Wednesday, June 29, 2016 by WFMT
Is there a better way to end a beautiful summer day than with beautiful music in the park? For tonight’s concert, thousands came to Chicago’s Millennium Park to hear an open air concert as part of the Grant Park Music Festival. Carlos Kalmar led the Grant Park Orchestra, opening the program with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Antar, Symphonic Suite, Op. 9. Afterwards, Juho Pohjonen joined the musicians to perform as the soloist in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The program concluded with Rouse’s Thunderstuck.
If you couldn’t make it to Millennium Park for the concert, don’t worry. The pictures below capture the atmosphere on the Great Lawn in Millennium Park before the performance, as well as some of the musicians backstage as they warm up.
Friday, June 24, 2016 by Arielle Kaye
June is LGBT Pride Month, and we are celebrating musicians who are out and proud. Besides just inspiring audience through their talents as musicians, the people below inspire others by being true to themselves. Tell us who your favorite out and proud musicians are in the comments below.
- Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Gramophone Award winner and Grammy nominee Jean-Yves Thibaudet has performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the LA Philharmonic, and the Orchestre National de France. Beyond his extensive honors (like this impressive lifetime achievement award from the Victoires de la Musique), the pianist also has a killer concert wardrobe designed by the highly esteemed Vivienne Westwood.
Thibaudet lives between Paris and Los Angeles with his long-time partner of twenty-one years, Paul. According to this article from 2003, Thibaudet will not attend events if his partner is not invited as well. Though Thibaudet mostly plays classical music, the couple is very fond of jazz, as well as Latin pop. (Jean-Yves admits that Paul often keeps him up to date on the latest music).
Watch Thibaudet play Debussy’s beautiful piece “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” here.
- Our Lady J
As a classically trained pianist, Our Lady J has collaborated with diverse artists from Lady Gaga to Christine Ebersole in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center. She released her first studio album in 2013 titled “Picture of a Man” featuring Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1 and 2, a rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” and a few original songs.
In addition to her thriving career as a pianist, Our Lady J is also a writer for the Golden Globe winning TV show “Transparent,” a comedy series that focuses on a family and their lives after they learn that their father is transgender. Our Lady J has been included in OUT Magazines “Out 100” and Huffington Post’s list of transgender icons. She’s also written about the politics of language and the transgender community for the Huffington Post.
Watch Our Lady J perform one of her original songs from her album Picture of a Man here.
- Sharon Isbin
Multiple Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin has been a soloist with over 170 orchestras. She frequently premieres music by living composers like John Corigliano and Ned Rorem. Isbin was the featured soloist on Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed, and there’s even a documentary about her life.
When she is not touring the world, this Minneapolis native founded the guitar department at the Juilliard School in 1989, and currently serves as its director. She is also the director of the guitar department at the Aspen Music Festival. Isbin cites her performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards (where she was the only classical musician who performed that evening) as one of her career highlights.
She has also had the honor of performing for the Obama family at the White House in 2009. Watch here.
- Patricia Racette
A self-identified “singing actress,” Patricia Racette is most noted for her portrayals in Tosca, Jenůfa, Kátya Kabanová, and Il trittico. She is so dedicated to her acting, that when preparing to perform the role of Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly, she flew all the way to Japan so that she could learn about seppuku, ritual suicide, from samurai.
Racette has won many awards, including the Richard Tucker Award, and tours ten months out of the year to venues such as The Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and the Royal Opera House. When not touring, Racette and her wife, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, live in the outskirts of Santa Fe with their dog, Sappho.
Watch her sing “Un bel dì” from Madame Butterfly the Met here.
- David Daniels
Countertenor David Daniels has enjoyed success with performances in the world’s most prestigious venues and several critically-acclaimed albums. He received the prestigious Richard Tucker Award and Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year. He was the first countertenor to give a solo recital in the auditorium of Carnegie Hall! Recently, Daniels premiered the title role in Theodore Morrison’s opera Oscar, which dramatizes the persecution of Oscar Wilde.
In an interview with WFMT, Daniels said, “What I learned while I was rehearsing Oscar is that there was a lot of pent-up emotion—even though I’ve been openly gay, even though I have a partner, even though I was out to my parents and there was no rejection from my family. I think as a young gay man, you always are aware of discrimination, and to be telling this story in rehearsals with all of my cast and all of us there together in love, telling the story of this man, it just brought all of this emotion out.”
Oscar also encouraged Daniels to propose to his now husband, William Scott Walters, in the summer of 2014. He recently began teaching at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, and still maintains a very active performance career.
Watch him perform the title role of Giulio Cesare at the Metropolitan Opera House here.
- Emmanuel Vass
Identified by BBC Music magazine as a “Rising Star,” Emmanuel Vass has recorded two solo albums. He has performed at venues like London’s Steinway Hall and Queen’s Theatre West End. In January of 2012, Vass was named Yamaha’s “Unsigned Artist of the Month”.
The British-Filipino pianist wants to change the way the media presents classical music. In a photo shoot in 2015, Vass painted his body to look like a piano. In an article from gaystarnews.com, Vass explains, “As a piano player I play something external, but it is a part of me – there has to be a connection between you and the instrument. I wanted to explore that link.” Vass has yet to wear his “piano suit” on stage since, he said, “The music deserves a certain level of respect.”
Enjoy his recording of the “James Bond Concert Etude,” which he created in honor of the James Bond 50th Anniversary here.
- Sebrina Maria Alfonso
Cuban-American conductor Sebrina Maria Alfonso is the resident music director of the South Florida Symphony. In 1994, she won the Stokowski International Competition and made her debut with the American Symphony Orchestra. Alfonso is the first Cuban-American invited to conduct the National Orchestra of Cuba in Havana. She has served as guest conductor for the LA Philharmonic, Aspen Music Festival Orchestra, and Prague Radio Symphony.
Alfonso is also a composer who recently premiered her composition “Freedom Crossing,” a commemoration of the Mariel Cuban boat-crossing in which many people died while trying to attain freedom.
See her conduct the South Florida Symphony here.
- Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Yannick Nézet-Séguin was recently appointed the Metropolitan Opera’s next music director. Currently, he serves as the music director for both the Philadelphia Orchestra and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the artistic director and principal conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal.
Nézet-Séguin currently lives with his partner Pierre Tourville, a violist in the Orchestre Métropolitain. They split their time between Montreal and Philadelphia with their three cats.
Watch Yannick do what he does best at a rehearsal with The Philadelphia Orchestra here.
- Breanna Sinclairé
Though she just graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2014, Breanna Sinclairé has already made history. In 2015, Sinclairé became the first transgender woman to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at a professional sporting event!
