Today's Classical Music Video

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Michael Tilson Thomas and American Mavericks

In the year 2000 Michael Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco Symphony presented a series of musical events under the title "American Mavericks." It featured music by the radicals, the extremists in American classical music from Ives to Feldman. It was a huge success. This season - the Centennial season of the SFS - MTT is doing it again. And this time he is taking "American Mavericks" to other cities across the country. This is repertoire most American orchestras won't even touch and MTT revels in it and makes a festival out of it. These pieces are not all masterpieces but they are innovative and exciting and flesh out the history of American music which is by no means confined to Copland, Gershwin and John Williams, or even John Adams.

Paul E. Robinson

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester

If you have an affection for German popular music of the 1920s and early 1930s you probably know all about Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester. This musical genre is best known today in the music of Kurt Weill and in the use made of it in the musical Cabaret. But no one has brought it back to life as Max Raabe has done it. His singing captures the style perfectly and the arrangements used by his 12-piece orchestra are dead on.

Raabe and the Palast Orchester recently concluded a tour of the United States and Canada and charmed audiences wherever they went. In this video we see a live performance from 2006 of "Mein kleiner gruener Kaktus," a piece made famous in 1934 by the Comedian Harmonists.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Elisabeth Grummer (1911-1986) Sings Mozart and Weber

This Saturday (March 31) will be the birthday of the wonderful soprano Elisabeth Grummer. Born to German parents in Niederjeutz near the Alsace-Lorraine region that is now part of France, her family was forced to move to Germany and settle in Meiningen, where she studied acting and made her acting debut. She married violinist Detlev Grummer and settled in Aachen, where they met Herbert von Karajan, who encouraged her to study voice. She made her operatic debut as a Flowermaiden in Parsifal. Her husband was killed in a bombing during the war. She spoke candidly and movingly of those traumatic early years to Lanfranco Rasponi, the author of The Last Prima Donnas, an extraordinary book that came out in 1982 and is about many famous female opera singer. Her career blossomed in the 50s and became a superb interpreter of Mozart and Wagner. Many of her complete roles are available on recordings. Known for a voice of purity and beauty and perfect breath control, Grummer's recordings of Agathe, Pamina, and Elsa remain the very best in the discography. To remember this great singer, here are two excerpts: first is her breathtakingly beautiful Abendempfindung by Mozart, followed by Agathe's Und ob die Wolke from Der Freischutz. Where do you find such purity of tone and rock-solid legato today?

- Joseph K. So

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Honour Del Tredici

Those of us who are old enough remember well how impressed we were to discover David Del Tredici's Final Alice in the 1970s. This was an unashamedly tonal piece on a grand scale that gave us new insight into a children's classic. There was a fine recording made by Barbara Hendricks with Solti and the Chicago Symphony in 1979 that quickly made its way to the LP drop out bins in record stores and was never issued on CD. The piece all but disappeared. But very recently, on the occasion of the composer's 75th birthday, it has resurfaced. Soprano Hila Plitmann, Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony gave a wonderful performance of it that deserves a recording and may well get it.

From that performance Final Alice given in Detroit on March 3, 2012 here is the final section, the Acrostic Song. The Acrostic Song really makes more sense to read than to hear: the first letters of each line of the poem spell out the name of the real-life Alice, ALICE PLEASANCE LIDELL.

The piece ends with what is, in effect, the composer's signature in words and music. The soloist counts up to thirteen in Italian. Thirteen is the composer's name: Tredici.

- Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Magda Olivero Sings Gounod and Cilea

The legendary Italian soprano Magda Olivero turns an improbable 103 this coming Sunday.  What can one say about this remarkable singer except to marvel at her life and career?  Born in 1910 in Saluzzo, Italy, Olivero made her debut in 1932 and performed widely until 1941 when she married and retired.  Ten years later, she returned to the stage at the request of composer Francesco Cilea, performing his best known opera Adriana Lecouvreur.  This has remained her signature role for the rest of her career.  She made her Metropolitan debut in 1975 - already in her mid 60's - as Tosca to rapturous reception. Her last stage performance was in 1981 in Poulenc's La voix humaine, a career that spanned 50 years.  After her retirement, Olivero continued to sing informally, and she even made a recording of Adriana at the grand age of 83, issued on the Italian label of Bongiovanni.  You can even find her talking and singing snippets from the monologue in Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini, at 99 years of age!  Olivero's voice was never particularly opulent or rich, but it has an immense power of expression, especially in the verismo repertoire.  To celebrate the grand dame of Italian opera, here are two clips - one of her at 83 singing Gounod's Ave Maria with rock solid legato, and the other of her singing the dramatic entrance aria "Io son lumile ancella" from Adriana Lecouvreur.  Happy Birthday Magda Olivero! 

Joseph K. So

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Alsop Conducts Shostakovich

Marin Alsop was in the news last week as she began her inaugural season as music director of the Sao Paulo Symphony in Brazil. She will also continue until at least 2015 as music director of the Baltimore Symphony. For more than 20 years she has also headed the Cabrillo Festival in California.

In this video she conducts Amsterdam's famed Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in some lighter music by Shostakovich. As a young man Shostakovich loved jazz and attended performances whenever he could. In the 1930s he even tried writing some of his own jazz. The result, however, often sounded more like Rossini or Johann Strauss. Some of this music is to be found in his Jazz Suites for orchestra.

