Tuesday, September 13, 2016 by Candice Agree
What do a political analyst, a former Miss America, a fake news anchor, and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi have in common? At some point in each of their lives, they all played French horn!
Full disclosure: in high school and college I played, or attempted to play, the Horn, the brass instrument that chooses to identify as a wind. When it comes to celebrities who played an instrument when young, far more were pianists, flutists, and violinists than Hornists. When I learn of others who played, I wonder what attracted them to the instrument.
With that in mind, let’s meet the Fab Four of French horndom.
Jon Stewart, the former fake news anchor of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, grew up in New Jersey, playing Horn in the Lawrence High School Band. Known for his biting political satire, Stewart is no slouch when it comes to a well-timed spit-take. One can only guess that years of emptying the horn’s valves of accumulated moisture could only have helped Jon hone his physical comedy skills.
Whether playing a heroin addict in Trainspotting, the romantic lead in Little Voice, or the young Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi in his formative years, Ewan McGregor’s range as a screen actor has won him not only praise, but 2 Golden Globes nominations (Moulin Rouge; Salmon Fishing in Yemen.) How much of that range can be attributed to his early musical training? Judging from his role as Andy, a colliery band euphonium player in the 1996 film Brassed Off, quite a bit. As a teen, Ewan studied French horn seriously, in fact, making his screen debut at the age of 16, playing horn on a TV show in his home country of Scotland. He’s still in contact with his teacher George Annan, who remembers Ewan as a hard worker who, though he loved music, knew he was going to be an actor.
Ewan avers “once a horn player, always a horn player.” Recently, he posed with hornists from the London Symphony Orchestra at the Abbey Road Studios. They were taking a break from recording the soundtrack for the filmization of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, directed by Ewan. The film sees its US release in October.
Music played a large role in the early life of Vanessa Williams. Both her parents were elementary school music teachers. As a youngster growing up in Chappaqua, NY, Vanessa studied piano, violin, and French horn, as well as various schools of dance. In 1984, she was the first African-American to be crowned Miss America, after winning the preliminary talent portion for her vocal abilities. With a tip of the hat to Barbra Streisand, Vanessa turned the up-beat “Happy Days Are Here Again” into a wistful ballad. Today, she is equally at home as a singer, TV and movie actress, and entrepreneur.
Vanessa makes sure people know she wasn’t forced to play Horn, she chose it. “I love the French horn,” Vanessa told NPR in 2010. “Hey, all French Horn players unite. It’s a cool instrument. Brass players are the coolest people out of the whole orchestra…”
As host of Meet the Press and Political Director for NBC News, Chuck Todd is no stranger to interviewing politicos eager to toot their own horns. But when it comes to blowing his own horn, he’s a bit more humble. The humility’s not necessary, though, as the self-confessed political junkie was so accomplished as a French Horn player that he attended George Washington University on a music scholarship. “My father said I’d never be big enough to get a scholarship in sports, ‘no matter how good you think your jump shot is. Go play the French horn and you’ll be surprised how much free money was out there.’ And he was right,” Todd told TV Guide Magazine in 2008. One wonders if a well-chosen passage from Dukas’s Villanelle, Chuck’s go-to audition piece, would silence some of his more verbose interview subjects. He certainly has the ear of a large portion of the electorate this political season.
Monday, September 12, 2016 by Associated Press
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Authorities in Virginia have changed their tune after looking into the case of an opera singer who was arrested for making too much noise.
News outlets say the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Virginia dropped a noise violation charge against Krista Clouse for singing on a street corner on Friday in Alexandria to raise money to support her family.
But Clouse struck a wrong note with police. They took issue with a speaker she was using and said she needed a $20 permit to use an amplifier. Reports say she was given verbal warnings and then arrested.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney then determined police failed to first issue Clouse a civil notice of violation.
Clouse was released from jail on Saturday. City Manager Mark Jinks has publicly apologized to her.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
A sign posted today in front of Greektown’s historic restaurant, the Parthenon, read: “After over 48 years in business we are sad to inform you we are permanently closed. We want to thank you for your support over the years and for the wonderful memories.”
