Perhaps it’s like rolling out a new website, perhaps not … but how does it feel for a composer to hear a piece of music performed publicly for the first time? Daniel Nass, who’s a digital producer at Classical MPR, is also a composer. He recently premiered a piece in New York an original composition for flute, alto flute and cello. As the ensemble performed the work, Dan explains his feelings, which are always a combination of fear, anxiety and exhilaration.
Last year, piano manufacturer Pleyel unveiled this instrument they designed and manufactured with the Peugeot Design Lab.
In 2009, Audi celebrated its centenary by designing a concert grand that ran about $140,000.
John also discovered a Pinterest board full of unusual piano designs that make clear Bonányi wasn’t the first to reconceive the piano’s exterior in a dramatic way. Of course, Bonányi has made clear that his piano is distinguished for its redesigned soundboard and other interior features in addition to its sweeping exterior. Still, history clearly shows that there’s more than one way to skin a piano.
Before video-streaming services, people turned to television to view Rodgers and Hammerstein’s telling of the Von Trapp family’s musical ascent and their subsequent escape from Austria after the Anschluss. Nearly every year during my childhood, my family and I watched The Sound of Music on TV, captivated by the story and the songs.
One year stands out in particular. When I was about seven years old, the next morning after watching the film, I sat at our kitchen table with scrap paper and crayons. A confusing image lingered in my mind from the previous night’s viewing, so I began tracing the jagged symbol I had seen in the film — something my childish brain took to mean not much more than “the bad guys.” In the midst of this naïve artistic endeavor, my dad walked into the kitchen and stopped me. “We don’t ever draw that,” he said firmly.
Putting my crayons aside, he proceeded to explain — in terms perfectly tailored to a boy, aged seven — the Holocaust. He described how men, women and children were taken away and murdered for no other reason than for being Jewish. Because one of my very first friends was Ari, a boy in my neighborhood who often came out to play wearing a yarmulke, there was added poignancy to what my father said.
The latter two articulated the fact that the Holocaust happened in modern times. Although people in the 1930s and ’40s didn’t carry smartphones, their lifestyle was a lot like ours: They listened to the radio. They went to the movies. They lived in cities and worked in offices and drove cars and used public transit and cooked dinner and washed dishes and went shopping and wore clothes not much different from our own.
And they listened to music.
January 27, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In his book, Desperate Journey, Auschwitz survivor Freddie Knoller describes growing up in Vienna and loving music. After the Anschluss, he fled his native Austria for Belgium, where he worked for a while as a cellist in a young people’s orchestra. When Belgium was invaded, Knoller was forced to flee again, and advised to carry only the essentials. “My cello was not an essential, but how I hated leaving it behind,” Knoller writes. “With its loss, I felt I was leaving part of myself, the part which tied me to my life in Vienna, to my parents. When I played, I always thought of home.”
It stirs recollection of a lesson about the Holocaust from another family member, my maternal grandfather. During World War II, he had been part of an Allied railway brigade, charged with rebuilding the rail infrastructure as the Axis powers retreated from North Africa, Italy, France and ultimately, into Germany.
Sadly, Alzheimer’s Disease mercilessly stole my grandfather’s delightful wit and steel-trap memory in his final years, but there was a late moment of lucidity that remains permanently inscribed in my mind. It was something he had never told me before.
He and I were watching television, and a news story about a Holocaust commemoration came on. My grandfather spoke, his tone angry. “There are people who say that didn’t happen,” he spat incredulously. “But I saw it — I saw those people liberated from the camps. Their faces —” he gripped his own face and squeezed his cheeks together to describe the emaciated survivors’ appearances. “I saw it. It happened. Don’t forget that.”
Philip Glass is often called the most famous living composer, in part because he’s no stranger to pop-culture collaborations, from the crossover Glassworks album to dozens of movie scores. Still, no one expected the news that Glass, 77, is collaborating with composer Marco Beltrami on the score of the forthcoming film based on Marvel superhero quartet the Fantastic Four.
