Welcome to Germany for my 4th composer profile: Composer and pianist, Clara Schumann.
Germany has provided the world with just tons of amazing composers such as Johann Sebastien Bach, Ludwig von Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Johannes Brahms, among many others. For this profile, I opted for Clara Schumann because I pretty much knew nothing about her. I knew she played the piano and was married to Robert Schumann who wrote a great Concert Piece for Four Horns, among much more wonderful music.
What I learned is that she was an amazingly talented woman who was known for being an incredible solo pianist and composer.
(née Clara Josephine Wieck; 13 September 1819 – 20 May 1896)
Hometown: Leipzig, Germany
Known primarily for piano pieces
It’s only truly been since WWII that many careers opened up as possibilities for women. And even then, it started because we got a taste for the outside-the-home working world while the men were off fighting the war.
So what about Clara herself? What about a contemporary of Mozart, composer and violinist Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen? Even in today’s world, we don’t hear that much about women composers. Although, the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra will perform Jennifer Higdon‘s Violin Concerto next season, something which has an additional “coolness” factor. It’s music by a female composer being performed by a female concertmaster in an orchestra led by a female conductor.
Traditionally, women were not a part of the musician rosters of orchestras. They’ve not traditionally led orchestras. They’ve not traditionally written the music played by orchestras. Fortunately, this is changing, but for now, hats off to Composer Jennifer Higdon, Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy and Music Director, Maestro Kayoko Dan, for performing this music.
About composing, Clara Schumann said,
Composing gives me great pleasure… there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.
Clara Schumann was quite a progressive woman. She juggled it all. She was very well-established as a soloist on the piano, already touring extensively around Europe before she married Robert Schumann. Even after their marriage, she continued touring and teaching – all while giving birth to eight children, of whom she outlived four.
Of his wife, Robert Schumann said this:
Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
Last weekend I was the Columbus Symphony Orchestra play Robert Schumann’s 2nd Symphony. At the pre-concert chat, we learned that Clara worked as a second breadwinner in her family, still performing while raising their children. A big reason for that is that Robert Schumann could write some beautiful music for the piano, but he wasn’t that great of a pianist himself. Clara – was a virtuoso so she performed them. She also assisted him in some of his composing, helping him to fine tune some things. Her husband also spent many years in and out of mental institutions including his final two-plus year stay after a suicide attempt before dying at the young age of only 46.
With six other mouths to feed, Clara continued composing, performing and teaching. She did rather well at it – working off her husband’s debts and raising her children well. We learned last weekend that she did so well that she “played herself into a happy grave.”
Listen to this piano concerto. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
In an era where women either stayed at home or else worked in boarding houses, as teachers or as nurses, Clara Schumann definitely stood a world apart from other women creating beautiful music along the way.
Thanks for reading this today! Coming in March will be two composers from Switzerland and Italy: Heinrich Sutermeister (1910-1995) and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736). I hope to see you then!
Welcome to the 3rd in my Passport series about composers around the world. I first traveled to France for my senior year in college (I’ll leave out the year!), so my latest composer is a French baroque composer named Jean-Féry Rebel. I first discovered his music last year at a concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra titled “In Nature’s Realm” at which Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony were also being played. Yeah – I bought my ticket for the William Tell, but was pleasantly surprised by the Rebel piece. So much so, that I went back the next day to watch the entire concert again. Yeah – it was that awesome!
Everyone: meet Maestro Rebel!
Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) was considered a prodigy on the violin. He was the son of Jean Rébel, a tenor in the choir of the Louis XIV’s private chapel. He eventually came to study under the Royal Composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully, who had been working as Court Composer for instrumental music under the king.
Considered quite a prestigious ensemble, Jean-Féry earned a spot in the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy, the 24 Violins of the King, where he played until becoming the Chamber Composer to Louis XIV. Eventually, he wrote a tribute to his teacher called, Le Tombeau de Lully (The Tribute to Lully).
One of Rébel’s most famous works is a piece called Les Elemens, or The Elements. Check out the super funky (i.e. dissonant) chord at the beginning of this piece from the first movement of this work called “Le Cahos,” or the aptly named “Chaos.”
This kind of chord was the first of its kind – something not really heard again until the Romantic era by (I think) Shostakovich because it was so unusual. In my humble opinion, part of the beauty of baroque and classical era music is that it resolves and is symmetrical in sound, but in his day, Rebel was ahead of his time.
Principal bassoonist, Betsy Sturdevant, went into more detail about this piece in her blog before the Columbus Symphony Orchestra performed it last season.
