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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

In memoriam: Babbitt and Barry

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 31, 2011

Milton Babbitt -- a rookie's obituary (Tim Rutherford-Johnson, The Rambler)

Milton Babbitt, a Composer Who Gloried in Complexity, Dies at 94 (Alan Kozinn, The New York Times)

Portrait of a Serial Composer, documentary by Robert Hilferty and Laura Karpman (NPR's Deceptive Cadence)

"Who Cares if You Listen?" (aka "The Composer as Specialist") High Fidelity (Feb. 1958)

Semi-Simple Bad Plus (The Bad Plus performs Babbitt's Semi-Simple Variations)

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Philomel by Milton Babbitt
James Barry conducts James Bond

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Lion in Winter Suite by James Barry

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Discovering Douglas Lilburn

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 26, 2011


This weekend, the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra will play two compositions by Douglas Lilburn, a twentieth-century composer from New Zealand. Lilburn’s orchestral music is expressive and melodic. It has the impassioned yearning, the sense of bittersweet sadness paired with sweeping optimism that characterizes much of my favorite orchestral music. And yet, I’ve only just discovered Lilburn’s music because of the upcoming WV Symphony concert.  

 

Douglas Lilburn Portrait
Douglas Lilburn

WV Symphony Artistic Director and conductor Maestro Grant Cooper studied with Lilburn in New Zealand.  He attributes the sense of space in the music partially to the New Zealand landscape, and the expression of yearning to Lilburn and New Zealand’s role as outsiders in the European classical music mainstream.

Cooper is an advocate for Lilburn’s music, and he’s performed and conducted his music with different ensembles over the years. In our interview, Cooper gave a compelling description of Lilburn and New Zealand’s struggle for recognition and search for identity within the world of classical music. Listen to our discussion of Lilburn and his music:

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Maestro Grant Cooper discusses Douglas Lilburn

Maestro Grant Cooper leads the WV Symphony in Lilburn’s Aotearoa Overture and Second Symphony on Friday and Saturday in Charleston and Sunday in Parkersburg. The concert also includes a performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring guest pianist Adam Golka. Tune into WV Public Radio during Classical Music with Jim Lange this Thursday to hear Lilburn's music on the radio.

Russian Cello and Chopin Essentials

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 26, 2011

Like classical music? Enjoy hearing it on the radio and learning more about it online? We need your help to support classical music; your donation right now to WV Public Radio help keep your trusted source for classical music.

You can donate and become a member here: Support WV Public Radio.

This is the Chocolate Challenge, so when you donate, you can also choose to have Holl’s Chocolates mailed anywhere in the country by Valentine’s Day (and if you donate by midnight January 27, you’ll be automatically entered to win an iPad). 

As if chocolate wasn’t incentive enough, I’m really happy with the classical recordings we have to share as thank you gifts.


Warner/Nuzova Duo: Russian Cello Music / Wendy Warner, cello; Irina Nuzova, piano

Russian Cello Music

Wendy Warner studied with Rostropovich, and she carries on his legacy of great cello playing. She and Irina Nuzova play beautifully in these recordings of music by Rachmaninov, Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, Schnittke, and Scriabin. Especially of note is that this is the first American recording of Miaskovsky’s mellifluous Sonata No. 2, a work that’s rarely performed outside of Russia. This music was recently featured on Performance Today and was one of our favorite classical albums of 2010.  This recording of Russian cello music can be sent to you as thanks for a donation of $90 (or about $7 per month).


Chopin: The Essentials

Chopin Essentials

When you donate $60 (or choose to send $5 per month) to WV Public Radio, we can send you this lovely Chopin collection. Beautiful, romantic piano music performed by great pianists that you frequently hear on the radio, including Olga Kern (interview), Jon Nakamatsu, Nobuyuki Tsujii, Frederic Chiu, and Alexandre Tharaud.  It’s a quick and pleasant tour through the essential Chopin – his waltzes, polonaises, mazurkas, ballades, sonatas, and concertos. Chopin: The Essentials wonderful introduction to Chopin and a great gift (perhaps paired with a box of chocolates?:)

It takes just a few minutes, and you'll contributing to keeping quality classical music programming on the radio and online. Here's how you can become a member and support WV Public Radio with your donation.

You can also encourage your friends to join you. Mark that you’re “attending” the Chocolate Challenge on Facebook, and then you can invite others to do the same! Thank you for your support!

Love and Laughter

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 25, 2011

In September 2009, I spoke with tenor Donald George about Margaret Ruthven Lang's music, which he was performing at West Virginia University with pianist Lucy Mauro (who is a professor at WVU). Donald George and Lucy Mauro have now recorded Lang's music, and the recording has been released by Delos Records: Love is Everywhere.

Here's a video preview:

Love is Everywhere: Selected Songs of Margaret Lang


I'll be speaking with both Mauro and George sometime next month, and I'll be sure to share that conversation with you!

For now, if you're looking to share some love, support WV Public Radio and mail chocolates anywhere in the country by Valentine's Day. Your donation helps us keep classical music on the radio and provide the interviews, news, and music commentary here online.

