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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Something Old, Something New: Rent and La Bohème

(Interviews, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 29, 2009
In 1892, Giacomo Puccini composed the opera La Bohème , with a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, freely adapted from the novel Scènes de la Vie de Boheme [Scenes from Bohemian Life] by Henry Murger.
Rent album cover

A century later, Jonathan Larson (based on an idea by Billy Aronson) wrote  Rent , a rock opera/musical combining stories from his life in New York with characters and themes from Puccini’s opera. 

Starting this weekend in Charleston, you can experience the New York version of bohemian life – the Charleston Light Opera Guild's production of Rent opens on Friday.*

Ryan Hardiman** is one of the stars of the show. He plays the musician Roger (transformed from Puccini’s character, the writer Rodolfo), who struggles with life, love, addiction, and artistic expression.

Hardiman sat down in the studio with me for a fun, wandering discussion of the parallels between La Bohème and Rent. We touched on the similarities and differences between characters, plot lines, and overall messages, and there's some music from both shows woven into the discussion.

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Rent and La Boheme

Sound interesting? I have a pair of tickets to opening night (this Friday, July 31st) to give away. To be considered for these free tickets, e-mail me, and put “Classically Speaking” in the subject line. 

You can find more information about the production here.

* Disclosure: I’ve played in the orchestra for several of the Charleston Light Opera Guild’s previous shows. But I’m pretty sure I’ve written this post because it’s a fun topic, not because of my involvement with the group.  

** Ryan Hardiman was interviewed previously on Classically Speaking, as the WV Symphony Idol.

How do you say 'Messiah' in Magyar?

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Bob Powell
 · July 27, 2009

I was deployed to Bosnia in 1998 as part of Operation Joint Forge/Joint Guard and served with 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army near Tulza, Bosnia. While I was there I was given a four-day pass to Budapest, Hungary.

Hungary was a soon-to-be member of NATO and was used by the Stabilization Forces (SFOR) as a staging area for operations into the former Yugoslavia.

As part of the four-day pass, soldiers were transported by bus through the Hungarian countryside and deposited on an island in the Danube River at the steps of the Thermal Hotel for three nights and four days to ourselves.

My partner on this expedition in freedom was 1st Sgt. Robert Johnson, my detachment’s senior noncommissioned officer — “Top.” After a quick recon to find a bus and trolley map of downtown, we headed out to the old fortress known as the Buda Castle for some sightseeing.

Budapest Cathedral Ext
Mattais Church, Hungary

In the Buda Castle Quarter, we checked out the castle, shops and the 700-year-old Mattais Church, or Coronation Church of Our Lady. As we browsed through the vaulted hall of this gothic and Baroque church, we learned that the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir would be performing Handel’s Messiah the next day.

Top and I thought it would be great opportunity to catch a live performance. It was April after all, and Easter had been the previous week—by this time we had both been away from our families for nearly four months.

So we sought out tickets for the performance. A stout gentleman manned the ticket sales near one of the side portals to the church, and I offered to buy the tickets.

“Excuse me, do you speak English?” I asked.

“Yes, I do,” he replied in what I could best describe as a German-Magyar accent.

“Two tickets for the Messiah, please.”

“600 Florint, please,” he replied.

“Thank you.” I said. “I have one question: what language will it be sung in?”

He thought for a moment. “Why in the original German, of course.”

I smiled. “Certainly, thank you,” I said, and we took our tickets and continued our sightseeing.

I explained to my first sergeant the reason behind my smile, and said that we’ll have to see come the performance, which language it was indeed. 

One thing I’ll admit, I am not a music scholar. But having sung in hometown and collegiate performances of the Messiah, I was somewhat familiar with it. I'd also picked up a thing or two tending to the airing of several years worth of “Adventures in Good Music” on the network.

Budapest Cathedral Int
Inside Mattais Church, Hungary

The Budapest performance would have come just over 256 years to the day since it was first performed in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742. The libretto was written by Englishman Charles Jennens. Handel had been a guest at the Jennens’ estate in Leicestershire, England and set it to music in less than a month. It was not translated into German until W.A. Mozart was commissioned to arrange it 1789.