“I just saw your movie [Chronicle, 2012] and it’s very philosophical,” director Josh Trank says Glass told him in a phone call Trank described as “one of the coolest calls I’ve ever had in my life because he’s f—ing Philip Glass and he had just watched my movie.”
Trank told the movie news blog Collider (via The Guardian) that Glass visited the Fantastic Four set for three days and “had a great time.” Glass, Trank said, has been working on the score for over a year, in collaboration with Beltrami—a composer best-known for scoring thrillers and horror films.
A new trailer has just been released for Trank’s Fantastic Four movie, which is being described as a “reboot” rather than a sequel to the earlier Fantastic Four films released in 2005 and 2007. The new Fantastic Four is schedule for release on Aug. 7.
Has the evolution of the piano stalled? Having evolved from humble origins, the piano had reached more or less its present state — in both upright and grand configurations — by the end of the 19th century. While the 20th century saw a multitude of electronic keyboards put into use by musicians of all genres, the piano remained basically the piano. Gergely Bonányi thinks it’s time for that to change.
The Hungarian pianist says he’s spent ten years rethinking his instrument from the inside out, not a single one of the piano’s 18,000 parts being taken for granted. The result is an instrument built to sound as good as he imagined a piano could sound, manufactured by German company Louis Renner.
The manufacturer claims that the new piano, with a redesigned soundboard and agraffe system (the system of pins to which the strings are tied), produces “a more refined tone sensation” that “provokes a novel perception of sound,” whatever that means. Bonányi and Louis Renner claim that the piano stays in tune longer to boot, and is more resistant than conventional pianos to varying environmental conditions.
You don’t need to look under the hood, so to speak, to know you’re looking at a new piano: the entire frame, based on a concert grand configuration, has been redesigned to stand on two legs with a sweeping, airstreamed look.
Will the Bogányi piano become a new standard for classical musicians — or will it be the Google Glass of the concert stage, a pricey gadget that’s never quite taken seriously? Only time will tell. As they say on Composers Datebook, all music was once new — and so were all instruments.
Every Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to talk about stories we’re featuring on our website. Due to the holiday, this week we’re talking on Tuesday, and here are the stories we’ll be discussing.
Composer Lisa Spector and her dogs (photo by Mark Holthusen)
As you’re browsing the Internet this weekend, here are some stories I think you’ll enjoy reading.
Sharing music with our dogs
Many people who enjoy listening to classical music report that it helps them relax or that it helps them to energize. It turns out dogs respond to music much the same way humans do. Heather McElhatton, the producer of a new American Public Media program called A Beautiful World, spoke to composer and dog lover Lisa Spector, who has worked on a series of recordings that can help dogs and the people who love them to relax and to feel less anxiety.
Checking in with the state’s talented teen musicians
Minnesota Varsity made an important step forward this week, announcing the Featured Round artists in the statewide showcase of teenage classical musicians. Instrumentalists, vocalists, ensembles and composers from up and down the state have been named to Minnesota Varsity’s Featured Round, putting them one step closer to the showcase concert at the Fitzgerald Theater on April 19.
BONUS: If Mother Nature cooperates, it’ll be a great weekend to get outdoors to play or to spectate at the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. Teams come from across the nation to compete for the Golden Shovel. MPR News’ Jeffrey Thompson has assembled a series of short videos that take us behind the scenes of this tournament that is characteristically Minnesotan.
Everything’s coming up Joyce DiDonato: the 45-year-old American soprano is the only singer to be nominated in two categories of the 2015 Opera Awards. DiDonato is nominated for the Female Singer award as well as for the Operatic Recital category — for her album Stella di Napoli.
Among companies, the English National Opera dominates with four nominations, including the overall Opera Company award and the World Premiere award for Julian Anderson’s Thebans.