Posts Tagged ‘Bach’

top 10 classical composers?

February 2, 2011

Who are the top ten classical composers – ever?

We all have our own lists, cultivated and groomed and backed up by reasons that are equally solid. It can be a quite a bit more challenging to describe why a big name composer didn’t make it onto your list.

Today’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook featured a conversation with Anthony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic for the New York Times, talking about his top ten list. Why no Tchaikovsky, or Vivaldi or Chopin? Tommasini has sound reasons for his decision on those names, and he talks a lot about that in the show. Not every caller on the show seemed convinced.

This is actually a question that was passed around among my fellow classical hosts and aficionados at Vermont Public Radio couple of weeks ago, when Tommasini’s article first appeared in the Times. There was general concensus on Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Most of also chose Wagner. After that – the lists included everyone from Chopin and Liszt to Projofiev, Haydn, Bartok and Mahler.

Who’s on your top ten list?

Here’s Tommasini’s:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

2. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 91)

4. Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)

5. Claude Achille Debussy (1862 – 1918)

6. Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)

7. Johannes Brahms (1833 – 97)

8. Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)

9. Richard Wagner (1813 – 83)

10. Bela Bartok (1881 – 1945)

And here’s my list, in no special order:

– Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, Haydn, Wagner, Beethoven, Schubert (those SONGS!), Bartok, Mahler & Monteverdi.

If I could choose a top fifteen, I would add Shostakovich, Handel, Debussy, Brahms and Mendelssohn. It’s impossible to create such a small list on someting as subjective as music and not leave someone important out. If I had twenty or thirty to choose, I’d have no trouble doing that either! (Dvorak, Schumann, Verdi, Puccini … stop me now…)

Leave a comment here with yours, love to see your picks.

vyo fall concert

September 26, 2010

Geese flew over downtown Burlington late this afternoon. The season’s traditional “V”s and “half-Vs” were pushed along by the lone stragglers, flying behind and honking an impatient “wait up!” to their more prescient mates.

With autumn comes the start of the concert season…I guess. That’s a qualified statement because in Vermont, it doesn’t seem like there’s ever a NON-concert season. Summers are filled with festivals and intimate outdoor gatherings while the other three quarters of the year hold their own with recitals and informal get-togethers along with the regular season concert series at all of the area venues.

This fall’s two opening concerts with the Vermont Youth Orchestra were especially anticipated events as they also marked the debut of the Orchestra’s new conductor, Ronald Braunstein.

He’s offered a vision that includes a focus on core orchestral repertoire, and self-empowerment of the Orchestra’s young musicians through dedicated coaching and personalized training sessions. The approach seems to be working so far.

While the maestro stuck strictly to the music in today’s concert and didn’t offer any words of introduction to his new audience, the Orchestra spoke volumes in Dvořák’s colorful Op. 46 Slavonic Dance #8, Bach’s stately Air on the G String, Bernstein’s brilliant Overture from Westside Story, and – occupying the entire second half of the program – Beethoven’s regal Symphony #5.

I’ve never heard the VYO’s brass and winds sound better than they did today in the Bernstein and Beethoven (the final movement of the 5th was outstanding!). Principal cellist Joshua Morris’s solo pizzicato passage in the Westside Story Overture showed supreme musicianship, as did the clarinet/bassoon tradeoffs in the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 5th, and many percussion moments throughout the entire concert. Bach’s familiar Air was glassy and serene (if not memorably interesting), while Dvořák’s potent Slavonic Dance delivered satisfying syncopation of  joyful abandon and metered precision.

This “concert season” is off to a great start!

elasticity

September 25, 2010

Ronald Braunstein and me

I wasn’t sure what to expect this past Thursday morning.

Ronald Braunstein, the new permanent conductor of the Vermont Youth Orchestra, was due in the VPR Classical studio at 9 to talk with me on the air about his new job with the Orchestra. In the conversation we’d had a week earlier in his sunny office at the VYO building, I couldn’t get a good read on him at all. When I arrived that day I found him standing in the office lobby, in conversation with a young man who may have been an Orchestra member. Ronald greeted me, but he seemed distracted. Had I interrupted his conversation? Did he need to get back to that before the two of us talked? I said, “I hope I haven’t interrupted – do you have time?”  He glanced at his wrist, and still with a very serious face he looked me in the eye: “yes, it’s 2 o’clock!” Good news, he has a sense of humor!

And our time together that afternoon ended as it had begun. After an hour or so of intense discussion that ranged from conducting technique to contemporary music and art, and Braunstein’s personal history – I was on the way out of his office when he said “that’ll be 50 cents.” I must have looked puzzled. “For the pomegranate juice,” he explained, deadpan, pointing at the now empty glass he had brought to me earlier. (Um, OK…)  I gave him my best ‘indignant diva’ voice: “I don’t PAY for interviews!” and we both had a good laugh.

