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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Classical Cat-titude

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 26, 2010

In honor of the “dog days” of summer, I recently posted a list of canine-themed classical music. Even though we lack a season named for cats, it seems only fair to focus on some catty classics as well. 

Gato y Malambo (Hector Ayala)

Sonidas Latinas

“El Gato” (The Cat) is an Argentine dance. Several composers have written music suited for this dance, including Hector Ayala.  Guitarist David Russell recorded this “Gato” on his album Sonidas Latinas. You can hear him play and discuss this music in an interview from April on NPR.


“I Bought Me a Cat” – from Old American Songs (Aaron Copland)

Copland Old American Songs

This folk song, set by Aaron Copland, starts with a cat, but soon moves on to other forms of life – a goose, a hen, and a wife. Copland also wrote “Cat and Mouse,” which is a favorite of many young piano students.  Here’s a recording with the composer at the piano: 

Stravinsky Collection

Stravinsky wrote these pieces, for voice and three clarinets, for the cats that he kept during his years in California. Stravinsky’s cats were named Pancho, Vassily Vassilyevitch Lechin (Vaska, for short), and Celeste. I’ve also read that he kept many other animals besides cats, including chickens, cockatoos, lovebirds, and a parrot.


In Memory of Two Cats and Mandoodles (John Tavener)

Tavener Piano Music


John Tavener, composer of many mystic choral pieces, has written several piano miniatures dedicated to the memory of his cats. The title Mandoodles is derived from one cat’s name, “Mandu.” 



Duetto buffo di due gatti [Comic Duet for Two Cats] (Giacchino Rossini)

Best of Rossini album

Rossini’s operas were so successful that he was able to retire early from composing. He spent the rest of his life living (and eating) well. He did write some music during his retirement, which he referred to as the sins of his old age. One of these was supposedly a duet for two women singing as cats (the attribution of this duet is not certain). You can hear an orchestrated version of this song in the video below: 


That’s all I can think of right now, except for a “Chopin for Cats” CD that Radio Chopin found in their recent Chopin Shopping spree, but it seems unlikely that Chopin wrote his preludes to “stimulate your pet’s senses.”


Do you have anything to add to this list? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.   

Music for Dog Days

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 22, 2010

How are the dog days of summer treating you? 

In honor of this part of the season, here are some dog-eared classics to enjoy. If you’re looking for summery music recommendations, without the dogs, check out these suggestions from Jim Lange and from NPR Music. 

I’ll Sail upon the Dog-Star (Henry Purcell)

Catherine Bott Mad Songs

This song is the most appropriate selection for this list; the “dog days” of summer are named after Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, which rises at the same time as the sun during this period (at least it did during ancient Greek times – I’m not sure how much it has changed since then). 

“I’ll Sail Upon the Dog Star” is a mad song by 17th century English composer Henry Purcell – well, we all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?  

Mundus Canis [A Dog’s World] (George Crumb)

Crumb 70th Birthday Album

This is a light-hearted and brilliant little set of pieces for percussion and guitar. I’ve seen the composer perform it twice with guitarist David Starobin (once in Princeton and then again in Indiana). Each movement conveys the character of a different dog owned by Crumb. Here’s an interview with George Crumb, from when he was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame:

A Conversation with George Crumb
Elgar Enigma

Elgar dedicated his Enigma Variations “To My Friends Pictured Within.” Not all those pictured are human. The eleventh variation (G.R.S.) is dedicated to George Sinclair, though it is Sinclair’s dog, Dan, that is portrayed in the music; you can hear Dan falling into a river and (dog)paddling in the water.

Promenade (Walking the Dog) (George Gershwin)

Gershwin Promenade Album

Walking the dog helps Fred Astaire (rather, his character Peter P. Peters) meet Ginger Rogers (as Linda Keene) in the 1937 film Shall We Dance. The movie wasn’t one of their best hits, but George Gershwin’s music is great throughout, and the charming Promenade is just the thing for a lazy summer day.

Frank Zappa Yellow Shark

Frank Zappa created several orchestrations of the Dog Breath Variations, based on his song “Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague” (both the song  & a short set of variations originally appeared on the album Uncle Meat.)   Different versions have been recorded by the Ensemble Modern, the Omnibus Wind Ensemble, and the Cincinnati Wind Symphony.

Any other canine musical selections to suggest? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Hollywood Bowl: Music Under the Stars

(Just for Fun) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 16, 2010

Hollywood Bowl

Happy belated 88th birthday to the Hollywood Bowl! 


From Charleston’s Schoenbaum Stage to the Levitt Shell at Overton Park in Memphis, I’ve been enjoying outdoor concert stages recently. I would love to go to the Hollywood Bowl sometime, but for now I’ll just have to settle for watching a movie about it. 

The documentary The Hollywood Bowl: Music Under the Stars is available free online, and it’s completely distracted me from whatever else I was trying to do before leaving for the weekend. You can watch it here.

 (via The Allmusic Blog)

Classically Speaking Interview Index

(Interviews, Meta) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 16, 2010

Since we started this blog in 2008, we’ve interviewed many people connected to classical music, some who live in or are from West Virginia; others have visited to make music here or just were heard here on the radio. Performers, composers, conductors, teachers, authors, producers…it’s been wonderful to speak with them all and to have the opportunity to share these conversations with you. 

These interviews are scattered throughout the blog archives, so I’ve always been frustrated that they might not always be easy to find. I've finally created a directory to guide you to these interviews; you can find links to all of our classical music interviews all on one page: the Classically Speaking Interview Index.     

Check it out!  Find a favorite interview, or browse to find something new. 