Thanks for reading about Maestro Rebel! Next up will be Clara Schumann, a composer who is certainly not unknown, but her composing is typically overshadowed by that of her husband. I’m looking forward to learning more about her and hope you are as well!
Originally from Woodbridge, VA, cellist Zuill Bailey is the Artistic Director of El Paso Pro-Musica and Professor of Cello at the University of Texas at El Paso. In addition to his responsibilities at home in El Paso, TX, he spends a great deal of time traveling as a solo performer, as well as working as the Artistic Director of the Sitka, Alaska Summer Music Festival and Series, the Northwest Bach Festival (Spokane, Washington).
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting him before a performance he gave with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. This is our conversation.
Why the cello? I grew up with music in the house. My sister played the violin. Mom played the piano and Dad was a music educator and clarinetist. In the 70s there was Suzuki teaching, a way of teaching young kids how to play at a very young age. My parents took me to concerts all the time, to the community and National Symphony in DC. It wasn’t a matter of if, but rather what instrument I would eventually play. My sister already played the violin, so that was out. So, I started playing the piano and cello at age four. Once, I was back stage and ran into a girl playing the cello – and broke her cello. That sealed it for me though. Mom and Dad said it’s the one thing that stopped me in my tracks and got me to sit still.
Where did you go to school? Peabody Conservatory (Johns Hopkins) and Juilliard.
Instrument: A 1693 Matteo Gofriller Cello, formerly owned by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet.
What do you gain from performing? I’ve always found that when I play it creates a comfortable feeling – complete comfort – from my perspective and from the way it’s voiced. It’s most like a human voice in its range. Physical aspects – wrapping myself around it and feeling it vibrate – it’s an incredible feeling. It’s the beauty of life that is brought forth through the cello. That became why I wanted to do it – there’s a mutual therapeutic x factor that music brings.
What’s the best thing about performing in front of an audience? What do you hope they gain? Peace. I hope the audience gains peace. No – that’s too simplistic of an answer. I look for the fact that people are able to escape – at a concert – with such a multifaceted form of entertainment. We’re used to being fed information. At a concert, it’s interesting and healing to take a step back and have the music be a soundtrack to where you are as a person or in your own person where you go into your own head and your own thoughts – where we’re not so programmed to go. The visual is the creation, not a distraction. A movie gives us a story – the music adds the soundtrack to our own thoughts. I can face the audience and see how they’re experiencing it in their own ways whether they’re leaning forward, tapping their feet, closing their eyes, etc.
How often do you practice? I play all the time, but my processes are in my head. I can sit in a quiet room and hear it just by looking at the score. The classical music catalog is enormous. Recording just documents pieces I play a lot or that are special to me. I’m always looking for the next project that allows me to grow.
What are some of your favorite places to perform? My dream check list has been done – Carnegie, Lincoln Hall, Kennedy Center. I once played with a women’s prison orchestra in Anchorage. Music to these women means hope and freedom. Playing in villages in Alaska and in Havana, Cuba were also memorable.
It’s all about how people react to the music. In many ways I enjoy the smaller venues more because the people don’t get the performers as much.
How much do you travel? I travel about 250 days out of the year.
I’m running my first Bach Festival in Spokane, WA – 1st two weeks in March – gorgeous city. Every day is a new adventure for me. My upcoming schedule, for example is: hosting a pianist from England tomorrow – Chopin Nocturnes; Harrisburg, PA next week - Dvorak concerto again. Then, Fairbanks, AK; then Boise, etc. I’m still missing RI, but have hit 49 of 50 states.
Strange thing – I once woke up at home and wasn’t sure where I was!
How difficult is it to play with a different orchestra for every performance? I’m old enough, have been doing this enough so a lot of my friends are in these orchestras. Tonight I have friends coming in from Cleveland to hear me play. I love sharing and
I love that music brings people together.
I have some very strong friendships in some of these places. I also know a lot of the musicians in the CSO who also play with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. The cello is what brings all of this together.
What do you think of the CSO so far? It’s wonderful! I’ve played in Columbus – with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra - several times. I frequent festivals. Nice thing about this career – you do go back, you see how the cities have changed, how people’s lives have broadened.
Which concert are you most looking forward to playing this year? I have a couple of projects – Michael Daugherty has been commissioned by the Nashville Symphony to write a piece. We’re recording it next year. We’ll be working on that this spring.
What do you do for outreach? At 17 – I didn’t realize that this whole world would open up. …that it would be on my shoulders to cultivate this music. I perform outreach in three regions: West TX; Spokane, WA and Alaska.