This Thursday morning, we were scheduled to bring that conversation to the air on VPR Classical. Would his understated sense of humor come through in an interview setting? Would mine? And how could we get at those personal details that make his life such an interesting story, without making this private, quiet man audibly uncomfortable on the air? Or worse yet, make him want to discontinue the discussion. No need to worry, I soon found out. The conversation we’d had a week earlier had apparently gone some way to break the ice and he was ready to talk when he got to the studio.

Braunstein is 55, he came to Vermont from (most recently) New York City after a career that included studies at Juilliard, teaching at the Mannes School of Music, and studies with some big names in 20th century music: Herbert Von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Elliot Carter and Milton Babbitt. So, why Vermont? And with credentials like that, why take a position with a Youth Orchestra? “Well first of all it was the Orchestra’s incredible reputation, I’d heard about them for years. And I always wanted to go somewhere beautiful, to be the music director. It never quite worked out, I was always in places like Houston or other places that were not so green or not so nice to live.  And the other thing that was really interesting to me was that it was not connected, it was free-standing. It didn’t have any connections to any other institutions, and therefore to be the music director there I could really use my creative opinions, my philosophies and  what not to shape and guide the organization.”

Here’s something you didn’t hear if you listened in to our conversation on Thursday morning: the recording I chose to fill out the rest of the hour was the electrifying 1962 classic of Beethoven’s 5th, with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. At the downbeat of the first iconic opening notes, Ronald asked off-air, “wait – which recording IS this?” I said, “there IS only one,” and handed him the CD jewel case. For the next half hour we listened to that magnificent recording together, Ronald occasionally sharing von Karajan anecdotes and leaning in excitedly and pausing to say “listen to that!”. I’d turn up the volume, and then he would go on to point out some masterly nuance: von Karajan’s omission of the repeat in the first movement; the bassoon sixteenth notes that quietly act as the engine in the third movement; the dotted eighth notes of the celli that support the second movement; and the heroic horn entrance in the fourth. I had never listened to a piece of music before with a conductor. And I will never be able to hear to Beethoven’s 5th again now that I’ve had that special experience.

One of the best stories Ronald told was a recollection of Herbert Von Karajan’s reaction to the first time he observed the younger conductor in a performance of Beethoven’s 5th. (Imagine Ronald speaking in the elder master’s thick German accent here –) “”I have one thing to tell you,” von Karajan said, “you don’t know this piece.” I just shook my head, trying to imagine what it would be like to have a comment like that aimed my way as a young musician. It could be devastating. For Ronald it was a challenge. He smiled, “Yah, well I do NOW! And I’m younger than he was!”

Maestro Braunstein makes his debut with the Vermont Youth Orchestra in two concerts this weekend. The first took place last night in St. Albans, and the next one is tomorrow at 3 at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Arts. Keep a close eye on his conducting gestures, Braunstein often talks about “elasticity” being one of the guiding principles of his journey through music. I wonder how that will translate to his time on the podium, and his interpretation of the classics they’ll be playing like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, and Bach’s Air on the G String?

Oh – and don’t look for a score on his music stand, he doesn’t use one. In fact there won’t be a music stand at all. The reason why goes a long way toward giving some insight on the relationship he plans to have with this motivated, exceedingly talented group of young musicians:  “I don’t want anything between me and the Orchestra.”

heard on the radio

December 11, 2009

A couple of interesting music stories in the news this week:

::  Recreating the harpsichord/viola , a hybrid instrument of Leonardo DaVinci’s design from 1488. (Yes, but now what will we do with all the jokes for SOLO viola?)

::  And, from On Point with Tom Ashbrook, a discussion with author Eric Siblin about the enduring mystery and allure of Bach’s Cello Suites.

throw a stone, you can’t miss

October 12, 2009
On Church Street

Last week on Burlington's Church Street

The thing about music in Vermont is that it’s everywhere.

Same with poetry, visual and performance art, and literary and learning events of one kind or another.

On a recent September Monday I reviewed the evening’s options and realized within an hour’s drive I could participate in an equinox stargazing party at a local library, see an internationally-recorgnized author speaking on worldwide food production, hear a piano trio performing Beethoven, or attend a reading of Robert Frost’s autumnal poetry.

Many days are like that.

Autumn’s already shaping up to be rich with offerings,  a few upcoming suggestions are below. You’ll notice most of these take place in Central/Northern Vermont. It’s because that’s where I live, and these are the ones I have the best chance of actually experiencing.

