Wednesday, June 15, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
When visiting Chicago’s Symphony Center, audiences expect to experience great music from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Now, they can also experience a new piece of visual art.
On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, CSO music director Riccardo Muti and CSO Association president Jeff Alexander unveiled a bust of Fritz Reiner, who served as music director from 1953 – 1962 and advisor from 1962-63. The sculpture was made by Katalin Gerő and has been installed in the lobby of Symphony Center.
Over 100 people attending the unveiling ceremony, including members of the orchestra, invited guests, Hungarian Consul General Szebényi Ferentz, and the sculptor herself. Muti and Alexander spoke about Reiner and his many contributions to the orchestra, which include founding the Chicago Symphony Chorus in 1958 and earning the orchestra its first Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for the recording Béla Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Reiner even hired members of the orchestra during his tenure who remain active to this today!
What are your favorite memories of Fritz Reiner? Tell us in the comments.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
Audiences around the world know actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth from her appearances on Broadway in popular musicals such as Wicked and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, for which she won a Tony Award in 1999. Others know her from her work on television shows such as Glee and Pushing Daisies, which earned her an Emmy.
But, did you know that Chenoweth got her start as an opera singer?
She earned a master’s in opera performance from Oklahoma City University, was named “most promising up-and-coming singer” in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and received a scholarship to one of the nation’s most competitive and advanced training programs for opera singers – the Academy of Vocal Arts. But at the time, she received a role in a musical in the Jersey suburbs of New York City, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As Chenoweth gears up for a collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 20, 2016, she shared some advice for young singers with us, along with her favorite Broadway musicals. See the video below.
Chenoweth has shared her love of opera on other occasions. Recently, she sang a snatch of Puccini to Conan O’Brien.
She gave some curious advice for improving singing technique to Ellen DeGeneres.
She has even had the opportunity to sing for one of her heroes, Placido Domingo.
Chenoweth was originally scheduled to appear in John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles at the Metropolitan Opera, though the production was cancelled. What opera roles would you like to hear her perform? Tell us in the comments.
Monday, June 13, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
On the morning of Sunday, June 12, 2016, a man identified as Omar Mateen opened fire on civilians at a Pulse, a Florida nightclub that describes itself as “the hottest gay bar in Orlando.” With 49 dead and dozens more wounded, the attack is one of the most deadly in recent American history. While many musicians reacted to the tragic events on social media, opera singers, who are particularly vocal, were quick to take to Twitter to share their feelings.
Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong reacted to the news of the Orlando attacks adding a rainbow filter to her Twitter account picture, retweeting messages from others, and sending out many tweets herself, including a link to a MoveOn.org petition to ban assault weapons.
— Elizabeth DeShong (@egdeshong) June 13, 2016
Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato asked her Twitter followers to take action against gun violence by writing to their representatives in Congress.
— Joyce DiDonato (@JoyceDiDonato) June 13, 2016
Soprano Laura Claycomb joined the mezzos in sharing an online petition, in addition to many other tweets on the topic.
And remind me again why this guy is in power anywhere? ugh. https://t.co/wDF6sL1ZNh
— laura claycomb (@LauraClaycomb) June 12, 2016
Baritone Thomas Hampson retweeted a photo of a blacked-out Empire State building from ABC News, as well as a tweet from actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
— ABC News (@ABC) June 12, 2016
Shocked by the senseless tragedy in Orlando. We must stand together against hate and intolerance.
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) June 13, 2016
Soprano Tamara Wilson, who recently won the 2016 Richard Tucker Award, sent out several tweets, including some directed at the NRA.
If we sent a funeral bill to the NRA for every violent gun death, maybe they would start to care. After all, $ in the U.S. > peoples lives.
— Tamara Wilson (@tamschloo) June 12, 2016
Soprano Christine Goerke retweeted a message from Josh Butler, Acting Politics Editor of Huffington Post, Australia.
For those saying gun laws don’t work, I made a list of Australian public mass shootings since our strict 1996 laws pic.twitter.com/0bAcOPmeeP
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) June 12, 2016
Tenor Nicholas Phan shared Obama’s address to the nation.
— Nicholas Phan (@grecchinois) June 12, 2016
Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni retweeted messages from his colleagues, countertenor David Daniels and conductor James Conlon.
— James Conlon (@JamesJConlon) June 12, 2016
— David Daniels (@danielssings) June 12, 2016
Countertenor David Daniels was glad to have art as a way to heal on a day of mourning.