The cello has opened the door to a lot of fun adventures. In Baltimore, I was asked to coach Ned Beatty to LOOK like he was playing the cello for Homicide and then I played the soundtrack. Then I was an extra. And then, when I moved to NY, I was asked to be on OZ. I saw that as the ultimate outreach – to bring music to people who may or may not have gone into a concert hall. I try to figure out ways to bring music to the people.
Scene from Oz. Children, don’t try this at home.
My students love to hear stories. They have no idea that I may have been in Australia the day before the lesson. It’s fascinating for me to see their reactions to these stories. It’s real world. A student may ask about something to which I respond “Hmm…I’m playing this on Friday, I’ll let you know.” I’ll come back with – NO! DON’T DO IT! Or – it totally worked.
It’s very unusual to do more than one – teach, perform, artistic director… but I use them all to do a lot of outreach.
When visiting other cities, I like to visit schools. I always like to go to schools when I travel – or hospitals – anywhere to make the music accessible. Kennedy center would send musicians in our schools. This world-renown musician would come to our classroom – wow!
During festivals, we focus on making sure every artist visits as many schools as possible. The focus on arts in schools will ebb and flow. Kids are curious about the variety of sounds that can be made with a cello. And you never know what kids are going to ask.
What do you say to people who don’t think they like classical music? I always asked them – well, what do you like? And they typically set their own trap. They’ll mention different kinds of music, movies, video games… Did you know that was a cello that was playing that theme? Classical music is the use of these instruments, not necessarily Beethoven or Haydn – a general term for stringed instruments. It’s the highest form of creating these video games and movies.
Have you ever noticed when pop groups try to be classier? They either go unplugged or incorporate symphonic sounds.
What cello music should I have in my music library? Bach cello suites – everyone BUT Mozart has written something exclusively for the cello. Dvorak – the piece tonight is arguably the greatest cello piece written. It’s a symphony with a great cello part. Even Chopin, the piano god, the last piece he wrote is a cello sonata. The cello could, in the end, be a composers own voice for their story. The cello, being mellower (than the violin) is more difficult to write for.
Who are your favorite composers? Typical response is “whatever I’m working on.” Bach – beginning and the end. He wrote such perfect works for a single instrument that kind of encapsulates – everything! I typically go to the deep end when working on a composers – about their life, what they wrote, etc. They used such masterful expression through music – it was therapeutic to write this music. If you know this profile, you can empathize and understand them. Great music is great, but if you know WHY something was created, then it takes it to a whole other stratosphere.
What is your favorite musical era? They’re just all such distinctive flavors. Growing up, my family didn’t travel a lot. I was very comfortable and specific in what I liked. The more I traveled, the more I liked. The variety is so important to have perspective. If you look at my recordings, they’re so different. I just keep broadening. When I step into the next chapter – I bring all that knowledge with me – and perspective – to appreciate the new language of Britten, for example, instead of being dismissive. It wouldn’t be the smartest thing for me to choose a favorite time period. I keep finding things that are interesting to me, but they’re interesting because of what I already know.
Classical music is all about interpretation. Buy several versions of Bach – compare and contrast. Why does this violinist sound different from this one? Why does this version sound different?
In your case, (Vladimir) Ashkenazy vs. Lang Lang – which do you like better? Buy another recording and find out WHY you love it.
Any good show off pieces for the cello? Show off pieces are things that people can’t believe can be done on an instrument. Flight of the bumblebee, etc. I often like to play the beautiful soft ones.
People can’t believe the cello can create that warmth and depth of feeling.
Do you have favorite cellists? Anyone you particularly admire? Rostropovich was the local cellist in DC. He’s probably the most historic, legendary cellist who walked the earth. He was a huge hero for all cellists – set the bar higher than I think anyone has. Through him, I was able to hear all the cellists we all know…
Rostropovich was bigger than music. He stood up for everything political – like Pablo Casals – used the cello to make a difference.
With my cello, I want to make a difference. I want to uh…it’s a loaded question! There are people I respect because their motives are pure. They’re genuinely trying to bring good to others. Those are my role models.
How about conductors? The more the conductor has worked with more people, the greater they are. The more they understand why people make the decisions they make. The more limited or inexperienced the conductor, the more severe opinions they have. Doesn’t happen very often, but when it has, it’s usually their first performance of that particular piece.
With a recording, it must be discussed how it’s played. We’re documenting an interpretation, not just a one-evening performance.
