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McDowell County: Resilience and Rebirth

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

See you next year!

(Commentary, Meta) Permanent link

Things have been a bit slow here on the blog, as holidays and winter bugs have us struggling a bit to keep up. We hope you’ve enjoyed the interviewsreviews, and rants that we’ve had during our first few months. 

We will be starting the new year afresh, so stay tuned—and be sure to let us know if there’s something you’d like to see/hear more of.   Happy New Year!

Phyllis Curtin (extended interview)

(Interviews) Permanent link

by Mona Seghatoleslami

Phyllis CurtinOpera singer and Clarksburg native Phyllis Curtin was recently inducted into the WV Music Hall of Fame, and I had the privilege (and joy!) of interviewing her.  We talked for around a half hour, which then was condensed into a short story for for WV Morning

Since Ms. Curtin was so interesting and charming, I wanted to share the entire interview for those who might be interested.  In the interview, she shares stories of recording Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 while seven months pregnant, her work with composer Carlisle Floyd, how playing violin affected her approach to singing, her favorites from recordings, and more.  I hope we can talk again some time—I’ve been thinking of more and more questions I would love to ask her.

So with the barest of editing (around the holidays, I don’t have time for much!), here’s our interview:

Listen Listen to the interview with Phyllis Curtin

Bonus tracks:  Here are videos of Curtin singing Mozart and as a soloist in Britten's War Requiem.

Favorite Things (2008)

(Commentary) Permanent link

by Mona Seghatoleslami

It's the end of the year, so everyone is making their lists.  These are a few of my favorite things released over the past year (or at least the ones that made it to us here at WV Public Radio), in no particular order. What are some of your favorites?


Leroy Anderson series

 Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music (series)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin (Naxos 8.559313/ 8.559356/ 8.559313/ 8.559381/ 8.559382)

The American master of light orchestral music has his centenary celebrated here with an ongoing series of his complete orchestral works.  Leonard Slatkin leads the BBC Concert Orchestra in delightful performances of beloved standards and previously unrecorded gems, featuring excellent soloists from clarinet and trumpet players to those playing typewriters, clocks, and sandpaper.  Every time a new Leroy Anderson CD arrived throughout the year, it brightened my week.

Ay amor

Ay! Amor… 
Constantinople/Francoise Atlan (ATMA Classique 2594) 

This recording of draws on medieval French song, ancient Greek fragments, Sephardic romances, and Arab-Andalusian music, to name a few of their sources.  It's striking and different sounding--not strictly "classical" (wherever that line is drawn these days).  Françoise Atlan has a beautiful voice and the ensemble Constantinople's accompaniment is direct and evocative.  


Brilliant Brendel box

 Alfred Brendel: The Complete Vox, Turnabout, and Vanguard Solo Recordings  
 35 CD Box Set (Brilliant 93761)

Pianist Alfred Brendel is retiring after a long and productive career, celebrated for his interpretation of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.  This set collects his early recordings from when he was "making his bones" recording discount CDs sold at grocery stores. Some of the recording quality from these older budget label recordings is less than satisfying, but that's worth listening past.  My favorite discovery in this collection was the disc of Chopin--it's a pity he didn't find time to record more (and I'm looking forward to working my way to his Schoenberg recordings).

Nielsen Quartets

Carl Nielsen: String Quartets Vol. 2  
The Young Danish String Quartet (DaCapo 6.220522)  

The Young Danish String Quartet performs the music of the young Carl Nielsen  I think I forgot about this disc over the summer, but have returned to it as the winter months have returned to this beautiful, dark, and intense music.  Everything about this recording is direct and immediately gripping.  This passionate, late-romantic music is not easy listening, but certainly is rewarding listening.  



Cosmic Garden

Micahel Gandolfi: The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Spano (Telarc CD-80696)

Gandolfi's "The Garden of Cosmic Speculation" is an engagingly varied, rambling collection of pieces, inspired by a garden in Scotland designed around concepts from modern physics.  The idea of combining science and the arts (both visual and musical) is appealing, and music takes you on a pleasant journey.  Within the larger work, there's a dreamy little baroque-style suite called "The Garden of the Senses" which I particularly like.


Andsnes Mozart

Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 20
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano/direction; Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (EMI 500281)

I missed this recording when it first came out, and then kicked myself for not noticing it earlier after I played it on recent our program of Grammy nominees.  The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra dances agilely through the music and Andses shows he can deliver sparkling Mozart just as well as he does the moody music of his fellow countryman Edvard Grieg.


