Today's Classical Music Video

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony Pt. 1

Hans Graf has been music director of the Houston Symphony since 2001. He will step down at the end of next season. Graf was born in Graz, Austria and he has recorded all the Mozart symphonies and piano concerti with the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg.

Graf also has a Canadian connection. He was music director of the Calgary Philharmonic from 1995 until 2003.

In this video Maestro Graf talks about the music of Shostakovich. On June 8 and 9 he will be leading the Houston Symphony in concerts in Moscow as part of the Festival of the World's Symphony Orchestras. One program features the Symphony No. 11 by Shostakovich along with the Dr. Atomic Symphony by John Adams. The other Moscow concert includes Mozart's Symphony No. 38 "Prague" and Bruckner's Symphony No. 9.

Next week we'll feature Pt. 2 of my recent conversation with Hans Graf in which he talks about his successes and disappointments in Houston, and discusses details of next season.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Memoriam: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (May 28 1925 - May 18 2012)

With the passing of the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the music world has lost a true giant, arguably the most important exponent of the song literature in the second half of the 20th Century.  He had the exceptional ability to illuminate the song text, bringing the piece to life with his beautiful lyric baritone. The voice in its prime was a lovely instrument to be sure, but many other baritones had perhaps even more gorgeous voices. But none of them could equal the textual insight and nuanced interpretations of Fi-Di, as he was affectionately called. Despite the limitations of his instrument, Fischer-Dieskau ventured into the Verdi Baritone repertoire in roles such as Falstaff and Macbeth, with mixed success.  He is often cited as the most recorded singer in classical music history, a claim that has never been challenged. The general consensus is that he remains supreme in the art song.  To remember this great artist, here is Fi-Di singing the most sublime of the Ruckert-Lieder by Gustav Mahler - "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen." 

— Joseph K. So

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Does a Conductor Actually Do

We all know what conductors do; they wave their arms. We also believe that the arm-waving is somehow connected to what the orchestra does. The New York Times recently collaborated with the Movement Lab at NYU to see if a closer and more scientific connection could be demonstrated. Alan Gilbert, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, wore a special suit that allowed his movements to be captured by a computer and presented graphically on a screen. This video is all about that project.

Paul E. Robinson

Click here to see the video.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dutoit Leaves the Philadelphia Orchestra

After five seasons as principal conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and many more before that as a frequent guest conductor with the orchestra, Charles Dutoit is stepping down. He will preside over a residency in China coming up in the next few weeks but then he is gone. His successor is, of course, Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

Under Dutoit the orchestra has been dealing with major financial problems and even had to declare bankruptcy. It remains to be seen whether the board and the management and musicians can pull together to build for the future. Dutoit deserves credit, however, for maintaining the orchestra's artistic quality through this difficult period.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mahler's great song cycle Das Lied von der Erde

This coming Friday (May 15) marks the death of Gustav Mahler in 1911, exactly 101 years ago. Born on July 7, 1860 in eastern Bohemia, Mahler's work bridged the late 19th century Romantic tradition with the post-Romantic modernism of the early 20th century. He was known during his lifetime as an important conductor, with appointments in Vienna and the Metropolitan Opera no less.  His own compositions only gained popularity after WWII, especially throughout the 50's and 60's. He was at home in symphonic compositions as well as writing for the voice.  One of his most important song cycle was Das Lied von der Erde, with text from Hans Bethge's The Chinese Flute which in turn is a collection of translated Chinese poems by Li Bai and others. This cycle is a deeply emotional work that reflects Mahler's personal life at the time. Last time I featured this work on the video blog was the deeply moving Abschied.  This time, I have chosen the first song, Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde, sung usually by a dramatic tenor with an upper extension.  It's a song about the fleeting nature of youth, life, love, and friendship. Here is the late Ernst Haefliger in a famous recording from 1956.  Haefliger senior is the father of pianist Andreas Haefliger who has performed in Toronto a number of times. Ernst Haefliger's last appearance in Toronto I believe was several performances as Speaker in Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra about a dozen years ago.  This recording of Das Lied is 56 years old and it remains one of the best in the catalogue.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jochum Conducts Bruckner

Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) was one of the foremost Bruckner conductors of his generation. He recorded all the Bruckner symphonies for DG and then again for EMI. He was sometimes criticized for taking liberties with the tempi but no one ever doubted his commitment to the music nor his ability to give powerful performances. For some years he was music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich and in this video he leads this orchestra in an excerpt from the first movement of the Bruckner Seventh.