Igor Stravinsky – Rite of spring: Genius? Or just plain weird? Oh genius!
Benjamin Britten – (his music) is kind of like a struggle for humanity. You’ll witness the battlefield of understanding why there are these things that happen. Free flow – it’s a genius work. I wish I could take everyone aside to explain to them what I now know vs. what I didn’t know when I started. If I could, they would hear this music as the masterpiece that it is.
The linguist in me has to ask. Zuill – what’s the background of your name? It’s a family last name. Scotch/Irish.
Ever break a string while performing? Of course! One time, I was so close to the end, I finished on the upper strings. It sounds like a gunshot – it’s almost a tension reliever. First I make sure the cello is ok and then continue.
Do you ever worry about transporting your instrument? Especially knowing how old and valuable it is? I did think a lot especially at first – about the care of this instrument. I’ve always had a cello in my hand. I certainly know how to care for it – it’s always with me. I take good care of it – it’s been around for 320 years. The good news is that it’s being played. If not played, it goes to sleep – it doesn’t vibrate, so these instruments have to be played. The world gets to hear it. Documented – in recording, concerts, it’s seen – such as a traveling exhibition.
I’ve had this one since my mid-20s. I’ve had it for 17 years – mine for life.
It’s contagious – delving into the world of classical music!
What’s your favorite Jeni’s Ice Cream flavor? Haven’t tried it yet.
Note to the city of Columbus: We clearly need to introduce Zuill to Jeni’s the next time he’s in town.
If you’d like to learn more about Zuill Bailey and the music he plays, I recommend you visit his website at www.zuillbailey.com His newest recording, Britten: Cello Symphony & Sonata, along with his other CDs can be purchased via his website.
This Thursday, I’m finally heading south – to the world that occasionally has entire days that are ABOVE freezing! No, really. It’s true! Entire days! Weather aside, I’m taking a vacation to the city of Chattanooga in the great state of Tennessee!
Why Chattanooga and why this weekend? Well – I love Mozart. He’s my favorite and on Sunday, February 23, the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra is performing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. Here’s what’s on the program. I’m so excited!
No idea who Casterede is, but that’s OK – I’ll learn. Besides, it’s Flutes en vacances and I’ll be en vacances, so it’s perfect! Anyhoo…Vivaldi – baroque and Mozart – classical. You cannot go wrong with this concert. It’s going to be great!
So I’m planning a whole trip around hearing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 this Sunday. I’m driving down on Thursday and back next Tuesday leaving me with 4 whole days to explore and enjoy Chattanooga. Having lived in Atlanta and being from Indiana, I’ve driven THROUGH Chattanooga a bunch of times, but haven’t actually stopped there. So, I’ve made a wish list:
- Go to the Aquarium. It’s supposed to be fabulous!
- Visit Civil War sites. My ancestor, Brevet Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Scribner, led his men in the 38th Indiana Regiment in many of the battles fought in the Chattanooga campaign such as Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain, though he was a colonel at the time.
- See the Choo Choo. Obviously! Remember my tour of the Ohio Theatre last summer? What did our awesome organist play? Chattanooga Choo Choo. It’s fate. It’s my destiny. It’ll be fun, too.
Attend a concert. This we know. My friend from there is even going to join me for this. (and for the Civil War sites!)
Another fun thing to do will be to follow some of the suggestions of the CSO-TN Concertmaster herself. Holly Mulcahy has written several posts about being new to Chattanooga – seeing the sites and – visiting some top-notch pastry and coffee shops.
Check out some of her posts below about her new city. And as a linguist, may I say I love the alliteration!
You all know I’ll write about the concert, but visiting a new city will be a super fun adventure, so I’m sure I’ll share some of that fun as well. Heck, the CSO-TN’s own music director, Kayoko Dan (Hmm…should I call her Maestro Kayoko when I meet her in person?!) is going to join me at the aquarium and for some knitting. Yes – we’re both knitters! Holly’s going to join for some of Chattanooga’s famous coffee and pastries!
I may be traveling down there alone, but there will be no shortage of great company!
I should also mention that some of the other fine folks at the CSO in Chattanooga offered to help me out with visit – also recommending places to stay, offering to make sure I had plenty of suggestions on things to do, etc. I can’t get over how hospitable they have been. I’m coming down for one afternoon concert, but they’re going out of their way to make sure I’m taken care of for the duration of my visit.
Southern hospitality – I love it!
A week ago Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending another concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra only this time, I had a lot of company with me. Coming along with me this time were a dozen or so of my friends from my Peace Corps alumni group, or CORVA (Central Ohio Returned Volunteers Association).
