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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Sir James

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami

James GalwayIf you’re a flutist, Sir James Galway needs no introduction.  Even if you don’t play the flute and barely know anything about the instrument, you’ve still probably heard of James Galway.

He’s been the principle flute player with several top orchestras, most notably at the Berlin Philharmonic (here’s the famous story about how he got there--I'd heard it before, but couldn't find it written out anywhere but Wikipedia).  As a soloist, he has played and recorded most of the standard repertoire, championed new compositions, and branched out beyond the classical world, including working with the Chieftans and playing on the Lord of the Rings soundtracks.

Along the way, he’s also been knighted, had a rose named after him, and earned the nickname “The Man with the Golden Flute.” 

O'Reilly StreetJames Galway’s new album is a collaborative project with the Cuban ensemble Tiempo Libre, called “O’Reilly Street.”  They offer new spins on music of Bach and Claude Bolling and play compositions by Tiempo Libre’s Jorge Gomez. Here's a bit of what it sounds like:

Listen Listen to a sample of Galway and Tiempo Libre playing Bach's Badinerie 


For the audio, I’m finally trying something new here.  You can listen to the interview as one file, or broken up into sections below (let me know if you have a preference).

Listen James Galway interview

First, we talked about his approach to his various collaborative projects. 

Listen James Galway interview part 1

He then told me about the music on the new album, the experience of working with Tiempo Libre, and what it’s like trading the concert hall for the club scene.

Listen James Galway interview part 2

The last part of the interview’s a bit of a grab bag, about Sir James’s charity projects, premiering new pieces, and what he would do if he was not a musician.

Listen James Galway interview part 3

And if I sound a little nervous throughout, I hope you’ll understand…I try not to be too star struck, but this is James Galway (I think my years playing flute as a kid made me especially nervous!)

Congrats, Gil!

(News) Permanent link

by Mona Seghatoleslami

Gil Shaham and Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel
and Gil Shaham

Congratulations to violinist Gil Shaham! He's just been awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize.  It’s a bit of an unsual award--it's not awarded every year and you can’t apply for it—a committee chooses the winner and surprised them with them award.  David Roden recounts the story of the surprise presentation over at WKSU’s classical blog.

Gil Shaham is amazing violinist who takes on a variety of music and plays it all beautifully.  He's also the first person I interviewed for this blog.  I was glad to hear from him on Weekend ATC, and I hope to catch a rebroadcast of the concert--which was taped for Live from Lincoln Center.

Listen  Revisit the Classically Speaking interview with Gil Shaham 

Listen  Read/Listen to the story from Weekend All Things Considered (with Gil talking about music and playing in the studio)


 

Christmas Music…too soon?

(Commentary, Just for Fun) Permanent link

by Mona Seghatoleslami

Christmas CDs 2008

Are you ready?

The picture above is of the Christmas-related CDs we’ve received this year.  These are a small percentage of the library’s full holiday collection.  The new ones started showing up around September, so I’ve been saving them up.  I wasn’t ready for them in September, and I’m not quite ready now.  Don’t even get me started on the Christmas music and decorations at the mall!

I do look forward to some of this music.  I like hearing really good early music groups play Christmas music and things that you don’t know are Christmas-y until someone tells you afterwards.  Also, I have a fondness for Corelli’s Christmas Concerto and some of the cantatas that J.S. Bach wrote for Christmas and surrounding holidays.  And you don’t have to ask me twice to play some Leroy Anderson.

So tell me…do you look forward to or dread Christmas music?  When do you think it’s time to start playing Christmas music?  Are there any classical holiday favorites you want to hear this year? 

Leave a comment with your thoughts! (or email feedback@wvpubcast.org)

Glenn Kurtz: A Return to Music

(Interviews) Permanent link

by Jim Lange

“Oh! For a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention
A kingdom for a stage; princes to act,
and monarchs to behold the swelling scene.”
-Shakespeare

Glenn KurtzIn Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard is sent on a mission to find the rogue Colonel Kurtz. Willard reveals: “There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine.”  Being a huge fan of the film, when I picked up Glenn Kurtz’s book about his life as a guitarist, the irony was not lost. What did come unexpectedly was how his account would cut so close to home. When you interview someone, you have to give almost as much to the interviewee as they give to you, but still maintain a professional distance. But in a very honest way, there is no telling his story without telling my own.


