The World of the Film Composer

Some artists can be patient with a new piece, and let it take its own form in its own time. But the film composer is not one of them.

“You don’t wait for the muse to hit you,” says the composer of the scores for two very different recent films. “It’s music to order. A certain discipline and knowledge is required.”

Get a bigger glimpse into Harry Gregson-Williams’s world (and find out how he developed that discipline) in this profile.

We're #5!

Minneapolis has ranked in the top-five of the nation’s rudest drivers, according to a study just out. We out road-raged notoriously congested cities like Miami and Houston for laying on the horn, using obscene gestures, blabbing on our cell-phones and basically driving way too fast. New York came in first and the unlikely laid-back San Diego hit the top-ten for the first time.

So, if traffic’s down and one could take their Ferrari as fast as it might go, it might sound a bit like this.

R I P Betty Allen

Betty Allen was a noted mezzo-soprano who worked with the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Virgil Thomson. She died at 82 earlier in the week.

Her obituary came out today–overshadowed, of course.

That was somewhat the story of her career–“I’m not a household name,” as she admitted. But it was a fascinating career: from a grim childhood, to the inner circles of the Manhattan arts world. Check out this interview (unfortunately with mixed-up photos) and the New York Times obituary (registration required).

Truly Ancient Music

Archeologists working in southern Germany have turned up a bone flute that is probably 35,000 years old. That makes it the oldest musical instrument yet discovered.

Interestingly, they also found a female figurine carved from ivory in the same layer of sediment as the flute–perhaps the oldest known sculpture of the human form. One expert said, “It shows that from the moment that modern humans enter Europe … it is as modern in terms of material culture as it can get.” Read more about it (and see pictures) here.

Maybe soon they’ll find the ancient wine glasses and cheese trays used at the opening night reception…

Do you participate in the arts?

Are you a photographer? Do you go to salsa concerts? Are you attending more operas than a few years ago, or not as many?

All these ways of participating in the arts, and more, have been surveyed by the National Endowment for the Arts, and the results are out.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that 3 percent of the adult population performs or creates classical music–I might not have guessed that high. Photography, to answer that question, is getting more popular. And there have been some other statistical upticks in the past couple years.

So there’s some positive news. But that’s against a larger backdrop of aging audiences and what they’re calling “a persistent pattern of decline.” See the whole report here.

Hold your applause

Sitting quietly throughout a multi-movement work and waiting until the end to applaud (or scream “bravo!”) is a relatively recent phenomenon. Music was used more as an accompaniment to an event than the event itself, so clapping, talking, even milling about might have been commonplace before the Romantic era.

But not everyone knows the “rules” as Anne Midget points out in her final report to the Washington Post from the National Symphony Orchestra’s tour in China. Even in Beijing, as it turns out, people need to be reminded to hold their applause until the end.

NY Phil Puts Its Stats Online

Did Antonin Dvorak ever perform with the New York Philharmonic? (Yes.)

How many times has violinist Joshua Bell performed with them? (28 performances of 11 different programs.)

How did the orchestra respond to the assassination of President Lincoln? (They played the “Funeral March” from Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, and left the “Ode to Joy” off of his 9th.)

How do I know all of this? Because they put it all online. The curious can explore a searchable database of every NY Phil concert since 1842. Read more about it here (registration required). Play with it here.

Inspiration Close to Home

One of the real joys of being a classical host is the little discoveries you make along the way. I’ve biked countless times to Minnehaha Falls, but until last week I didn’t realize it played a significant role in some music by Antonin Dvorak.

Here’s what I discovered:

116 years ago, Antonin Dvorak visited Minneapolis, and he was inspired by Minnehaha Falls and a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which immortalized the story of Hiawatha and Minnehaha. At the time, Dvorak was contemplating an opera based on that very subject, so he used the cuff of his shirt to sketch a melody which would become the theme for the second movement of his Sonatina in G.