Peace Corps volunteers spend two years of their lives working in a developing nation somewhere around the world. This is just a few of the dozen or so of us who attended the concert, but pictured below are Returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Tanzania, India, Brazil and Bulgaria. 5 people, 4 continents. We were later joined by volunteers who served in the Dominican Republic, Panama and even Iran. And we thought selling watermelon at Comm Fest was fun! Our service is something we’re always happy to talk about, so if you want to hear stories, just yell. We never get tired of telling them!
Not surprisingly, it’s always a Peace Corps friend that I run into at concerts – whether that be at the CSO or ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. Speaking of ProMusica, I also learned that a couple of my friends are on their sustaining board. That’s fantastic, don’t you think? Of course at tonight’s free Happy Hour Concert, I’m sure to run into some other Peace Corps friends like I did the last time.
As usual, we started our concert with Christopher Purdy’s pre-concert chat where he told us that a lot of the music being played was written by composers influenced by the music of Wagner.
On the program were:
Jacques Lacombe, conductor
Zuill Bailey, cello
Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1
Dvořák: Cello Concerto
Franck: Symphony in D minor
We were told that basically, it’s a lot of music you don’t know you know.
Under the direction of Quebec native, Maestro Jacques Lacombe, the concert started with Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. This suite began with the Morning Mood which includes the quintessential, calm, relaxing-in-a-meadow kind of melody played by principal flautist Randall Hester. From there it worked its way to the really fun part: In the Hall of the Mountain King. Not sure you know that? Well, I assure you, you do. Last fall I found a great version of this played on, of all things, tesla coils! It was pretty awesome! I’d never seen it performed live and couldn’t help being excited over this version which the CSO played just wonderfully. Some songs are fun to play and others well – as a musician you play them because whoever chose the music chose it. Pas de choix. No choice. For this performance, it sounded like they were having a ton of fun playing it for us!
Moving on to the highlight of the evening, we had the pleasure of hearing Antonin Dvořák’s Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 104, amazingly played by cellist, Zuill Bailey. I had the pleasure of interviewing him earlier that day and learned he was battling the flu the weekend of this performance. You certainly wouldn’t know that because he was just incredible. Wow! He definitely deserved the enthusiastic standing ovation he received!
Mr. Purdy told us that the cello was his favorite instrument. He called it cerebral and thoughtful. It’s a beautiful instrument with such a rich and full sound. As for Dvorak’s cello concerto, I suggest listening to Mr. Bailey’s own words about this wonderful music.
While Mr. Bailey refers to Dvorak’s cello concerto as a “cellist’s most celebrated concerto,” Dvorak himself refers to it altogether differently.
The cello is a beautiful instrument, but its place is in the orchestra and in chamber music. As a solo instrument, it isn’t much good….I have…written a cello concerto, but am sorry to this day that I did so, and I never intend to write another.
Whatever Dvorak thinks of his own creation, it sure sounded terrific!
The second half of the concert was dedicated to composer Cesar Franck, a composer influenced by Wagner – perhaps in a time it wasn’t overly popular to be influenced by a German composer. That said, Mr. Purdy told us that Franck
…is a composer well worth knowing better.
We learned that Franck tried some new things with regard to symphonic compositions. He helped bring the symphony back to the concert halls in Paris, as opposed to only operas. He tried new things and while some people, particularly the younger, newer musicians, thought it was exciting and wonderful, the older generation thought of it as weird and overbearing, to the point where they would walk out of concerts in anger! Wow! My own budget-minded brain would take the line of thinking that if I paid for a ticket, I should see it through – like it or not. But such thinking was not the case when socially acceptable music wasn’t being performed! Imagine what the musicians thought!
At the end of our pre-concert chat we were jokingly told this:
If you’re a Wagnerian, you’ll have a marvelous time. If not, you’ll get mad!
Well fortunately, I didn’t get mad. This symphony was played well, of course, but the jury’s still out on whether or not I actually liked it. It was nice, but it wasn’t overly memorable to me. There were parts of it I liked – such as the first movement, the Lento-Allegro non troppo, but the melody didn’t stick with me after that. But if Franck is a composer well worth knowing better, then I’m thinking a trip to youtube might be in order to hear some of his other works.
Heck – I didn’t like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me. That means anything’s possible, right?!
Please watch for my interview with Zuill Bailey to be posted later this month.
If you could make three suggestions to someone new to classical music, what would you recommend they try first?
Not even a county-wide Level 2 Emergency will keep people away from good music!