We returned the next day to hear a very enjoyable performance, in the beautiful setting of the Mattais Church. The Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra occasionally drowned out the choir and soloists. The words were hard to distinguish at first, until you could account for their accents; a wonderful performance in a historic venue during a very nontraditional vacation … another war story for my grandchildren.

Previous posts on Classically Speaking by Bob Powell:

Gimme that Old Time Religion
A Little Traveling Music
Idol and Glee: Not So Original? 


Adventures in Outdoor Music

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Jenny Z. Morris
 · July 24, 2009

Jenny Morris is an oboe and English horn player. She will be playing outdoors this Saturday with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra in their "Picnic at the Pops" concert.


‘Tis the season... the good old summertime, when some musicians get to burn off a few extra calories while earning their living.

There’s no denying that some of us need to do that regularly, but outdoor concerts have their own set of complications for professional musicians.

My summer services with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra over the last 10 or so years have been some of the most unique. The concerts there are not just outdoors. The orchestra is outdoors AND sitting on a river barge.

I must confess that stepping onto a river barge was not something I ever yearned to do. I managed to grow up, attend college, earn a master’s degree, get married, and give birth twice and didn’t feel there was much missing in my life, but sitting on a barge in moving water while playing the oboe has been like nothing else I'd ever done.

Depending on the water level and amount of traffic on the river, it can be quite disorienting to be playing while the barge bounces around. It’s certainly not something that those with motion sickness should attempt!

The most challenging time for me was the summer of my third pregnancy, when I was approaching an end-of-September due date.

During some particularly percussive music, it seems that the river bounce was taking me in one direction, the percussion was sending me in another, and the baby was marching to her own beat while bouncing on my bladder. (She still marches to her own beat -- don’t all teens?)

The sensation was somewhat similar to feeling like an octopus on roller skates riding a merry-go-round!

As I play our next concert, I will recall the many things musicians will do to present their craft to an audience. We endure the possibility of inclement weather, whether rain or wind, excessive heat and/or humidity, and the inevitable sensation of being a Thanksgiving Day buffet for thousands of mosquitoes and flying insects of all sorts.

We learn to check the radar on our phones and to bring extra drinking water. Some of us use our backup instruments for outdoors. You may also see us using dryer sheets tucked into our necklines to try to ward off some of the bugs.

And heaven forbid that anyone neglect to have a few clothespins on their stand for the moment that the wind whips your music into the Ohio River! The orchestra librarian may not believe us if we tell her “the dog ate my part,” but music blown in the wind is a fairly acceptable excuse for missing parts.

While I eagerly await the “indoor season,” at least I can look back and laugh at the first (and last) outdoor wedding that I've played in my 25 year career.

The bride was quite specific as to what the musicians should wear: white, from head to tail. Unfortunately, it had rained for 5 days prior to this wedding, and I could feel my chair sinking into the mud while I played. My white dress was long enough that the bottom of it got into the mud.

The real highlight of that event was the surprise thunderstorm that necessitated a 50-yard mad dash for the golf course clubhouse, carrying my music, chair, oboe, and music stand.

When we reached the porch of the clubhouse, I realized that my left (white!) shoe was somewhere out there, stuck in the mud. I never did find it. Perhaps some golfer has tripped over it, never knowing the sacrifice I had made for my art. I hope the marriage lasted longer than the interrupted ceremony.

Do you have a musical story you'd like to share?  Send us an email, and put "Classically Speaking" in the subject line.

Sharon Isbin: Road to Appalachia

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Jim Lange
 · July 22, 2009
Journey to the New World

When guitarist Sharon Isbin played with the West Virginia Symphony a decade ago, she did not know that it was the beginning of a journey that would culminate in her latest album, Journey to the New World .

While in Charleston, she researched all manner of fiddle and Celtic tunes; studying scores and meeting musicians who played Appalachian music. She says, “the whole album started in West Virginia.”


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Sharon Isbin's West Virginia inspiration


Isbin collaborated with composer John Duarte on the Joan Baez Suite, and subsequently Baez agreed to sing "Wayfaring Stranger" on this album. The album is chronological – starting with Renaissance duets, with both parts performed by Isbin, to 18th century English Folksongs and then moves to Andrew York’s Andecy, a piece which serves as a musical bridge to early America.