Sinclairé has funded her transition by hosting several recitals. She performed selections from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Bizet’s Carmen, and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Sinclairé’s story has caught the attention of major news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and OUT Magazine.
Watch her sing the national anthem here.
- Jamie Barton
While still a student at Indiana University Bloomington, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton won the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. That year, the competition was filmed for the documentary The Audition. In 2013, Barton became the first woman, and only second person in history, to win both the Song Prize and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. She has also won the Richard Tucker and Marian Anderson Award.
The 2015-2016 season, she made her house debuts at the Glimmerglass Opera and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Barton is very open about her personal life and came out as bisexual on National Coming Out Day.
Enjoy her award winning performance at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Final in 2013 here.
- Tona Brown
Tona Brown is the first African American transgender woman to perform for the Obama family at the White House. Brown is also the first transgender woman of color to perform at Carnegie Hall.
A violinist and mezzo-soprano, she has performed works for violin and voice throughout the U.S. and Europe. Some of Tona’s other projects include her 2012 album titled “This Is Who I Am” and her online TV series Conversations with Tona Brown.
Watch an excerpt from a recital that she performed in Maryland here.
- Nicholas Phan
Grammy-nominated tenor Nicholas Phan has performed with the San Fransisco Symphony, New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and other renowned orchestras and ensembles. A former member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Phan has released three albums.
Phan’s most recent solo album, A Painted Tale, was reviewed as the Best Classical Album of 2015 by the Chicago Tribune and received high praise in Opera News. A lover of art song and vocal chamber music, Phan co-founded the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC) in 2010.
Watch him perform selections from Britten’s Les Illuminations here.
- Stephen Hough
A self-described polymath, Stephen Hough is a highly regarded pianist, composer, and writer. He has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, among other orchestras. He has performed solo recitals at Carnegie Hall‘s Stern Auditorium, the main stage of the Concertgebouw, and London’s Royal Festival Hall. Hough is the first classical musician to have been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. He has also been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Hough lives in London with his partner who is a music publicist. He is a member of the Juilliard School faculty and holds a visiting professorship at the Royal Academy of Music.
Watch Hough play Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” at the BBC Proms here.
- Jill Grove
Mezzo-soprano Jill Grove has impressed audiences around in operas by Handel, Wagner, Strauss. She caught the attention of audiences during her performance of Strauss’s Elektra recently at the Lyric Opera of Chicago because of a unique costuming decision. Klytamnestra, Grove’s character, was originally supposed to be topless.
Grove said in an interview with The Windy City Times, “In the pictures they showed me, I pointed out that real women’s breasts don’t do that—they just don’t sit there.
“So the next option was to just build them with a silicone prosthetic. So last year I went in and they did a mold of my upper torso and made a whole cast for these breasts that are relatively real—and they look great!”
See Grove get into another interesting costume for a Lyric Opera production in a video here.
- Jory Vinikour
Jory Vinikour is the first harpsichordist in history to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Solo Instrumental Recording – and he was nominated a second time, as well. His repertoire ranges from Rameau to Meltzer, and he is often engaged to perform with the finest opera companies around the world, including Paris Opera, Netherlands Opera, and Teatro Real de Madrid. As the harpsichord soloist in Handel’s Rinaldo in a production mounted by Lyric Opera of Chicago, Vinikour earned hearty ovations from the audience and high praise from the New York Times.
Vinikour recorded and toured with some of the greatest artists of our time, including David Daniels, Cecilia Bartoli, and Anne Sofie von Otter.
A native of Chicago, Vinikour spent much of his life working in France, where he traveled on a Fulbright Scholarship and ended up staying for quite some time. He recently returned to the Windy City, where he regularly leads performances with local ensembles in addition to a busy schedule of performances around the world.
Enjoy Vinikour tearing it on the keyboards here.
Friday, June 24, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
Sometimes all you need to brighten up your day is a little music. American soprano Leontyne Price is certain to shine a little light on you with her performance of the gospel children’s song “This Little Light of Mine.”
In an interview with John Pfeiffer recorded by RCA, Price said, “Spirituals are my soul. They are the expression of me as an American, of me as a human being.”
“I think the spirituals have the depth, the wonder of any Romantic – Schubert, or Schumann, Joseph Marx, or Richard Strauss – that is why I include them on my programs.”
Her favorite spiritual? “It’s also my mother’s favorite,” she said,” which is also a philosophy: “This little light of mine,\ I’m gonna let it shine.”
Luckily for us, she also recorded it on video.
What are your favorite spirituals? Tell us in the comments!
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
Chocolate goes with almost anything. But bullets? Singer Lila Downs explores the dark side of chocolate in her new song, “Balas y Chocolate” (“Bullets and Chocolate”), and album of the same name.
“We all enjoy this amazing candy all over the world, but in the countries that produce it, there’s a lot of bullets and violence,” she said in an interview from her home in Oaxaca, Mexico, which is currently dealing with the aftermath of violent clashes over the weekend that left 8 dead and over 100 injured.
“I think that my little six-year-old son inspired this song quite a bit because he has a passionate relationship with chocolate,” she said, “the same way that probably most children do. I have been reading stories of children who leave Latin American countries that are cocoa producing countries, very important ones like Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador, and Mexico.”
“While following their stories, I wondered how I could make a tribute to these children and also talk about this issue? A lot of times these children have been deported form the U.S. and go back to their countries and then end up with fatal stories.” According to SlaveFreeChocolate.org, millions of children, many of whom are victims of human trafficking, work in cocoa fields around the world.
Despite the dark themes in the song, Downs ultimately described it as festive and reflective. “I thought of this song as a refuge for myself to think about these issues. The lyrics say, ‘Some people do work towards being an example every day for their community. In spite of all these bullets and violence, my love towards you will never diminish.’ I hope that I give hope to people with this song.”
The entire album, Balas y Chocolate, Downs said, is “a metaphor about life and death and about appreciating this wonderful gift that we have. In a lot of Native American poetry in Latin America, we refer to life as a dream. I think in the creation of all these songs for the album, we thought about creating a poem to the ancestors to, as my mother says, ‘have a dialogue with the past and to ask them for help in our times.’”
Downs performs selections from her album with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 28, 2016 at Symphony Center. Donato Cabrera conducts the program, which also includes Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez.
Hearing Downs at Symphony Center may seem as unlikely a combination as bullets and chocolate. But, one might say that Downs herself is a combination of juxtapositions that on their surface seem contradictory, but ultimately make perfect sense.
