus points, how has your list evolved? If I can remember, I want to make this list up again next year and see if it’s changed. Someone remind me in 11.5 months, okay?

* Do you SEE that? Do you SEE how I put Mozart at number 3, even though he makes me want to sic a fictionalized Salieri on him? He’s there because he was a genius, and even if I don’t dig most of his works, I can recognize that. Incidentally, this is also how I feel about Faulkner.

Concert Roundup Up and Away

Good morning, campers! Are you ready to find out what you’re doing this weekend?

  • Option number one: the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is cheating. No, wait, that’s not true; it’s Sarasate who cheated with his fantasy on Bizet’s Carmen. Next time you write your own fantasy, young man; none of this downloading scores off the internet. Also on the menu: MacMillan‘s The Confession of Isobel Gowdie and Prokofiev’s fifth symphony. February 23 & 26 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Or if you want to hang with the BSO but feel that only Prokofiev is worth your time (that’s a little snobby, sir, but I see where you’re coming from), Marin Alsop will help deconstruct and contextualize the piece in another one of those snappy Off the Cuff concerts. It’s like a music history lecture with a live orchestra, and Alsop’s pretty funny! February 24 at Strathmore and February 25 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Maybe just music isn’t enough for you anymore. Maybe you need acrobatics to catch your interest. If so, the National Symphony Orchestra has you covered with one of those crazy Cirque de la Symphonie performances. The NSO Pops will play as circus performers of all stripes performing feats of daring. Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Khachaturian are all promised. February 23 – 25. [ See it! ]
  • A smattering of upcoming Strathmore performances: a cello and piano duet, a Bach concert, a jazz vocalist. [ Check out the full schedule! ]

Remember, if you’d like me to include your upcoming concert in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

Also known as The Day of Madness

Okay, this video is a week late. I thought a clip from the 1995 version (which is to say the only version that counts) of Pride and Prejudice would be quite thematically appropriate for the week of Valentine’s Day, and then I promptly forgot it was the week of Valentine’s Day. Today is, of course, President’s Day, but the vibe isn’t quite the same.

Well, I suppose they can’t all be winners. Here’s a vaguely romantic video for no reason at all, in which Miss Elizabeth Bennet sings Mozart’s “Voi che sapete” and then explains the importance of faking it. Truly advice for all seasons.

Loosen up on the neck or you won’t get good vibrato

I’d be mad too if they’d tossed me before I hit the first violin part of the Bach double.

How to make a string quartet out of things you have lying around your garage

Q. What’s the difference between a viola and a chainsaw? Continue reading