Oh say can you see…

The New York Times reports that Cynthia Phelps, principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, will perform the national anthem on her viola before the Padres/Astros game at Petco Park in San Diego this Wednesday.

Somewhere in this story, there’s a great new viola joke waiting to be born, and added to the vast heritage of viola jokes.

So here’s where you come in. Come up with a good viola joke involving a baseball game and/or the national anthem (Roseanne Barr references optional), and click on our comments link below to share with the group. Go nuts widdit.

Menlo: noisy world

There’s a pretty good chance that if you’re reading a classical music blog, you have yet to experience the phenomenon of Aly & AJ. (If you’re a parent of a girl 6-16 years old, all you need to do to get up to speed is ask your daughter.) For the newcomers, Aly & AJ are 16-year-old California pop-rockers. Tall, slim, blonde twin sisters who write songs in their bedroom, a couple years ago they made it very big. Your 6-16 year-old girl wants to be Aly or AJ. Heck, I wouldn’t mind being Aly or AJ.

My two daughters are frantic fans and their most outlandish dream came true last week when they called a San Francisco radio station and won four tickets to a concert, the first time anyone in our house has ever won anything by calling a radio station. They even got backstage passes. When she heard she’d won, my nine-year-old let out a scream that I felt in my eyeballs. She and her little sister then jumped on the bed and pretended to faint.

So Friday night, my wife and I and two extremely excited little girls left the classical music Valhalla of Music@Menlo for an open-air theater south of town. We were surrounded by 5,000 other extremely excited little girls. Ours were wide-eyed at the fashions in the crowd and the mountains of speakers onstage. When Aly and AJ bounded on we were swamped by that same scream I’d heard the day before—times 5,000. Our daughters danced in the aisles to music that was peppy and loud and unintelligible. They tried to get me to dance and they screamed themselves hoarse. We had a blast. Backstage afterward, Aly and AJ were as nice as could be to my girls.

The next night I was back at Menlo for chamber music. As much as I love this stuff, I have to admit that I was ready to feel let down; after getting my ears pasted back by 60,000-watt speakers and feeling (if only for an evening) With It, Schubert was going to sound just a little antique, a little too polite.

But Wu Han and Jeffrey Kahane opened the concert playing Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor for Four Hands on a wide-open nine-foot Steinway and I have to tell you that that being 30 feet away from a world-class concert grand played by two such athletic pianists made an impression that Aly & AJ with all their watts could do well to contemplate. Schubert made the bigger impact. His Fantasy unrolls like a brooding and twisted story but interrupted by moments of hope… Wu Han and Kahane put me on the edge of my chair.

I know I’m in apples and oranges land here by comparing. But this is the way my mind has always worked, jostling experiences to make sense of a noisy world. Don’t you do the same? These two concerts were as different as they could be and I liked them both. But when I hear stories of pop music’s omnipotence and classical music’s irrelevance, it’s nice to road test the assumptions once in a while. On a northern-California weekend, classical did just fine, capturing at least one heart and mind to a depth that no other music can.

Listen to Music@Menlo concerts

Menlo: no one's anonymous

It was just a little side comment, but it opened up this whole festival for me. I was talking with Patrick Castillo, artistic administrator for Music@Menlo, and mentioning how much the Festival seems to have grown since I was here two years ago. Three weeks of concerts instead of two, over 100 volunteers instead of a few dozen, a burgeoning cadre of interns who want to learn festival-izing from these pros…Menlo is bigger than ever—oh, and every concert is immediately sold out. In the parlance of Silicon Valley (where Menlo’s nestled), all of this means that demand is ahead of supply, a metric the Valley learned the hard way a half-dozen or so years ago. So with growth all around you, Patrick, what

As Seen on TV

Classical music fans show up all over the place, including the Twin Cities media world.

Any guesses who’s describing his/her musical tastes here?

As far as music goes. That’s extremely varied. I can’t list them all obviously, there are too many. I’m a HUGE classical music fan, and love anything with a french horn, organ, or strings. But I do really love almost all music. Classical takes up the majority of my space. Some of my favorite pieces are Mozart’s Requiem in D, and almost anything by Bach.

Your comments below, or go here for answer.

Menlo: Mozart festival heats up

You know those big industrial fans you can rent at Menards after your basement floods? I got to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church an hour before the first Menlo concert last night and three of those monsters were going full tilt in the church aisles. No floodwaters anywhere, just another day of heat that made page one of USA Today. The fans were trying to shove the heat outdoors as if it were a batch of unwelcome freeloaders who hadn’t bought tickets.

They did a good job and by eight the place was cooled down and every seat taken, as are all the seats for every single Menlo concert. Silicon Valley has been waiting a whole year for this.

The Festival’s subtitle this year is “Returning to Mozart” and most of the concerts are programmed along these lines: on the first half last night we heard Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, written in the horrible year of 1944. The cello starts all alone, high, strained, and utterly bereft—like an orphan crying in the back corner of some wartime cave. But after intermission, here came Mozart’s C Major Piano Sonata for Four Hands and his G Minor Piano Quartet. Especially the slow movement of the Quartet—it was a balm, as if someone had gone into that cave and picked the little one up and carried it into the sun.

That’s Menlo’s point this year, that Mozart’s humanity still helps our souls in a way that 200+ years haven

Menlo: close encounters

The 100+ heat broke at sunset, so the Festival’s first event was a sellout. This crowd is rabid for classical music and just as hungry for information about it. So guest lecturer Bruce Adolphe launched into the first of several talks that’ll take us into the world of Mozart, who turned 250 this year (had you heard?) and is a central focus of Menlo 2006. Bruce has as many hyphens as Bernstein: composer-pianist-broadcaster-educator-lecturer-impresario, and every week on NPR’s Performance Today he also plays a stump-the-audience game where he sits down at the piano and disguises a pop tune in the style of a famous classical composer. You can tell he adores having an audience in front of him, and if you picture a whip smart classical-music-loving Sid Caesar going deep into Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, you have a good idea of how I spent 90 minutes last night.

The audience laughed nearly the whole way through. But Bruce also had a serious and surprising point for most of us: Mozart’s music isn’t just grace and beautifully classical proportion all the time. Mozart has as much to do with a kind of ‘spoken’ music. Listen to it and you can hear a kind of everyday language turned into notes. A sentence here, a half-repetition of it there, an emphatic aside to make sure you got the point—all very human and approachable. A great set-up to hear the whole Quartet in tonight’s first Menlo concert.

Listen to previous years’ concerts

Music@Menlo

And we’re off! Music@Menlo gets underway tonight with the first of the Encounters, a multimedia lecture/presentation designed to open up the music we’ll hear tomorrow in Menlo’s first concert. It’s going to be very interesting to watch audience turnout this year. As my dad would’ve said coming in from the field in late July, It’s hotter’n heck out here. Up and down the Bay Area of California, communities are being walloped with heat they

There'll be viols in that village too

What John didn’t say in his post about the Vintage Band Festival is that there’s another gathering of old instrument enthusiasts going on in Northfield this week: the 44th Viola da Gamba Conclave.

In my dreams I hear the ophicleides and saxhorns heading toward the center of town from the east and gambas and braccios marching, Woody Allen-like, down St. Olaf Ave. from the west, converging in Bridge Square for an Ivesian, historically informed jam session.