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September 2013 Guides

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Snowshoe Symphony Festival: Sights and Sounds

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 31, 2009

I had a wonderful weekend at the WV Symphony Snowshoe Festival.  The scenery was absolutely stunning, the concerts full of impassioned and beautiful music, the pre-concert talks engaging, and everyone was very friendly.  Thank you to everyone who helped me find my way around, chatted with me, did interviews, and helped with untangling all my cords and cables.

You can listen to my radio story about the festival over on our news page

I'm not much of a photographer, but I did snap a few pictures, and I'd like to sharewhat it was like up at Snowshoe this past weekend.  Enjoy!

Scenes of Snowshoe 1
Looking over the Mountain

 

Scenes of Snowshoe 2
Walking to a concert in the rain

 

Scenes of Snowshoe 3
A fuzzy picture of the WV Symphony -- let's just call this "impressionism"

 

Scenes from Snowshoe 8
A close-up of the symphony in concert by Jan Kunicki
Scenes of Snowshoe 4
The flowers liked the rain

 

Scenes of Snowshoe 5
A visit to WV Butterfly Festival

 

Scenes of Snowshoe 6
"Tenderness" -- Sunday was sunnier

 

You've seen the sights; now hear the sounds. 


Snowshoe-Bound

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 28, 2009

This weekend is the WV Symphony Snowshoe Festival, and I’m tagging along. 

The WV Symphony is playing two concerts, with cello soloist Julie Alvers. The concert themes are “Tyranny and Tenderness,” and the music includes Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, cello concertos by Elgar and Shostakovich, Glinka’s Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and Vaughan Williams’ ridiculously beautiful Fantasia on Greensleeves

You can listen to the music before the concerts on their Instant Encore pages here and here.

WVSO at Snowshoe
WVSO plays for 19th Annual Snowshoe Symphony Festival and WV State Monarch Butterfly Festival Aug 28-30.

This is my first trip to the Snowshoe Resort, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I have received excellent advice about bringing warm clothes and finding certain little chocolate shops, and I’m excited about hearing the music, talking with people, and seeing the monarch butterfly release. 

In addition to the Symphony Festival, it’s also the Monarch Butterfly Festival this weekend – and my colleague Jan will be recording video of the butterflies for Outlook.

If you’re at Snowshoe, say hi to me (and speak clearly into the microphone!).  I’m putting together a story about the festival will be on the radio during Monday’s West Virginia Morning. I should also have some more sound and images here on Classically Speaking, so stay tuned.

Now, I just need to go pack!


First Opera: The Love for Three Oranges

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Mary-Bess Halford
 · August 27, 2009

My first opera was Prokoviev's The Love for Three Oranges

This opera is rarely performed now (for no good reason) but it has remained in my memory as the perfect first opera: a dejected prince and Fata Morgana, a wicked enchantress, who inadvertently cures him by making him laugh when she trips over and reveals her red bloomers!  She is so annoyed that she causes him to fall in love with three oranges. 

March from The Love for Three Oranges


After much excitement, the prince manages to steal the oranges which become larger and larger as he rolls them around a desert.  Overcome by thirst he slices open the first one which contains a beautiful princess who is begging for water and dies. 

It is not until he gets to the third and most beautiful of the princesses that somebody in the audience obligingly provides a bucket of water.  Of course the adventure isn't over yet, and the angry Fata Morgana turns the princess into a monstrous rat before she is finally overcome and the opera ends happily.

The Three Oranges
Scene from The Love for Three Oranges. Source: leandraramm.com


My family was living in Munich at the time, so this was my delightful first step on a path that has led to many opera productions over the years. 

By the time I was eleven, I could sit through Wagner's Mastersingers without fidgeting (except perhaps towards the end of the first act) and had performed as a monkey in Mozart's The Magic Flute with Fritz Wunderlich as my Tamino.  


The Magic Flute
has remained my favourite opera ever since, but I should love to see those oranges again.  


Previously:

First Opera: Tosca 

First Opera: Carmen 


Ponyo, Wagner, and Debussy

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 25, 2009

Some movies are equally as much fun to hear as they are to watch. 