There are an equal number of  events and performances taking place in other areas of the state, so by all means look to your local arts/cultural scene and don’t just stop here!

Oct. 13, 8-10pm @ the Bluebird Tavern, Burlington: guitarist Jim Stout  and the Queen City Hot Club in an evening of gypsy jazz and gourmet cuisine. A fabulous combination.

Oct. 20 @ the Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College: Indian classical musicians, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar

Oct. 23 @ the UVM recital hall (part of the Lane Series): German keyboardist Andraes Staier, whose Bach will make you wonder how you ever listened to that music before Staier came along.

Oct. 23-Nov. 1 @ Palace Nine Theatre, South Burlington: the Vermont International Film Festival

through Oct. 25 @ the Shelburne Museum: Nature by Design, an exhibit highlighting Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Art Nouveau creations

through Oct. 25 @ the FlynnSpace in Burlington: Opus – a play about what happens as a string quartet prepares for their highest profile performance ever, as the group’s personal dynamics create as much tension as there is on any violin’s bridge.

Oct. 25 @ Langdon Street Cafe in Montpelier: local blues man Dave Keller hosts a tribute to blues legend Koko Taylor

through Oct. 29 @ Club Metronome, Burlington: New Orleans’ own trombone funk band, Bonerama as the artists-in residence Thursday evenings through October

Oct. 30 @ the Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College: the Ying Quartet in the final concert of their weeklong residency

all month (October) long @ the Black Door, Montpelier: pick a night, any night

Nov. 1 on the Flynn Main Stage: the extraordinary jazz/blues singer Dee Dee Bridgewater in a tribute program to Billie Holiday

Oct. 13-Nov. 25 @ the Fleming Museum: (exhibit) Cuban Artists’ Books and Prints, 1985-2008

the whole season at Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph: especially noting pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s Vermont return with an all-Bach program on January 23


vermont mozart festival @ the radiator, event #2

July 27, 2009
7/27/09 - Jennifer Grim

7/27/09 - Jennifer Grim

World of Music is taking a short summer break, we’ll be back in business later in August with a fresh collection of tunes from every corner, with the usual unusual assortment of  jazz, poetry, blues and world sounds.

‘Til then, “Mondays with Mozart” on The Radiator feature visiting performers from the annual Vermont Mozart Festival. Last week we talked with oboist Marc Schachman. This week the spotlight turned to another veteran wind player, the Festival’s principal flutist Jennifer Grim. (Next week we’ll complete the trio with bassoonist Andrew Schwartz.)

At the start of the conversation she remarked that it’s especially nice to come back to New England to work with the Festival now that she’s moved away. I wasn’t sure quite how to take that, but she quickly explained herself. As an associate professor at UNLV (“a place where they still look forward to rain”, noted Exec. Director Tim Riddle), Dr. Grim’s landscape has changed much since she moved from New York City to Las Vegas. Summers in Vermont, rainy or not, are a welcome change of scenery.

Change of pace? Well, probably that too, but maybe not in the expected way. With around 10 concerts in the three weeks of the Festival (and no repeated programs!), the schedule is demanding, performers are chosen for their deep experience with a wide variety of repertoire, and precious rehearsal time is spent “coming to a concensus about dynamic and tempo markings,” Grim said, “we don’t have time to spend hours discussing it.”

As the studio’s temperature and humidity escalated in the late afternoon sun, the audience questions dwindled and Grim offered to play a Bach Partita. It was elegant and lovely – light, while the day hung heavy and hot. She performed standing. Sort of. The lilting Partita was accompanied by Grim gracefully and naturally moving with the music: raising up on her toes in the high register, leaning in (as if listening, or encouraging listening) to the pianissimo passages, and dipping and swaying to dig into the arpeggios.

Executive Director Tim Riddle and Jennifer Grim

VT Mozart Festival Executive Director Tim Riddle and Jennifer Grim

“Do you have training as a dancer?” asked one audience member in the short followup q & a after the performance “Yes, I do,” Grim admitted shyly, “I took ballet lessons from four years old to college.” Though she also confessed that it often took observers to let her know afterward she’d been moving with the music she was playing.

Along with the work she does in the full Festival Orchestra, Grim often takes on solo or ensemble work over the course of the summer’s programs. Like the all-Bach and Prokofiev concert coming up on the 31st. She’ll be seated for that performance, I’m guessing, but that won’t keep you from enjoying the dancing lightheartedness she brings to her music.

Listen to the final “Mondays with Mozart” event next week, starting at 3pm. It’s 105.9FM in Burlington, VT or online at The Radiator.


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