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September 2013 Guides

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

More Free Opera Tickets!

(Commentary) Permanent link

SalomeSaturday October 11th, The Metropolitan Opera will be broadcasting Richard Strauss’ Salome in theaters across the country, including Ashland, KY and Morgantown/Granville, WV

I have several pairs of free tickets to give away for both locations!  Here's how to win free to tickets to see, not just hear, that dance of the seven veils:

Either leave a blog comment or email me at: feedback@wvpubcast.org – be sure to put Classically Speaking/Opera Tickets in the subject line when you send the email. 

And answer one question—do you prefer tragic opera endings or happy ones?  Salome has an ending that is tragic...and shockingly gruesome too!

If you're one of our winners, I'll mail you a pair of passes that you can take to the theater and redeem for tickets.  Good luck!

Quick note: JoAnn Falletta

(Interviews) Permanent link

Women of Note CDToday on Classical Music, I played music by Germaine Tailleferre, conducted by JoAnn Falletta (it's from a CD called Women of Note). 

Shortly after the show, Adam Harris (who works and blogs for Mountain Stage), sent me a link to a wonderful interview with Falletta on AllMusic.  I just wanted to pass on the interview so you can read it too.  Have a great weekend!

Four Seasons, One Violinist

(Interviews) Permanent link

Joshua Bell Four Seasons AlbumViolinist Joshua Bell has played Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” concertos in concerts for years, but he’s just finally gotten around to recording them, with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.  Also on this disc, Bell plays Giuseppe Tartini’s creepy “Devil’s Trill” Sonata. 

This recording not only sounds good, but also looks good--I really like the cards inside that have the poems that Vivaldi wrote to go with each season, but I might just be a sucker for the music/art/poetry connection.

Our conversation flowed really well, and rather than cutting this up, I’m posting it all in one piece.  So, with minimal fuss or editing, I present Joshua Bell:  

http://www.wvpubcast.org/images/audiohorn.gif Listen to my interview with Joshua Bell 

Shameless plug: you can pick up a copy of this album when you donate to WV Public Radio during our upcoming fund drive starting October 2nd (you can also find the album here).

If you’re looking for more on Vivaldi and music written about different seasons, check out “Music for All Seasons,” which includes an interview WV Symphony Music Director Grant Cooper.

Special thanks to Max of Crossover Media for arranging this interview.  

Pirate Playlist

(Just for Fun) Permanent link


Yarr, this past Friday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and we had a lot of fun on Classical Music.   

In case you wanted to know what piratical selections we played, here's a proper playlist for a classical music-loving pirate:

Arthur Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance (Overture)-- the obvious choice, but no less fun becausue of it

Hector Berlioz, The Corsair Overture -- Berlioz sat safely on the land while writing this one, but he was looking out to sea.

Franz von Suppé, The Jolly Robbers Overture -- a pirate should be happy in his work!

Ferdinand Hérold, Zampa (Overture) -- This nobleman turned pirate came to an unhappy end--dragged down to hell for his crimes!

Erich Korngold, The Sea Hawk (Suite) -- Classic swashbuckling music for a classic swashbuckling film

Hanz Zimmer, Pirates of the Caribbean -- Johnny Depp and his crew with their modern film take on pirates

Ralph Vaughn Williams, Symphony No. 1 "A Sea Symphony" and Howard Hanson, Symphony No. 7 "Sea Symphony"

Felix Mendelssohn -- "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage" -- phew, finally made it away from all those dangerous pirates! (Beethoven also wrote an overture with this name)

We also received some excellent suggestions after the show was programmed--we'll be sure to fit them into future programs:

Richard Wagner, The Flying Dutchman -- a ghost captain and his ship, fated to roam the high seas forever (but it works out for him in the end)

The Drunken Sailor -- Pirates do love their grog!

Avast, I'll continue to hoard pirate music for next year.  Help me out with suggestions, if ye not be wanting to walk the plank!

Angela Cheng and Saint-Saens

(Interviews) Permanent link

Pianist Angela ChengThis weekend, the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra kicks off their new season.  On their opening program, they’ll be featuring guest artist Angela Cheng, a touring piano player and teacher at the Oberlin Conservatory. 

She’ll be playing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2.  She spoke with me about the music, including it's many moods and Saint-Saëns’ ability to write for the keyboard. 