Check out my companion video this week on LSM in which Marin Alsop talks about life in Baltimore.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marin Alsop's Baltimore

Marin Alsop has been the music director of the Baltimore Symphony for several years now and recently had her contract extended to 2015. She has been a big success in Baltimore and has made many recordings with the orchestra for Naxos. One project includes all the Dvorak symphonies. Last week she also began her inaugural season as music director of the Sao Paulo Symphony in Brazil. She will also record with that orchestra and they will make a European tour together this summer. In this video Alsop talks about Baltimore as a place to live and make music. For more on Alsop check out her website at To see Alsop in action go to my companion video this week on LSM. Alsop leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in music by Shostakovich. Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Five Posthumous Songs by Alexander Zemlinsky (10/14/1871 - 3/15/1942)

This Thursday (March 15) marks the death of Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky exactly seventy years ago. Born in Vienna to a Slovak Catholic father and a Sephardic Jewish/Muslim mother, Alexander Zemlinsky's family converted to Judaism. The young Alexander studied piano, organ and composition at the Vienna Conservatory. He became close friends with Schoenberg and they founded the Vereinigung Schaffender Tonkunstler to promote contemporary music in Vienna. Both Brahms and Mahler figured prominently in the career and personal life of Zemlinsky, who spent much of his career in Prague (and later in Berlin), at the Deutsches Landestheater and at the Czech Philharmonic. With the advent of Nazism, Zemlinsky fled with his family from Berlin to New York and settled there until his death in 1942. His musical language is best described as post-Romantic and expressionist, and served as a bridge to the modernism which came later. One can detect elements of Mahler and Wagner in his compositions. In his later works, he adopted a more austere and abstract modernist style, although he never crossed over to serialism. His best known opera is the very beautiful and lush-sounding Eine florentinische Tragodie, which will have its Canadian premiere at the COC in late April. To remember Zemlinsky, I have chosen a collection of five posthumous songs recorded a dozen years ago by soprano Ruth Ziesak, tenor Hans-Peter Blochwitz, mezzo Iris Vermilion, and (omitted here in the selection) baritone Andreas Schmidt, with Cord Garben at the piano. These songs are part of a CD on the Sony label.

- Joseph K. So


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Yannick Announces His First Season in Philadelphia

Next fall Yannick Nezet-Seguin will begin his first season as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In this video he talks about his programming choices and clearly demonstrates his enthusiasm for what lies ahead. Yannick has guest conducted the orchestra several times in recent seasons but now he will be able to really put his stamp on the orchestra and its place in the community.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sinopoli Conducts the Alpine Symphony

Who was the greater composer, Beethoven or Richard Strauss? Probably no doubt about the answer. However, if we asked instead who wrote greater storm music I think the answer would be different. The storm music in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony surely pales beside the comparable episode in Strauss' An Alpine Symphony. Of course, Strauss had many more instruments available to him including a vast array of percussion. Don't forget, by the way, that Berlioz and Rossini and Britten, among others, wrote some pretty impressive storm music too.

Eine Alpensinfonie Op. 64 was for a long time considered a minor work of Strauss and was a rarity on concert programmes. Now it seems to turn up nearly every season. I think it is a glorious piece, even profound if taken in its metaphorical sense as life's journey rather than as a climb up and down a mountain.

This performance by the Staatskapelle Dresden is glorious too and documents some of the work of the late Giuseppe Sinopoli (1946-2001). He was a remarkable man who expertise in many fields. He studied composition with Stockhausen, he was a medical doctor and wrote a dissertation on criminal anthropology. He had a prized collection of ceramics from ancient Greece. As a conductor he was known for his highly personal interpretations. He died of a heart attack while conducting Verdi's opera Aida.

In this video Sinopoli clearly has his head in the score much of the time. But make no mistake about it. He knew exactly what he wanted to hear. Norman Lebrecht is on record as considering Sinopoli a bit of a charlatan, but his work suggests otherwise.

An Alpine Symphony calls for a huge orchestra with lots of extra brass including 12 horns, 2 trumpets and 2 trombones offstage. You will also hear (and see) a wind machine and a thunder machine, and at the end you will hear (but not see) an organ.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos

Today is the birthday of New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, who was born on this day in Gisborne, New Zealand in 1944. Of Maori and European parentage, Te Kanawa was adopted as a baby by a Maori family.  She sang pop songs very early in her career before entering the London Opera Centre in 1966 to study with Vera Rozsa, who trained many well known singers in her long career, including Mattila, Cotrubas, von Otter, Roschmann, as well as Canadian bass-baritone Nathan Berg. Te Kanawa's voice in its prime has exceptional beauty of tone, exemplary legato, and an ethereal quality that has served her well in her long career (from 1968 until semi-retirement today.)  Te Kanawa is no stranger to Canada, particularly Toronto, where she has sung something like a dozen times in concerts and recitals.  She was one of the first to sing in Roy Thomson Hall when it opened in 1982.  Here is Kiri at her best - singing the Cantilena from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose birthday was yesterday!  Enjoy!

Joseph K. So

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thielemann Plays Johann Strauss

Christian Thielemann has ascended the ranks to become a formidable conductor of Wagner, Beethoven, Bruckner and Richard Strauss. His reputation is based on this solid and very serious repertoire. That would suggest that he must be a solid and very serious man too. In fact, he has a sense of humour and he also enjoys music of lighter character. He is now the chief conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden and he let his hair down at least a little leading the orchestra's 2010 New Year's concert. From that concert here is the seldom-heard waltz On the Elbe by Johann Strauss Jr. Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Maurice Andre: the Passing of a Trumpet Virtuoso

The great French trumpet virtuoso Maurice Andre died this week at the age of 78. He had been in retirement for several years. In his prime he was the foremost trumpet soloist of his generation. His many recordings cover virtually the entire solo literature for his instrument. In this video he plays the first movement from Haydn's Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. Paul E. Robinson

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