The restaurant, credited with inventing flaming saganaki, was a long-time advertiser with WFMT. In fact, the Parthenon was also the subject of a review in the WFMT Guide, a monthly arts magazine, in 1968, soon after the restaurant opened.
The review describes the area of the southwest edge of the Loop as “where the Greek truck drivers eat,” mentioning the business are filled “only with Greek-speaking immigrants and their families.”
According to reviewer Allen Kelson, “The nice thing about real Greek restaurants: the democracy. If you drink a bottle, you pay for a bottle; if you drink a third, that’s okay too, you pay for a third. They’ll just refill the bottle and use it again.” The drink of choice? Ouzo, of course.
His appetizers included Greek salad with feta and anchovy, boiled dandelion greens, and a dish of fish eggs, lemon, and oil. After the appetizers, Kelson enjoyed traditional egg-lemon soup and two entrees: moussaka and gyros, which he describes as “for the not-so-adventuresome.” For dessert, the requisite baklava and coffee.
While he makes no mention of the Parthenon’s famed flaming saganaki, it seems like he enjoyed his meal none the less, particularly since the entire bill for two people totaled under $10!
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 by Stephen Raskauskas
Chicago-born soprano Ailyn Pérez returns to her hometown for a solo recital presented by the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago on Thursday, September 8, 2017. “They tell you a career in opera is a gypsy life,” Pérez said in a recent interview, “and boy, they weren’t kidding!”
Pérez grew up on the South Side of Chicago and later Elk Grove, Illinois. Since, she’s travelled the globe performing alongside the likes of Plácido Domingo. Though humble about her own success, Pérez said that when she’s had the opportunity to work alongside some of her heroes, like Domingo, “I definitely fan-girl out!”
In 2006, she met Plácido Domingo when she won second prize in Operalia, a singing competition which the tenor founded. “Around the same time, I had sung for Luciano Pavarotti, and that was a huge honor. So after Operalia, when maestro Domingo invited me to tour with him, I thought, ‘What else can there be?’ But then, Jose Carreras invited me on a concert tour. I just died!”
“It was exciting watching my mom meet Plácido Domingo. Years ago, he cancelled a performance in Chicago to go help his family and all those affected by the earthquake in Mexico City.”
She said working alongside artists like Domingo has taught her that, “It’s more than just your life on stage that matters. It’s who you are as a person, how you’re contributing to humanity, and staying grounded, and being generous towards the public and upcoming artists.”
Working with young artists is one reason Pérez is so glad to be back in Chicago. Besides connecting with her family and friends during her time in the Windy City, she paid a visit to her alma mater, Elk Grove High School. She said her early music education was a “life-changing experience” that provided her with “the foundation to have a career in opera.”
— Paul Kelly (@EGPrinciPaul) September 2, 2016
Being from Chicago, “You have to declare your baseball team,” Pérez said. “The White Sox made it really easy for me: they invited me to sing the national anthem and I gave a jersey with my name on it and the year.” She admits, “technically I was born on the North Side, so I should pick the Cubs. But I’m a fan of all Chicago’s sports teams.”
Her other favorite things about being back in Chicago? The food! “I love Portillo’s and Lou Malnati’s. And I’m definitely Italian beef crazy. Of course for Mexican food, I just eat at home with my family.” One of her favorite family traditions is making tamales at Christmas and being able to “just graze all day, catch up, and watch the kids play.”
You certainly can’t replace family, and if there’s anything Pérez is proud of, it’s hers. “I put Mexican-American on my Twitter feed because of all the political stuff going on,” she said. “I don’t want to be scared and I don’t want to fearful. When I stand, I stand on the shoulders of my parents and their energy and their beliefs and dreams, but also in the quality of their culture and who they are as people and their long history.”
— Ailyn Pérez (@AilynPerez1) August 26, 2016
“Growing up and trying to find my place,” she explained, “I gravitated towards theater and music because there, you belong, you’re part of something bigger, and you’re telling a story. I think it also has something to do with my culture, as a Mexican-American. But I also enjoy creating a culture, which is what we do in opera.”
Pérez feels, “We need more representation and more diversity on stage. When you can create harmony with others onstage from different backgrounds, it feels so good because it feels like you’re giving goodness to humanity, or is putting up a mirror to an audience and say think about these issues,” she said. “I think that’s what art can do is – it’s meant to move us, to make us feel and to think and to work and to strive for a better day for one another.”