Last Sunday, after getting about 4 – 5 – 17″ of snow (I might be exaggerating on the totals, but it was a lot, regardless!), and before the plows really had a chance to salt and plow the roads, a couple hundred classical music fans were treated to a delightful concert at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington.
In its second performance of the season, the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra (MACCO), played to an enthusiastic audience in the Bronwynn Theatre in the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington. I say enthusiastic because the weather and roads really were crappy, but we all came out for great music anyway. The performance included some lovely music by great romantic and 20th century composers such as Bartok, Grieg, Strauss and Respighi. Here’s what was on the program.
Bartok – Romanian Folk Dances
Grieg – Holberg Suite in G, Op. 40
Strauss – Serenade in Eb, Op. 7
Respighi – Ancient Aires & Dances: Suite No. 1
Under the direction of Maestro Antoine T. Clark the program started out with Béla Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 68. Bartok wrote a lot of music based on folk tunes around the region of his native Hungary, then-Yugoslavia, and Romania. He even went as far as Turkey and Algeria for musical influences. This piece is no exception in that it’s based on folk music of his neighboring Romania. I especially enjoyed the Brâul – Allegro with the lovely clarinet and piccolo played by Nancy Gamso and Erin Helgeson Torres as well as the Pe Loc – Andante with the beautiful violin beautifully played by Concertmaster Juan Carlos Ortega. According to the program notes, these dances were actually re-orchestrated for the piano and violin after the original orchestral premier in Budapest in 1918.
Listening to these dances reminded me of Timisoara, Romania. It’s a beautiful city in northwestern Romania with a huge Hungarian influence – much like these dances – Romanian as interpreted by a Hungarian.
Next on the program was Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite in the ‘olden style’ for string orchestra, Op 40. Written to honor one of Scandinavia’s great literary figures, Ludvig Holberg, this set of 5 movements is almost the opposite of the Bartok piece in that this was first written for the piano and then orchestrated for the orchestra. The last movement, Rigaudon: Allegro con brio, was my favorite because of the play between the solo parts of the violin and viola, played again by Ortega and principal violist, Deborah Price.
After intermission we were treated to a smaller ensemble of winds – plus one double bass – for Richard Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, Op. 7. It was an absolutely beautiful piece and I was just taken aback at the gorgeous tone of the oboe, performed by principal Bradley Walsh. It was amazing. He stood out in the Respighi as well.
The final piece of the concert was one that I just loved loved loved! Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1, P.109. Instruments such as the lute and harpsichord, as originally written in 16th and 17th century France and Italy, served as the original inspiration for this piece. The addition of a harpsichord, skillfully played by Suzanne Newcomb, was probably my favorite aspect of these dances because I felt they added much more depth to the music. But then again, as a pianist, my opinion is biased!
This really was my favorite part of the concert, but my favorite eras of music are classical, baroque and early. Respighi loved the baroque era, so his music naturally takes on some of that older, more symmetrical, musical form. In my mind, his love of the baroque serves as a bridge to help bring us into the 20th century classical music era without playing something that would be deemed as overly strange or hard on the ears. I heard his Trittico Botticelliano last fall with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and of that concert, the Respighi was again my favorite.
All in all, this is just what the doctor ordered on a weekend of horrible winter weather. I’m so glad that so many people were able to get out and enjoy this music.
The McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra has its next concert on Sunday, April 27 at 3pm in Bronwynn Theatre at the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center. Tickets range in price from $12 for students, to $25 at the door (less, if ordered in advance online). I encourage you to go hear them play. It’s a small, intimate setting and you don’t even have to dress up if you don’t want to. Across the hall from the theatre is also an art gallery which you can enjoy at no charge before and after the concert.
Ever since starting this blog, people in and out of the industry have been super nice to help me along the way – either sharing their thoughts on music, suggesting new music or composers to try or even offering recommendations on blogs to follow so I can learn more about the classical music industry. It’s all been appreciated more than you can imagine. I’ve learned a lot so far and have met some wonderful people – be that online or in person.
One recommended blog to follow is that of Lisa Hirsch: Iron Tongue of Midnight. Based in San Francisco, she critiques opera performances and writes about all aspects of the classical music world. She also has a lot of good things to say about website maintenance in the arts world.
Well last week, she asked me for my mailing address, which made me think she wanted to send a copy of something, maybe a mix-CD? A photocopy of something? I had no idea. We’ve never met so who knows? Well this week, I had quite the surprise show up on my doorstep: Alex Ross’ book The Rest is Noise and four music CDs. WOW!
