Does Osmo Vänskä have a sense of humor? Was Sibelius Finnish?

Finally, Osmo Vänskä has broken his silence and given a full, on-the-record interview about his relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra. Of course, he didn’t answer every single question the interviewer had: Vänskä declined to comment when asked, quite explicitly, whether returning to serve as a guest conductor with the orchestra would be like sex with an ex.

Vänskä’s interlocutor, in a video interview just published on YouTube, is Nick Cannellakis, a cellist who satirically “interviews” the likes of Leon Fleisher; the Emerson String Quartet; and David Finckel and Wu Han.

In his interview with Vänskä, Cannellakis ascertains whether “Osmo” is short for anything (it’s not) and confirms that Sibelius wasn’t actually Norwegian.

Vänskä: “Don’t try to tell me that he wasn’t Finnish.”

Cannellakis: “He wasn’t finished with what?”

Minnesota Chorale Rises!

splash-portrait-a.jpg

I strongly encourage everyone to read Chorus America‘s great feature on our own Minnesota Chorale! See the article below.


(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1”; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Feb. 25 to Mar. 4

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Rikka Dick, elementary school music teacher at Pine Island Public School.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Work coach Jim Early.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Rikka Dick, elementary school music teacher at Pine Island Public School.

Tuesday, 8 pm: Minnesota Opera: Doubt, by Douglas Cuomo.

Wednesday, 7 pm: Carnegie Hall Live: The Vienna Philharmonic.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Mendelssohn, from the Alexandria Festival of the Lakes.

Thursday, 8 pm: The American Spiritual Ensemble, recorded live in St. Paul.

Friday, 8 pm: Carnegie Hall Live: The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Saturday, 11 am: Metropolitan Opera: Borodin’s Prince Igor.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Wonder Woman Wilma.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Jukka-Pekka Saraste leads the WDR Symphony Orchestra.

Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Haydn: The Seasons.

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Educator and graphic artist Tim Sheie.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight.

Crush the Choral Geeks Quiz

Fellow Choral Geeks,

I hereby challenge you with this mini version of quiz that will be released during Classical MPR’s Choral Month. After you finish the quiz, I invite you to LIKE our Choral Music from Classical MPR Facebook page to learn more about upcoming events and exciting choral initiatives. Don’t forget to SHARE! 

(Note, the quiz requires Adobe Flash, so most mobile devices will be unable to participate this time. We’ll work on bringing a more accessible quiz next time.) 

Click on Classical: Slighted scores, a classical workout, and brutal honesty

Hunger Games 2.jpg

Every Monday morning at about 9:15, I’ll be joining John Birge on Classical MPR to discuss some of the fun and fascinating stories we’re featuring on our site. Three stories we’ll be talking about this morning:

• Five film scores were nominated for Oscars this year–which leaves hundreds more that didn’t make the cut. What were the best scores that the Academy failed to recognize this year? Garrett Tiedemann lists 11 worthy contenders, including a score with wall-to-wall marching band (Randy Newman’s Monsters University); a score composed by the film’s writer, director, and star (Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color); and the score to one of the year’s biggest hits (James Newton Howard’s Hunger Games: Catching Fire​).

• Gwen Hoberg plays french horn with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, which means she needs to practice…but she also has errands to run, calls to make, and computer updates to install. She decided to keep a practice journal to help herself stay on task…read excerpts from her “brutally honest” practice journal, which she calls “an experiment in accountability.”

• Gwen also likes to work out, and she has a list of classical music that she likes to listen to while she sweats. She shared it with her friend Jason, who cued the music up while he pumped iron. Among the selections: Holst’s Mars, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, and Storm from Britten’s Four Sea Interludes​.

Blogging the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection: Symphonies 2 & 3

Photo: Symphony Hall, Boston (Wikipedia Commons)

Symphony Hall 2.jpg

As I moved on to the third side of the first volume of the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection–the final movement of the second symphony, and the Leonore Overture, with the third symphony beginning on side four–I decided to research the set. Here’s what I learned: though the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection might have been a fine investment in timeless music for the subscribers who purchased it via mail-order in the early 70s, it wasn’t a very sound investment on financial terms.