— David Daniels (@danielssings) June 12, 2016
Soprano Christine Brewer retweeted this .gif of Lin Manuel Miranda during his Tony Award acceptance speech, in addition to retweeting other news sources.
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) June 13, 2016
This Video of a Children’s Choir Singing a Soothing Spiritual Is Just What You Need to Watch Right Now
Friday, June 10, 2016 by Michael San Gabino
Anima – Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus regularly performs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Grant Park Music Festival, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Recently, Anima joined us at WFMT for a live edition of Introductions. Anima presented a program in anticipation of their tour to Ireland and Scotland later this summer. Listen to a beautiful performance of the traditional spiritual “Steal Away” in the video below.
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.
Friday, June 3, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
You may know Elbio Barilari as the host of WFMT’s Fiesta, but did you know he is also a composer whose works are performed around the world? His symphonic work Canyengue was recorded by the Orchestra of the Radio & TV of Spain (ORTV) at the Teatro Monumental in Madrid on April 9, 2016.
Barilari said, “When I was ten years old I heard Astor Piazzolla playing live on TV. Right the way I knew I was going to compose that kind of music. Since that time I have written and performed many other kinds of music. However, chamber and symphonic tango pieces have been a permanent trait in my production.”
“Tango belongs to the two sister cities of the Rio de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo. We Uruguayans, like the Argentines, are sons of the bandoneon. Becasue of our stronger African heritage, though, we Uruguayans are also sons of the drum. In Canyengue I recall the flavor of tango together with milonga, milongón and candombe – the Afro-Uruguayan rhythms which form the sonorous landscape of my home town.”
Canyengue is a word of African origin. “In Lunfardo – a kind of slang used in tango – it means ‘something with a lot of rhythm,’” Barilari explained. “It comes from kaniengue, a verb from the Ki-Kongo language spoken by many of the slaves that means ‘to melt into the music.’”
“I first composed the piece as a sextet (violin, flute, clarinet, cello, piano and percussion),” he said. “It was commissioned by the Chicago Composers Forum and the Chicago Park District for their Fresh Ink Series. After the premiere, James Palermo, the artistic director of the Grant Park Festival, asked me to expand the piece for full orchestra.”
The symphonic version of Canyengue was premiered on June 2006 at Chicago’s Millennium Park with Carlos Kalmar conducting. Canyengue has been in the repertoire of the Orchestra of the Radio and TV of Spain since 2012. Below, watch a video of their live performance last April in Madrid.
Thursday, June 2, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
It’s National Doughnut Day, and who loves donuts more than Homer Simpson? No one, that’s who! To celebrate, we’re taking a look back at some of the most musical moments on The Simpsons.
1. Bart the Genius
On the second episode of The Simpons, Bart is declared a genius so the family takes a trip to the opera to see Bizet’s Carmen. Bart adds his own lyrics to the libretto, “Toreador, oh, don’t spit on the floor”!
2. The Homer of Seville
Homer discovers his hidden talent as a singer and Mr. Burns casts him in the local productions at the Springfield Opera House. The only catch? He can only sing supine. This episode is full of musical references to classic operas and musicals.
Homer performs in La bohème lying down.
Chief Wiggum gets Wagnerian.
Don’t cry if you didn’t catch the reference to Pagliacci.
There are many references to musicals in this episode, Fiddler on the Roof, included.
One of many references to The Phantom of the Opera.
3. The Italian Bob
The Homer of Seville isn’t the only epsiode with a reference to Pagliacci. In The Italian Bob, Sideshow Bob gives his own rendition of “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.
4. The Margical History Tour
In this time traveling episode, Bart plays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a “bad-ass rocker who lived fast and died young.”
Eine Kleine Bartmusik
5. Cape Feare
In this episode, Bart asks to sing the entire score of H.M.S. Pinafore, and the family has a sing-a-long to a classic tune from The Mikado, “Three Little Maids from School Are We.”
6. Fabulous Faker Boy
Bart is back at the keyboard in this episode. He takes piano lessons because he has a crush on his music teacher, faking a performance of a virtuosic piece by Chopin to impress her.
7. The Seven-Beer Snitch
In this episode, Marge encourages the community to build a new concert hall built by Frank Gehry and the Springfield Orchestra plays the opening night concert.
Nelson and Jimbo realize that form doesn’t always follow function with Frank Gehry’s designs.
Once Marge announces that the Springfield Orchestra will play a piece by Philip Glass, the orchestra runs out of the hall.
The London Philharmonic joins the “Hullabalooza” music festival, inspiring this collaboration between the orchestra and the rap group Cypress Hill to cover “Insane in the Brain.”
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.