Listen to Angela Cheng describe the music 

While she’s in Charleston, she'll also be teaching a master class on Saturday afternoon from 1:30 to 3:30pm.  A master class is like a music lesson with an audience--everyone is welcome, you don't have to play an instrument to go to it.

Listen to Angela Cheng describe the connection between teaching and performing music 

She's a very warm and friendly person, and I had a wonderful time talking to her.  For the rest of the interview, we chatted about her favorite music, her experiences as a music student, teaching music to her own children, her hobbies, and her current projects.

Listen to Angela Cheng talk about her musical career and interests 

To read more about Angela Cheng, check out this wonderful article/interview where she was featured in American Music Teacher magazine.  You can hear her with the West Virginia Symphony at 8pm on Friday and Saturday, at the Clay Center in Charleston.

Opera Goes to the Movies in WV

(News, Commentary) Permanent link

For the past two seasons, the Metropolitan Opera has been broadcasting operas into movie theaters around the country.  This year, two movie theaters in/near West Virginia will be showing the Metropolitan Opera HD Broadcasts, and I just happen to have some free passes to share with readers of Classically Speaking! Metropolitan Opera

I’ve been to as many of the shows I can get to, and I think it’s a great opportunity to experience opera in a more laid-back setting.  At Bellini’s I Puritani, I sat next to an entranced four-year old in a booster seat, who told me she now wants to see “all the operas.”  My favorite performances were probably Peter Grimes and Eugene Onegin (check out what Garrison Keillor had to see about that performance). What I like the most about these broadcasts is the chance to experience many different operas, close to home, for a reasonable price.  Now that I’ve seen several operas from the Met, I enjoy listening to the radio broadcasts on Saturday afternoons even more (I wasn’t always a fan—as a kid, I used to kick the back of my dad’s seat in the car when he played the opera on the car radio!)

Singer Renee FlemingThe two theaters showing these operas are: Hollywood Stadium in Granville, WV (near Morgantown) and Town Cinema in Ashland, KY (not too far for people in the Huntington/Charleston area), and I have 5 pairs of tickets for each theater.

The first event is Monday September 22nd at 6pm, and it’s the Metropolitan Opera opening gala concert, featuring Renée Fleming.  The rest of the shows are a bit different—they’ll be full operas and take place on Saturday afternoons (there will be chances to win those tickets later).
If you would like a pair of tickets, leave a comment on this blog post, sharing a favorite opera story: perhaps the first opera you remember seeing or your favorite opera.  I’ll need to contact you if you’re one of our winners, so leave your address in the comment, or if you don’t want to post your email publicly, you can then email me: mseghatoleslami@wvpubcast.org.

So, here’s what to do:
1) Create an account (if you don’t already have one)
2) Leave a comment, telling a story about one of your experiences with opera
3) Say whether you’re interested in tickets for Granville/Morgantown, WV or Ashland, KY
4) Include your email address OR send me an email with your contact info

Submit your comments ASAP--I'll be giving the tickets away as I hear from people, and I also want to make sure there's enough time for them to reach you in the mail!

It's a No-Brainer

(Interviews) Permanent link
When Dr. Iraj Derakhshan, a neurologist, first approached me about wanting to share some exciting new discoveries about the brain and how it affects playing a musical instrument, I was curious, but a little intimidated. How could I possibly understand such a complex subject? Still, my interest was piqued and so I invited him over for a discussion.

Dr. D, as he likes to be called, began not with technical jargon, but illustrated his ideas with a simple test. You can do this simple test as well. The test answers these questions: Are you right or left handed? Are you sure? Want to know the truth? Try this test

The plot thickens, gentle readers. The common assumption, proposed no less by Sir Isaac Newton, is that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa. Derakhshan proposes that Newton’s assumption is “utterly wrong.”

Listen to Dr. D's assesment of the common assumption and Newton.

In order to truly understand what Derakhshan is saying, we must first understand that only one hemisphere of the brain is in control. For 80% of the population, it is the left hemisphere which has the command center; commonly referred to as being left hemispheric.

Now, it gets tricky. In a left hemispheric person, the left hand is delayed in its actions because its connection to the left hemisphere is indirect. It must pass through the corpus callosum – the great band of fibers uniting both hemispheres. The right hand’s connection, however, is direct. The implication of this left-handed delay for right-handed instruments like piano, violin and even percussion instruments is compelling.  Dr. D explains

Right-handers rule, but some of them may be fooling themselves; even for a lifetime! Also, what hand you favor may have more to do with a favorite aunt than Mother Nature.  Are you being fooled?