Glenn Kurtz’s book, Practicing: a Musician’s Return to Music, is a memoir, a meditation on practicing, an insightful and funny history of the guitar, but most importantly, an honest account of how he lost his dream of being a concertizing guitarist, but ultimately finding a way of returning to the music and the instrument he so loved.
Listen Listen to Kurtz explain why he wrote this book 

When we begin the study of music or an instrument, there is innocence, enthusiasm and a joy that fuels our learning. For Kurtz, it began with lessons at the Guitar Workshop in Long Island.
Listen Listen to Kurtz describe his early guitar studies 

He was seventeen when he saw the great Andres Segovia in concert. Although he was playing a plethora of musical styles at that time, he was inspired to concentrate on classical guitar.
ListenListen to Kurtz describe the effect of seing Segovia

About the same time, Kurtz was chosen to be among an elite group of high school musicians who would not only have the chance to play on the Merv Griffin Show, but to back up jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie. The experience made him feel like he was on his way to a successful career as a professional musician.
Listen Listen to Kurtz talk about these gigs 

He was accepted into the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music where he realized that he was no longer the biggest fish in the proverbial pond. He had to reevaluate his place in the musical world. Also, a towering statue of Beethoven is used in a most unusual way.Glenn Kurtz Book
Listen Listen to Kurtz talk about his experience at the conservatory 

While graduation can be an exciting culmination of hard work and study, the future can be most uncertain, especially for classical guitarists. Aspiring musicians must spend hours upon hours alone practicing. Kurtz calls practice “unpaid work” and reflects on this specialized musical activity.
Listen Listen to Kurtz reflect on practicing 

After graduation, Kurtz moved to Vienna, a city with a rich and almost mythic musical history, and he believed this was going to be the launch of his concert career. But disillusionment followed. First, with Vienna - a city that seemed to be frozen in time and forever looking backward at a faraway golden era of music. Even performances of Mozart operas were “like a stone statue…bloodless.”
Listen Listen to Kurtz on Vienna and disillusionment 

There is the old cliché: you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it. We are told this by parents, teachers and mentors along the way. But what happens, despite all your efforts, when your dreams never manifest and by attrition, die?
Listen Listen to Kurtz describe his "break up" with music 

Glenn Kurtz pictureThe quality of the concerts that Kurtz played became more of the economic, rather than the artistic variety. In short, no golden ladder reached down to elevate him to the status of the concert artist. He had become a working musician, not heir to the throne of Segovia. Growing increasingly dissatisfied, the dream had gone cold even before Kurtz realized it. The guitar, once the beloved object of hours of practice and the entrusted vessel of his greatest aspirations, had become a constant, bitter reminder of his failure and was consequently abandoned for a decade. There are rare moments of brutal honesty in interviews. This is one of them.
Listen Listen to Kurtz talk about his years without the guitar 

T.S. Eliot wrote, “… to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” This is how Kurtz began a return to the guitar and the music he had once loved.
Listen Kurtz describes how he returned to the guitar 

One of the economic opportunities that are available to musicians is wedding gigs or wine and cheese type events. Here a musician is paid to be talked over, to be nothing more than pleasant background music.
Listen Kurtz reflects on this “cruel paradox” 

Most of books that I have read about the history of the guitar are dry and reek of academia. Kurtz’s account is a delight; full of useful information, but laced with an insightful sense of humor and social perspective. In short, guitarists and their predecessors have long been seen as outsiders, mavericks and subversive elements of society. What is it about the guitar that provokes this stereotype to this day?
Listen Kurtz talks about the history and reception of the guitar 

Although Kurtz gave up his dream, the story has a happy ending.  The author now holds a PHD from Stanford and is busy teaching and is currently working on a new book. He is frequently asked by young players for career advice.
ListenListen to the happy ending!

Who's Afraid of Gustav Mahler?

(Commentary) Permanent link

by Mona Seghatoleslami

Gustav Mahler

Are you afraid of this man?

The WV Symphony is performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 this weekend. It’s an impressive piece, with a monster-sized orchestra, choruses, and a vocal soloist

Several listeners have told us about their dislike…even their fear…of Mahler.  We’re calling this condition “Mahl-eria” around the studio.  And we’re in search of a cure.  It’s not just for those who are considering this concert.  I'm writing for (and would like to hear from) anyone who has thoughts on Mahler and his music.

Mahler is (in)famous for the size and scope of his symphonies.  Symphony No. 3 is particularly long, running a bit over 90 minutes.

90 minutes…that’s pretty short for a movie…but when it’s the length of a piece of music, people start talking about not being able to sit still for that long.