I’ll be sure to keep it updated as we publish more interviews, and I welcome any suggestions for improving usability.

Enjoy, and have a great weekend! :)

Playing (Trumpet) with Fire

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 14, 2010

“Hey guys, watch this…”


I had asked one of the trumpet players involved in this experiment to write up a how-to, but I’ve changed my mind. You don’t need to know how to do this trick, because you’re not going to try this at home – right?

The first flare-up is just about 15 seconds into the video. The other highlights can be found at: 2:30, 4:50, and 7:20.


Trumpeters Playing With Fire


Ah, summer. My favorite comment from when this video posted on Facebook came from their teacher. He suggested that this experiment was a sign that he needed to assign them more etudes to practice.

You can also find other videos of these guys playing trumpet and trying other experiments with fire.


Sean Burdette playing The Prayer of Saint Gregory by Alan Hovhannes


Vuvuzelas and the Viola-Matic

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 12, 2010

The World Cup is over, but the sounds of the Vuvuzela live on! 

My favorite result of Vuvuzela-mania is this video of music by Brahms and Ravel played on the Vuvuzela. Thanks to tuba player Aubrey Foard (of the WVSO) for bringing this to my attention.  


Here’s a more familiar instrument, but used in a not-quite-standard way.  Behold, the Viola-Matic:


Thank you to violinist Rachel Feldhaus from WVU for sending this our way. Even though I love the viola dearly, I can’t help laughing. 

- - -

Looking for more to watch, perhaps leaning towards full movies rather than just fun YouTube clips? 

Composer and pianist (and Classically Speaking guest blogger) Evan Mack recently pointed me to this article in Opera News about composer biopics.  It’s a nice overview of the genre, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of their suggestions. Anything that catches your eye? 

Music Lovers

I’ve just recently watched The Music Lovers, which the article describes perfectly (“the poor man's horror merges with the rocking of the train compartment the newlyweds are sharing into a gaudy image of erotic nausea”).  

I also have a copy of the Strauss family mini-series that I’ve been planning to watch, but with recent 150th birthday celebrations, perhaps it’s time to find a copy of Ken Russell’s Mahler.  If you’re an early-music buff, you might like a film that was left out of the article – Tous les Matins du Monde, about viola da gamba players and composers Marin Maris and Saint-Colombe, starring Gérard Depardieu and with a nice soundtrack by Jordi Savall.

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Twilight of the Romantics

If the movies aren’t your style, be sure to check out all the new recordings that we’ve been featuring on the radio. My favorite recent discoveries have been Twilight of the Romantics (premiere recordings of romantic chamber music for clarinet, strings, and piano; performed by the Orion Ensemble) and Takemitsu’s I Hear the Water Dreaming (my new antidote to 100-degree heat).

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How about you? What have you been listening to, watching, or reading?

Onegin Once Again

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 6, 2010

One of my all-time favorite opera experiences was seeing Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera at a movie theater in Indianapolis about three years ago. I was just swept away by the music, the singing, the acting, and the staging. So much about this opera, and this production, was beautiful.

Onegin and Tatiana
Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Eugene Onegin (Dmitri Hvorostovsky) and Tatiana (Renée Fleming)

I’m not the only one who felt this way. Count Garrison Keillor in the fan club; he wrote a article about it for Salon magazine in 2007: “Heaven is Renee Fleming’s Bare Shoulder.”  It was also popular enough to one of the few productions to be part of the Met’s encore series this summer. It will be showing in Barboursville and  Morgantown tomorrow (Wednesday) evening!

I’ve been making plans with some friends for to go see the broadcast at the Huntington Mall. If you have some time on Wednesday evening, I highly recommend that you find a theater near you and go see this production of Eugene Onegin.  I’m a touch nervous that it won’t be quite as magical as I remember it, but mostly I’m very happy to get to see it again and to share it with my friends.

(If you aren’t able to get out to see it in the theater, you can also find it on DVD.)

WV Classical Calendar -- July 2010

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 1, 2010

July 2010

Here's a guide to what's happening with classical music this month in West Virginia. There are several free July 4th concerts to check out and four of the Met Opera encore HD broadcasts at the movies. A few new things have been added that we've discovered since writing the summer guide to classical music in West Virginia.

If I'm missing anything, please let me know.

July 2, 7:30pm: Wheeling Symphony (Fort Nutter, Clarksburg)

July 3, 3pm: Wheeling Symphony (Canaan Valley)

July 4, 8pm: WV Symphony (Schoenbaum Stage, Haddad Park, Charleston)

July 4, 8pm: Ohio Valley Symphony with Mark McVey (Gallipolis City Park)

July 4, 7:30pm: Wheeling Symphony (Wheeling Heritage Port)

July 5, 7:30pm: Wheeling Symphony (Weirton High School)

July 7: Met Opera HD Encore: Eugene Onegin (Barboursville, Morgantown, Ashland)

July 11: Summer Fun Day (Clay Center, Charleston)

July 14: Met Opera HD Encore: La Boheme (Barboursville, Morgantown, Ashland)

July 14, 7pm: Russian Bells & Music of Arvo Pärt Presentation (First Presbyterian in Waynesburg, PA)

July 21: Met Opera HD Encore: Turandot (Barboursville, Morgantown, Ashland)

July 24: Huntington Symphony Orchestra Picnic with the Pops

July 24: Pedals, Pipes, & Pizza: Intro to the Organ (WVU Community Arts)

July 25-28: WVU Double Reed Camp

July 28: Met Opera HD Encore: Carmen  (Barboursville, Morgantown, Ashland)


Something missing? Leave a comment or send me an email

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