To learn more about Pérez, including upcoming engagements, visit her website.
In Wake of Historic Flooding, New Orleans Opera & Louisiana Philharmonic Team Up for Benefit Concert
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 by Associated Press
The New Orleans Opera Association and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra are giving a concert next Thursday evening to benefit south Louisiana public schools, arts organizations and artists hit by recent floods.
Opera director Robert Lyall says both organizations know by experience how flooding can cripple a community, and want to return the help they received after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Orchestra president Matthew Eckenhoff says the musicians know how it feels to lose not just their homes but the instruments they need to create their art, and remember that the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra helped them after Katrina.
They say every penny received for the Sept. 8 concert will go to public schools, arts organizations, and the Recording Academy’s MusiCares charity.
The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge‘s Creative Relief Fund will administer the money.
Tickets cost $19 to $109.
Friday, September 2, 2016 by Arielle Kaye
Friday, September 2, 2016 by Carl Grapentine
Earlier this summer, the United States senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, declaring music and the arts as core subjects. To many, the benefits of arts education are obvious. But did you know that music can also help you as you study other core subjects? Here are 5 pieces of music to help you ease Bach into the swing of the school year.
- Hercules at the Crossroads by J.S. Bach
Believe it or not, J.S. Bach wrote music dramas or – as we call them today – operas. One such work was composed for the 11th birthday of Friedrich Christian of Saxony called Hercules at the Crossroads or The Choice of Hercules. Between what things must our hero choose? Lust and virtue. Bach isn’t the only person to set this story to music. But, his musical dramatization is a great way to brush up on your classical mythology and your philosophy of ethics and morals all at the same time.
- Patient Socrates by Telemann
Need a more comic accompaniment to your philosophy studies? Telemann has you covered. Though he was one of the most popular composers of his time, we seldom hear his music today in comparison with his then friend and colleague J.S. Bach. His opera Patient Socrates, which explores the life of one of the greatest teachers of all time, was the composer’s first full-length comic music drama.
- Phonetic Punctuation by Victor Borge
Victor Borge had a system of “phonetic punctuation.” He added sounds to punctuation marks, with different effects for periods, dashes, exclamation points, commas, question marks, and colons. In this video, he explains his system to Dean Martin, and the two of them perform some very interesting duets!
- The Elements by Tom Lehrer
Need help in chemistry? If you’re having trouble memorizing your period table of elements, Tom Lehrer has the perfect solution (pun intended!). He set the period table to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.
- First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics by Flanders & Swann
The first law of thermodynamics: heat is work and work is heat. The second law of thermodynamics: heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body. And now, you’ll never forget either because Flanders & Swann have created a musical mnemonic device to remind you of both.
Thursday, September 1, 2016 by Lisa Flynn
The Chiara String Quartet has dedicated itself to finding ways of making the musical experience exciting and engaging. For their latest project, the quartet has recorded all of Béla Bartók’s quartets from memory, and will perform the complete cycle over two nights on September 7 and 8 at the Ravinia Festival. I spoke with three members of the quartet – Hyeyung Julie Yoon (violin), Jonah Sirota (viola), and Gregory Beaver (cello) – about the challenges of performing this repertoire “by heart.”
LF: Bartók’s six string quartets are considered among the crowning achievements of the 20th century. Why are these works are so significant in the development of the string quartet?
GB: These works were composed over a range of 30 years and really capture Bartók’s lifetime in a way that is very compelling. The First Quartet was written when he was quite young and has influences from Wagner and Debussy and the beginnings of what would become his life’s passion – folk music. In the Second Quartet, he takes a very strong leap into the folk music influences. In the Third Quartet, he was inspired by twelve-tone music and the kind of complexity he had heard in Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. And then in the Fourth and Fifth Quartets, he was at the peak of his creativity, working with symmetrical forms and new music that sounds like folk music. By the Sixth Quartet, composed right in the outbreak of the Second World War, there’s an incredible shift, and you feel the sadness of that time period – the tragedy of what was happening to Europe, the personal loss of his own mother, and having to leave Hungary. And so you feel this incredible journey throughout these pieces. It’s really extraordinary.
