Hugh Wolff in the News

Former SPCO music director Hugh Wolff has a new job. The New England Conservatory of Music has hired him to fill the newly created position of Director of Orchestras, with a mandate to revitalize the school’s orchestra program. See his job description here.

Perhaps not coincidentally, his new boss will be former Minnesota Orchestra president Tony Woodcock.

P.S. I recommend Hugh Wolff’s website. I read a lot of artist bios, and mostly they follow the same formula: “X is among the greatest [fill-in-the-blanks] of his/her generation, has played with [list of 15-20 prestigious orchestras and conductors] and has recorded x number of recordings …” In short, they don’t tell you anything about the person. Hugh Wolff’s bio, on the other hand, is a revealing first-person narrative that I enjoyed reading.

I'd Give the Andante a 5

How does an orchestra go about picking a new music director?

The Berkeley Symphony is currently engaged in just such a search, and one tool they’re using is an online audience survey. Audience members can rate guest conductors in categories such as quality of performance, podium presence, humor, and charisma.

(And some of the conductors will be very familiar to Minnesota audiences.)

"Popera" Backlash

In a recent article in The Telegraph, Dame Kiri te Kanawa minced no words on the subject of “popera” singers–those opera-lite crossover artists like Hayley Westenra who sell millions of CDs.

“They are all fake singers, they sing with microphones,” she said. About Hayley Westenra in particular, a fellow New Zealander, Dame Kiri said, “Have you heard Hayley? She’s not in my world. She has never been in it at all.”

A blogger named Steve Huff succinctly explains the different worlds Dame Kiri is talking about:

What bothers me most of the time is that opera is a visceral experience; a lot of what passes for “popera” lacks that gut-punch. If you don’t think opera-singing requires figurative cojones, let’s see how well you would do cloaked in 30-40 pounds of costume, three layers of makeup and a very uncomfortable wig, navigating a tilted or turning stage under shifting lights for the better part of three hours while still singing page upon page of music in a language other than your native tongue, at a volume that would normally be reserved for great anger or cheering at a ball game.

To hear the difference, check these videos of Dame Kiri and Hayley Westenra singing the same aria. (And don’t let Dame Kiri’s dress influence your decision.)

I agree with Dame Kiri and Steve Huff–but the fact remains that many people prefer the sound of popera, and those people may not be interested in seeing an actual opera.

What do you think?

Welcome, Bloggers

Before any more time passes–hello to two new classical bloggers: Gillian Martin, whose postings below have already elicited some very interesting comments, and Fred Child, who (over on the Performance Today page) is now bringing us Today’s Fredlines.

It’s also member time–thanks to all of our listeners and web visitors for your support!

Elgar Puzzles

It’s been out for a while, but I only just learned of this new solution for Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

I once heard a recording of Leonard Bernstein rehearsing the Enigma Variations. In his comments to the orchestra, he said something like, “Elgar….yes…large, regal Elgar. We could discuss him over a pint of lager.” You had to wonder if he came up with this impressive display of anagrams off the cuff, or if he had worked it up ahead of time. . . .

Music: Gift, or learned skill?

An article in yesterday’s New Scientist magazine states that “Yet more evidence has emerged that musicians are made through training, not born with the gift.” (See the article here.)

This assertion is based on brain scans that show that specific areas of a musician’s brain increase activity when the musician hears his/her own instrument.

“If the brain’s response to the music were decided by genetics, [the researchers] argue, brain scans would be similar in all musicians listening to music, regardless of the instruments played.”

I think it is undeniable that some people are more inherently musical than others. (For example, I only recently learned that some of my friends do NOT constantly have music playing in their heads.)

I also know that less-musically inclined people can become more musical with training and repeated exposures to music. But to suggest that musicians are made ONLY through training, not “born with the gift”? Ridiculous.

What do you think?

Composer/Page-Turner to the Stars

Minnesota composer David Evan Thomas has not one but TWO new works being performed this weekend:

–a cantata called Seasons of the Spirit, performed by Pastiche, a faculty ensemble at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University;

–and Lonely Hearts, an R-rated song cycle to poems by Wendy Cope.

Find DET’s full events calendar here.

DET is also the elegant gentleman who turns pages at the Schubert Club’s International Artist Series concerts and other prestigious venues. (At the Joshua Bell recital last weekend, he was definitely the best dressed person on stage!) He tells this story about a clothing-related incident at one concert:

One evening, Stephen Prutsman arrived wearing a black shirt without a tux, which he’d somehow forgotten. So he got my jacket, shirt & tie; I turned all black.

Read more of his anecdotes & observations about the art of page-turning here.

David Garrett: A Smashing Strad

Violinist David Garrett is young, handsome, and talented.

Some call him “the David Beckham of the violin.”

But his rising star took a tumble this week, when David Garret took a stumble.

After a concert at the Barbican Center, he tripped and fell.

He was unhurt, but the accident crushed his multi-million dollar Stradavarius violin.

David Garrett told the London Evening Standard: “People said it was as if I’d trodden on a banana skin. I fell down a flight of steps and on to the case. When I opened it, the violin was in pieces. It was like losing a friend.”

It’s not a total loss, but it will take 8 months and $100,000 to fix his fiddle.

Meanwhile, David Garrett will be back on stage at the Barbican for Valentine’s Day, playing another Stradavarius, on loan from a dealer.

Watch your step, David.

Meanwhile, read Brian Newhouse’s amazing, inspiring account of the graceful recovery of another violin great who took a spill on stage at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis: Itzhak Perlman.

And enjoy David Garret hitting his stride at the BBC Proms:

Car Parts Orchestra

Not all the big-buck, big-bang television commercials were on the Super Bowl last weekend.

Ford Motor Company of Europe is launching a 100-million dollar ad campaign featuring an orchestra playing instruments made from the parts of a Ford Focus, including a “clutch guitar” and “window harp”:

And if you like the Car Parts orchestra, you’ll love this Car Parts Choir:

But neither holds a candle to the Beer Bottle Orchestra!