The Skaters Waltz

As Fred Child pointed out Friday on Performance Today, while the classical music chosen for many of the Olympic ice skaters was wonderful, the music got so chopped up it almost loses its meaning.

It’s hard to fit a 45-minute symphony into a 4 ½ minute program, but for me the skaters that used bona-fide classical music in their presentations really made an artistic statement – and I think it just might have given them the edge they needed to win.

I already wrote about Evan Lysacek skating to Stravinsky’s Firebird, and then he went on to win gold with selections from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Yu-Na Kim pulled off the highest score ever and dazzled us with the dazzling “Concerto in F” by Gershwin. The Canadian Ice Dancing pair skated to one of the most profound works in ALL classical music, Mahler’s “Adagietto” from his fifth Symphony.

Anne Midgette of the Washington Post has a lot to say on the matter. How do you feel?

I’ve listed the medal-winners below who used classical music and what those pieces were:

Pairs:

Gold: Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China used Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor in the free Skate

Silver: Pang Qing and Tong Jian skated to “The Impossible Dream” but then used Bizet in the short program, ‘Je crois entendre encore’ from “The Pearl Fishers”

Bronze: Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany started off with Stephen Sondheim and ended with film music by John Barry from “Out of Africa.”

Men’s

Gold: Evan Lysacek blew me away skating to Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ and Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’

Silver: Evgeni Plushenko skated to the slow movement from Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” in his first place short program.

Bronze: Couldn’t keep my eyes off Takahashi Daisuke skating to ‘La Strada’ by Nino Rota in the free skate.

Ice Dancing:

Gold: Canada’s Tess Virtue and Scott Moir were so elegant in a flamenco dance played by Pepe Romero but brought us to tears with Mahler’s’ Adagietto’ from the Fifth Symphony.

Silver: Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States used selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” for the free skate.

Women’s:

Gold: Kim Yu-Na of Korea started out with music from James Bond, but then classed up with a Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F for her free skate.

Silver: Japan’s Mao Asada skated her short program to selections from Khachaturian’s “Masquerade” and later Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in c#, also known as “The Bells of Moscow”.

Bronze: Joannie Rochette of Canada skated an emotional free skate to selections from Camille Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah,”including the “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” and the “Bacchanale.”

Mr. Kraus Goes to Sweden

Joseph Martin Kraus made his way from Germany to Sweden when he was 21, desperately trying to get the attention of the music-loving King Gustav. Kraus lived in extreme poverty during his first three years in Stockholm, but eventually got his foot in the door and the King took notice. By 1781, Krauss had become Director of Sweden’s Royal Academy of Music. Many of his symphonies have been lost or attributed to other composers, but there’s an authentic Kraus symphony waiting for you late tonight (12:05am, Thursday) on Classical MPR. It’s an exclusive, Euro-Classic performance by the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, recorded live last June in Schwetzingen, Germany.

Our Saturday night (8:05pm) Euro-Classic returns to Germany (St. Kastor Basilica, Koblenz) where there’s gorgeous choral music: selections from Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, featuring the ensemble La Venexiana.

Bernstein on TV

Leonard Bernstein’s initial outings on TV are well-known–the famous image is of him and his musicians, standing on a huge blow-up of the score of Beethoven’s Fifth. But they haven’t been widely available on video till now. This New York Times article* recalls those golden days of television.

(Check out the video clip of Bernstein the vocalist, doing lines from “Macbeth” in the style of a blues.)

*Registration required

Piano recall?!

A Japanes piano-maker has recalled 30,000 pianos due to a problem with pedal sticking, causing pianists to play faster than they normally would, resulting in a dangerous number of accidentals.

Bah-dum- chhhh

(Thanks to Michael Barone for making me laugh this morning)

Skating to Stravinsky

I’m an Olympics junkie – and maybe even more – a skating junkie.

So I was blown away by American skater Evan Lysacek’s short program accompanied by a highly-condensed version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird.”

The video is here – it’s AMAZING!

It’s true the music was written to dance to – but what was required by this athlete was to communicate that he understood the music – its structure, its surprise, its depth.

The music might threaten to be too big and overwhelming and Evan’s triple lutz and triple toe loop combinations would end up being like so much baggage attached to something more meaningful than merely a sport.

Lysacek’s ability to “get” the music and internalize it physically enhanced his performance for me – it was truly a wonder and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do tonight.

He’s currently in second place by a just a smidgen.

