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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

City of Lights, City of Music: Part IV, Cemeteries

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 28, 2011

Black cat at Montmartre cemetery
Mona Seghatoleslami
Black cat keeping watch at Montmartre Cemetery
I suppose the best way to end my collection of musical Paris photos is, well, at the end. We only made it to one of the famous Parisian cemeteries (Montmartre Cemetery) during our stay, but we did get to our respects to some beloved musical figures while we were there. As for visiting Chopin at Père Lachaise, that's just another reason to focus on saving up to get back to la ville que j'aime.

Nadia Boulanger Montmartre Cemetery
Mona Seghatoleslami
Nadia and Lili Boulanger at Montmartre Cemetery

We visited Nadia Boulanger, thanking her for all she did to teach composers (including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones, and many, many others.) She was a major force in 20th century music. If you're not familiar with her, I think you should read more about her.

Nadia's sister Lili Boulanger was a talented young composer who passed away in her twenties; Lili wrote several beautiful pieces, including a Pie Jesu setting.

Berlioz Montmartre
Mona Seghatoleslami
Hector Berlioz in Montmartre Cemetery
Hector Berlioz, friend of the viola, brilliant orchestrator, and all-around loon, has remained one of my favorite composers, even as his romantic antics seem less and less attractive the older that I get. His memoirs are a good (fiction-filled) read

Harriet Smithson Montmartre
Mona Seghatoleslami
Berlioz's wives: Harriet Smithson and Marie Recio in Montmartre Cemetery

I hadn't realized that Harriet Smithson, the actress that drove Berlioz to romantic despair and the writing of the Symphonie Fantastique, was buried alongside Berlioz. Although they did end up getting married, it didn't work out for them.

Alexandre Dumas fils Montmartre
Mona Seghatoleslami
Alexandre Dumas fils in Montmartre Cemetery

Here's another grand romantic character haunted by an ill-fated romance. Alexandre Dumas, fils, wrote La dame aux camélias [Camille] in 1848. Dumas fils (the son of the noted novelist) used his own life as his inspiration to write this tale of a doomed love affair with a courtesan amidst the joys and struggles of Bohemian Paris. The story of Camille is now known to opera lovers through Giuseppe Verdi's operatic adaption -- La Traviata.

Nijinsky Montmatre
Mona Seghatoleslami
Vaslav Nijinsky in Montmartre Cemetery

Russian dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky has of the most striking monuments in Montmartre Cemetery. You can watch Nijinsky's choreography for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring here.

Even in Montmartre Cemetery, there are many musicians and related figures whose monuments we didn't find. I was interested in paying respects to these figures from the past, but I also found the cemetery too sad of a place to stay for long.

You can see my other musical Parisian pictures in my previous posts about signs, museums, and concerts.

Just one more thought, if you find you find yourself traveling to Paris. Well, two thoughts. First -- take me with you! Second -- read David Lebovitz's website and book on living the sweet life in Paris. We found it indispensable (and a whole lot of fun).

Kickstarter & Classical Patronage

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 26, 2011

Waldstein. Nadezhda von Meck. Louis XIV. [insert your favorite musical patron here].

Oh yeah, and you. Really. 

People have been finding financial backers (and convincing their friends and relatives to lend them money for stuff) long before the Internet existed, but web funding platform Kickstarter has made it a lot easier.

It’s sort of a roll-your-own-mini-public radio fund drive (something with which I’m all too familiar): you set a financial goal for your project, set different donation levels (with different rewards to go with them), and make your pitch. You receive the donations only if you reach your goal within your set time. Some of the support comes from friends and family, some from those who know you through your artwork, and some support might come from people who discover your work through Kickstarter.

That’s how it worked for my friend and high school music theory-classmate Kevin Clark. As we've kept in touch over the years, I've been interested in his theatrical compositions and his work with Meet the Composer/MTC Studio. I happened to see his pitch for the project  - Cucumbers and Gin: Inside a Studio Recording - online. I contributed and got my very own custom drink recipe. I also shared the project with all my friends. He and his collaborators reached their goal and set to work using our money.

Yesterday, I saw the finished project. Check it out:

Cucumbers and Gin: Inside a New Music Recording


When I meet performers and composers who have an idea, and they’re not sure how to find the financial support for their worthwhile projects, I keep telling them about Kickstarter. It’s not a given that it will work for everyone, but I think it’s a useful tool that, combined with some smart planning, can be a great resource.

So stop saying "if only ..." Get your project planned, and let me (and the world) know about it.

Or if you'd like to help someone else do something cool, don't hesitate to throw some change in the hat for any classical music projects on Kickstarter that catch your fancy.

Klaus Heymann of Naxos (Interview)

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 26, 2011

Recognize this logo?