Una Cosa Rara

Vicente Martin y Soler: Una cosa rara (Harmoniemusik)
Moodwinds/Joan Enric Lluna (Harmonia Mundi HMC 902010)

Mozart's Don Giovanni has tunes from Vicente Martin y Soler's opera Una Cosa Rara played for him over his final dinner.  The Don hears the same style of playing we get on this recording—a chamber wind ensemble known as “Harmonie.”  But while I may have been drawn to this recording for this bit of trivia, it’s made my list because it’s absolutely charming, refined, and refreshing.  Equally delightful are the three previously unrecorded Divertimenti on this disc.



Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel (DG 4777457)

You've seen the video, so now hear more of what Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela can do. This Latin American orchestral music is (as Dudamel writes) "all about dance, about rhythm" and these exciting, sometimes rambunctious performances just might have you out of your seat dancing around the room.  From what I've heard here and on Performance Today, I'm really looking forward to hearing what Dudamel does with the LA Philharmonic (not to mention their plans for music education programs).

Holidays, Awards, and YouTube

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Holiday Concerts

Thank you for all your comments on Christmas/holiday classical music recordings.  Some of those recordings will be starting to make their way into our programming soon, but we promise not to go overboard..  If you’re looking to get out to some holiday concerts, here are a few happening in and around the state:

WVU: Selections from Handel’s Messiah, December 4th at 7:30pm
Ohio Valley Symphony: The Christmas Show, December 6th
Charleston Civic Chorus: December 7th at 2:30pm
Wheeling Symphony: Symphony on Ice, December 9th at 7:30pm
WV Symphony: Home for the Holidays, December 12-13
WV Symphony with the Charleston Ballet: The Nutcracker, December 19-20
Huntington Symphony: December 20th at 8pm 

If you know of any others, let us know in the comments below.

Awards, Awards, Awards

The classical Grammy awards don’t make the prime-time TV broadcasts, but they do exist.  Here’s the list of this year’s nominees.  Choral conductor Charles Bruffy, who has family in WV, was nominated last year for his recording of Grechaninov’s Passion Week has been recognized again for Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary

Just as the Grammy presenters don’t give top billing to classical music, the classical music world doesn’t necessarily consider the Grammys their top award either.  The Grawemeyer Award from the University of Louisville is the big deal for new compositions (and it was just awarded to Australian composer Brett Dean).  There’s also the Avery Fisher Prize (just picked up by Gil Shaham), MacArthur Genius Grants, and Gramophone Awards.  Not to mention competitions with prestigious prizes, or that making the NY Times best of the year list can also help a classical musician end their year right. 

Youtube Symphony

Your chance to collaborate online for classical music is no longer limited to remixing yourself with Yo-Yo Ma.  Now you can audition for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.  There’s music to download and practice, and then you record and submit an audition video.

Everyone is talking about it…I’m interested to see how it turns out (and almost tempted to download the viola part).  Pass the word around—perhaps we’ll have some West Virginians in the running.  If you decide to participate, let me know.  I’d love to talk with you about it and follow you through the process. 

Kandinsky at Carnegie

(Interviews) Permanent link

by Mona Seghatoleslami

Kandinsky TrioThe Kandinsky Trio will be visiting West Virginia this Friday to perform in Lewisburg.  They’re in residence at Roanoke College in Virginia, and they’ve played together since 1987.  I had the chance to speak with the trio's violinist Bendy Goodfriend, a charming musician with quite a sense of humor. 

The piano trio--which consists of a violin, a cello, and a piano--is standard chamber music configuration, but it hasn’t achieved the popularity of the venerable string quartet.  We talked about the perks and challenges of playing in a piano trio, the music that has been written for this line-up, and the story behind the trio's name.

Listen Hear Goodfriend discuss playing in a piano trio 

In Lewisburg, the Kandinsky Trio will be playing music of Mozart, Brahms, and contemporary Dutch composer Robert Nasveld

Listen Listen to a description of the music they’ll be playing 

The Kandinsky Trio also plays and commissions of a variety of music.  Their latest CD “Trios in Foreign Lands” includes pieces by Turina, Rachmaninoff, Cowell, Bridge, and Chien Tai-Chen.  They’ve also commissioned and performed a piece “Tales of Appalachia” for trio and storyteller.  The music was composed by Mike Reid.

Listen Listen to the story of creating “Tales of Appalachia” 

You can see the Kandinsky Trio on YouTube, with an unusual musical collaboration—piano trio plus whistler: She Blinded me with Science.  You can also hear samples from their CD on their website.

The Kandinsky Trio plays will perform at 7:30pm, Friday December 5th at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg

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