Born in Oaxaca to a British-American father and a mother with Native-American roots, Downs grew up in Minnesota. There, she formed happy childhood memories, though also experienced shame and discrimination for the first time. “I grew up in a wonderful community that was very plural, though there weren’t too many Latinos,” she said in a public talk she gave when visiting Chicago to receive an honorary doctorate from DePaul University.
“I remembered feeling uncomfortable because of the color of my skin and hair. Most people in Minnesota are of European descent. The real discrimination happens when you cross the border. The way the agents look at you and treat you is a unique experience.” In Mexico, Downs also felt discrimination because of her background. “In Oaxaca they called me ‘la hija de la india y el yanqui,’ which means ‘the daughter of the indigenous woman and the Yankee man.’”
In her journey embracing her identity, Downs said she had revelatory moments when spending time with the Trique (also spelled “Triqui”) people. She describes them as “a native group in southern Oaxaca that is the most discriminated against but the most autonomous groups in the state, and also one of the most visible.” She became fascinated by the visual ways in which the people express their history, “which goes back to the sun and the moon. I thought, ‘This is language, and this is symbolism, and this is strength of woman. I want to be close to those things and figure things out through music.’”
Downs blends musical styles from many cultures and time periods to create a sound that is all her own. She also uses her gift for languages to create music that communicates to broad audiences. She has recorded songs in Spanish, English, Portuguese, and indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Mayan, Nahuatl, and Purépecha.
“La Sandunga,” a song Downs will perform at Symphony Center, reflects Mexico’s complex colonial history. “I started performing it when I was studying voice in the old days,” Downs said. “The song was brought over to Mexico by the Spanish at the end of the 1700’s and it used to be danced. It acquired some different lyrics here in Mexico that are pertinent to the politics of the time, but it also references motherhood and women.”
By lending her voice to share Mexico’s diverse cultures, Downs has become an inspiration to many people. But she finds the strength to inspire others because, she said, “there are many people who inspire me constantly, and there are people who face constant adversity and situations like the Orlando gay nightclub shooting.”
She especially admires “women here in Mexico who have definite influence on the culture in spite of all odds in terms of their education. There is the great healer María Sabina whose practices are based on Mexican herbs and the knowledge of our ancestors here in Oaxaca. There’s quite a bit of literature on her, mainly anthropological, but also some of it is artistic.”
“There’s another healer that I am also in touch with here, Enriqueta Contreras. She just wrote a book about healing and her knowledge of herbs. These are things that are very much alive in Mexico, sadly are not as well-known out there. Even in our country we have to fight to protect and teach people about how we have inherited this knowledge and that it still is out there and being nurtured.”
Downs certainly practices what she preaches. She announces her presence in any room first with the scent of essential oils. “Wearing essential oils really helps my mood swings, which have been getting worse lately, and any other uncomfortable situations.”
Lila also relies on the healing power of music. “I love to sing for people, and that helps with my mood swings too – especially folk music. Folk music is the mother of all music. It’s the people’s music.
“I am very grateful to express my views through the music. Music can make people confront reality and confront themselves. I certainly hope that my performance at Symphony Center helps people reflect on the times that we are living in right now and the contrasts we’re living. I want them to leave learning something new about culture, life, and death.”
To learn more about Lila Downs, visit her website.
Monday, June 20, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
The Glastonbury Festival, a five day arts festival held in the English countryside, has announced that it will honor recently deceased pop star David Bowie with a classical tribute on Saturday, June 25, 2016. Conductor Charles Hazlewood will lead a performance of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 4, “Heroes,” inspired by Bowie’s album of the same name. The tribute is fitting since Bowie performed at the first festival in 1971.
Glass said, according to Express.co.uk: “When Charles told me of his plan to take my ‘Heroes Symphony’ to Glastonbury, I was delighted. It’s very exciting to think of it playing – at the midnight hour – out across the parkland, a true celebration of Bowie. I am so very pleased members of the British Paraorchestra and Chris Levine’s epic light performance will be part of it. What a spectacular collaboration. This is sound and vision Bowie-style.” Listen to an excerpt of the symphony below.
“Heroes” isn’t the only Bowie-inspired symphony Glass composed, however. His Symphony No. 1, “Low,” composed in 1992, is based on Bowie’s album Low. In his own notes to the work, Glass wrote:
“The record consisted of a number of songs and instrumentals and used techniques which were similar to procedures used by composers working in new and experimental music. As such, this record was widely appreciated by musicians working both in the field of “pop” music and in experimental music and was a landmark work of that period.
“I’ve taken themes from three of the instrumentals on the record and, combining them with material of my own, have used them as the basis of three movements of the Symphony. Movement one comes from ‘Subterraneans,’ movement two from ‘Some Are’ and movement three from ‘Warszawa.’
“My approach was to treat the themes very much as if they were my own and allow their transformations to follow my own compositional bent when possible. In practice, however, Bowie and Eno’s music certainly influenced how I worked, leading me to sometimes surprising musical conclusions. In the end I think I arrived at something of a real collaboration between my music and theirs.”
What Bowie albums would you want to hear played by a symphony orchestra? Tell us in the comments.
Friday, June 17, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
“I never set out to be a singer,” Jane Lynch confessed over a cup of chamomile tea in a Chicago café, “but I love singing. I’ve always loved singing. I’m not saying that I’m great at it, but I’m good enough.”
A native of Chicago suburb Evergreen Park, Lynch said, “The minute I’m here,” she said, “I’m overwhelmed with memories because I grew up here. This is where I became a young adult and a theater person. Every neighborhood has some kind of memory for me.”
Some of her earliest memories are of making music at home. “I grew up in a very musical family. We weren’t professional, but we all loved singing, and music was always around. My father was a great harmonizer and my mother was a great singer. So I came to music through love.”
Lynch has most famously shared her love of music through her work on the hit TV show Glee. “I knew that if it made it through a season, it would have a rabid following,” she said. “I didn’t know it would be a phenomenon. But music is really powerful, especially with kids. Music is the great equalizer.”
The music wasn’t the only thing the made the show popular. “Glee showed kids that being who they are is awesome and cool,” she said. “If you want to be in the school musical, that’s cool. If you’re gay, that’s cool. If you’re the only Asian kid in school, that’s cool. It taught kids that you won’t be ridiculed, and quite the opposite, that you will be embraced for what you bring to the party that makes you different from everyone else.”
To create a series like Glee, Lynch said, “it really takes a village. Our music director Adam Anders, and our vocal arranger, Tim Davis, had a great team.”
