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Turn the tide of blog posts!

Ah, yes. Fall is here. School starts, the weather gets nippy — it’s awful, isn’t it?

Good thing the BSO season gets rolling too, or we’d have nothing to lift our desolation. This week cellist Alisa Weilerstein joins Marin Alsop in her rightful place on the conductor’s podium in a program entitled “Tchaikovsky and Dvorak.” A little prosaic, but certainly descriptive — the program features Dvorak’s cello concerto and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” symphony. Oh, and this: “Baltimore-based James Lee III’s Chuphshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan depicts Harriet Tubman’s yearning for emancipation, drawing on Negro Spirituals to express her journey from slavery to freedom.” Interesting! See it at the Meyerhoff on Friday, September 23 at 8 pm, at Strathmore on Thursday, September 24 at 8 pm, and then again at the Meyerhoff on Sunday, September 25 at 3 pm.

Okay, I’m rushing through this one a bit ’cause I have a question for you about these upcoming BSO concert posts. I’ve been doing them for almost two years now, and when I was an intern there it tied in perfectly and played right into my blog thesis project. Now that the scope has widened a bit, I want to know — do you like them? Do you read them? Do they interest you, even if you’re in no position to go? Tell me please!

Part 1: The good music teacher

Here’s another one of my music-in-literature-that-isn’t-about-music discoveries, or should I say rediscovery because I’ve read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn like eight thousand times. If you haven’t read it, you are dismissed from the human race until this situation is rectified.

Done? Okay, good, you may come retake your place as a citizen. Now cast your mind back to the bit where Smith describes Mr. Morton, the music teacher who comes around to the public schools of Brooklyn in the 1910s once a week…

He drew notes on the blackboard; he drew little legs on them to make them look as though they were running out of the scale. He’s make a flat note look like humpty-dumpty. A sharp note would rate a thin beetlike nose zooming off of it. All the while he’d burst into singing just as spontaneously as a bird. Sometimes his happiness was so overflowing he couldn’t hold it and he’d cut a dance caper to spill some of it out.

He taught them good music without letting them know it was good. He set his own words to the great classics and gave them simple names like “Lullaby” and “Serenade” and “Street Song” and “Song for a Sunshine Day.” Their baby voices shrilled Handel’s “Largo” and they knew it merely by the title “Hymn.” Little boys whistled part of Dvorak’s New World Symphony as they played marbles. When asked the name of the song, they’d reply, “Oh, ‘Going Home.'” They played potsy, humming “The Soldier’s Chorus” from Faust which they called “Glory.”

And now I invite you to think about all the good music teachers you’ve had, both in a school and in private, of your instrument and of music as a whole. The ones that loved music so much they gave it to you like an infection. The ones that didn’t just make you try harder; they made you want to try harder.

Think about them and tell me about them now, because tomorrow I’m going to rant and rave about the bad ones. Oh yes.

Oh, it was some composer or other

Good news! I am not, as it turns out, completely insane. I am only partially insane.

Remember in May of 2010 when I complained about my inability to locate a Silly Symphony about the three little pigs set to Dvorak? (Of course not; refresh your memory.) Well, I have discovered a possibility for that: it wasn’t a Silly Symphony and it wasn’t Dvorak. Haha. Oops.

Whatever. Disney/Warner Bros, Dvorak/Brahms; practically interchangeable, right?

Composer Cagematch!: Interlude

Hi! I know we’re due for a match this week, but I’ve pushed it to next week; let’s talk shop, shall we?

Let’s talk Composer Cagematch! Philosophy. What is a Composer Cagematch!, exactly? Is it a fight between equals in popularity? In style? In country and time period? Is it a fight between equals at all?

I ask — and hope to elicit some healthy discussion and maybe even dig up a shred of clarity — because of this excellent comment from Classical Music Broadcast on the most recent match:

Jenn, I know you think all I do is whine about bad matchmaking…

This is like putting a middleweight in a super heavyweight match, where Gustav is wearing 4 oz, and Rick-ard is wearing eights.

Wagner wrote operas, so that automatically gives him a weight and reach advantage.

RW wrote the Ring cycle – so Mahler loses points on his ground game, but gains on his standup (6th Symphony and a BIG freaking hammer, anyone?)

Cara Fleck – great point regarding the harps – Wagner buried his and Gustav let his shimmer elegantly.