50 Great Voices

You might just remember that at the end of last year, NPR was soliciting ideas on singers–the greatest, the most distinctive, the most important, etc.–which they would then boil down to a list of 50, to be presented on the air.

Those 50 great voices are now being rolled out, and the choices so far include one very well-known opera singer.

There’s a member drive going on–thanks to all of our contributors!

Late Night Classical – Palestrina

Giovanni Palestrina became famous through his incredible output of sacred music – his masses alone (or at least most of them) appeared in 13 volumes printed between 1554 and 1601. Stay up late tonight with Classical MPR (12:05am, Thursday) to hear the Swiss Radio Choir in an exclusive performance, recorded live last October in the Pauline Chapel of Quirinale Palace, Rome. They’ll sing Palestrina’s Missa Gabriel Archangelus, tonight’s Euro Classic.

Another Euro Classic awaits Saturday night (8:05pm), when pianist Andras Schiff, violinist Yuuko Shiokawa and cellist Miklos Perenyi perform Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 31.

Tenor Fail

Thanks to Jeff Esworthy for passing along this audio clip, which brightened my day immeasurably! Perhaps we show our humanity at its best when making glorious mistakes like this one. No pussyfooting, just go for the high note:

And to hear how it’s really done, here’s Luciano; the moment is about 1:10 in:

The Connecting Power of Music

For today’s entry, I’m passing on an email from Michael Barone. The piece described sets the words of Abraham Lincoln to music, and you can hear it in its entirety on Thursday in the 11 p.m. hour, as part of The New Releases.

Wednesday’s mail contained a new CD featuring a timely piece of beautiful new music, Michael Daugherty’s “Letters from Lincoln,” a live-concert recording with the Spokane Symphony. Thomas Hampson is the perfect soloist — involved, intelligent, intelligible — and Daugherty’s score is touching and thoughtful.

In the “small world” department (and small print, too), I was reading the CD’s album credits and noticed mention of the Bruce Ferden Fund for New Music of the Spokane Symphony. Blast from the past! Way back, in my early days in Minnesota (1968-1972), Bruce was a brilliant student of Loris Tjeknavorian (himself a brilliant young conductor, at the beginning of a very colorful career) at Moorhead State University.

By happy coincidence, Bruce also was fast friends with the very musical (and attractive) middle daughter of a general practice physician in Sauk Centre, Dr. John C. Grant. Dr. Jack was one of MPR’s earliest members and sponsors. Jack also was an organ nut, had a small instrument in his house, and also built the pipe organ for the little Episcopal church in Sauk Centre where he played every Sunday. He and his wife Phyllis even put on a Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols Service at their little church (a la King’s College, this way before the broadcasts on MPR and nationwide). They had to do seven or eight “performances” to accommodate community interest, as the building could barely hold 120 people.

Anyway, because of my organ background and interest, Jack pulled me into the Grant family sphere early. Though I did not marry the doctor’s daughter, one of my MPR colleagues (Arthur Hoehn) did marry the elder Grant sister, and I played for their wedding. Bruce Ferden also was a regular at the many round-table discussions during holiday gatherings at the Grants’ home (there was more musical talk going on there than in Bruce’s home town of Fosston). Later, I watched with delight and amazement from the sidelines as Bruce evolved his career…and then in 1993 was shocked and saddened to learn that he had died of A.I.D.S. It seems like so long ago…and he was accomplishing so much.

Receiving the CD of Daugherty’s touching tribute to our historic President Lincoln today reminded me of these other wonderful people in my own history (Jack and Phyllis Grant, bless them, are also “history”), and it was very satisfying to see that Bruce Ferden’s memory is being kept alive through a commissioning program in Spokane where he was the symphony’s music director for six years.

It is a small world, and the power of music reaches into every corner.

–Michael Barone

Off to Norway for Roman Festivals

Stay up late tonight (12:05am, Thursday) with Classical MPR for a performance of Respighi’s Roman Festivals, the final part of his spectacular trilogy of symphonic poems celebrating the Eternal City. Respighi wanted this piece to be big, bold and stand out from the crowd. So it’s off to Olav Hall in Trondheim for a performance recorded live last September with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and conductor Josep Caballe-Domenech.

Saturday night (just after 8pm), Classical MPR heads to Madrid for a performance of the Bizet Symphony in C featuring the RTVE Symphony Orchestra and conductor Adrian Leaper,

The exclusive Euro-Classic concerts are heard twice-weekly on Classical MPR.