Last weekend, I went to see Ponyo , an animated movie by director Hayao Miyazaki.  Here’s the trailer, but it doesn’t really do justice to this beautiful, dreamy film.


Miyazaki and the film’s composer Joe Hisaishi use references to the music of Debussy and Wagner to great effect in Ponyo.

A little fish who becomes a little girl is given the name of “Ponyo” by her new friend Sosuke. But what was she called at home? Brünnhilde. Brünnhilde – the Valkyrie who defied her father’s will for love. 

When Brünnhilde/Ponyo escapes her powerful father’s domain with assistance of her many sisters, the music that accompanies them as they traverse the waves sounds an awful lot like the Ride of the Valkyries.

So inside this Little Mermaid-esque tale, there’s just a little bit of the Ring Cycle. 


These Wagnerian moments contrast with music that calls to mind a composer who both admired and resisted Wagner’s music: French symbolist Claude Debussy.

Hokusai's Wave
Katsushika Hokusai. The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Hakone Museum, Japan.

Debussy wrote several water-inspired works, including the piano pieces “La Cathédrale Engloutie” [The Sunken Cathedral] and “Reflets dans l’eau” [Reflections in Water], and his orchestral depiction of the ocean La Mer [The Sea].

In writing La Mer, Debussy was inspired by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s woodcut painting of the ocean “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.”  He was taken by the image of the waves and by Hokusai’s use of the Golden Ratio to structure his work.  Debussy also chose to use the image as the cover for the first published edition of La Mer.

In Ponyo, the references go beyond the music. Not only is the music reminiscent of Debussy’s La Mer, Miyazaki's images of waves evoke those from Hokusai’s woodcut. It's a beautiful pairing of images and music. If you go see Ponyo, go with a youthful heart and open ears.

For another perspective on Ponyo, read this essay by Andy Carvin on NPR's site.


Met Opera returns, expands in WV

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 21, 2009

The Metropolitan Opera is coming to Barboursville, West Virginia!

Hoffman
A striking image from the Met's upcoming production of Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman"


The Met is broadcasting selected operas live in HD to movie theaters across the country for their fourth year. Previous seasons, the broadcasts could be seen in Morgantown and Ashland (KY). 

A listener let us know that there will be a new location in West Virginia to experience opera in the movie theater:

Good news.

While I was at the Barboursville Mall last night I dropped by the new Cinemark Theatre and was warmly greeted by the manager who informed me that, yes, his theatre would begin screening the Met Opera live on Saturdays, and repeated during the following week, beginning with Tosca on October 10.
 

Here's a link to the schedule and information about the Barboursville theater and the Morgantown theater.

The full list of theaters isn’t yet available, but I’ll be sure to let you know if I hear of others in or near West Virginia (and if  I get any tickets to give away!)


Previously:
* Opera Goes to the Movies in WV
Opera in the New Year 
* First Operas: Tosca  and Carmen

 


NASCAR at the Symphony: Bonus tracks

(Interviews, News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 19, 2009
Brett Rowe and Herd Car


NASCAR comes to the Huntington Symphony this weekend, with driving-themed music and activities. You can hear more about this concert in the story that I produced for West Virginia Morning

The radio story has selections from interviews I did with racecar driver Brett Rowe from Herd Racing and Huntington Symphony Executive Director T. Hogan Haas. As a bonus, I have more from both of those interviews posted here:

Brett Rowe shares more about his experiences with NASCAR and racing: 

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with Brett Rowe

T. Hogan Haas talks about community involvement and upcoming plans for the Huntington Symphony:
This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with T. Hogan Haas


Previously: 

* Interview with Huntington Symphony Conductor Kimo Furumoto 

Adventures in Outdoor Music with Huntington Symphony oboist/English horn player Jenny Morris


First Opera: Carmen

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Carole Carter
 · August 17, 2009
Carmen poster


We had no opera where I grew up, so I didn’t encounter it until college.