I’ve been listening to this symphony for a few days (this recording) and I’ve read articles, anecdotes, and analyses.  It’s hard for me to synthesize into one little blog post everything that goes on in a symphony that is said to “encompass the world,” but here are a few thoughts.

I want to hear this piece in concert.  Mahler’s grand musical statements and dramatic climaxes sound a bit silly coming out of my computer’s speakers as I sit in my living room snacking on chips.  This is music that should be sounded from the mountains…but I suppose a concert hall is an acceptable compromise.  I still do enjoy hearing Mahler on the radio too; we’ve played his Symphony No. 1 and several songs recently, and today (Wednesday around 2pm) I’ll play the Adagio from his incomplete Tenth Symphony.

Mahler’s music is a full of contradictions and contrasts, which can be both disorienting and exciting.  During Mahler's life, Freud observed that: “In Mahler’s opinion the conjunction of high tragedy and light amusement was…inextricably fixed in his mind.” 

Alex Ross (author, music critic for The New Yorker, and blogger extraordinaire) sums it up really well in his book The Rest is Noise: “The frame of reference of Mahler’s symphonies is vast, stretching from the masses of the Renaissance to the marching songs of rural soldiers—an epic multiplicity of voices and styles.  Giant structures are built up, read to the heavens, then suddenly crumble.  Nature spaces are invaded by sloppy country dances and belligerent marches”

Over on his blog, Ross has photos of the hut where Mahler would compose and the view from the windows there.  Take a look.

Those with this (Wednesday) afternoon free can head over to the Clay Center for a talk with a visiting musicologist and Maestro Grant Cooper from 1:45-3pm about “Mahler and his World.”  Here's a bit more you can read more about Mahler and his Third Symphony.

My favorite Mahler anecdote that I've read recently: In 1910 Mahler took the Philharmonic on a concert tour of New York State.  When they reached Niagara Falls he exclaimed "At last, a real fortissimo!"

And on the lighter side, Minnesota Public Radio tells us Mahler’s “Bacon Number.” 

So, what are your experiences with Mahler’s music?  Do you have a favorite piece? A pleasant or unpleasant story to tell?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

A Fool's Paradise

(Interviews) Permanent link

By Jim Lange and Mona Seghatoleslami

Tim Fain, violinViolinist Timothy Fain says he knew, “from a pretty early age that I wanted to make music.” When he was 6, he was watching his mother perform with other musicians and pointed to the violinist, and told her, “That's what I want to do!” 

Fain’s interest in music took him from Santa Monica, California to the east coast, where he graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music and the Julliard School.  He now lives in New York and tours around the world as a violin soloist.

Tim Fain will coming to West Virginia this week; he will perform Richard Danielpour’s Violin Concerto (A Fool’s Paradise) with the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra on Friday, November 7 at 8 pm.

Jim Lange interviewed Fain about the music he'll be playing in Wheeling, and Mona Seghatoleslami talked with Wheeling Symphony Music Director Andre Raphel Smith about the concert.  Check out the interviews below for two different perspectives on the music.

Listen  Listen to Jim’s interview with Timothy Fain 

Listen  Listen to Mona’s interview with Andre Raphel Smith 

Danielpour's Violin Concerto hasn't been recorded yet, so we can't post a sample of the music--maybe we can get a recording of this concert?  I know there are probably complications, but we'll work on it and get back to you.  For more about the concert, you can read the Wheeling Symphony's program notes about the music.

 

Around the World with Chamber Music

(Interviews) Permanent link

by Mona Seghatoleslami

Michiko Otaki and the Graffe Quartet

How do a Czech string quartet and a Japanese-American pianist communicate in rehearsals?  For pianist Michiko Otaki and the Graffe String Quartet, when words are needed in addition to the music, the answer to communication challenges is German! 

Michiko Otaki teaches music at Clayton University in Atlanta Georgia.  She also travels extensively a performer, collaborating with groups from around the world, including the Graffe String Quartet from the Czech Republic.

The Graffe Quartet and Otaki will be performing twice in West Virginia this week as part of their current US tour. 

They will visit Huntington for a MUsic Alive concert on Friday November 7th at noon, where they will perform Schumann’s Piano Quintet and string quartets by Haydn and Beethoven.

They also play in Charleston on Saturday November 8th, performing at 7pm on the Charleston Chamber Music Society concert series.  In Charleston, they’ll play Dvorak’s Piano Quintet and a Haydn string quartet.

Listen Listen to my interview with pianist Michiko Otaki

Listen Listen to a concert they played during a previous tour (recorded by WUFT Classic 89)

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