The staff of Glee literally worked around the clock to meet the production schedule. “All the music was mixed in Sweden because Adam is from Sweden and was living there. We could arrange and record during the day, and everything was mixed while we slept in the United States. Everything was ready when Adam woke up in the morning. It was a 24-hour operation. Isn’t that crazy? That’s how it all got done.”
Overall, Lynch said, “for me, working on Glee wasn’t a challenge. I had a lot of monologues, and there’s the logistics of getting all of those lines into your head and out of your mouth. But it was a complete joy.”
Like the characters on Glee, Lynch has learned a lot about herself through the performing arts. “When I was in a show called The Real Live Brady Bunch I was going through a really tough time. I was about to get sober (I didn’t know it at the time). But working on that, I was laughing so hard, and it was the most healing laughter. I’m a completely different person than I was then.”
While Lynch has continued to act and sing throughout her career, starring as Mrs. Hannigin in a recent Broadway revival of Annie “kind of reignited the fire to be on stage again because I hadn’t been on stage in decades,” she said.
“I stepped into the role so it’s like getting on a train that’s already moving fast and you have to find your footing,” she said. Lynch prepared for the role in L.A., first by learning her songs, then by working with the production’s choreographer and the music director. “I also watched the video over and over again to get the blocking and choreography because I wanted it to be in my body before I even started. So by the time I had my ‘put in’ rehearsal in New York, I knew what I was doing.”
Lynch has since developed her own cabaret act, See Jane Sing, which she brings to Chicago for performances at the Civic Opera House on Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18, 2016. She was invited to perform there after meeting soprano Renée Fleming, who serves as Lyric Opera of Chicago’s creative consultant. At the time they met, Jane said, “I hadn’t seen an opera,” though recently, she continued, “I saw A Street Car Named Desire in L.A. with Renée. It was amazing.”
For See Jane Sing, Lynch teams with, “Kate Flannery, from The Office, who is a great friend, and Tim Davis, who I knew from Glee. He’s got a beautiful voice and he’s gorgeous – he’s kind of our Lyle Waggoner, if you will. We’ve been touring the last year-and-a-half, and it’s a blast.”
Much like Lynch’s own tastes, the music on the program is eclectic. “We’re all over the place. I’m all over the place. I love classical music. I listened to WFMT in when I was in Chicago, and I just love it. It’s so relaxing and moving; sometimes I’m even moved to tears. But I like all kinds of music from Broadway tunes to pop songs from the 1970s and 1980s.” In the show, she said, “We cover everything from Irving Berlin to Nicki Minaj.”
Lynch is especially glad to bring some laughter and music to Chicago audiences given recent world events. “There’s a lot of darkness, but there’s also a lot of laughter and light.”
For more information about Jane Lynch and upcoming performances of See Jane Sing, visit her website.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
In Chicago, it’s not summer until the Grant Park Musical Festival gives its opening night concert. The Festival is the nation’s only free, outdoor classical music series, and WFMT is proud to broadcast Festival concerts live from Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The opening night concert featured Barber’s Essay No. 2, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto, featuring Fabio Bidini and Andrew von Oeyen as soloists.
No Grant Park concert would be complete without one thing, however: picnics! Below, enjoy photos of audience members and their picnic spreads. You might find some ideas for how you can enjoy festival concerts at Millennium Park, or from anywhere in the world through WFMT’s broadcasts. Learn more about upcoming Grant Park Music Festival concerts here.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
One of the best parts about summer is attending music festivals! While the coasts boast many music festivals, the Midwest is host to some of the oldest music festivals in the country. Below are a few worth visiting.
- Minnesota Beethoven Festival
Ludwig van Beethoven, who passionately loved nature, would probably be pleased that the Minnesota Beethoven Festival celebrates his music in a beautiful setting. Founded in 2007, the festival presents the music of Beethoven and more in locations in Winona, MN, by which the Mississippi River rolls. This season, the festival presents ensembles like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Shanghai Quartet, Minnesota Orchestra, and the King’s Singers, as well as internationally renowned soloists including violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Richard Goode.
- Northern Lights Music Festival
In the Minnesota Iron Range, the Northern Lights Musical Festival offers public performances and a young-artist program for string players and pianists. Students study with members of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Duluth Symphony. Each year, the festival also presents an opera: this year, Puccini’s Madama Butterly. In 2015, the festival introduced a workshop as a part of its opera program.
- Grant Park Music Festival
Chicago’s Millennium Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States, according to TripAdvisor. Part of the park’s allure comes, no doubt, from the incredible amount of free music that audiences can enjoy there each summer. The Grant Park Musical Festival, the nation’s only free, outdoor classical music series, has been providing visitors with exceptional concerts for over 80 years, and now makes its home in Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Learn more about WFMT’s live broadcasts of Grant Park Music Festival concerts here.
- Ravinia Festival
The Ravinia Festival, located just north of Chicago, is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America. Every year over half a million visitors attend over 100 events presented on Ravinia’s 36-acre campus. From classical music to jazz to pop, Ravinia presents something for everyone. Many music lovers create lavish picnic spreads, complete with tables, chairs, and candelabras, during performances. Others leave the work to Ravinia and patronize some of the many restaurants and other food vendors on site.
- Gilmore International Keyboard Festival
Presented every two years and based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival is widely recognized as North America’s finest piano-music festival. Nearly 100 events showcase some of the most notable pianists and keyboardists in the world, alongside artists just emerging on the international stage. From classical to jazz, orchestra concerts to solo recitals, chamber music, and musical theater, the festival continually achieves acclaim for presenting performances of the highest artistic caliber.
- Madison Early Music Festival
For 17 years the Madison Early Music Festival has been presenting concerts, lectures, films, classes, workshops, and more. This year the festival honors the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death with Shakespeare 400: An Elizabethan Celebration. In its wide range of classes and workshops, the festival offers various educational opportunities for instrumentalists and opera artists. They also offer an unusual Advanced Loud Band Intensive Workshop for players of Renaissance instruments like the cornetto, shawm, sackbut and dulcian.
- Interlochen Arts Festival
Interlochen is synonymous with educational excellence. The Interlochen Arts Academy is one of the most competitive arts boarding schools in the world, and is just one of the educational programs offered at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, a 1,200-acre campus in northwest Lower Michigan. Interlochen also presents music, theater, dance events, and more during an annual summer festival.
Tell us your favorite festivals in the comments!
Thursday, June 9, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
“Since the advent of the nuclear age, we’ve developed the capacity to destroy ourselves. We can commit mass mutual suicide. We can now do this in a number of different ways,” cellist Yo-Yo Ma reflected in a recent interview.