The exact cost is a little blurry in the contemporary advertisements I’ve found online, but it looks like subscribers paid in the vicinity of $15 per volume, including shipping and handling. That translates to north of $1,000 in 2014 dollars for the complete set. It won’t cost you that much to get your hands on a copy of the collection today, though: a couple of hopeful souls are asking $125 on eBay, and finding no buyers. People seem only vaguely interested when the price drops to $50 for all 85 records.

That’s further evidence of how the vinyl resurgence hasn’t hit the classical world the way it’s hit the indie-rock world, but even classical vinyl buffs aren’t very interested in this set. There’s a lot of Beethoven out there, and the few people looking for vintage records of these performances would prefer to buy the original releases rather than the reissues in the Time Life set, which are regarded as being lower-quality pressings.

What this all means is that there are a lot of people like me out there: owners of a very impressive-looking but not particularly valuable collection of Beethoven recordings.

It does look impressive there on the shelf, and of course there’s no composer more likely to impress the casual visitor than the mighty Beethoven. By his bicentennial, Beethoven had become regarded as the quintessential composer: the musical linchpin between the classical and romantic eras, with a poignant and inspirational personal story.

It’s telling that in 1900, just as “classical music” was coalescing as a field, Boston’s Symphony Hall was built with a single name adorning the medallion at the summit of its proscenium: BEETHOVEN. The German composer didn’t just epitomize classical music, he virtually defined it. His (literal) position in the firmament is all the more striking given that he’d only been dead for 73 years–the builders of Symphony Hall were only as distant from Beethoven as we are from Jelly Roll Morton.

So, naturally, if you were looking to trick out your record collection circa 1970 with an impressive set of music by one composer, it would have to be Beethoven. A few hundred 1970s dollars–payable in 17 easy installments–must have seemed like a very small price to pay for 85 sleek black discs of genius incarnate.

Previously in Blogging the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection: Symphonies 1 & 2

Does classical music make better ice? Sochi rink staff think so

Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP

sochi.jpg

Classical music has already–controversially–played a starring role in the Winter Olympics. Now it turns out that it’s apparently been crucial behind the scenes as well.

“We had classical playing here, so that the ice crystalizes in the proper hard manner, not rock music, not silence,” Sochi icekeeper Dimitri Grigoriev tells NPR. “We actually have Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing during certain stages of preparation.”

Even those who believe in stimulating pre-birth babies with Beethoven and playing Handel for houseplants might find that farfetched, but Grigoriev is convinced. “Noise creates vibration and during the freezing process of water, those vibrations influence the type of ice you get.”

NPR couldn’t find any scientific research to support Grigoriev’s claims, but Performance Today host Fred Child may have some anecdotal evidence to share.

“Ice cube consistency,” Fred quipped in an e-mail to MPR staff. “This is why I play Mozart in my freezer.”

Choral CD Chronicles: Vol. 1 – Lorelei Ensemble Was The Best Valentine's Day Present EVER

lorelei composite cropped.png

On Valentine’s Day I decided to attend a choral concert with friends (I know, I know…this reeks of total choral geekery). I must admit, after hearing the Lorelei Ensemble absolutely nail Steve Reich’s Know What is Above You, I knew I made the right decision. I was going to sit at home, watch West Wing re-runs, cook a steak and call it a night. Instead, I got treated to a night of exhilarating music. This group of extraordinarily gifted women sing with such precision and passion that I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by their performance. Like a true choral nerd, I went home and bought their CD, Live. Know. Love. (BTW, brilliantly plugged on their part during the concert) and started my jam session.

First track I checked out was David Lang’s I Live in Pain. They nailed this piece in the live performance and of course, the track on the CD was even hotter. Instead of skipping back to the beginning of the disc, I closed my eyes and I let it run…rolling the dice a bit, hoping for the best. After 25+ minutes of aural ecstasy, I found myself wanting more. They deliver eerie, breathtaking performances on every track; locking and spinning intricately woven dissonance with masterful intonation and grand artistry. This group gets my REAL DEAL stamp of approval! 