Why are we so right-handed? Nature has decided this for us with an almost cruel deterimination

Lefties have long been suspect. The Bible is full of implications that the left hand is the metaphorical opposite of goodness, righteousness, etc. In fact, the term for left-handedness is sinistrality from the Latin sinistr-, sinister on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious. Dr. D. dispels myths about handedness

Ambidexterity is a myth, as Dr. D says, as there is “no wiring for it.” Also, some of you lefties are faking your way through a right-handed world.

Why was I not born with the same gifts as Horowitz? The answer is simple: I am not made to be so. As much as we would like to believe “all men are created equal,” Derakhshan knows that we are not. Still, the phrase “practice makes perfect” has a neural basis and a directive that we must fulfill our potential. Dr. D explains this disparity

With practice comes a caveat: do not overdo it or consequences can follow. Repetitive practice injuries can include carpel tunnel syndrome, dystonia, and clonus. Dr. D shares his thoughts on this issue

Classical musicians, not normally thought of as part of the “drug” culture of rock and popular music, will use Inderal to calm their nerves. This has caused some controversy, so I asked Dr. D his thoughts on the matter.

To conclude, it’s really a no-brainer. The brain is a miracle and at the top of nature’s creations. Even neurologists like Dr. Derakhshan believe that we are just now beginning to understand the brain and its functions.

Vernon reference: Early analyses of Duo-art (player piano) rolls indicated that pianists played tones comprising the melodic voice sooner than other tones notated as simultaneous.
Vernon, L. N. (1936). Synchronization of chords in artistic piano music. In C.E. Seashore (ed.) Objective analysis of musical performance. University of Iowa studies in the psychology of music Vol. 5, (pp 306-345), Iowa City: University of Iowa press.

The Flute is a Many Splendored Instrument: Wendell Dobbs

(Interviews) Permanent link

Flutist Wendell Dobbs 
Wendell Dobbs

Marshall University flute professor Wendell Dobbs explores a wide range of flute music—from early American music to contemporary classical compositions to Irish folk music.  He also leads the John Marshall Fife and Drum Corps at Marshall University and teaches at the Timber Flute Festival, which takes place in June in Elkins, West Virginia.

Dobbs will be playing a recital this Tuesday, 8pm at Smith Recital Hall at Marshall University.

Earlier this summer, I managed to catch up with this busy flutist (flautist?) for an interview; he stopped by the studio in the middle of a drive between Elkins and Huntington.

First, he let us in on what he’ll be playing on Tuesday: Listen to Wendell Dobbs describe his upcoming recital 

He’ll be performing on the 18th-century flute, which he explains is very different from the flutes we often see today.  Listen to Wendell Dobbs talk about historical flutes.

It was especially neat to hear about the variety of music he plays and how he approaches each style.  Listen to Wendell Dobbs describe his musical explorations.

Liberty Album Cover

One of Dobbs’ recent albums is Rallying Round Our Liberty: Music from the era of Chief Justice John Marshall.  It includes the tune “Hail Columbia," which was once considered to be the unofficial anthem of the United States, and a set of variations on “Hail Columbia” by Rafael Dressler.  Here's a sample of the music and you can listen to Wendell Dobbs talk about the history of "Hail Columbia."

So, if you're near Marshall University on Tuesday night, you can check out Professor Dobbs' recital.  You can also catch selections from his recordings as part of the classical music programming on West Virginia Public Radio.

West Virginians Remember Pavarotti

(Commentary) Permanent link
This weekend marks one year since beloved singer Luciano Pavarotti passed away.  Last year, we featured Pavarotti’s recordings on the radio, along with remembrances sent in by listeners.  In tribute to Pavarotti, I wanted to share selections from the letters we received:

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

I recall listening to Pavarotti a lot when I was working in my first job at a coal-mining community in the mountains of PA.  It was my first time to be far away from my family with whom I shared a deep love of opera.  Fortunately, in my church, I found a family who also loved Luciano.  For Xmas that year, they gave me a recording of some of the religious songs of this beloved tenor.  It started a friendship with these people which is still going on today. It also led to a delightful "friendship" with Pavarotti.

Thanks for playing, if you can, any more selections from his rendition of Italian folk songs or any more from "La Boheme," or any of his religious songs.  