From round one, this match will go to the cards. Gustav got my vote, because I think Wagner should go mano-a-mano against another opera composer.

I would have liked to see a Mahler/Beethoven matchup.

Jenn, I don’t think Beethoven/Wolfie is a solid, because early Beethoven *is* a lot of Mozart recycled. The 1st & 2nd are flat-out tributes. Even the 4th has a lot of Mozart in it.

and I love both of those guys, so thats no insult to Ludwig.

Points well taken (except of course that Beethoven is clearly > Mozart, natch). Perhaps I have not always been the finest matchmaker. My own mother was horrified by my Dvorak-Copland fight — and even more dismayed when Copland took it by a point. But isn’t that interesting? That Copland bested Dvorak? They aren’t from the same time period or even the same country. So why did I match them? Because Dvorak tried to tell Americans how to compose, and Copland was an American who composed. To me it was a good hook. How did the voters choose between them, then?

Well, what sort of contest are we running here? Is it a question of popularity? Is Copland more popular than Dvorak? Is Mahler more popular than Wagner? Have you all been choosing based on artistic merit? One person commented that he had voted for Prokofiev over Stravinsky ultimately because the former appeared more often on his iPod. The reason I think Beethoven/Mozart is a valid match has less to do with music and more to do with musicology  — as a general rule, the top 3 composers on virtually every ranking list ever come down to Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart — but the order changes. I want to know less “Who’s the better composer?” and more “Who do you love?” I don’t believe the one necessarily implies the other.

So that’s how I’ve been approaching it. Now I want to open the forum up to you, the voters. Tell me about your voting philosophies. What works for you about the Cagematch!es? What doesn’t? Who should fight next? And can someone please start Claymationing these for me?

Death and publicists

Speaking of losers, let’s talk about Dvorak!

Awww, just kidding, Anty. That was mean. Maybe I could hook you up with some representation to make it up to you. This screenshot from IMDb seems to indicate you need some.

Composer Cagematch!: Britten vs. Holst

Was it patriotism?

I’m not gonna lie — I’m surprised. Dvorak was in the lead for… almost all of it, really. And then in those last two days Copland came up from behind to battle back and forth before ultimately taking it by one point. I, for one, did not expect to announce Team Aaron the winner, but maybe you did.

Having chalked up a win for the colonies, let’s check in with the motherland, shall we?

In this corner, a modern (natively) English reboot of Handel — it’s


And in this corner, a modern English reboot of Vivaldi — it’s


I always say that if you want proof that God loves gay people, listen to the “Sentimental Sarabande” from Britten’s Simple Symphony. And if you want to get really angry at John Williams, listen to “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Holst’s The Planets, and then listen to the rest of The Planets because OMGTHEPLANETS. I once brought someone over to classical music by the power of “Jupiter” alone. But then one can’t exactly discount Peter Grimes, can one? Toughie…

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


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


“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.


Alrighty, killer bees, this week’s BSO concert is simply but accurately entitled “Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.” Let me stop you right there – I played that concerto for my private lessons once, back in the dark ages when I was still laboring over the violin, and I remain a little scarred.

So let’s skip to the other bits. We have Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony No. 9 (listen to the opening of the fourth movement and tell me John Williams didn’t straight up gank that for Jaws). And then we have a piece by John Adams called Dr. Atomic Symphony. I mean, of course we do.

There don’t appear to be any program notes available, but I felt that a title like Dr. Atomic warrants further research, so I went ahead and hit Wikipedia like a good child of the 21st century. The symphony is evidently a condensed version of Adams’ Dr. Atomic opera, which covers the time a month out from the testing of the atomic bomb in 1945 up to the moment just before the bomb is dropped (I assume in the test, not on Hiroshima). Makes sense to me!

The symphony was initially written in four movements spanning 45 minutes, but Adams’ later rewrote it into three movements clocking in at 25 minutes. My guess is that the BSO is playing the 25 minute version, but I could be wrong. If you want to find out for sure, there’s a Thursday, September 30 concert at 8 pm at Strathmore, a Saturday, October 2 concert at 8 pm at the Meyerhoff, and then another Meyerhoff concert at 3 pm on Sunday, October 3. If I said “It’ll be explosive!”, would you hate me?

Updated to add: I forgot to mention that the soloist will be Stefan Jackiw. I guess he’ll never be granting me an interview.