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WV Symphony - Tchaikovsky V

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Eleanor Steber: Wheeling at the Met

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · December 29, 2009

“No matter where or how often I traveled the world for nearly half a century, I have remained a daughter of Wheeling with my spiritual roots sunk deeply into that unique corner of America.” 

So wrote opera singer Eleanor Steber (1916-1990) in her autobiography. In the book, she lovingly refers to her hometown as “Wheeling West-by-God Virginia.”

Steber sang around the world, most notably at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She sang a wide variety of roles in many different languages, and she particularly recognized for her performances of Mozart operas and her premieres of music by American composer Samuel Barber, including debuting the title role in the opera Vanessa

You can find more about Steber’s career from the Wheeling Library or this write-up (which includes lots of pictures). You might also be able to track down a copy of her out-of-print autobiography.

Eleanor Steber Portrait 1
Saied Seghatoleslami

Last week, my dad took me to see Elektra by Richard Strauss at the Metropolitan Opera, while I was in New Jersey visiting my family.  At the Met, I saw Eleanor Steber (well, I saw her picture – I didn’t meet any ghosts at the opera!)

In their downstairs lobby, the Metropolitan Opera has created a gallery of pictures of their stars throughout their history. Eleanor Steber is shown in the role of Vanessa.

Eleanor Steber Portrait 2
Saied Seghatoleslami

From the world of classical music, the WV Music Hall of Fame has inducted George Crumb, Phyllis Curtin, and Larry Combs. My vote for our next nominee in 2010 is Eleanor Steber.  

Eleanor Steber singing Mozart -- you can find more of her singing on YouTube and in recordings . 

New Old-Fashioned Christmas Music

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · December 18, 2009
What if Mozart album

What if Mozart wrote “White Christmas”? Or Brahms had a version of the Chipmunk song? Or Debussy penned a fantasy on Santa Claus is Coming to Town? 

Okay, you get the idea – and it’s not really that wild of an idea; classical composers have worked popular music of their time and place into their works for centuries.

These classically-inspired string orchestra interpretations of holiday pop tunes make for a really pleasant, fun Christmas album.  It evokes the great old-style orchestral pops albums, with Arthur Fiedler or Leroy Anderon.

There's a sweet story to what inspired producer Warren Schatz to create this album.  Listen to him tell that story and talk more about this music in our interview:

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Warren Schatz Interview

Schatz pointed out how nice the melody of the Chipmunk Song really is when it’s played by strings rather than sung by chipmunks.  You can listen to that track here.

The producers have also posted a video from when they recorded the album in a church in Estonia:

Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

(News, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · December 16, 2009

On this chilly Wednesday morning, when all the holiday madness had me a bit down, I was to the point of repeating Scrooge’s favorite old mantra, when I checked my email and read:

Subject: Dec 16
To: Mona Seghatoleslami
From: Clinton Foster



Beethoven Portrait alt
Beethoven: 239 and sounding fine

All thoughts of “bah” and “humbug” fled, and now I’m celebrating my favorite composer’s birthday:)

WFMT Chicago has also been celebrating all week; they have a lot of good stuff on their blogs (here and here) celebrating Beethoven to get you into this holiday’s spirit.

The guests of honor at my Beethoven party here in the station library include Carlos Kleiber, the Orion Quartet, and Alfred Brendel.  Maybe Maynard Solomon will join us later.

Are you celebrating Beethoven? Any favorite pieces or recordings that you’d like to share?

Now that it is much easier to comment on our blog posts (you no longer need to create an account and log in!), I hope you will share your thoughts.

Larry Combs alt
Larry Combs

While you’re here – check out my radio story about clarinetist Larry Combs, who was recently inducted into the WV Music Hall of Fame

He’ll also be featured Thursday night on the TV program Outlook on WV PBS.  We’ll also have a longer interview here on Classically Speaking soon, so be sure to check back.

Favorite Things (2009)

(CD Reviews, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · December 14, 2009

There are plenty of lists coming out at the end of the year, so you have plenty of other guides through classical music recordings that have been released in the past year.

I still had fun wandering through our library’s shelves and my memories of the past year to put together a list of some of my favorite things that we’ve featured on WV Public Radio. Last year I managed to limit myself to eight recordings; this year my list is all over the place, and I’m sure that I’m still leaving out so many good things.


One can be the Loveliest Number (featured soloists)

Walton Cello

Peter Wispelwey: Walton Cello Concerto (Bloch * Ligeti * Britten)

I’m surprised how few cellists I’ve spoken to know about Walton's Cello Concerto. Everyone, not just cello players, should know about it!  I keep listening to this recording for the Walton as well as the solo cello selections.

Meyers Smile

Smile / Anne Akiko Meyers

This CD is really pretty; it features some lyrical playing and just a touch of adventure in the musical choices. I interviewed Anne Akiko Meyers right before she played in Wheeling this year (check it out here). 

