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WV Symphony - Tchaikovsky V

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Other Voices: Composer - Performer Discussion

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 31, 2011
Lindsey Goodman
Lindsey Goodman
Flutist Lindsey Goodman commissions and plays new music – you can read about her passion for bringing new music into the world in her recent guest post The Call to Commission

Grant Cooper is the conductor and artistic director of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. He is also a composer. Before Goodman commissioned him to write a solo flute work, he had focused on writing music for his instrument – the orchestra.

Maestro Grant Cooper
Grant Cooper

Goodman commissioned Cooper to write a work for solo flute, and he responded with the work Other Voices. (listen here)

That description makes it all sound much simpler than it was. It took an involved collaborative process to take this music from the initial idea (a piece for solo flute) to a completed two-movement work that expresses the working of the human mind through musical transformations. 

This spring, Cooper and Goodman came into the studio to discuss the creation of Other Voices, and their approach to the collaboration between composers and performers. Listen to the conversation below:

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Discussion/interview with Grant Cooper and Lindsey Goodman

You can hear Goodman’s performance of Other Voices by Grant Cooper here on Goodman’s website, in a recording from a Charleston Chamber Music Society concert that was part of FestivALL Charleston in June, 2010.


The Call to Commission

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Lindsey Goodman
 · August 29, 2011
Flutist Lindsey Goodman
Lindsey Goodman

Lindsey Goodman is principal flutist of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, solo flutist of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and adjunct lecturer of flute at Marietta College. A charismatic soloist, chamber collaborator, teacher, and clinician, Lindsey is a strong advocate for contemporary music, living composers, and electroacoustic and multidisciplinary works.

I’m a big fan of new music: brand-spanking fresh music which smacks of the world we see out our windows and on our computer screens. For me, performing this vibrant, diverse repertoire is a calling, and one of the most visceral ways for me to get that fresh ink buzz is by asking composers to write me new pieces. That process is a called commissioning, and anyone, from an individual performer, to a musical ensemble, an arts patron, or a music lover, can commission a new work.

Why commission?

Today, in your state, your county ... perhaps even down the road from you, exist the people of legends: composers. Composers write music, and they, contrary to your history-book memories of powdered wigs worn over stern looks, are living, breathing people who express their experience in our shared world by pressing pencils into paper (or keys on a computer keyboard), stating their world views through notes, rhythms, and sonic colors.

 To me, this skill is completely and utterly magical. Where only silence existed before, living composers create powerful emotional experiences through sound. Commissioning is my way, as a purely re-creative (re-creative in this sense meaning one who reinterprets another’s original outputs instead of crafting her own) artist, to tap into the musical birthing process.  

 Personal zeal aside, commissioning is vitally important to keeping classical art music alive and thriving. “All music was once new”, quips the catchy tagline for Composer’s Datebook on radio broadcasts through American Public Media. To take that one logical step farther, if there is no music of today, there can be no music of tomorrow.

What’s the commissioning process like?

Hopefully, my unabashed soapboxing has you running down the street in search of your friendly neighborhood composer, but before you knock down her door, consider the very individual nature of the commissioning process. I’ve commissioned twenty pieces and premiered over fifty, and each experience has been as unique as the people involved.  

At the outset, it’s all about choosing the right person for the job at hand. When I needed a set of encores, I trolled through my mental list of incredibly-talented composer colleagues to select someone who exhibited both lyricism and virtuosity in his flute writing. Alternatively (and flatteringly!), sometimes a composer has chosen me as his inspiration. Either way, thorough knowledge of each other’s styles and aesthetics helps a commissioner discern who will be a good match personally and professionally for his own artistic voice.

After the initial icebreaking email, cup of coffee, or bowl of Pho during which the commissioner pitches a collaboration to her composer du jour, it’s time to communicate about the project expectations. Will the commission be specific in scope (a ten-minute piece for singing flutist and singing pianist) or provide more general inspiration (something for flute with or without piano or electronics)? Is there a premiere date already on the books, or will the piece be written as opportunity and the muse rear their ephemeral heads? 

Once composition is actually underway, put on your hard hat and enter the construction zone, if asked! While some composers understandably are most comfortable to deliver only the glossy final product (with all the messy birthing occurring safely behind closed doors), others want to have fertile conversations beginning with questions like “does the flute have to use vibrato?” If your newly-christened composer best friend wants feedback, collaborate fully, offering both practical pointers from your instrumental expertise and honest, uplifting musical reactions. 

When the piece, be it first draft or performance-ready, finally makes its way into your expectant palms, ink still wet on the page, maintain an open line of communication to both provide and accept constructive criticism as you make yourself available for consultations and readings. Crafting the best end result for all involved should be job one!

The commission is done. Now what?

A commissioner not only provides the genesis for a new project, but should help that burgeoning masterpiece succeed at every juncture, understanding that her job doesn’t end with the premiere. If the fates have smiled on your collaboration, you’ll have a thrilling new masterwork of immense personal significance which you’re bursting to share with the world. Alternatively, even Beethoven wrote some clunkers, and I am personally guilty of having commissioned some hard-to-program pieces with orchestration too specific to remount. The unknown is part of this package deal!