“But with the power of the human spirit, we can all work collectively together to not have horrible things happen,” he added with hope. “We have to do the work that’s in between. The greatest possibility of what a Steve Jobs or a Michelangelo or a Leonardo Da Vinci can create is kind of like a goal post of what we should all aim towards, because if we don’t aim for something like that, we can all just slide.”
Ma’s goal? To bring people together through music. To help him achieve that, he founded Silkroad, a non-profit organization that serves as an incubator for intercultural exchange through music. The Silk Road Ensemble brings together musicians from around the world and has been touring the world since 2000. Since then, Ma said, “I think the thing we’ve learned about the human spirit, or at least what activates it, is common values. Our message is very simple: we build bridges, not walls.”
Building bridges is imperative for a group as diverse as the Silk Road Ensemble. “We’re all immigrants but yet we’re welcomed to the United States as our home,” Ma explained. “The diversity within our group uses that hosting of a country that allows us to express ourselves and to actually give something back and to show that diversity is our greatest creative spirit.”
In over 15 years, the ensemble has been guest of and host to many institutions and artists. Ma said that Silk Road’s recently released album, Sing Me Home, “is all about that – the idea of being a good guest or a good host.” He continued, “Within the ensemble, we all have a different sense of home, different favorite pieces. We can all be leaders, and we can all be followers. Let’s each take a turn. Take us to your favorite song.”
Sing Me Home features a range of works, including arrangements of folk songs from around the world like the American “St. James Infirmary Blues” (watch below) and the Macedonian “Sadila Jana.”
By presenting music from around the world on a single album, Ma hopes to ask questions like, “How do you invite someone into your home? What is your home? What do you want to show someone when they come home? Are you going to just say, ‘Hey, relax, do nothing’? Or, do you have something to say? How do you act as a guest? Do you put your feet on the table? Do you go straight to the fridge? Do you comment on something you see that’s nice? Do you comment on what effort someone might’ve made to make it nice for you to be there?”
Ensemble member Cristina Pato, who plays the gaita , or Galician bagpipe, said, “The producer put this together in such a democratic way. He actually listened to each one of us trying to prove that what we have in our homes is valuable elsewhere. This album proves that.”
But for the Spanish-born Pato and other musicians in the ensemble, proving the value of their native music has not always been easy. When Pato decided to share her passion for the gaita through genre-defying collaborations and became a pop star in her home country, some criticized her for selling out.
“I’ve been trying to find my own voice ever since I was born. You have to understand that in the case of instruments that represent a very specific part of the world, you also carry a responsibility with it. I grew up in a generation when bagpipes became the most popular right after Franco died,” she explained, “and everything that had to do with the instrument had to be explained in a political way.”
“Now we live in a time where you can just be yourself with your instrument, and find meaning with what you think you have to share with the world without the need to explain it. I can,” she said confidently, “especially since I moved here and started working with the Silk Road Ensemble. That seems to be the common story with some of us in the group.”
Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville wanted to tell those stories and created a documentary, The Music of Strangers, as a companion to Sing Me Home. For several years, Pato said, “he followed five of the members of the ensemble, including Yo-Yo Ma. Through that journey of discovery of many homes, he tells the story of how powerful the language of culture is, in giving us meaning and ways of communicating and dealing with life.” The film premieres June 10.
During filming, Pato said, Neville almost “became an ensemble member in the process. Somehow when you have all these people traveling with you from China to Turkey to Spain to all parts of the U.S., they become a part of the family too. There are moments that you totally forget that the film crews are around.”
Ma confessed, “We learned a lot about one another through the interview process. I didn’t know many things about Kayhan Kalhor and what his life was like, and he said things to the camera that I have literally not known.” Kalhor, who plays the Perisan kamancheh, reveals in the documentary that he worked in restaurants and drove cabs to make ends meet when he first arrived in New York City. Stories like these, Ma said, “give us a sense of the fluidity of life that I think we’ve all experienced. We’ve all experienced the highs and lows of life – all of us. And sometimes that happens within minutes.”
Though the Silk Road Ensemble makes the entire world its home, one place it loves to visit is Chicago. Silk Road musicians return to Symphony Center for a collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Sunday, June 12, 2016 for a program titled A Distant Mirror.
Ensemble member and cellist Mike Block, who created original arrangements of some of the music to be presented, said, “We are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes. We tried to draw inspiration from their time, but we looked all over the world. The music that was happening in Europe at that time was different than what was happening in the Middle East or China. So we’re trying to find connections among cultures.”
Fitting with the broader mission of Silk Road, Block also hopes the program helps audiences make connections to what is happening in the world today. “Shakespeare’s time was full of momentous change in the world. The two responses to change are often fear or creativity. Looking at people like Shakespeare and Cervantes figures who seized the opportunity to be creative, we hope people see that today we’re also going through momentous changes. We want people to embrace creativity and the connections that can be made among cultures as an antidote to fear.”
A Distant Mirror contains music from every corner of the globe. Hanacpachap, for example, is “based on an Incan chant which is the oldest written example of vocal polyphony from the New World,” Block said. Another piece on the program, Nikriz Pesrev is composed by Ali Ufki Bey, who was “born in Poland and immigrated to the Ottoman Empire. He dedicated himself to learning about Turkish culture. He became a legendary, beloved composer even though he was from another place.” The program also features music by living composers, including Colin Jacobsen’s Persian-inspired piece, Mirror for a Prince, and Saidi Swing, inspired by Egyptian rhythms and composed by Ensemble percussionist Shane Shanahan.
Aside from the repertoire, the program is also unique because of the instrumentation: cello and percussion. Joining Yo-Yo Ma and Michael Block is an all-star group of cellists including Jeffrey Zeigler, a former member of the Kronos Quartet, and Ashley Bathgate, a member of Bang on a Can All Stars, as well as CSO cellists Loren Brown, Richard Hirschl, Katinka Kleijn, and John Sharp. Silk Road percussionist Shane Shanahan and CSO percussionist Cynthia Yeh complete the roster. “We presented A Distant Mirror at Tanglewood, though Yo-Yo and I are the only returning musicians, so everyone is bringing something new to the experience,” Block said. “It’s really a wonderful opportunity for us all to connect since we all come from such different worlds.”
Learn more about the Silk Road Ensemble, including about Sing Me Home and The Music of Strangers, on their website. Learn more about A Distant Mirror presented by visiting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s website.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016 by Associated Press
MILAN (AP) — La Scala offers some salve to old wounds with an exhibit on the contributions of its long-time music director Riccardo Muti, whose 19-year tenure ended abruptly in 2005 amid backstage turmoil.