Come into my parlor... (Chamber Music)

Pavel Haas

Pavel Haas: Chamber Music/Ensemble Villa Musica

I first heard of Pavel Haas when studying about composers who perished in Nazi concentration camps.   While his name and story first caught my attention, it’s the recording of Haas’s Wind Quintet that makes this one of my favorite discoveries this year.


Orion Early Beethoven

Beethoven String Quartets: Early / Orion String Quartet

I saw the Orion String Quartet play an all-Beethoven concert when I was in high school, and it made a huge impression on me. (I still have the program signed by the viola player.) A decade later, I’m thrilled that the Orion String Quartet has recorded the complete Beethoven string quartets so that I can listen to them whenever I feel like it.


QSF Plays Brubeck album

QSF Plays Brubeck

Another group who has recently visited West Virginia (more about that visit and an interview here). Not quite classical, but certainly connected. A great tribute to a great composer.




At (hopefully not "on") the Piano
A listener has written in to point out to me that very few classical musicians find themselves in the indecorous state of being “on the piano” (as Marlene Dietrich was in one of her films). It’s safer all around to say that they are at the piano.

Hough in Recital

Stephen Hough:  In Recital

Is it possible to wear out CDs? I’ve played every track on this recording on the radio at least once, and that doesn’t count how many times I’ve listened to Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses while working in the library.


Avant Satie

Erik Satie: Avant-Dernières Pensées

Satie was such an awesomely weird dude, and his music is strange in subtle ways. This collection of solo and chamber music by Satie captures the gracefulness, oddity, and beauty of his music.


The Wisdom of Crowds (Orchestral Music)

D & C

Daphnis and Chloe/Maurice Ravel: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, James Levine

The whole piece, not just the suites! An excellent live recording from a concert in 2007.


Foote's Francesca

Arthur Foote: Francesca da Rimini / Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz

Beautiful, lush programmatic orchestral music. My favorite discovery on this recording is Four Character Pieces after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.


The Singer or the Song? (Vocal Music)


Lieberson Recital

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: Recital at Ravinia

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson combined a rich voice with some serious musical smarts. The tone of her voice is just one of the most beautiful things ever. Her Bach Cantatas and Neruda songs recordings are some of my all-time favorite recordings, and I’m now also attached to her performances of Debussy, Brahms, and others from this recital recorded in 2004.


Song of the Stars

Song of the Stars

The title piece on this CD sat around unperformed or recorded since its premiere for over 100 years – I’m glad someone finally got the music and the rights to record it.  It starts out as a solo piece, then about half way through, an organ shows up, and it ends with a beautiful dreamy chorus.



Sacrificium / Cecilia Bartoli

The music sounds good, the booklet (all 100 pages!) is fascinating, informative, and pretty creepy. Listen, read, and learn (possibly not a good gift for male relatives). This is an adventurous project that yielded great results.


Fashionably Early (Going for Baroque)


Arion Rebel

Rebel: Les Plaisirs Champêtres / Arion, Daniel Cuiller

I have yet to find any French baroque opera that can hold my interest, but they certainly knew how to dance (and write dance music).  The ensemble Arion’s playing is bright, engaging, and immediate for this ballet music by Jean-Féry Rebel.


German Bouquet

A German Bouquet / Trio Settecento

There's more to the German Baroque than J.S. Bach!  Even though this music all from one country and the same time period, there's a lot of variety -- it's neat to hear the directions that German composers took based on different influences, including Italian and English music.  Find out more about this music in my recent interview with violinist Rachel Barton Pine.


Make New Friends (Some Newer Compositions)


24 Bits: Hip Hop Studies and Etudes for Piano by DBR

Chopin had Mazurkas, Schubert had waltzes, and Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) incorporates music of his (and our) time into his piano miniatures. Nothing too grand or deep, but rather really cool and engaging little pieces.  Jade Simmons (interview) has recorded three of them; I’d love to hear the whole set.

again (after ecclesiastes) by David Lang

The featured piece on this recording is The Little Match Girl Passion, which is rightly getting a lot of attention, but the music and the text of this miniature at the end of the CD is one of my new favorites.

Look and Listen (DVDs)


Keeping Score DVD

Keeping Score with Michael Tilson Thomas

If you're one of those people who think, “I like classical music, but I wish I knew more about it.” Then this PBS series is for you.  It's a pretty thorough and engaging introduction. Tilson Thomas talks about the music, shows examples, and connects the music to literature, art, and history. Plus, I showed the Symphonie Fantastique episode to a five-year-old, and he stayed put for 15 whole minutes while watching it.


Hope you enjoy!  Share your favorites in the comments.