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Sharon Isbin talks about the music on Journey to the New World


Virtuoso fiddler Mark O’Connor (interview) composed the Strings and Threads Suite as a duet. Since O’Connor is also a guitarist, Isbin figured the parts would be reasonable, but a month before the premiere, she soon found out different. Isbin reveals the humorous back-story behind their collaboration.

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Sharon Isbin interview about working with Mark O'Connor


Guitar playing has been a male-dominated field, even the classical variety. Truth be told, attitudes back in the 70’s were that girls could not be taken seriously. I asked her if attitudes have changed.
Also, many guitarists dream of the level that Isbin has reached, but few might be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it. I asked about her “typical” day.


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Sharon Isbin on becoming a guitarist

My thanks to Sharon Isbin for being so gracious after five hours of interviews!  You can hear more samples of her album Journey to the New World and pick up your own copy here

Here's a video of Sharon Isbin performing selections from this album, including a duet with Mark O'Connor.

Sharon Isbin and Mark O'Connor

Harmonicas, Hot Dogs, and the Huntington Symphony

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 20, 2009

Is Monday morning too soon to be thinking about what you’ll be doing on Saturday night?

The Huntington Symphony doesn’t think so – this morning in my inbox, I found an invitation to their next Picnic with the Pops concert. Details about the concert are here.

Randall Reid-Smith and Marina Jurica will be singing with the Huntington Symphony starting at 8pm, and if you show up early, you’ll be treated to a set by the Huntington Harmonica Club starting at 6:30pm.

Huntington Harmonica Club

For entertainment even earlier in the day, you can check out the West Virginia State Harmonica Competition at 2 pm in Pullman Square, sponsored by the Harmonica Club as part of the WV Hot Dog Festival

I’m going to make the trip from Charleston for the concert, and I hope to get there early enough to catch some harmonica playing and a taste of one of our state's culinary specialties.

Otherwise, it seems to be pretty quiet for the next few weeks in terms of classical concerts. I’m putting together a calendar listing for the Fall to help me keep track of what’s going on and to share it with Classically Speaking readers. Email me if you have any classical concerts you want to let people know about.

** To learn more about the Huntington Symphony and their conductor Maestro Kimo Furumoto, listen to my interview here.

Links for a Song

(News, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 17, 2009

“Opera was my Nirvana” -- Rufus Wainwright 

“For me, Bach's music is not only as good as music gets, but also as good as it gets, period — as good as existence, reality, life and the world.”  -- Andrew W.K. 

Happy Friday!  Here’s a roundup of fun classical music stories that caught my ear this week. 

Bach dude
JS + WK?

Pop musicians are making news with their appreciation for classical music and classical genres:  

Adam Harris over at Mountain Stage forwarded me this NPR story where Andrew W.K. sings Bach’s praises on All Things Considered’s You Must Hear This.  Listen to what Andrew W.K. has to say about Bach here.

* Rufus Wainwright has written an opera, Prima Donna, and it was premiered this past week in Manchester. The Omniscient Mussel has a preview interview and a review. The opera will come to the U.S. in August.

(I first heard Wainwright’s music when a capella group Sonos sang one of his songs on a recent Mountain Stage.)


Thomas Hampson

* Speaking of opera, baritone Thomas Hampson (who graces both opera and recital stages) is going wild celebrating American song. It’s the 250th anniversary of the first American song, and Hampson is marking the occasion with a series of concerts and a whole bunch of activities online, including a free download of his recital. 

Thanks to Performance Today, you can download and hear it for yourself here.

* That reminds me of one more pop-classical connection. A listener wrote to Performance Today to mention the connection between Santana and Brahms' Symphony No. 3 (one my all time favorite pieces). So that you can make the comparison yourself, here they are.

Here's Brahms Symphony No. 3, third movement:

And here's Santana with "Love of My Life"

Have a good weekend!

Who is Suresh? (Interview)

(Interviews, News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 15, 2009

Who is Suresh? That's what I was wondering when a West Virginia Public Radio listener suggested I listen to his album Two Hundred Sixty-One, Vol. 1.