In my opinion the BRSO is one of the great orchestras of the world, and under Jochum and his successor Rafael Kubelik it played with a rich, golden sound and unique expressiveness.

I once had the opportunity to interview Jochum while he was touring the United States with the Bamberg Symphony. After a good deal of negotiation with management Jochum finally agreed to an interview during the grueling tour. But it would have to be done on a bus while conductor and orchestra travelled from New York to Lancaster, PA. That would have been fine except that what I wanted was an audio interview I could broadcast on radio in Toronto. It was an honour to spend a few hours alone with Maestro Jochum but what I got on my tape recorder was totally unuseable, unless one is particularly fond of the sound of an old diesel bus rattling through the Holland Tunnel.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

OSM's Paul Merkelo in Austin Texas

For the past 18 years Paul Merkelo has been the principal trumpet of the Orchestra symphonique de Montreal. He is also in great demand as a soloist and teacher. Several weeks ago he did both at the Butler School of Music, part of the University of Texas in Austin. In a busy few days he gave a master class and a recital as well as a number of private classes.

Merkelo was in Austin at the invitation of Ray Sasaki, the professor of trumpet at the school and Paul's first teacher back in Illinois. In our conversation we talk at length about trumpet teachers, trumpet sounds, and the evolving sound of the OSM under Dutoit and Nagano. The interview opens with shots of Maison symphonique, the OSM's new home, and the music is an unusual arrangement of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue as played by Paul at his recital in Austin. The arrangement is by the great Ukrainian trumpet virtuoso Timofei Dokshizer (1921-2005).

For more on Paul Merkelo and the Paul Merkelo Scholarship visit his website at

Paul E. Robinson


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Semele to China - documentary on the co-production of KT Wong Foundation and La Monnaie's Semele at the Beijing Music Festival 2010

One of the most anticipated event of the COC season is the staging of the "East Meets West" production of Handel's Semele in Toronto.  This production is directed by Chinese performance artist  Zhang Huan. The centerpiece is a 450 year old temple from the Ming Dynasty that he purchased and used as the principal set for the opera. It had its premiere at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels in 2009, subsequently travelling to the Beijing Music Festival in 2010, the first time a baroque opera was staged in China.  The rather risque direction was rather sensational for China.  Now it is coming to Toronto.  I attended a media event in late April when the press was given a preview of  the set, and it was impressive indeed.  Here is a mini documentary made of the production's visit to China in 2010, a tantalizing preview for the COC run that opens on May 9. 

Joseph K. So

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Kurt Masur Conducts Beethoven

The great German conductor Kurt Masur fell off the podium during a performance in Paris recently and suffered a serious injury. The latest word is that he suffered a fracture in his left shoulder blade and will be out of action until at least September. Masur is said to be suffering from Parkinson's disease and for the past several years he has appeared frail in his conducting appearances. He is now 85 but still maintains a very full schedule of guest conducting. A few months ago he was due to appear with the Boston Symphony in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis but cancelled at the last minute saying that he was not up to the demands of the piece. Masur was music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra between 1970 and 1996. This appointment overlapped with another one in North America. He headed the New York Philharmonic from 1991 until 2002. In our video made in 2009 he conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Beethoven's Egmont Overture. For more about Kurt Masur visit his website at Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Argerich Plays Liszt

Martha Argerich's talent has been one of the wonders of the world for several decades now. Over the years she has moved away from virtuoso showpieces toward collaboration with some of the greatest musicians of her time. But in this 1966 video we see the very young Argerich showing off in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. It is not the greatest music ever written but it requires a pianist with a fabulous technique to even attempt to play it. The final pages have to be seen and heard to be believed.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Anna Netrebko Sings "Songs My Mother Taught Me" by Antonin Dvorak

Today (May 1) marks the passing of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak in 1904.  Regarded as the greatest of all Czech composers, Dvorak's compositions are marked by its late-Romantic sensibilities, by the incorporation of traditional Bohemian folk elements, and most of all, by his uncommon melodic inspiration.  There is something moving and human about his music that touches the heart.  To remember this great composer, here is arguably his most famous song, "Songs my mother taught me", from his Gypsy Melodies, here sung by Russian soprano Anna Netrebko with the Prague Philharmonic conducted by Emmanuel Villaume. Musically, it is quite a simple song, without complicated modulations or key changes, but the beauty lies in its simplicity.  It is the kind of songs that once heard, never forgotten.

Joseph K. So

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