Curator Lorenzo Arruga said the exhibit is a “gesture of gratitude toward the maestro” as he turns 75.
Muti will preview the show later Sunday, marking his first time visiting the theater since his dramatic departure. His musical return will come next January, conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he is music director.
The exhibit comprises photographs, recordings and videos that show Muti’s influence on the fabled theater.
La Scala spokesman Paolo Besana said the show was requested by general manager Alexandra Pereira and principal conductor Riccardo Chailly “as a moment of reconciliation after many years.”
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016 by WFMT
Each day in May 2016, WFMT shared hidden gems of classical music. Below, find the full list of hidden gems we shared with you. Don’t forget to tell us your favorite lesser-known works in the comments below.
- Alkan: Symphonie, Op 39
- Martin: Violin Concerto
- Lekeu: Violin Sonata in G
- Reubke: Piano Sonata in b-flat
- Rimsky-Korsakov: The Invisible City of Kitezh Suite
- Rameau: Platée Suite
- Reger: Serenade in G, Op 141A )
- Reger: A Romantic Suite
- Menotti: Piano Concerto Earl Wild
- Clementi: Symphony #2 in D
- Villa-Lobos: String Quartet #1
- Zelenka: Miserere in C Il fondamento
- Fasch: Suite in B-Flat
- Herrmann: Symphony #1
- Hummel: Piano Sonata #3 in f, Op 20
- Moeran: Serenade in G
- Taneyev: Piano Quintet, Op 30
- Hahn: Piano Quintet
- Vorisek: Symphony in D
- Porter: Symphony #1
- Haydn: String Quartet in E-Flat, Op 20/1
- Svendsen: Symphony #2 in B-Flat, Op 15
- Carpenter: Piano Quintet (1937)
- Handel: L’allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato: “When steals the morn”
- Schreker: Vorspiel zu einer grossen Oper
- Cherubini: String Quartet #6
- Roussel: Symphony #3 in g, Op 42
- Halvorsen: Suite ancienne, Op 31a
- Creston: Symphony #2
- Schumann: 12 Lieder von Justinus Kerner, Op 35
- Pfitzner: Palstrina Preludes
- Bax Symphony #3
- Martinu: Symphony #2
- Ibert: Quatre chansons du Duc
- Montsalvatge: Concierto breve
- Schoeck: Sommernacht
- Diamond: String Quartet #3
- Schmidt: Symphony #4
Wednesday, June 1, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
America’s Got Talent, the reality show in which contestants compete for a $1 million dollar prize by sharing their unique talents, began its 11th season on May 31st, 2016. One 13-year-old contestant, Chicagoan Laura Bretan, wowed the judges and the audience with a performance of the tenor aria “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot. In the opera, the piece is sung by the “unknown prince” (il principe ignoto), Calaf. Bretan, resultantly, changes the “principessa” in the aria’s first stanza to “principe.”
Before she performed she admitted, “I’m kind of nervous. If [judge Simon Cowell] doesn’t like you, he will tell you the truth. Truth hurts, you know?” When she took to the stage, judge Howie Mandel asked if she was still nervous. Bretan said, “I just see so many talented people.” Mandel reassured her, “All you gotta do is sing the song you picked out, okay?” Little did he know, the song she picked out would blow everyone away.
Watch her performance below.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016 by Hannah Edgar
The history of music is full of friendships and feuds. The composers below certainly had complicated relationships. What are your favorite composer clashes? Tell us in the comments.
- Mozart v. Salieri
The rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri is the most famous composer feud that never was . . . right? Well, sort of. There was some one-sided professional tension between the two.According to surviving letters, it seems as though Wolfgang was more jealous of Salieri, rather than the other way around (despite what Peter Shaffer may have us believe). Wolfgang and helicopter-parent Leopold bitterly complained of “cabals” of Italian court composers attempting to thwart Wolfgang’s career, singling out Salieri. But Mozart and his father may have been looking for a scapegoat to explain why Mozart wasn’t as successful as he had hoped during certain moments of his career.
Certainly, in cutthroat Vienna, Mozart and Salieri were competitors. But with regard to their “feud,” we must remember this: if Salieri had any sort of ill-feeling for Mozart, we have no record of it. Interestingly, towards the end of his life, even Wolfgang himself noted that Salieri was one of his most enthusiastic supporters. The recent discovery of a cantata they co-composed, Per la ricuperata salute di Ophelia, proves that they set aside any differences they may have had, at least long enough to finish the project and collect their fees!
- Brahms v. Liszt
The aesthetic clash between Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms cleaved the nineteenth-century musical establishment in two. In Brahms’ Leipzig Conservatoire-based camp, traditional symphonists descended from Mozart and Haydn. In Lizst’s “New German School” (Neudeutsche Schule), musical innovators incorporated daring harmonies and evocative programs. Both groups took up Beethoven as their patron saint. For the former, Beethoven’s music represented formal, classical structures. While for the later, his music was admired for blazing new trails using adventurous harmony as the guiding compass.
Brahms and Liszt’s feud transcended mere ideology. Records indicate that the men had little respect for one another personally. Brahms is said to have fallen asleep during Liszt’s premiere of his Piano Sonata in B minor. The feeling was mutual, as Liszt mostly found Brahms’ music “hygienic, but unexciting.”
- Brahms v. Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky may have spun some of the sweetest melodies of all time. But during his life, he was also known for sour criticism when it came to his colleagues’ music. Tchaikovsky called Brahms “a giftless bastard” and a “conceited mediocrity [that] is regarded as a genius.” (For his part, Brahms never reached the same levels of enmity, though he didn’t care for Tchaikovsky’s music, falling asleep at the premiere of his Fifth Symphony.) In an 1878 letter to his patroness, Tchaikovsky’s contempt of Brahms hits a new high: “What would I say to [Brahms]? . . . I would have to tell him this: ‘Herr Brahms! I consider you to be a very untalented person, full of pretensions but utterly devoid of creative inspiration. I rate you very poorly and indeed I simply look down upon you.’”
Of course, when the two actually met ten years later, at the violinist Adolph Brodsky’s house in Leipzig, Tchaikovsky said none of these things. Instead, he politely listened as Brahms, Brodsky, and the cellist Julius Klengel rehearsed Brahms’ recently-completed Piano Trio No. 3. Tchaikovsky didn’t care for the piece, but against his expectations, he found Brahms himself rather endearing. After this meeting, some tension eased, though they were never bosom buddies. At the very least, after their meeting, Tchaikovsky never attacked Brahms with the same ad hominem vitriol in his letters or diaries, glad to have learned that Brahms was not the pretentious celebrity he’d imagined him to be.