Assuming the first option (!), you and your composer are responsible for ensuring that your musical baby has a long and happy life. You should be the work’s best advocate to fellow performers and audiences, utilizing your resources to give the piece multiple performances, keeping the composer informed of concerts, giving her a rightful bow, sending along programs and recordings, and continuing to accept feedback as your interpretation evolves. 

Final thoughts

Of all the aspects of my musical life, my commissioning projects are among the most cherished. Through these processes, I’ve forged deep friendships, gained immense personal insight, and been the recipient of some staggeringly-beautiful music. Every time I perform one of these collaborations, I walk on stage to a friend smiling back at me from the waiting music stand. Sharing these works with fresh audiences is an unmitigated joy, and that sense of wonder and discovery, that fresh ink buzz, is available to anyone intrepid enough to answer the call to commission.

Dancing with Satie

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 25, 2011

You too might have meetings to attend, dishes to wash, emails to answer, work to get done. You too can stop for a few minutes to dance a crooked dance with Erik Satie.

My favorite recording (the one heard on the radio today) is by pianist Alexandre Tharaud. For more excellent Satie, check out recordings by Aldo Ciccolini.

Now, on to that next meeting ...

A fugue a day

(Just for Fun) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 16, 2011

Today's word of the day  (via A.Word.A.Day) is fugue:

1. A musical form in which a theme is repeated in several voices and developed into a complex pattern.
2. A pathological state of consciousness in which someone appears to be conscious of one's actions but has no memory of them after returning to a normal state.

Read the full entry here. Then check out this explanation from Glenn Gould:

Glenn Gould - So you want to write a fugue?

While it's only Tuesday, here's a Fugue for Friday, aka the Dragnet Fugue, by Stephen Malinowski, performed by The New Esterházy Quartet:
Fugue for Friday ("Dragnet Fugue")

And the Nokia fugue, by Vincent Lo:

Lady Gaga's music also seems to be quite the popular source for fugue themes, including this one by Giovanni Dettori played on a beautiful old pipe organ:

Any other suggestions for fugues to pass the time?

Janacek mixtape musings

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 12, 2011
Recently, I've really been digging music by Leos Janáček. In fact, I'm listening to some right now -- through NPR's First Listen, you can now listen to the New York Philharmonic's performance of Leos Janaček's opera The Cunning Little Vixen as a free online stream.

Or if opera isn't your style, here's the final movement of his Sinfonietta:

Yum, right?

I've also recently realized that Janáček might be part of the answer to a problem I've been having: I owe a few friends some mixes (mix tape? mix CD? Pando-Spoti-shark playlist? Format hasn't been too much an issue, because I have gotten around to making any of them!)

I've been overwhelmed by choosing what to put on this mix, whatever form it takes. For some friends, I feel responsible for introducing them to the *right* classical music that will lead them to explore. Other friends already know the greatest hits, and I want to show them something a little different. The length of pieces is also something of an issue; if I do make a CD, one symphony or two, and there goes a whole disc.

I'm thinking a Janáček mix might be the thing. A few good orchestra pieces, some of those pretty piano works...

Leoš Janáček - In the Mists
Now just to decide on which recordings. Any suggestions? Maybe I can go the lazy route and just buy one album and not even make the mix, and just get back to listening to this opera....

Other questions to take from this rambling on a Friday afternoon -- what would you put on a classical mix? Have you made or received a classical mix? Is Janáček too weird of an introduction to classical music?

Barbara Nissman: Recital Favorites & Liszt at Carnegie

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 11, 2011

Here are some nice news items from pianist Barbara Nissman, who makes her home in Lewisburg (when not busy traveling to perform and record!)


Nissman Recital Favorites 6

* Barbara Nissman will be playing a recital at Carnegie Hall Lewisburg on November 5 celebrating Liszt’s 200th birthday. Here’s the concert info and a preview of the Carnegie Hall Lewisburg 2011-12 season.

* She has recently released the sixth installment in her “Recital Favorites” recording series on Pierian Records, including music by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Chopin, and Ravel. 

Update: (We've also now received Nissman's Recital Favorites Volume 7, which includes the most wonderfully playful recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations that I've ever heard.)

You can check out our interview from a couple years ago here.We’ll be sure to catch up with Nissman again this fall before the Liszt recital.

You can also hear a preview of her recordings in this video that a fan uploaded of Nissman playing Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6.


Experiencing Oboes on the Ohio

 Permanent link
By Jenny Morris
 · August 8, 2011

Jenny Morris is an oboe and English horn player who lives in Charleston. She has previously written for Classically Speaking about her adventures playing outdoor summer concerts.

Leaving “Oboes on the Ohio” on Saturday evening inspired a curious thought: Is this what string players feel like leaving gigs?  I had the pleasure to play in a group with about 16 other double reed players, which was a first for me.

We oboists and bassoonists tend to work in groups of 2 or 3, and for most of us, that is fine. Once in a while for a Mahler Symphony, or perhaps Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, our sections in the orchestra grow to 4 or 6 players, but in these days of cost-cutting repertoire, even those sizes are considered huge. Unlike our string-playing colleagues, we seldom experience playing in large groups together.