I had a French major, and we studied Carmen in French, in class for several weeks, the libretto and the music. Synopsis 

At the end of the course, we all headed to Cleveland for a live performance.

Rinat Shamam (2005) performs Habanera

And being a mezzo, Carmen's Habanera was my favorite aria.

Regardless of the time I spent in the music department, my second major was actually theatre, so I was totally enthralled!

Opera combines vocal and instrumental music, acting, dance, lights, sets and costumes – almost all of the performance and fine arts. It is the epitome of spectacle!

Although I’ve sung or worked on well over a dozen operas since, the haunting music and story of Carmen remains my absolute favorite.

 


First Opera: Tosca

(Commentary) Permanent link
By David Kennedy
 · August 13, 2009

What was your firstopera? What opera would you recommend to someone who had never been to the opera before?We asked these questions on the radio, and David Kennedy of Charleston, WV wrote in and shared his thoughts.


My first opera wasTosca. Puccini's masterpiece has it all: dastardly villain (Scarpia), star-crossed lovers (Tosca and Cavaradossi), political intrigue (the advance of Napoleon’s army), and of course an ending with a twist.

The music, I feel, is the most passionate of any opera. Who has not felt a spine tingle as the last chord is played just as Tosca vows to confront Scarpia before God at the conclusion of the final act? Who can hold back a tear as Cavaradossi sings his last aria "E lucevan le Stelle"? 

There are other wonderful operas, of course: Barber of Seville, Marriage of Figaro, La Boheme - to name just a few - but Tosca will always be my first and favorite.

Tosca is a great opera to introduce the uninitiated into the world of opera. It is relatively short as operas go. It has a relatively simple plot combined with a clearly evil villain, two elements that contribute to the success of any popular modern play or movie. 

Pavarotti sings “E lucevan le Stelle” from Tosca


Share your first opera story or recommendations. Leave a commentemail us (with Classically Speaking in the subject line), or comment on our Facebook page.


Interview: Fujiko Hemming

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 10, 2009
Drawing by Fujiko
by Fujiko Hemming

Pianist Fujiko Hemming hated playing the piano when she was a kid. She liked to paint, but her mother thought that she’d have a better career as a piano teacher.

When Hemming started to lose her hearing at the age of 16, she didn’t worry too much about how it would affect her as a musician. She took the money meant for a doctor’s appointment and spent it on going to see American movies instead.  

Even now, as a musician who spent two years of her life completely unable to hear, she doesn’t dwell on regretting her youthful folly.  Instead, she told me that she appreciates the view of the rest of the world that the movies gave her.

Fujiko Hemming
Fujiko Hemming

She did grow to love music, and her playing led to concert engagements and attracted the attention of prominent musicians, including Leonard Bernstein and pianist Samson François.

Twice, her developing career was cut short due to illnesses and increased hearing loss. Since 1999, with partially recovered hearing, she has made a musical comeback, playing recitals and releasing a flurry of recordings. 

Fujiko's story is inspiring, and she is committed to helping others (both people and animals) through music and philanthropy, but she is relentlessly down to earth about her own experiences. 

Listen to our interview, and you’ll hear what I mean:

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with Fujiko Hemming


Fujiko Hemming’s new album, her American debut, focuses on romantic piano favorites, which she plays in a beautiful, deliberative manner.  Here's a beautiful example, with Hemming's introduction -- Liszt's piano transcription of Robert Schumann's song "Frühlingsnacht" [Spring Night].

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Fujiko Hemming describes and plays "Spring Night"
Fujiko album

You can also hear her playing Debussy’s Clair de Lune here.

She's continued to pursue her love of visual art -- that's her artwork featured on the album cover.


(Note: On this album, her name is spelled Fuzjko, but most previous albums and articles have her name as Fujiko.)


Canadian Brass: Swinging Free Download

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 7, 2009

Happy Friday! I have a present for you!*

Canadian Brass Swing

The Canadian Brass are offering a free download of "Carolina Shout," one of the tracks from their new CD  Swing that Music: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong To get the free track, click on this link and follow the directions there. 