LF: These are challenging pieces, not only for you, but also for an audience. What would you tell someone in the audience who is new to this music?
JS: What we’ve discovered in our research on Bartók and also from our own experience of playing this music is that it’s mostly about Bartók’s experience of music of the people. He was a huge lover of folk music and really helped to birth, along with Kodály, the field of ethnomusicology. In his own writing, he took the folk music that he had recorded and he tried to create a new language that was like folk music for a country that didn’t really exist. It’s a world of exotic, vivid colors and wonderful imitations of nature and the human voice. When we started to look at it that way, it opened up these rich possibilities. It’s no longer seen as this kind of angular, modern music but instead is music that’s very alive and speaks to us today.
LF: In addition to the folk sources, Bartók introduced several new string techniques to his music and specifically to these quartets. Tell us about some of those unusual techniques.
HJY: He uses a type of pizzicato where you pluck so hard that it rebounds against the fingerboard and has a very sharp, percussive sound. Musicians call it a “Bartók pizzicato.” We were at the Aspen Music Festival one summer and we got to witness a performance by the Takács Quartet and a Hungarian folk ensemble called Muzsikás. There was a bass player in this folk ensemble who had just three strings and the whole time he was using Bartók pizzicato. And so we thought that’s where Bartók gets it from!
LF: As you’ve done in earlier recordings and performances, you play these quartets completely by memory. I would imagine that not only do you know your own part intimately but each of you now knows the complete piece – the structure and all the other parts.
GB: One of the things we have all done in our lives as classical musicians is memorize pieces on our own. And so when we started memorizing as a quartet, we thought this is going to be similar, but it has actually been very different. There’s a kind of weird group memory that only exists when we’re memorizing something as a group. And the way we know that exists is because no matter how much preparation we do individually, the very first time we rehearse as a group, nobody can remember anything. Hearing someone else play something that’s slightly different from what you expect throws off your memory. And this is true for all of us. But that’s really just the craft of putting it together. The thing that’s exciting is what it allows us to do musically. Once we have gotten over the initial hump of memorizing, we’ve found it allow us to improvise as a group in a much more agile way than we ever could when we were playing with music in front of us. That in the end is what has prompted us to do this ridiculous extra work to memorize everything.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016 by Arielle Kaye
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Tuesday, August 30, 2016 by Arielle Kaye
Summer is winding down, though that doesn’t mean the music’s over at Ravinia. Ravinia, which hosts the nation’s oldest outdoor music festival every summer, just announced the line up its year-round Classics Series in their indoor, 450-seat Bennett Gordon Hall.
The best part? The most expensive tickets are $10 each.
The BGH Classics series, now in its sixth year, presents a range of performances from classical to jazz to bluegrass music. CEO Welz Kauffman hails the series a success saying, “We’ve found that the low ticket price means not only that audiences—especially families eager to introduce young children to concertgoing—can enjoy an up-close and personal experience, but also that music lover who just can’t get enough can experience several evenings for less than [what] a single night out normally costs.”
The first concert kicks off on Saturday, October 15th with violinist InMo Yang and pianist Renana Gutman playing works by Janáček, Szymanowski, and Mendelssohn. Other concerts include cellist Amit Peled playing a selection of J.S. Bach’s cello suites, and soprano Sylvia McNair and the Chicago-based choir Vocality performing music by Robert Shaw in two concerts titled, A Robert Shaw Christmas.
Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI) will also give two performances. The first features American musical theater music by Bernstein, Gershwin, Weill, Sondheim, and more. The second presents piano-and-string music from around the world, including works by Beethoven, Gideon Klein, Stavinsky, and Fauré.
Other concerts in the series include the Ravinia Jazz Mentors giving a concert for the Monk and Gillespie Centennial Tribute and the Chicago-based bluegrass band, Henhouse Prowlers.
The BGH Classics single reserved tickets go for $10 each, but Ravinia is also offering a 10-punch pass for $80, making tickets actually only $8 each when you buy the pass. Each concert ticket can be upgraded to a Ticket-and-dinner package for $50 a person. For more information visit Ravinia’s website.