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Well, I know now

But it still doesn’t explain why I can’t whistle.

funny pictures - Hum a Little Tune in Celebration of World Music Day!
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And we’re right back on violas

There will come a day when violists are upright, respected citizens of the instrumental pantheon – I hope I never live to see it.

Q. Why can’t you hear the viola on modern music recordings? Continue reading

Haven’t violists suffered enough?

Well, no. They haven’t. There’s plenty more abuse in their future, never fear. But as we slog our way through that early summer wasteland of concertlessness (turns out the cruelest month is June), allow me to inject a little levity into your life. I’ve been meaning to tell this joke forever, but the viola joke has always taken priority. Not today!

Chopin and Dvorak decided that what their music really needed was some inspiration from nature, so they packed their gear and went on a camping trip. When they still hadn’t returned two weeks later it was determined that a search party should be sent to make sure they were okay. Well, when the seekers located the composers’ camp, they found an absolute mess. Ink and paper were positively everywhere, and in the midst of it all, a pervasive, sticky expanse of honey.

As the search party stared at this in some confusion, they suddenly heard the crackling of forest footsteps behind them, followed by a great roar. Two enormous bears came lumbering out of the gloom, the fangs gleaming with slavering malice. The lead searcher, thinking quickly, lifted his gun and shot the bears in the head, one-two, in an impressive show of marksmanship.

Already knowing in their hearts how Chopin and Dvorak had met their ends, the search party glumly examined the bears, discovering them to be a male and female. They sliced open the she-bear and, sure enough, the Polish composer’s partially-digested body came sliding out. It was then they concluded that the Czech was in the male.

Please note: I do not condone the shooting of bears. If confronted with a bear, I recommend you hold very still and accept your fate as necessary. If it seems your death is inevitable, you may as well get a hug in there. I know I’ve always wanted to.

Composer Cagematch!: THE WINNER

Oh, guys. It’s been such a fun journey. Thirty-two composers (edited to add: +2 play-ins) stepped into the ring, and over the year we have slowly whittled it down to two. Before we crown our winner, let’s take a look back over composers past, shall we?

* denotes the winner of the match


  1. Prokofiev vs. Stravinsky*
  2. Debussy* vs. Ravel
  3. Dvorak vs. Copland*
  4. Britten* vs. Holst
  5. Rimsky-Korsakov* vs. Mussourgsky
  6. Grieg* vs. Sibelius
  7. Schumann vs. Brahms*
  8. Tchaikovsky* vs. Rachmaninoff
  9. Mahler* vs. Wagner
  10. Monteverdi vs. Verdi*
  11. Schoenberg* vs. Berg
  12. Bernstein vs. Gershwin*
  13. Handel* vs. Haydn
  14. Chopin* vs. Liszt
  15. Bartok* vs. Shostakovich
  16. Saint-Saens* vs. Khachaturian


  1. Stravinsky* vs. Debussy
  2. Copland* vs. Britten
  3. Tchaikovsky* vs. Rimsky-Korsakov
  4. Bartok* vs. Schoenberg
  5. Saint-Saens vs. Grieg*
  6. Brahms* vs. Mahler
  7. Verdi* vs. Handel
  8. Gershwin* vs. Chopin


  1. Stravinsky* vs. Bartok
  2. Copland vs. Tchaikovsky*
  3. Verdi vs. Gershwin*
  4. Grieg vs. Brahms*


  1. Brahms* vs. Stravinsky
  2. Gershwin vs. Tchaikovsky*


  1. Tchaikovsky vs. Mozart*
  2. Beethoven* vs. Brahms


Mozart vs. Beethoven

And so we arrive here, at the end. I think we all know whose t-shirt I was wearing, but it wasn’t a question of my sartorial decisions; it all came down to the best man taking the Composer Cagematch! crown. Are you ready? And the winner is…

Continue reading

“You can tell a lot about the plot just by listening to the opening music”

“There’s a nutter around here somewhere.” It isn’t me, is it?

An outward manifestation of love

Behold: my favorite hat from Royal Ascot 2012. Those Brits really know how to work it, no? Photo credit Getty.


Q. What do you call someone who’s always hanging around musicians? Continue reading

Signature move

There are no concerts this week (aside from some free events at Strathmore – check it out right now!), so instead I thought I’d hit you with some pictures, and then smack you in the face with a sock filled with queries.

I took these photos of NADJA SALERNO-SONNENBERG during intermission at her recent BSO concert. She doesn’t hold particularly still.

And here’s the phone case she signed for me! She was a bit taken aback by my request, but my reasoning is that if I had her sign my program, at best I’d have it lying around and at worst I’d lose it. My phone case, however, I see all the time, and I can look at it and smile. Logic!

Now please get out some pens and ruled paper, because I have some discussion questions for you:

  1. There never were very many people in line to see NADJA. I don’t think it was widely advertised – I only knew to look myself because I’m friends with the front of house guy – so: when attending a concert with a big name artist, do you assume there will be a signing, and do you pursue it?
  2. Have you met many big musical deals at signings? Who’s the biggest?
  3. If you could have your favorite artist sign anything you wanted, what would it be?
  4. NADJA’s handler looks pretty sour, don’t you think?

For super bonus points: if you’re a big enough deal to have signed things for others, what’s your view of the experience? (You can answer this hypothetically if you like.)

The machines will never replace us (not on my watch)

In the concert hall, how do you tell the seasoned sophisticates from the plebes? Easy! It’s all about knowing when to clap. Everyone knows that you hold your applause to the very end of the piece; that’s just how it’s done.

Last week I attended the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s concert featuring NADJA-SALERNO SONNENBERG, in which she played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. She received a standing ovation.

After the first movement.

And no one minded, because she bloody well brought the house down, with her swaying and her stomping and her passionate frenzy of notes, but also with her smiles and winks and a playful spirit, just her and her buddy Piotr knocking out a few bars for the joy of it. She got a second, full-audience standing ovation after the third and final movement, because she’s NADJA SALERNO-SONNENBERG and don’t you forget it.

But she’s by no means the only big-name concert violinist out there. I would even wager she’s not among THE most famous. A big deal, certainly, but somewhat less educated people might think first of, say, Pinchas Zuckerman, or for your more modern sensibilities, Hilary Hahn.

Hmmm. That’s odd. I’ve been to live performances by both, and on neither occasion were there multiple, spontaneous standing ovations.(This is the part of the post where I start to duck and move. I’m looking at you, CMcGo, aka Mr. Hahn.)

I talked about this with my mother the other day, and she pointed out that both Hahn and Zuckerman are considered classicists, concerned with perfection and purity of form and note. To which I say: BOOOOOOORING. If you want perfection, program it into a computer. Who decided classical music has to be clean enough for surgery? And who decided that the only acceptable facial expressions are those of intensity or in some cases anger? Why can’t a soloist hunker down into the music and really ENJOY it? And, like, y’know, grin and stuff?

The BSO followed NADJA with a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and again I say: it was too clean. This is music for pagan ritual; is it wrong to expect some rawness? I want a Rite that bleeds at the edges, but it seemed a study of caution as the watchword. No thank you. Bring back NADJA. Bring back classical music with some individual personality.

So! I now invite your rebuttal. Do you think my acknowledged hero-worship of NADJA colors my opinion of her performance? Do you think Hilary Hahn is a goddess (CMcGo) and intend to murder me for my sins against her? Do you think perfection should be the goal after all? And if you do, answer me this: then why SHOULDN’T we just program our music into a computer and call it a day?

“When Fozzie the Bear called me from London…”

Here we have Victor Borge on The Muppet Show, performing a sonata by the Spanish composer, L. Beethoven.