- Debussy v. Ravel
Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel knew each other. Debussy, who was older and more established, mentored Ravel. But as Ravel’s star rose, their relationship became strained, in part for reasons outside their control. Audiences debated whether Debussy influenced Ravel, or if the tables had been turned and mentor had become mentee. The subject was so divisive in France’s musical community that people nearly came to blows over it.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, the composers’ friendship ended, with little clear indication as to why or how. We know that Debussy was offended when Ravel ignored his advice to leave his String Quartet unchanged (Ravel instead implemented the changes recommended by his teacher, Gabriel Fauré).We also know that Ravel provided financial support to Debussy’s wife after he deserted her for his mistress. Ravel himself didn’t quite understand the rift, but noted, ”it’s probably better for us, after all, to be on frigid terms for illogical reasons.”
- Stravinsky v. Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky’s relationship is hard to pin down. The men were cordial, and Prokofiev was no doubt influenced by the older Stravinsky. But professional envy and animosity largely soiled their interactions. Prokofiev once offended Stravinsky by telling him there was “no music” in the opening to his 1910 ballet Firebird. They jockeyed over the support of collaborators like Sergei Diaghilev (who mostly sided with Stravinsky).
Perhaps their most explosive clash came with Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges. After the opera’s world premiere in Chicago, Prokofiev played the vocal score for Diaghilev and Stravinsky in June 1922 in Paris. Stravinsky hated it, retorting that Prokofiev was “wasting time composing operas.” Prokofiev retorted that Stravinsky “was in no position to lay down a general artistic direction, since he is himself not immune to error,” at which Stravinsky became “incandescent with rage.”
“We almost came to blows and were separated only with difficulty,” Prokofiev later recalled of the 1922 spat. “Our relations became strained and for several years Stravinsky’s attitude towards me was critical.”
- Glass v. Reich
Steve Reich and Philip Glass are both pioneers of musical minimalism, were members of the same Juilliard class, and were even born within a months of one another. As a result of their shared background and aesthetics, the two were close collaborators early in their careers, after they reconvened in New York City. But in 1971, their relationship soured. People who knew the two claim that egos and fame were at stake for the young then-unknowns. Accusations of musical plagiarism were flung, and Glass’s decision to rescind Two Pages’s dedication to Reich proved to be the final straw.
The two wouldn’t speak or appear together for nearly 40 years, a state of affairs happily reversed recently. Both composers spoke at a 2012 event honoring the Kronos Quartet’s 40th anniversary, during which Reich found that “[they] got along just fine.” Two years later, they reunited to give a joint performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
“People make a big thing about how [our relationship] was competitive,” Glass later said in a 2014 interview for the Wall Street Journal. “That’s always true, but that shouldn’t be taken out of the context of a music world which is by nature like that. It’s difficult for everybody.”
Monday, July 6, 2015 by Stephen Raskauskas
Friday, June 12, 2015 by Stephen Raskauskas
March went out like a lion a-whippin’ up the water in the bay. Then April cried and stepped aside, and along came pretty little May! May was full of promises, but she didn’t keep ’em quick enough for some. And a crowd of Doubtin’ Thomases was predictin’ that the summer’d never come.
But it’s comin’ by gum!
And after looking at these gifs, you won’t be able to get the classic tune “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” by Rodgers and Hammerstein out of your head ’til New Years! (If you need a soundtrack while you scroll, click here.)
The young Virginia creepers have been huggin’ the bejeepers outta all the mornin’ glories on the fence
All the rams that chase ewe sheep are determined there’ll be new sheep, and the ewe sheep aren’t even keepin’ score!
Lots a ships are kept at anchor just because the captains hanker fer the comfort they can only get in port!
Sunday, May 17, 2015 by Stephen Raskauskas
That time he wrote two-handed piano music on three staves in stead of just two, ’cause why not?
That time he was like, “Naw, just one staff’s cool, thanks.”
That time he got so hot and bothered he forgot the bar lines.
That time he remembered the bar lines but forgot how to use them. You had ONE job, bar lines!
That time he wanted you to be *very* Turkish.
That time he wanted you to be “dry like a cuckoo.”
That time he wanted you to sound like a “nightingale with a toothache.”
That time things got a little bit bloody…
That time he needed a revolver in the orchestra.
That time he wanted you to play music, but only “in your head.” O…..kaaaaaay?
That time his preludes were so “flabby” he decided to give them to the dogs.
That time he wanted you to “put your hand in your pocket.”
That time he wanted you to play something 840 (!!!) times in a row. Philip Glass? Eat your heart out.
That time he wrote a chocolate and almond waltz. Mmmmm. Choooooocolate.
That time he didn’t write words for the singer. Words are for the birds…
That time he wanted you tap into your psychic powers? What?!?!?
That time he needed an extra “ñ” in “España” to parody Bizet’s Carmen.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016 by Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge has approved a settlement that will put “Happy Birthday to You” in the public domain.
U.S. District Judge George King approved the agreement Monday. It ends the ownership claims of Warner/Chappell Music, the music publishing company that has been collecting royalties on the song for years.
The company has agreed to pay back $14 million to those who have paid licensing fees to use the song.
Last year, King ruled that the company didn’t own the lyrics to the ditty, one of the best-known and most beloved songs in the world. He said the company has no right to charge for the song’s use.
Warner/Chappell has said it didn’t try to collect royalties from just anyone singing the song but those who use it in a commercial enterprise.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Monday, June 27, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
PoetryNow is a new series of short radio pieces co-produced with the Poetry Foundation that features some of today’s most innovative poets reading and sharing insights on a new poem. In this episode, Tyehimba Jess pays tribute to Sissieretta Jones, the first African American to perform at Carnegie Hall in 1892.
Born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, was known in her time as Sissieretta Jones, or as “Black Patti,” after the European singer Adelina Patti. During her life, she performed in the United North America, South America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Listen to Jess’s poem, “Sissieretta Jones,” in this episode of PoetryNow produced by Colin McNulty, below.
About Tyehimba Jess
Born in Detroit, poet Tyehimba Jess earned his BA from the University of Chicago and his MFA from New York University.
Jess is the rare poet who bridges slam and academic poetry. His first collection,leadbelly (2005), an exploration of the blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s life, was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and was voted one of the top three poetry books of the year by Black Issues Book Review. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that “the collection’s strength lies in its contradictory forms; from biography to lyric to hard-driving prose poem, boast to song, all are soaked in the rhythm and dialect of Southern blues and the demands of honoring one’s talent.” Jess’s forthcoming book Olio is set to arrive in 2016.