Thank you for your support for classical music and WV Public Radio.

As for the laughter promised in the title, I'm happy that choir director Truman Dalton has recently introduced me to ensemble Mnozil Brass. Enjoy!

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Poe for Guitar: Usher Valse

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By Aran Jenkins
 · January 19, 2011

Poe, Edgar Allan
Edgar Allan Poe

Today marks the 202nd anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth. In addition to being one of my favorite writers of all time, he also has the credit for writing the first modern detective story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Perhaps Sherlock Holmes would do well to pay tribute!

I'm fascinated that there is one mysterious person, who for decades made a tradition of visiting the grave of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore and left three roses in a specific pattern with half a bottle of cognac. The tradition has perhaps come to an end; for the second year in a row the mysterious devotee has not appeared or left the signature tribute at the grave.

Nikita Koshkin (born 1956) also thought to pay tribute to Poe, by composing the “Usher Valse.” The piece, written for solo guitar, was based on Poe’s classic short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Guitar great John Williams playing Koshkin’s stirring “Usher Valse”
This tribute to Poe is another great addition to the tradition of composers drawing from literature for their compositions, which includes Tchaikovsky's “Romeo and Juliet Overture” and Edvard Grieg's music for Ibsen's play Peer Gynt. I'm interested to hear other people's favorite connections between literature and music, and if you know any other good musical tributes to Edgar Allen Poe.
Anitras' Dance from Peer Gynt

 

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In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt

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Retour de la vie

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 17, 2011

Jim Lange’s back on the radio, and I’m back to really updating Classically Speaking!  First up will be a long overdue posting of a interview with Cedille Records founder and president Jim Ginsburg. Then we’ll catch up with the West Virginia Symphony’s concert at the end of this month featuring music by Douglas Lilburn and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Tchaikovsky Festival next month. 

Here are a just a few recent things that have caught my eyes and ears. 

* Interview with Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin by Nézet-Séguin because he conducted the very excellent Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera last year. Here's a little bit of that very excellent Carmen:

* Speaking of opera, mark your calendars for February 12th. Movie theaters around the country (including Barboursville and Morgantown, West Virginia) will be broadcasting John Adams's Nixon in China from the Metropolitan Opera, with the composer conducting!  Read more about it in Adams’s blog Hell Mouth and catch a rehearsal picture on Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise.  (February 12th is also my 30th birthday – won’t you come to the opera to help me celebrate?  Stay tuned to our Facebook page, where I’ll be giving away tickets in a week or two.)

* I’ve been enjoying listening to stuff over on NPR Music when I get the chance. You can listen to a Nashville Symphony Orchestra concert from JanuaryAlso worth checking out: Brooklyn Rider’s Tiny Desk Concert at NPR from this past summer.

What’s on your reading and listening lists?  The snow is disappearing here, but I’m still stuck on Nielsen.

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Guitarist Robert Gruca (review)

(Concert Reviews) Permanent link
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By Aran Jenkins
 · January 11, 2011


I was able to go see the guitar recital performed by Robert Gruca on Sunday afternoon at Christ Church United Methodist at 2 p.m. It was my first concert of this type, and I was very impressed.

Robert Gruca
Robert Gruca

I consider myself a lifelong student of music. I taught myself to play guitar with some help from my older brothers. They had bought guitars and started learning at the same time, and they ended up showing me basic chords and giving me access to their instruments when they saw that I was persistent.  

Watching this recital in such an elegant setting gave me the distinct impression that although I have played for almost 20 years, I really don’t know anything about guitar! I’ve spent most of my life learning blues and rock and jazz and recently some classical guitar.

Classical guitar still seems so foreign to me, even though I can muddle my way through a few pieces by Bach and Villa-Lobos from memory. There is still such a wide vocabulary of techniques and nuances that remain untouchable to me. I approach the piano in the same way, though I do know all the basic scales and chords there from what I have been able to teach myself in a few years.

I am so glad that there are people who can play these instruments and appear to me almost like magicians, evoking sounds and moods that I can’t begin to figure out or duplicate, though I am emboldened to keep trying for as long as I live!  For a few hours Robert Gruca did just that.

Gruca’s playing was effervescent and it was so refreshing to see someone so ably bringing life to so many old pieces from altogether different worlds and different times. I could revel in the peace of that listening experience all day. He also had a good volume; his playing, though sensitive, commanded and filled the entire space of the large church hall.

Guitarist Robert Gruca on WGN TV


My earliest memories of the guitar are listening to cassette tapes of Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin IV. The mood and imagery evoked from hearing Albeniz’s Suite Espanola, Op. 47 bring to me a completely different sense and an almost impossibly distant past. And yet not so distant to the ear! 

I hear so many people complain that there is nothing to do in Charleston. I think the Charleston Chamber Music Society is proving that it is simply not true! And for anyone that would complain about not liking classical music, I would insist that everyone could find something to like about it. It is a language and creative passion that remains timeless. There is plenty of excellent live music to be experienced in this area. Get out and taste it! Listen with open ears and open minds and be prepared to grow!! 

WV Classical Calendar - January 2011

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 4, 2011
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