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Man, I was so happy, cruising through the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s 13-14 season. My beloved Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is doing the Shostakovich violin concerto: AWESOME. Itzhak mothereffin’ Perlman is back with his ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT rendition of Beethoven’s Romance No. 1; as far as I’m concerned his is the only version that matters. Hell, they’re playing the score to Casablanca while screening the film! I love Casablanca! Here are your winnings, sir!

There’s more! Mahler’s “Titan” symphony! Holst’s The Planets! Gershwin! Bernstein! My favorite Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto! And look, Mendelssohn’s violin conc – STOP RIGHT THERE.


And let us not say another word about it. (Please don’t make me say another word about it.)


Concert Roundup for Three

  • This week at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, awesome violin-violin-bass trio Time for Three swoops in to perform the piece Jennifer Higdon wrote for them, Concerto Four-Three; I caught the premiere of that and it was pretty fantastic if I do say so myself! Notes of bluegrass in classical, plus they always bust out a killer encore. Add John Adams and Prokofiev and how can you go wrong? May 2 at Strathmore; May 4 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Meanwhile, the National Symphony Orchestra brings in cellist Alisa Weilerstein for an Elgar piano concerto (are we in heaven?) followed by Shostakovich‘s fifth symphony. May 2 – 4. [ See it! ]
  • Or if you prefer to take your Shostakovich without the side of Elgar, the NSO graciously offers the same symphony with the alternative sides of Shchedrin and a viola concerto by Schnittke. Ha, viola concerto. May 3. [ See it! ]
  • This week at Strathmore: Gypsy jazz; classical guitar; jazz with the great Bela Fleck with The Marcus Roberts Trio. [ See the calendar! ]

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

Concert Roundupslistlieder

At least read until you get to the bit with the condoms.

  • This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra chooses to go with a whole lot of Rachmaninoff. Not sure what they’re thinking there, but there it is. But no worries – they’re getting pianist Simon Trpceski to play it, which is a much butter decision in sheer quantity of consonants alone, and then finishing up with Shostakovich‘s eleventh symphony. Much better! March 22 & 24 at the Meyerhoff; March 23 at Strathmore. [ See it! ]
  • The National Symphony Orchestra, meanwhile, wins my heart forever by choosing to present a live version of that Classical Kids favorite, Tchaikovsky Discovers America. All your favorite Tchaikovsky pieces woven into a storyline that doesn’t pander like so much children’s education does (assuming, of course, it’s the same as my beloved old cassette tapes). They ought to all be hanging out on a train. If they’re not on a train, we’ve been lied to. “And just a touch of raspberry!” March 24. [ See it! ]
  • This week at StrathmoreClassical guitar with Mattias Jacobsson, Neil Berg’s 101 Years of Broadway, and – I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS ONE – UrbanArias. I’ve seen the program and the comic operas will include, among other things, “Craigslistlieder,” actual Craigslist postings set to music. Among the selections: “Half a Box of Condoms” and “For Trade: Assless Chaps.” How could I help but be there? [ See the calendar! ]

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

Concert Roundup, Mostly

I shall complete this! I swear!

  • The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra wants you to know that they consider Dvorak and Brahms lyrical. I know this because this week’s concert is titled “Lyrical Dvorak and Brahms.”  For the former, his eighth symphony gets the nod, and in the case of the latter, it’s the second piano concerto. November 15 & 16 at the Meyerhoff; November 17 at Strathmore. [ See it! ]
  • I can’t seem to get the National Symphony Orchestra page to load, and according to downforeveryoneorjustme.com it’s not just me. I’ll have to check back later, but never fear, I’ll update this page in a couple hours! Or as soon as the page goes back up. You know. EDITED TO ADD: Okay, the site is back! And you have two choices of concert to boot! First is an educational presentation/concert hybrid wherein conductor Vasily Petrenko explores Shostakovich‘s fourth symphony on November 16. Or if you prefer, on November 15 & 17 you can get the Shostakovich plus Tchaikovsky‘s famous violin concerto, although minus the multimedia presentation. [ See the Shostakovich! ] [ See the Tchaikovsky too! ]
  • The American University orchestra has a series of concerts this weekend, but more on that tomorrow! 😀
  • This week at Strathmore: jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller. [ See the calendar! ]

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

How did you find me?

There don’t appear to be any concerts this week (except a couple free ones at Strathmore – check ’em out), so I’m indulging myself in a silly little idea that’s been floating around my brain for awhile.

My server offers some rudimentary analytics; that is to say, statistics on how many people have visited this site per month, the countries they live in, the links they clicked from or to, and, my personal favorite: search terms they used to find the site.

Guys, these can be hilarious.