* Favorite Things (2008)
* Ten Great Christmas Gifts (Eclectopia Blog)
* The New York Times Classical Gift Guide
* NPR Music: Best Music of 2009
* 2009: Ten Exceptional Recordings (Alex Ross, The New Yorker)

A German Bouquet: Trio Settecento

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · December 11, 2009
Baroque, classical, romantic, modern, heavy metal – violinist Rachel Barton Pine does it all. 
Rachel Barton Pine
Rachel Barton Pine

She performs the great romantic concertos with orchestras around the world (including the West Virginia Symphony a few years ago), plays electric violin in a heavy metal band, and she plays baroque violin

Barton Pine is part of Trio Settecento, a Chicago-based group that specializes in baroque music, along with gamba and cello player John Mark Rozendaal and harpsichordist/organist David Schrader

Trio Settecento
Trio Settecento
German Bouquet
A German Bouquet

Their latest album is A German Bouquet, a collection of music from Germany.  It’s the second installment in a series of albums based on concert programs focusing on music from different countries (previously, An Italian Sojourn; up next: France and then England).  Music of Johann Sebastian Bach is featured, while the album also brings to our ears Muffat, Krieger, Buxtehude, Erlebach, Pisendel, Schmelzer, and Schop.

In our interview, Rachel Barton Pine spoke about what makes a baroque violin different, her approach to baroque music, and the music on A German Bouquet.  Check it out:

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with Rachel Barton Pine

Grammy Nominees: WV Classical Connections

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · December 3, 2009

Grammy award alt

The Grammy Award Nominees have just been announced, and unlike most media outlets, we turn our attention immediately to “Field 28 – Classical.” 

I was happy to see on this list several albums I've enjoyed hearing and playing on the radio over the past year.  I’ll be sure to pull them out of the library so that we can feature them some more on the radio.

Several nominees stood out particularly in connection with West Virginia and our Classically Speaking blog. 


Winds of Destiny


** The Winds of Destiny by West Virginian George Crumb has been nominated for “Best Classical Contemporary Composition” (Not a bad belated 80th birthday present)



Isbin Journey album

** Sharon Isbin is nominated for “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra)” – for her performances on the album Journey to the New World. In an interview with Jim Lange, she said that “the whole album started in West Virginia.”

She also shares the nomination with Mark O’Connor, who is coming to Mountain Stage in January.

QSF Plays Brubeck album


**   Quartet San Francisco, who recently played at Concord College, has been nominated for “Best Classical Crossover Album” for QSF Plays Brubeck



Bermel Voices

 ** I’ve interviewed another nominee, Derek Bermel, whose performance of his composition Voices was nominated for “Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with Orchestra).” I hope to have the interview online here for you in the next week or so.

Any thoughts on the Grammy nominations? (Any music you particularly like on the list? Wondering how relevant the Grammy awards are to classical music?)  Share your thoughts in the comments.

WV Classical Calendar -- December 2009

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami and Carole Carter
 · December 1, 2009

Dec 09 calendar
Escape the holiday shopping madness and relax with some great music, in concert and of course on the radio. Here's where you can get your live classical music fix this December. There are lots of Christmas concerts, but plenty of other music too.

We'll be updating the list as we find out more. Let us know if we're missing anything; you can leave a comment at the bottom of the post or email us.

Dec 11: American BoyChoir (Chuck Mathena Center, Princeton)

Dec 11: Kanawha Valley Community Band Winter Concert (7pm, La Belle Theater, South Charleston)

Dec 11: Chanticleer Children's Chorus Holiday Concert (WV Wesleyan College)

Dec 11-12: WV Symphony “Home for the Holidays”

Dec 12: Mountain Laurel Ensemble Christmas Concert (St. Mark's Methodist, Charleston)

Dec 12: River City Youth Ballet "The Snow Queen" (WVU Tech)

Dec 12-13: Chanticleer Children's Chorus Holiday Concert (Bridgeport)

Dec 13: WV Symphony (Parkersburg) “Home for the Holidays”

Dec 13: WVU Community Arts Orchestra Concert

Dec 13: Greenbrier Valley Chorale Christmas Concert with Carnegie Children's Choir (Carnegie Hall Lewisburg)

Dec 13: 23rd Annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (Christ Church United Methodist, Charleston)

Dec 15: Carnegie Children's Choir lunchtime concert (Carnegie Hall Lewisburg)

Dec 15: Horace Mann Orchestra, Chorus, and Band Winter Concert (7pm, Scottish Rite Temple, Charleston)

Dec 17: Opera in Cinema: Cosi fan Tutte (Huntington, Charleston, Triadelphia, Beckley)

Dec 18: OPUS Chorale Christmas Concert (Christ Church United Methodist, Charleston)

Dec 18-19: Wheeling Symphony The Nutrcracker

Dec 19: WV Symphony and Charleston Ballet The Nutcracker

Dec 19: Huntington Symphony Holiday Concert

Dec 19: Lessons and Carols (7pm, Immaculate Conception Church of Clarksburg)

Dec 19: Met Opera HD: Les Contes Hoffman (Barboursville, Morgantown, Ashland)

Dec 20: English Choral Concert by the WV Symphony Chorus

Dec 27: Opera in Cinema: Cosi fan Tutte (Huntington, Charleston, Triadelphia, Beckley)

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