Here’s a little preview:


"If I sell 1 million copies of my 1st album (Physical CDs OR complete album downloads on CDBaby or iTunes) by October 23, 2009, I will donate $2,000,000 to the Canadian Cancer Society." - Suresh

This is a bold project.  I set up an interview with Suresh to find out more – about his background, the music that he plays, and what inspired this wild bit of enlightened self-interest.


Here are the basics: Suresh Singaratnam is a Canadian trumpet player, who plays classical and jazz.  He's also recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, an idealist, and one heck of a marketer.

We started out talking about what he hopes to accomplish, how he's using social media and how he balances releasing his own album with time to practice music. The responses he's received, both positive and negative, have affected how he approaches this project. 


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Suresh on Twitter, Facebook, and the 261 Days project

Behind all of these promotional efforts, there's the music itself. Suresh spoke about what drew him to this music, from an old trumpet favorite like the Carnival of Venice to an arrangement inspired by hearing Maria Callas on a friend’s iPod. 


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Suresh talks about the music on "261 Days, vol. 1"

We also talked more about Suresh’s musical background, which led to stories about how Star Trek: The Next Generation played a part in him pursuing music as a career and his repeated encounters throughout his youth with Wynton Marsalis.


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Suresh's musical background, interest in classical and jazz, and future plans

You can find out more about Suresh and this album on his Web site. He also recently wrote to mention that he’s giving away a free track from his upcoming jazz album.

Favorite Things: Bach Beat

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Jan Kunicki
 · July 9, 2009
Bach Beat

My brother had this CD, Brian Slawson  Bach Beat  years ago, and I liked it because of the percussion. Slawson is a talented musician and gives a twist on the classics. My favorite tracks are the more upbeat pieces; theyremind of me of the beach. It's just a different way to hear classical music, which is usually not my first choice.

I love percussion, although I have no rhythm, and this CD really hits the right note for me. If I played an instrument, I would be a percussionist. 

You can listen to a sample here or pick up a used copy here.

Jan Kunicki is a videographer/producer for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Despite her claims of not listening to classical music, she can sometimes be found in the music library discussing PDQ Bach and Looney Tunes.

Fourth Favorites

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 4, 2009
I’ve just read two nice stories online, each focusing on a different classical favorite associated with summer and summer pops concerts.

more fireworks
On the WV Symphony Orchestra blog, Betty King collects links discussing “Why Tchaikovsky’s 1812 on July 4th?” She also has a preview of the music that the WV Symphony will be playing tonight.

Over on NPR Music, Rob Kapilow talks about what makes Copland’s Appalachian Spring so great, along with examples from the music.

Now that I’ve been in West Virginia for a few years, I was struck by how Kapilow pronounced the title for Copland’s piece. It reminded me of Cecilia Mason’s story on how to pronounce Appalachia.  But enough of interesting links to distract you! I bet you're just here reading this blog because you're putting off cleaning the grill or packing your picnic for the fireworks;)

Well, if you're looking a little more reason to dawdle, you can help me out.  Do you have any favorites for the Fourth? Let me know.
NPR Music also has "A Mix for America" -- a set of music, inspired by America and Independence Day, that you can stream on your computer.

Lazy Summer, Debussy 
Summer Music 
July 4 in WV (Classical Edition) 

July 4 in WV (Classical Edition)

(News, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 1, 2009
Like some classical music favorites with your fireworks and cookouts? Not all of these concerts are actually on July 4th, but most of them are close.
The Ohio Valley Symphony is playing their first July 4th concert!  They will be performing at 8pm at Gallipolis City Park . 

Also on July 4th, the WV Symphony will perform in Charleston at Haddad Riverfront Park, on the levee alongside the Kanawha River.

The Wheeling Symphony will be on tour from July 3 through July 6th in Fort Nutter, Davis, Wheeling, and Weirton.

The Huntington Symphony won’t be performing on Independence Day, but they’ll have music when everyone else is taking a break later in the month.  Their next summer pops concert is on Saturday July 25th (and here's an interview with their conductor).
more fireworks


I'm sad that I'll miss out on getting to hear the WV Symphony and watch fireworks over the river in Charleston.  As part of the crazy road trip I’m on right now, I will get to catch the Dallas Wind Symphony on July 4th, which ain’t bad at all.  I’ll see you next week, West Virginia!

 Previously: July 4 in WV (2008) 

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