A two-time member of the Chicago Green Mill Slam team, Jess was also Chicago’s Poetry Ambassador to Accra, Ghana. His work has been featured in numerous anthologies, including Soulfires: Young Black Men in Love and Violence (1996), Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry (2000), and Dark Matter 2: Reading the Bones(2004). He is the author of African American Pride: Celebrating Our Achievements, Contributions, and Enduring Legacy (2003).
His honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award. A former artist-in-residence with Cave Canem, Jess has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, as well as a Lannan Writing Residency.
Jess has taught at the Juilliard School, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and at the College of Staten Island in New York City.
*This biography of Tyehimba Jess appears on his website.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 by Louise Frank
In February 2016, influential American composer Philip Glass was honored by his alma mater, the University of Chicago through a series of events including masterclasses, talks, and a public performance of his complete Piano Etudes in which he took played several works himself. WFMT host Kerry Frumkin spoke with him about his life in music, where he’s been, and what’s inspired him.
The composer’s tendency to cross musical borders was inspired, in part, by friends from Amsterdam who spoke many languages. He was then encouraged to learn many musical languages because “the ledge that I stood on was so narrow, and everything else was out there, and I became very open to it.”
Glass reflected in a sunny classroom on the tenth floor of the University’s Logan Center for the Arts, as he and Kerry enjoyed an aerial panorama of the campus, and coincidentally, a direct view of where Glass lived as a student. Below, hear Glass recall how, still underage, he often found himself spending a lot of time off campus, drawn to downtown Chicago and the sounds of jazz.
And as their time together came to an end, Kerry asked a question that Glass had often asked many of his musical collaborators from around the world. “Where does the music come from?” Hear Glass’s answer below.
Tune in to WFMT at 10:00 pm on June 22, 2016 to hear more Music and Conversation with Philip Glass.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
Philip Glass is simultaneously one of the best known and most misunderstood composers of our time. Though he has many fans, he also has many critics.
When Donal Henahan was the New York Times’s senior critic, he described Glass’s opera Akhnaten as “one more example of going-nowhere music” that provides mere “backgrounds of continually repeated, barely varied sound patterns. They stand to music as the sentence ‘See Spot run’ stands to literature.” In the same 1984 review, He complained that, “It is as if in [Glass’s] schooling he never got beyond Hanon and Clementi, or perhaps the first prelude of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.”
In the years since, critics have not changed their tone. Tom Service’s “A Guide to Philip Glass’s Music” published in the Guardian UK begins with the following criticism: “Some of his later music makes my toes curl, but there’s no denying the huge importance of Glass’s compositions with their unique combination of experimentalism and listener-friendliness.” He continues, “I’m trying, I really am. But I can’t hear anything in Philip Glass’s symphonies.”
Some composers have expressed negative attitudes. Ned Rorem famously said Glass’s music is “all style and no content.”
It’s not just critics and composers who are sometimes bewildered by Glass’s work. Reddit user Fibernone asked a question that many music lovers have asked before: “Is there something about the quality of his music I just don’t understand?”
In February 2016, Philip Glass visited the Windy City, where he spent formative years as a student at the University of Chicago. Before presenting the Chicago premiere of his complete Etudes in a concert at the University, he mused on this topic. “What’s most misunderstood about my music?” he repeated. “Let me tell you a story.”
“Years ago I was traveling with my ensemble to Cologne for a very famous new music program. There was a radio station in Cologne, but I wasn’t playing at the radio station at that time; I was playing at another hall. I decided I would go and talk to someone there to see whether they might be interested in playing something of mine. So I went to see a young guy there, he was about my age, in his thirties, and I said that I would like to have something played on the radio and asked if he would be interested and he said, ‘Can we see the music?’ He looked at it and said, ‘You know, I just have to ask you a question. Have you ever thought of going to music school?’ And I said, ‘Uh, I don’t think I’ll be doing that now.’ I did see him again, I came back two years later to the station and he forgot that he had met me. This time we played the same pieces and he thought they were great.
“So in these kinds of goofy and completely hilarious ways, I had invented a music language— how could that be? I have real roots in not only concert music of Europe and America, but I have training from people from India and Africa for that matter. The language wasn’t dreamed up in some eureka moment. In fact, if we look at the my particular generation, which is a small cluster of people, things were quite different today and they were quite different before.
“We were experiencing our work in the context of theatre, film, and dance. It made a little sense in that world and there was always Harry Partch and Conlon Nancarrow. We almost had John Cage, who became a great teacher and a friend to a lot of people, but at first John Cage was doing prepared piano pieces and he was considered on the moon somewhere. But in fact, as a cultural construct, it is completely interdependent. It doesn’t exist by itself not only in terms of its legacy, but in terms of its practice.
“That’s the misunderstanding; the misunderstanding is that musicians and artists are somehow dreamers who live by themselves. Yet, at the same time you have Einstein. When he was working on the theory of relativity, he was trying to reconcile questions of classical physics that were not solvable. It required a completely different way of looking at the physical world for things to make sense. It’s 2016 and they’re still confirming his theories. I mean this is an astonishing idea—two galaxies colliding—what can that possibly mean? And yet, the vibrations have been found. Well Einstein thought he was right and there are pictures of Einstein when he was around forty years old and a little foxy looking like he’s saying, ‘I told you so’.
“Einstein wasn’t alone either; there were the Maxwell experiments with light. I mean, there are all kinds of things that indicated classical physics was about to be abandoned. He was the first one over the wall maybe. In fact, they say if there was any misunderstanding, it is that we live separate lives—we don’t, we live interdependent lives, especially in the arts, if not in social sciences, and certainly in politics (though you hardly could believe that from what you see in the papers, butwe won’t go into that, right?).”
The experience of the man Glass met in Cologne is not entirely different from that of others. Robert T. Jones, for example, trivialized Glass’s music in a 1969 review, though years later, he praised the opera Satyagraha, saying it “shines with a luminous beauty that makes it the most sensuously appealing of all Glass’s works.” In 1984, he would go on to write program notes for New York City Opera’s Akhnaten, and in 1987, he edited Glass’s book, Music by Philip Glass. Jones, like the man in Cologne, changed his attitudes about Glass’s music.
What do you think of Philip Glass’s music? Tell us in the comments. And be sure to tune in to WFMT on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 10:00 pm central to hear a special program, “Music And Conversation With Philip Glass.”