Want to hear more from the Canadian Brass? Last year, I interviewed founding member and tuba player Chuck Daellenbach. You can listen to that interview here.


* Even if you're not reading this on Friday, you still get the present -- the download should be available for a month. So enjoy, and share with your friends. I'm sure they're not running out of digital copies any time soon. 


Catcerto (Piano Cat redux)

(Just for Fun) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 5, 2009

On the Internet, nobody may know you’re a dog – but when you’re a cat that plays piano, there might be a conductor on the other side of the world who has a gig for you.

Nora, a piano-playing cat from New Jersey, gained an online following that led to a small flurry of media attention in 2007.  Lithuanian conductor Mindaugas Piečaitis saw videos online of Nora at the piano, and he composed an orchestral accompaniment for her piano playing. The resulting piece (the Catcerto ) received its world premiere earlier this summer at the Klaipedia Concert Hall in Lithuania.

I wasn’t going to blog about it. I’ve been told about it through FacebookTwitter, e-mail, and several blogs. I thought that the Catcerto had permeated every corner of the Internet, but I’ve been talking to a bunch of people who haven’t yet heard about this music. If you're one of them, stop giving me that strange look, and take a few minutes to watch and listen:

Cat + Concerto = Catcerto


Maybe it’s a mania, a fad, just a meme. But a few minutes ago, I found myself humming part of the melody from this piece. When the orchestra picks up the themes created by Nora, it’s quite compelling. I find it a bit hopeful, and a bit sad. Nora is listening so intently to the keys on that piano. If she and the orchestra met, they wouldn’t be able to create this music together. Music can be a form of communication, but Nora is separated from the other musicians by time, space, and species. 

Well, barring all that, it is cute.


Lost and Found (Steinberg, Cunningham, Mozart)

(News, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 4, 2009

On July 26, music writer, critic, teacher, and program annotator Michael Steinberg died at the age of 80

His writing about music is amazing – I recommend reading his music listening guides  The Symphony,   The Concerto, and Choral Masterworks. His essays are also featured in For the Love of Music , which I’m just starting to read. These books are all available at my local library; you can probably also find them in a library near you.

For more about Steinberg, read "Michael Steinberg Remembered," by Mark Swed, and listen to Steinberg himself in the NPR piece “An Appreciation of the Symphony.”

For the Love of Music

I have just one personal note to add to all the tributes already out there. 

Michael Steinberg spoke to several classes at Indiana University when I was a student there, and I was very taken with the way he spoke and wrote about music. I was especially inspired by him telling us how he got into writing about music.

He studied musicology at Princeton, and he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Italy. Before leaving for Italy, Steinberg wrote to the New York Times, to let them know he’d be there – in case they wanted any reviews. 

When he got there, he reported to the local bureau, and he was sent out to write 400 words about a concert. They liked what he wrote, and other assignments followed. From there he went on to write reviews and program notes and share his knowledge and love of music with the world. 

He knew his music, he wrote wonderfully, and he went for it. 

 

The same week, choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham passed away at 90.  He was a towering figure in the dance world, and he also left a mark on the world of avant-garde classical music through collaborations with composer John Cage.  The Mediavore has a collection of remembrances of Merce Cunningham



Since I do not want to dwell too much on loss, let's end with a story of musical discovery.

New Mozart
Mozart Manuscript


Two compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were recently discovered. Well, they were never really lost; they just weren’t attributed to the right Mozart. The manuscripts were in Leopold Mozart’s handwriting, so it was reasonably assumed that they were by Leopold (Wolfgang’s father).

Dr. Ulrich Leisinger analyzed the music and the handwriting, and he has determined that these two pieces were composed by the young Wolfgang at the keyboard, while his father notated what he played. The discovery was announced July 23rd, and the music was performed this past Sunday (August 2nd) at a special press conference

You can hear recordings of these pieces and view reproductions of the manuscripts at the International Mozarteum Foundation’s site.  Performance Today's site also has the performances along with comments by Mozart scholar Neal Zaslaw.


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