Today's Classical Music Video

Monday, February 24, 2014

Menuhin Competition Austin 2014

For the first time ever the Menuhin Violin Competition is being held this year in the United States. The current competition began last Friday in Austin, Texas and continues until Sunday, March 2. Forty-two young violinists from all over the world are competing for prizes and a chance to appear with the Cleveland Orchestra in the closing gala concert. I'll be blogging from the competition every few days. The first blog about the opening concert has already been posted on the LSM website.

Yehudi Menuhin (1916- 1999 ) was one of the great violinists of his time. At the age of eleven he played the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall. In 1932 he made a recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with the composer conducting. In addition to a major career as a soloist Menuhin took a strong interest in teaching. In the 1960s and 1970s he established the Yehudi Menuhin School in England and the Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, Switzerland. He founded the Menuhin Competition in 1983.

In this video Menuhin plays Beethoven's Sonata for Piano and Violin Op. 96 with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.

Paul E. Robinson

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Sid Caesar (1922-2014): In Memoriam

Like so many kids growing up in North America in the 1950s, my life was hugely enriched by Sid Caesar's comedy on television. He was a genius at what he did, and in my book there is greater gift than being able to make people laugh.

 Sid Caesar had a remarkable gift for sketch comedy, the kind of thing we celebrate today on "Saturday Night Live." While we are at it, let's not forget the contribution to this genre made by so many Canadian comic actors on SCTV. Caesar had a Chaplinesque talent for physical comedy. He had a rubber face, he could contort his body into the most amazing configurations, he was a master of double-talk, and he had energy - boy did he have energy. He also had some of the best comedy writers ever assembled including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon.

Unfortunately, his career as the leading comic of his day was short-lived. After ten or twelve glory years in the 1950s and early 1960s he was all but burned out. He was so addicted to painkillers and alcohol he could hardly function. From his late 30s into his 90s he lived mostly in obscurity, barely eking out a living. A sad story.

This old video (c. 1955) captures one of his classic routines. Caesar and Nanette Fabray argue to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The concept was brilliant but actually doing it was something else. As you watch you will see that each move from Caesar and Fabray has been carefully choreographed to fit the music; it is not simply angry faces and flailing arms. It is as precisely choreographed as any ballet, and perfectly executed. And all this on live television in the 1950s. Bravos too for the director and the camera operators for what they were able to do in these early days of television. If he did nothing else Sid Caesar would be remembered for this remarkable performance.

Paul E. Robinson


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Maria Schneider Wins Grammy

She is known mainly as a jazz composer and bandleader but she walked away with the Grammy in the category "Best Contemporary Classical Composition." Her name is Maria Schneider and she hails from Minnesota. And she is not to be confused with the actress of the same name who was Marlon Brando's love interest in "Last Tango in Paris."

Is Maria Schneider a "classical" composer? Perhaps the genre titles don't mean much. There is good music and there is bad music. Maria Schneider has spent most of her life in jazz and in jazz ensembles but she composes music that is ambitious and complex. And it is often beautiful and exciting. Anyone interested in music of quality ought to be interested in hearing what Maria Schneider has to say.

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bamberg Symphony New Year's Concerts - On Two Continents!

It is a sign of the times that symphony orchestras are seeking new audiences as never before - and finding them. Each year the great Cleveland Orchestra plays fewer concerts at home in Cleveland and more in places such as Miami, Vienna and Lucerne. In early March it will take part in the Menuhin Competition in Austin, Texas. The Philadelphia Orchestra is developing a residency in Beijing, and the New York Philharmonic a permanent presence in Shanghai.

What these new patterns have in common is a need for the orchestras involved to serve more people and balance their budgets. But it is significant too that many of these developments are only possible because of the recent explosion of classical music interest in China.

Another recent example is how the Bamberg Symphony celebrated the New Year earlier this month. Many orchestras follow the example of the Vienna Philharmonic and give concerts on New Year's Day but the Bamberg Symphony added a new dimension. It managed to celebrate the occasion in two places at once. With a small baroque contingent it gave a New Year's concert at home while the main body of the orchestra was in Beijing ringing in the New Year. By all accounts both concerts were a big success. Enjoy the video!

Paul E. Robinson