“Oboes on the Ohio” was a day-long gathering of oboists and bassoonists from Ohio, Indiana, and two of us from West Virginia.It took place in the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre in Gallipolis, OH, which is also home to the Ohio Valley Symphony.

It was a rare treat to be amongst so many double-reed playing colleagues, and yet in an environment still small enough to be able to speak to the vendors who had instruments and tools available. Where else but a double reed workshop would one encounter a session about knife sharpening, 63 different colors of reed thread, and a library of music for double reed ensembles?

One of the highlights of the day was attending a masterclass led by Robert Sorton, who teaches oboe at Ohio State University. Two young men aged 12 and 15 years played amazingly well, and assured all of us who are two (or three!) times their ages, that there will be fine oboe players in the future generation.

Guest artist Colin Maier, whose usual performance venue is with Canadian crossover group, Quartetto Gelato, talked with those gathered about the importance of being passionate in our music making, and making a connection with our audiences. He encouraged us not to hide behind our music stands, or the conductor, or even the composer, but to take ownership and responsibility for what we do with our instruments. He also challenged us to learn from our failures, and find the positives from them.

The evening recital was a delightful informal gathering featuring Colin Maier’s incredible virtuosity, a lovely woodwind trio of faculty members from Ohio University in Athens, and a quartet of “ladies” that made fabulous music. (Let’s just say that the costumes will be somewhere on Facebook by now—and I love a man who can play the oboe in a dress and high heels!) 

A beautiful Contra-bassoon solo played by Matthew Morris dispelled any myth you might still have that the instrument is just a low-note machine, and the closing ensemble group featured all the participants brave enough to play in a presentation of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. Unlike the original presentation of the work, the players did not have to sit on a barge in a river, but perhaps that could happen if the festival repeats again in Gallipolis!

Related links:

* Oboes on the Ohio festival held this weekend

* Oboe on the Ohio (William Baker interview)

Hildegard Sings

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 4, 2011
Meet Hildegard. She’s a waitress by day, and she’s an opera singer by night. Oh, and she’s a hippo. (The hippo thing is a full-time gig.)


Hildegard is the star of the children’s book Hildegard Sings, and now she’s transitioned to the digital age in an interactive iPod/iPad application version of her story:

Thomas Wharton designer
Thomas Wharton

Meet Hildegard’s creator: Thomas Wharton.

Wharton grew up in Fairmont and Wheeling. He studied music at WVU – he got both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano. When he moved to New York, he followed his other passion: visual art. He works as a designer and paints, while still maintaining his love of music.

When he decided to write a children’s book, he drew on his experience playing piano to accompany opera singers. In Hildegard Sings, he depicts Hildegard experiencing her big break and overcoming the loss of her voice. She also enjoys plenty of music and food along the way. In the new app version of her tale, the readers can interact with the characters in the book.

Listen to our interview to learn more about his experiences with music and art, and what it took to create Hildegard’s interactive, musical story:

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with Thomas Wharton

Oboes on the Ohio: William Baker interview

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 1, 2011

You may have noticed an unusual musical event on this month's classical calendar -- Oboes on the Ohio. It's a celebration of all things double-reed (while oboes are in the name, bassoon and English horn are definitely welcome). The festival is for students, teachers, performers, and anyone interested in the instruments.

The one-day festival on the Ohio River will include performances, lectures, workshops, classes, vendors, demonstrations, and chamber music readings. Quartetto Gelato's athletic oboist Colin Maier is one of the featured performers.

William Baker

The oboe player at the heart of the festival is William Baker, whose many accomplishments include 16 years as the principal oboist of the Columbus Symphony, being a founding member of the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, and teaching for many years as oboe professor at Ohio State University. He also has a wonderfully wry of talking about the oboe. Take a few minutes to listen to our interview about the festival and some of his other experiences in music:
This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with oboist William P. Baker

WV Classical Calendar -- August

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · August 1, 2011

August 2011

It's the last quiet month before concert seasons and college music programs really get started. Here are the concerts that I've found around the region. Let me know if I'm missing anything:)

Aug. 6: Oboes on the Ohio

Aug. 7, 7pm: Kevin Michael, violin (Vance Memorial Presbyterian, Wheeling)

Aug.13: Paul Jacobs, organ (Upper St. Clair, PA)

Aug. 20: Huntington Symphony Orchestra Picnic with the Pops

Aug. 21: Pipes and Pedals at PamelArt: An Introduction to the Pipe Organ (Montrose)

Aug. 23: Peter Amstutz, piano (WVU Faculty Recital)

Aug. 27: Schmidt Vocal Competition (WVU)

Aug. 28: Lillian Long, organ (Alderson-Broaddus Faculty Recital)

Sept. 4: WV Symphony at Haddad Riverfront Park

Sept. 4: Wheeling Symphony Under the Stars

I can't resist adding just a little something to this page. Here's a musical treat from Copenhagen to brighten a muggy Monday morning:)

Flash mob at Copenhagen Central Station. Copenhagen Phil playing Ravel's Bolero.


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