Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Free Live Webcast: Joshua Bell and the National Symphony Orchestra


Joshua Bell

On February 11, 2017 at 8:00PM EST (GMT-5), will present a concert by Joshua Bell and the National Symphony Orchestra.  The live webcast is free.  Here is the link.

The program will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole.  The latter will include a dance performance by the Dance Heginbotham dance company.

The performance will also be streaming on the Facebook channel.

If you won’t be able to watch the live webcast, it will be available on demand at for 90 days.


  3. “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92”


Haiku Wednesday: Tension

Piano strings

Strings in tension strain
Against powerful posts and
Await their calling.

Vibrating, they speak,
The sound echoes out across
All of space and time.

Too tense, and they break.
Too slack, and naught is produced.
Balance is the key.


I read a phenomenal statement last night.

A piano can have as many as 236 strings.  Each string is under a tension of 160-200 pounds.  In a regular piano, this translates to 18 tons.  In a concert grand, it is close to 30 tons.1


Even a violin is subjected to 50 pounds of tension across its delicate frame.2

But tension alone does not produce music; these strings must move to create sound.  Combine tension and motion, and you produce something that must be seen to be believed.  Here is the vibration of a violin string in slow motion.

You don’t have to search for very long before finding articles full of gnarly equations on the physics of vibration, harmonics, and the Helmholtz corner (here’s an equation-free article on the bowing of a violin and another, aptly named “Why is the violin so hard to play?”).  It came as no surprise then to find that physicist Richard Feynman had turned his keen mind to piano tuning.  Feynman’s letter to his piano tuner can be found here.  I hope the tuner could read equations.3

We can all be grateful for the technical wizardry of Stradivarius and Guarneri and Babcock’s cast-iron frames that would have kept Liszt from wrecking his pianos, but let’s turn again to the music that can be coaxed from these taut strings.

I hope you will enjoy Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk playing the fourth movement of Franck’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano.




Image attribution:  Piano strings, photo by Alan Levine from Strawberry, United States (Music Strings) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons,

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Bell and Denk Play Brahms and Schumann on WQXR Webcast

I just finished watching WQXR’s webcast featuring violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is available only today and tomorrow, so I hope you’ll get a chance to see it.  Here’s the program:

Robert Schumann: Romance No. 2

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108

Brahms: Intermezzo in B minor, Op. 119, No. 1

Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 1

Clara Schumann:  Romance No.1

Bell and Denk, along with cellist Steven Isserlis, are releasing a new CD in September 2016, “For the Love of Brahms.”  The CD will include Brahms’s Trio in B Major, Op. 8 in it original formulation from 1854.  Typically, the 1889 revision by Brahms is performed.  It is said Brahms refined the trio and removed some of the less-reserved romanticism of his youth in the revision, so it will be very interesting to hear this original version.


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Free Opera Binge Watching!

stick guy singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antenna

I had hoped to showcase this weekend’s livestream of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (musical direction by Kirill Petrenko, with a fine cast including Jonas Kaufmann) from the Bavarian State Opera.  However, it has been postponed.  For more information, click hereHere is a video about the production.

Undeterred, I searched the internet for a replacement.

I have found you hours and hours of opera.  And I don’t mean The Ring cycle.

The Vienna State Opera  is currently offering for free Wagner’s Parsifal and Götterdämmerung (ok, some of The Ring; click here for details). The opera company typically offers livestreams by subscription (single, monthly, by season).  You can watch at the time of event, or slightly time shifted to accommodate your time zone.

Not a Wagner fan? Here’s what The Opera Platform website has for you right now (the assortment changes over time; click here for details):

Bell  In Parenthesis

Bizet  Carmen

Boesmans  Reigen

Debussy  Pelléas et Mélisande (not available for viewing in the US)

Puccini  Manon Lescaut

Rossini  The Barber of Seville

Tchaikovsky  Eugene Onegin

Tchaikovsky  The Queen of Spades

Verdi  Macbeth

Wagner  Parsifal

(this is the same production available at the Vienna State Opera site)

Wagner  The Valkyries



Image attribution: C. Gallant, 2016.

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Free Concert Webcast Today: Joshua Bell and the DSO

Today, May 27 at 8 PM EDT (GMT-4) Joshua Bell will perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the DSO’s latest free live webcast.  Leonard Slatkin will conduct.  Here’s the program:

Stucky: Dreamwaltzes

Lalo: “Symphonie espagnole

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5.

You can see it at

What a great way to start the weekend!

While you’re waiting, why not build your own Joshua Bell made from LEGO?

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The French Connections: The Soundtrack


For each of the composers in the illustration I have selected a piece of music or two for your listening pleasure.  I deliberately tried not to pick the pieces the composers are best known for, so there will be no Carnival of the Animals here. The exception is Widor’s Toccata, because, well, it’s a cool piece of music, and that’s the instrument I started on (and no, I never got that far—not even close.  But one can dream).



Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande Suite Op 80

Poulenc Stabat Mater

Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No 3

Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5


Franck Violin Sonata in A Major, 4th Movement
(Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk! Thanks WQXR!)


Berlioz Reveries


Got some time?  Here’s the complete Symphonie fantastique performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


Widor Suite for flute and piano


This is what Widor is known for: the Toccata from his Symphony No 5


Here’s the beginning of a Widor documentary.  If you’re an organ fan, you’ll enjoy this.


Gounod Repentir


Debussy Beau Soir

Beau soir indeed.