Some are clearly random and only barely related, and some are related in utterly ridiculous ways. “Alcoholic composers” pops up a lot. “How many violists does it take” has been searched ten times, which begs the question: to do WHAT? “Forest piss” completely baffles me. I mean, I get the relation, but why would you search that? “Beethoven crying” – ahem, but composers do not cry; composers are made of FIRE!

“Saxophone motivational” – what? “Mean Russian” – which one? “Confused about God existence animated” – … was I able to help? “I’m in love with the pianist” – Lucy Van Pelt? Is that you? “Stravinsky hate” – GET OFF OF MY BLOG. “I hate Shostakovich” – SERIOUSLY. I AM CALLING THE INTERNET POLICE RIGHT NOW.

That’s a sampling of some of the fascinating connections you, too, can make, should you decide to start blogging about classical music. In the meantime – how did you find me?

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

The rule of three (out of four) (usually)

Okay, longtime readers. I’m going to tell you something, and I don’t want you to panic.

Last Thursday, I gave a standing ovation.

Easy! Easy! Don’t freak! I know I have famously taken a stand (see what I did there?) against the ovation, but I feel it was deserved. You see, the National Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven’s seventh symphony – the best Beethoven symphony, and therefore the best symphony, period. Last time I heard it live, I got burned, but this time –

This time it was awesome. Especially the second movement. It was perfect. My concert-going companion thought it should’ve been a slower still, and I see his point, but having thought it through I return to my original conclusion: perfect. Because the second movement must have some bite to it. Not a lot – just a little – but enough teeth to fuel the mini-rebellion that comes in the middle of the movement. For me, the music is about resigned grief – but not resigned without a fight! You know?

So. Perfect. And I stood.

On a quasi-related note, it occurred to me that of the four movements of the seventh, the third is my least favorite (which is akin to saying that of all the Narnia books, The Silver Chair is my least favorite; I’ve still read it like eighteen times). And that thought led to another: of the four movements of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet, the third is – wait for it – my least favorite. The Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2? Least favorite: third movement.

In fact, no third movement springs to mind for which I harbor a particular fondness. What gives? Do you agree with my assessment? Or can you correct me with some fantastic third movement examples?

The Legend of the Concert Roundup

No, seriously… what’s going on?

  • The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is making it short but very sweet this week: the Ravel Piano Concerto for Left Hand and Shostakovich‘s seventh symphony (that’s “Leningrad” to you, bub). Oh, hey, guess who’s dropping in to play the Ravel? Oh, some guy named Leon Fleisher. No biggie. May 3 & 6 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Or if you prefer, the BSO offers its Off the Cuff version of the Shostakovich; in addition to playing the symphony, Marin Alsop will explain its musical form and cultural context. May 4 at Strathmore; May 5 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • I said hey-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah! The National Symphony Orchestra‘s NSO Pops take on a Marvin Gaye program, because why the hell not? With John Legend, no less. Now that’s some competitive booking. May 3 & 4. [ See it! ]
  • The NSO also offers a children’s concert this week, focusing on brass instruments with Brass of Peace. Is that a pun? None of the ones I’m coming up with are appropriate for children. May 5. [ See it! ]
  • The University of Maryland is performing Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, but for the life of me I can’t find the info. UMD, if you’re out there, ping me the details and I’ll update this post.
  • This week at Strathmore, we’ve got jazz singers John Pizzarelli and Kurt Elling, an all-Debussy piano program, country-rock singer Owen Danoff, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. [ See the calendar! ]

The Best

Two weeks ago I made a list of composers I considered to be the greatest, in terms of talent, innovation, and output. I tried to make this as objective as possible while still noting that my own preferences and the limits of my knowledge base must unavoidably come into play.

This week? IT’S SUBJECTIVE TIME. Which, indeed, is kind of like Miller Time — alcohol free, yes, but with just as much opportunity to shout your opinions while gesticulating wildly and possibly falling out of your chair.

All of this is just to say that here I would like to present my list not of the greatest composers of all time but the ones I like BEST. Basically the idea here is a collection of the composers that, when the radio deejay says, “next is a piece by ________”, make me say “YAY!!!” Here goes:

  1. BEETHOVEN (duh)
  2. Bach
  3. Khachaturian (and I stand by my decision)
  4. Stravinsky
  5. Schubert
  6. Holst
  7. Prokofiev
  8. Shostakovich
  9. Ravel
  10. Tchaikovsky

There is of course a fair amount of overlap, but I bet some of them surprise you. Before you pull out your extra-sharp pitchfork, rest assured — I’m not suggesting Khachaturian ranks above Stravinsky in… well, in ANY category, really. Stravinsky is definitely the better composer. But Khachaturian makes me super happy! So high up the list he stays. Ya get me?

The nice thing about this list is, it’s even more changeable than a best-of list, undulating and evolving with your changing moods and interests; I expect Handel could sneak on to mine any moment now.

Now about you — who are you feeling right now?

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.