It’s all about 20th century music. Alex Ross’ book puts all this 20th century music into historical context which is perfect for me since I love history. I’m only 30-40 pages into it so far, but it’s very well-written and I look forward to sitting down at a cafe this afternoon to delve further into it. As for the music, it’s all new to me. I’d heard of Pierre Boulez (as a conductor) and I’d just heard my first music by Messiaen a couple of weeks ago thanks to a concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, but otherwise, I had know idea who these people were or what this music was.
I was floored – I told her I didn’t know what to say since this was such a generous gift. We’d only just connected on Facebook, so I doubt she knew this, but today’s my birthday, so this turned out to be a fantastic birthday present! :-)
Here’s what she sent:
Pierre Boulez: Sur Incises – Messagesquisse – Anthèmes 2
Esa-Pekka Salonen: out of Nowhere
Magnus Lindberg: Clarinet Concerto / Gran Duo / Chorale
Messiaen: Quatuor Pour La Fin du Temps
Knowing of my preference for Early, Baroque and Classical music, Christopher Blair of Akustiks called this some challenging listening for me! He’s right!
I’ll be honest – I probably grabbed my chair out of sheer panic the first time I heard some of the clarinet concerto. And while I’ve not at all listened to all of this yet, I did listen to some of the Messagesquisse while at work this week. These are a few of my first impressions that I jotted down while listening to it:
- Oh man – a violin piece just started. Sounds like it’s either tuning or just hitting random notes.
- It would be great in the context of a scary movie – like a crazy, European, messed up, truly disturbing, mind **** of a movie, e.g. A Serbian Film or something of that ilk.
- I feel like I should be sneaking around trying to scare people right now while this is playing.
- Either that or running for my life!
- I feel paranoid, almost frightened, like I should be attempting to move through the office unseen, sneaking from desk to desk until I get to a door to make my escape.
- I think I like this one
- Don’t look now, but…
- I can picture an evil, mad scientist dancing in the room
I think Lisa might have gotten a kick out of my initial reaction!
I’m pretty sure I kept looking over my shoulder for a good couple of hours after listening to that!
I read once that Janet Leigh never again took a shower – only baths – after filming Psycho. Maybe it had nothing to do with Norman Bates and everything to do with Bernard Herrmann’s music score. Something to consider, anyway.
This is four CD’s worth of really funky, weird, discordant music that I would never have bought for myself, but am so thrilled that I now have an opportunity to hear. I feel like I’m conducting an independent study of 20th century classical music. And once I get over my initial shock, I may grow to truly like some of this. Who knows? That said, you have to give a lot of credit to Pierre Boulez – to illicit such an emotional response is testament to the power of music. No words, no threats, no other people did that, only his music did that: generated all sorts of crazy thoughts and (fortunately temporarily) paranoid feelings. Whether I end up “liking” it or not is almost irrelevant. It’s powerful music!
While I’m not sure if I’m going to “lay down the boogie and play that funky music ’til tI die”, I am certainly going to enjoy listening to this funky music, that’s for sure.
Thanks for the great present, Lisa!
Bienvenue and welcome to Canada!
Welcome to my second of 24 composers I’ll be profiling throughout 2014. Not having formally studied music, I’m learning a lot about composers I’d never heard of or whose music I barely knew. This month is no exception as we travel to Canada to learn a little bit about composer, John Estacio.
In preparation for this profile, I wanted to at least name other composers from Canada but quickly learned I just didn’t know any. I really didn’t! Knowing I had my work cut out for me, I reached out to my musician friends and look who I met!
My brief mention here doesn’t do them justice, so please click on their names to learn more these composers from up north: Jocelyn Morlock - Composer-in-residence for Vancouver’s concert series, Music-on-Main. As a pianist, she’s automatically cool in my book. There are also contemporary composers Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007) and Jacques Hétu (1938-2010).
I’ve chosen John Estacio because his music was the first music played of the Masterworks Series of concerts with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. I think that speaks volumes. Sure our Music Director, Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni is Canadian himself (as are our Concertmaster, Jean-Sébastien Roy, Principal 2nd Violin, Alicia Hui, and librarian, Jean-Etienne Lederer!), but to start an entire season with the music of living composers is a wonderful idea and sends out the notion that, despite the thoughts of some Slate.com writers, classical music is NOT dead! It’s still being created today!