Naxos Logo

If so, you’re familiar with Klaus Heymann’s work. Even if you haven't seen the logo, you hear some of the results of his work nearly any day you tune to West Virginia Public Radio.
18th Century Overtures
A familiar sight in many classical music collections

Heymann is founder and president of Naxos, one of the few major companies producing and distributing classical recordings. It’s not by CD sales alone that Naxos exists – they also run the streaming Naxos Music Library, license music to film and TV, and distribute a whole bunch of labels.

I've already read several interesting interviews with Heymann, so I was a bit unsure as to what new things I could ask him. I’m also not really a business expert (Unless borrowing one of my dad’s business magazines to read about Spotify counts? Probably not...)

We did find plenty of things to discuss, including the music that has influenced him, different trends in classical music recording industry, and how radio still impacts classical music sales. On a sort of strange whim, I also asked him for his advice for the newspaper industry (one of his first jobs was for a newspaper).

Listen to our interview below (streaming or download): 

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with Klaus Heymann, founder and president of Naxos

Listening back to the interview, it caught my ear that he discussed several things in terms of  “placing bets." We don't know the future, but people are trying a lot of interesting things. Some of the small bets that he mentioned include digital books with embedded music and classical music apps.

It was a good discussion, but I still feel that I missed asking something crucial that I still haven't figured out.

What questions would you ask a classical music executive if you got a chance to chat with one?

Summer pipe organ news

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 20, 2011

I’ve recently heard about two nice-sounding pipe organ concerts happening in the region this summer.

Andrew Swing and Paul Isaacs will be playing a concert this Sunday (July 24) at 3pm at Village Chapel Presbyterian in Charleston. The free concert is sponsored by the Kanawha Chapter of the AGO (American Guild of Organists).

Swing and Isaacs have just graduated high school and heading off to college next year, where they will continue to play the king of instruments.

Recordings of both of these talented young musicians were featured on the Classically Speaking blog a few years ago. Visit this post listen to them play music by Bach and Buxtehude as part of the “World’s Largest Organ Concert” that took place in October 2008. Here's the Facebook invitation for this weekend's concert.


Grammy-winning organist Paul Jacobs will perform at Westminster Presbyterian in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania (just south of Pittsburgh) on Friday August 19 at 7:30pm. The church is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Austin pipe organ, and suggested donation for that concert is $10.

You can listen to Jacobs on Saint Paul Sunday, check out his Grammy-winning recording of music by Messaien, and listen to some of his playing in the video below:

New Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 19, 2011

Just heard some news from up north -- Noah Bendix-Balgley is the new concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Meet the new concertmaster, originally from North Carolina, in this video produced by our colleagues at WQED in Pittsburgh:

You can catch his first performances as concertmaster of the orchestra in Pittsburgh this fall, and welcome him to West Virginia, when the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performs three concerts in Morgantown during the upcoming season.

Chris Thile: Bach and Beyond

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By Aran Jenkins
 · July 12, 2011

The world is full of gifted musicians, but among those gifted people, there are some talents that stand out even among the best of the best.

Chris Thile is one of those rare talents and perhaps the best mandolin player I have ever heard. The video above is his rendition of Bach’s Prelude in E major, transcribed for mandolin. His compositions have also been featured on classical radio program Performance Today (including here and here).

Thile makes seemingly everything seem effortless. Really! Just watch. He can shred in a bluegrass setting or in any other venue. Check out his work with Edgar Meyer; it is top notch!

Even in the simplest of bluegrass tunes, Thile’s prowess has a way of just bubbling out, as if the tune itself can’t contain his chops.

Thile was a founding member of Nickel Creek and is currently heading the experimental quintet The Punch Brothers. He also just released a pared down duo record with guitarist/singer Michael Daves, called Sleep with One Eye Open.

You can hear the Punch Brothers on Mountain Stage through NPR Music (sets from 2008 and from 2010).

The Punch Brothers also play some adventurous cover -- here they are playing The Strokes' “Reptilia.”

Music & comedy of La Fille du Regiment

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By Larry Stickler
 · July 11, 2011

Dessay in Fille du Regiment
Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera
Go to the opera this Wednesday! It will be fun! And because I said so!

An orphan girl (soprano), a nice young Tyrolean (tenor), and a supportive family (the 21st regiment) make for a happy ending in La Fille du Regiment [The Daughter of the Regiment], an opera comique (comic opera) written by the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). 

An encore presentation of La Fille du Regiment from the Metropolitan Opera high definition series will be shown at the Cinemark Theater in the Huntington Mall, the Cinemark Theater in Bridgeport, and Hollywood Stadium in Morgantown  at 6:30pm, this Wednesday, July 13, 2011.