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Thank you for the wonderful music marking the passing of Pavarotti. Some years ago, my brother went to the Pavarotti in the Park concert In spite of heavy rain, London's Hyde Park was packed and, so that everyone could see the famous tenor, no one used umbrellas. The concert was worth the drenching.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

When I was in graduate school, toward the end of each semester while finishing term papers and studying for final examinations, I would put in a Pavorotti CD and let it play continually while I worked; Christmas music in the Fall and various arias in the Spring semester. The music, the voice, the clarity, and the passion of Pavorotti inspired me, as he still does.
His "Ave Maria" is one of my favorites. Would you please play it this afternoon?
grazie e ciao

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Have listened to opera for 65 year beginning with The Texaco Hour on Saturday afternoons.  Through all those years I have never heard anyone with the magic of Pavarotti.   I heard and saw him in Louisville, Ky approx 20 years ago.   

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

He was the BEST!!!

I've listened to his recordings for many, many years and only wish I'd had the pleasure of hearing him live.  

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Thank you to all the listeners who wrote to us with their memories.  If you still want to share a story, you can leave a comment below, or email us at feedback@wvpubcast.org.

For more about Pavarotti, Performance Today has an excellent tribute page.

How To: Build Your Classical Music Library

(Commentary) Permanent link
Earlier this year, a listener wrote to us to ask advice on building her collection of classical music recordings.  I recently re-discovered her letter and my response when going through my older email.  In case it might be useful to any of our listeners/readers out there, I’m posting my response, with a few additions.  If you have any other advice or further questions, be sure to leave a comment below.

Trust your ears.  It’s more important that you have recordings that you enjoy than those that some critic has told you are objectively “good.”  Some places like Amazon or iTunes give you the opportunity to listen to a small snippet of the music before you purchase it, but that only gives you a partial picture of what you are getting.

When you hear something on the radio or in a concert, try to take note of the composers’ and performers’ names.  Sometimes, what you’re drawn to is the piece of music, sometimes it’s the person performing or conducting.  

If you want to buy a recording music you’ve heard on Classical Music with Jim Lange, visit our playlist website and note the record label name and album number.  You can then find the recording online through ArkivMusic or take that information to a music store, where they should be able to help you find or order that album.  If you have other questions about the recording or have trouble finding it on our playlist, we’re always happy to answer your questions.  Our email address is: feedback@wvpubcast.org.

If you do want some resources to get started, here are some of the places I look (and listen):

* Gramophone Magazine
Reviews, monthly top ten recordings list and a monthly “editor’s choice” top pick.  They also present Gramophone Music awards each year. (free registration required to access some of the online material).

* ArkivMusic
Online store that specializes in classical music recordings (including re-releasing out of print recordings), they have lists of featured new releases

* The New York Times publishes year-end lists of their favorite classical albums, with explanations. Each critic gets a separate list.  Check out their favorites from last year.

* The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection by Ted Libbey
I still haven’t gotten around to reading this book, but I should be soon!  Ted Libbey is a well-liked commenter on classical music.  The book is available from the NPR Shop.

* NPR’s website has a list of essential classical music CDs compiled by Ted Libbey
 There are many good recordings on this list, but it's also an example of disagreeing with an expert's list.  Libbey selects Murray Perahia’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, while there are a few I’d choose first: Glenn Gould’s recordings and Simone Dinnerstein’s recent recording.

* Norman Lebrecht’s controversial (and very gossipy) book The Life and Death of Classical Music includes a list with descriptions of what he calls the 100 best and the 20 worst classical recordings (if nothing else, it is very entertaining reading).

* I often find performers I like from Performance Today (which we air weekdays from 9am to 11am).  The show broadcasts concert recordings, so I mostly can’t obtain those exact recordings on CD, but if I enjoy their “live” performances on the radio, I try to find any recordings with that artist.

* If you don’t want to build a physical library, there are several online subscription classical music library services where you can stream music (if you have a decent internet connection).  Different services have different policies and collection limitations.  Also, with most of these services you are paying for access to the recordings: when you stop subscribing, you don’t have any music that you own.  The three most popular online classical music library services so far are: Naxos Music Library, Classical.com, and Alexander Street Press’ Classical Music Library.

So follow your ears, take note of what you like, and don’t be afraid to explore!  Also, be sure to let me know how it goes.
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