If you don’t believe the hype, just check out these recordings (Concert Highlights):

This is definitely a CD worth checking out!

Blogging the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection: Symphonies 1 & 2

Beethoven Bicentennial Collection 2.jpg

Placing the record on the turntable, I did my best to channel Steve Staruch. “And now,” I said, “the Symphony No. 1, in C major. The Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan.”

I lifted the needle. The record refused to spin. I realized my omission.

“After I plug this in,” I clarified, “we will hear the Symphony No. 1, in C major.”

I plugged the turntable into the outlet strip and again lifted the needle. The turntable spun, but the auto-return kicked in and returned the arm to its cradle.

“Pardon me,” I said, lifting the arm yet again. “Now, we will indeed hear the Symphony No…”

“Jay!” exclaimed my exasperated girlfriend. I nodded silently and dropped the needle.

The record is the first of 85 that constitute the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection, a massive collection issued by Deutsche Grammophon and Time Life to commemorate the composer’s 200th birthday, in 1970. The records were recently given to me by my father, who still owns a turntable but typically prefers to listen to his computer or iPod.

From my earliest childhood I remember the set, the behemoth of my father’s record collection. Resplendent in pristine blue slipcovers, the records were a physical manifestation of the cultural weight of classical music generally, and Beethoven specifically. Even the Beatles and Bob Dylan had tiny amounts of shelf space compared to the stormy German composer.

The set was rarely played; my father appreciates classical music, but on an average day is more likely to reach for the Bee Gees than Beethoven. Many of the records in his Beethoven set–perhaps even most of them–have never so much as been touched by a needle in their 40-plus years of existence.

Since before the term “bucket list” was a thing, it’s been on my bucket list to listen to the entirety of the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection. With Beethoven’s sestercentennial coming up in six years, I figure that if I start now, I can proceed at a nice leisurely pace and still wrap up right around his 250th birthday on December 16, 2020.

To hold myself to it, I’m going to blog about it: one post for each two sides in the set. (That would be one post for each record, but the sides are pressed for multi-record changers, so side one of a five-disc set is pressed on the flip side of side ten, side two with side nine, and so on.) As I listen, I’ll blog about Beethoven, yes–but also about anything and everything else that occurs to me as I listen.

For those listening along at home, the first five-record set is part one of two sets of symphonies and overtures. Symphony No. 1 fits tidily on the first side of the first set, and the second side contains the first three of the second symphony’s four movements. Why does the set start with the symphonies? That’s a subject for my next post.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Feb. 18 to 25

Tuesday, 7:30 am: School Spotlight: MMEA All-State Symphonic Band conducted by James Spinazzola

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: PhD candidate Katie Sisneros.

Tuesday, 7:30 pm: School Spotlight: MMEA All-State Symphonic Band conducted by James Spinazzola.

Wednesday, 7:30 am: School Spotlight: MMEA All-State Men’s Choir conducted by Lee Nelson and Women’s Choir directed by Sandra Peter.

Wednesday, 7:30 pm: School Spotlight: MMEA All-State Men’s Choir conducted by Lee Nelson and Women’s Choir directed by Sandra Peter.

Thursday, 7:30 am: School Spotlight: MMEA All-State Concert Band conducted by Captain Michelle Rakers.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Mozart, from the Alexandria Festival of the Lakes.

Thursday, 7:30 pm: School Spotlight: MMEA All-State Concert Band conducted by Captain Michelle Rakers.

Friday, 7:30 am: School Spotlight MMEA All-State Mixed Choir conducted by Jo-Michael Scheibe.

Friday, 7:30 pm: School Spotlight: MMEA All-State Mixed Choir conducted by Jo-Michael Scheibe.

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Michael Christie conducts; Daniil Trifonov is guest soloist.

Saturday, noon: Metropolitan Opera: Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: In the Spotlight.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Kagel, Ives, Piston and Rorem.

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Rikka Dick, elementary school music teacher at Pine Island Public School.

Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Work coach Jim Early.

Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Rikka Dick, elementary school music teacher at Pine Island Public School.

Tuesday, 8 pm: Minnesota Opera: Doubt, by Douglas Cuomo.