La Fille is a two act performance sung in French with English subtitles.  This production was originally simulcast live in high definition from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on Saturday, April 26, 2008.  The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

The advantage of writing about this encore performance is that I saw the 2008 simulcast. I highly recommend this performance for the outstanding singing and active staging.

La Fille du Regiment was premiered at the Opera-Comique in Paris on February 11, 1840. This opera is a fine example of the bel canto (beautiful singing) operatic style.

In this MET production soprano Natalie Dessay sings the tomboy role of Marie, the orphan daughter of the 21st regiment of the French army, with a florid, pyrotechnical vocal technique and with an exuberant physical stage presence with a flair for comedy. You will be amazed!

Tenor Juan Diego Florez sings the role of Toneo, the Tyrolean villager, with great vocal fireworks as well.  Near the end of Act I, Toneo sings and aria (song) known as a great vocal challenge to all tenors.  The tenor must sing nine high Cs at the conclusion of the aria, eight of which are complete octave jumps (lower C to the high C).

Remember that La Fille is a comic opera from beginning to end.  Watch for the singing lesson in Act 2. Another thing to watch for is the tank in this MET production – a vehicle Donizetti did not use in his 1840 version.
Enjoy the music and the comedy of La Fille du Regiment!

Larry Stickler
Professor of Music
Marshall University

Mahler & his World

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 8, 2011
Gustav Mahler
Mahler - playing it cool, but secretly happy that we're all making such a big deal out of his birthday

One more belated bit of Mahler birthday celebrations, with a discovery from the very cluttered shelves of the West Virginia Public Radio library.

In 2008, musicologist Timothy Freeze gave a talk on the subject of "Mahler and his World" with West Virginia Symphony Orchestra artistic director Grant Cooper at the Clay Center in Charleston. I wasn't able to make the talk, so the symphony kindly shared a recording with me. Now that I've recently rediscovered the CD, the WVSO said that I can also share it with you! You can stream or download the discussion below:

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Mahler & His World (Grant Cooper and Timothy Freeze, Clay Center Art Gallery, November 2008)

All the other Mahler fun is collected in yesterday's post Mahler at 151.

p.s. belated 100th birthday wishes also go out to Bernard Hermann and Gian Carlo Menotti!

Mahler at 151

(News, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 7, 2011

Mahler, Mahler, Mahler ... his name was everywhere for a while, and then after his 150th birthday last year and anniversary of his death this year, he'd wandered away from my attention. When it's this hot, it seems to be more of a season for Gershwin, Copland, Mozart, Vivaldi, or I don't know, most things that aren't Mahler.

A couple weeks ago, a few acquaintances who have only a casual interest in classical music started talking about Gustav Mahler, which surprised me. It turns out, they'd been seeing Mahler TV; the Keeping Score series on PBS featured Mahler in an episode. Mahler: Origins is available to watch online now through PBS Video (along with a bonus video of Mahler's Symphony No. 1, which I'm really enjoying listening to as I write this post).

Then there was a Mahler request to play on the radio today:

Das klagende lied: Der Spielmann

And then, I was startled to hear on the Writer's Almanac that today is Mahler's birthday (along with Robert Heinlein's birthday and the anniversary of the invention of sliced bread).

How shameful of me to have almost missed his birthday, especially during his centennial year! (it's the centennial of his death, not his birth, but it's still a bit special).

In case you're catching up, like me, here's some of the Mahler content that has previously been featured on Classically Speaking:

* Anna Larsson sings Mahler (interview)

 * Mahler and Homecoming (Chad Winkler of the PSO)

 * Who's Afraid of  Gustav Mahler?

 * Giant Hammers and Opera Corpses

 * Life & Death & Mahler in Wheeling

And if all of this Mahler has you in the mood to hear some in concert, fear not. The Mahler year is not over in West Virginia -- the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra will be performing Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in September.

Added bonus: Mahler just made it onto a very distinguished list; he was voted one of the "Top Ten Badass Composers" on a list compiled by NPR's Deceptive Cadence blog. Not a bad way to be at 151.

Young Fayetteville musician in the spotlight

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 6, 2011

Congratulations to Heidi Morey of Fayetteville, West Virginia! This 13-year harp player recently won first prize in the American Harp Society National Competition. She came in first in the Intermediate I age division (13-15) and was recognized for the best performance of Claude Debussy's Reverie.

Morey was also just featured in an article in the Charleston Gazette: "With help, Fayette teen wins national harp competition"

She's set up a website, which includes a section where you can listen to recordings of her playing the harp (including the Debussy).

I hope to have more from this talented young musician for you soon. I've written to her to see if we can get some recordings to feature on West Virginia Public Radio and perhaps an interview to share here on Classically Speaking.

WV Classical Calendar -- July

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · July 1, 2011
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