Hometown: Newmarket, Ontario Canada
Education: Wilfrid Laurier University, University of British Columbia
My favorite works: Brio
Popular Canadian composer, John Estacio, has worked as the composer-in-residence at a variety of orchestras including the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Calgary Opera. He’s won numerous awards – including the national Arts Center Award for Composers – and is often played in concert halls throughout the US, Canada and beyond.
Speaking of concert halls, John Estacio’s piece, Brio, is what started the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks concert season this year. Like many of Mr. Estacio’s works, it makes great use of the wind, brass and percussion instruments in the orchestra. I had the impression that they didn’t just back up the strings, but instead, they joined the strings on stage. It’s a wonderful and exciting piece to listen to – especially in a live setting.
Another well-known piece is known as Frenergy, an orchestral piece that was originally written for something else, but ended up standing alone as a great concert-opener.
The bulk of the musical material found in this piece comes from sketches for my Triple Concerto. These sketches were to be part of the proposed final movement for the concerto, a fast-paced scherzo to bring the piece to a wild close. However, for various reasons, this ending did not make it to the final draft. Not one to waste, I decided to mount this music on its own for orchestra.
- John Estacio
Mr. Estacio’s music has been performed by every major orchestra in Canada, many in the US and around the world. From his website:
In the last decade he has composed numerous symphonic and operatic works including Filumena for Calgary Opera/Banff Centre and Lillian Alling for the Vancouver Opera/Banff Centre. Filumena has received several remounts in Canada and was filmed for television and broadcast on PBS.
Mr. Estacio is well-known for his operatic works, something our fellow Ohioans will soon learn in a couple of weeks with a Cincinnati Ballet world premier production of King Arthur’s Camelot. (Which looks to be really good!).
Here’s a video the Cincinnati Ballet shared about the making of this new ballet that they’ll be performing the weekend of Valentine’s Day.
I hope you enjoyed some samples of his music. To learn more about John Estacio and his music, I highly recommend that you listen to Frenergy above, visit his website or delve further into his repertoire on youtube. Like the music of composers Dave Sartor and Michael Torke, about whom I wrote earlier this month, you’ll find his music fun to listen to – not the crazy discordant stuff one might imagine when thinking of living composers. Try it – you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Photo of Mr. Estacio courtesy of www.johnestacio.com. Photographer, Wade Kelly.
Passport of Composers: This is the second of 24 composer profiles that I’ll be posting throughout the year as part of my Passport of Composers from countries around the world. Combining my love of travel with my love of music, I’ve chosen a composer from each of the countries in which I have either lived or visited. Next month will be France – Jean-Féry Rébel (1666-1747) and Germany – Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Don’t speak Italian? That’s OK. I don’t really speak it either. But… Did you ever sing in choir? Ever play in the band or orchestra in school? Ever read Angels and Demons or The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown?
If you did, you’ve probably learned some Italian. Even if you only played the recorder in elementary school, I’d venture to say that you probably know at least a few words. (Beyond Pasta, Spaghetti and Prego! And yes – prego means “you’re welcome” in Italian!)
Classical music goes back many years to a variety of countries, but for some reason, the vast majority of musical terms used are all Italian. Here are a handful of examples of some commonly used terms.
CONCERTO - a piece of music for which a soloist is accompanied by an orchestra, such as Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64.
FORTE - strong, loud - like Will Forte…er…something like that. (I really want to see his new movie, Nebraska)
PASSIONATO - passionate. Just imagine anything sung by the late – and definitely great – Luciano Pavarotti.
STACCATO - detached, articulated – like a woodpecker, only less annoying.
TEMPO - time, the speed of the song. “How fast is this song?” = “What’s the tempo?”
They all get more fun as you go along especially when you hear of a movements such as “allegro con fuoco” – the 4th movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
ALLEGRO - fast
CON FUOCO - with fire
So picture a movement that is quick, animated, with a lot of heat and fire behind it. In other words, really intense - and in the case of Dvorak - really awesome!
Even this blog is based on an Italian musical term!
GIOCOSO – playful, fun
There are a few possibilities as to why we stick with Italian for our musical terms. Some say that the arts first found their way back into Italy before other European nations for the Renaissance. Others say that Italians just started it and there was no sense in reinventing the wheel.
Whatever the reason, the Italians have certainly made their mark on the musical world with great composers such as Vivaldi, Corelli, Rossini, Respighi, etc. They had great musical notations that we all still use to this day.
Since I have a lot to learn in the world of music – and of the music itself – I’ll endeavor to delve further into some of these terms in future posts. I love music and I love languages, so maybe we’ll all learn a little bit along the way.
So until next time, Ciao!