Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Free Concert Webcasts: Berlioz, Elgar, New Music, and Opera!

Tomorrow, 21 October 2017 at 8:00 PM EDT (GMT -5), visit dso.org/live for a performance of Harold in Italy by Hector Berlioz, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and the world premiere of Loren Loiacono’s Smothered by Sky (at link see page 19).

The Opera Platform website, long the home of free opera webcasts, is now Operavision.eu.  Operas typically remain available for viewing on the site for six months after their initial webcast, and some are available with subtitles in multiple languages.  Operas currently available on the new website include Puccini’s Tosca and Madama Butterfly, Handel’s Acis and Galatea, and Verdi’s La Traviata.  Haven’t watched opera before? Check out Operavision’s New To Opera? tab for some helpful information.

Also, opera fans, please note that Operavision will present Wagner’s entire Ring cycle in separate webcasts beginning 28 October 2017, and, on a lighter note, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro on 3 November.

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The Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin

On Sunday, May 7, 2017, at 3PM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony will present a free webcast of The Defiant Requiem, a performance of Verdi’s Requiem that tells the story of the prisoners of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp who performed the requiem during World War II. The multimedia performance was created by Murry Sidlin, and includes projections of scenes from propaganda films and testimony from survivors of the concentration camp who performed the requiem. Murry Sidlin will be the guest conductor and will speak during the pre-concert talk that begins at 2PM EDT. Do not miss this powerful presentation. You may see it at http://www.dso.org/live.

You can read more about the Defiant Requiem Foundation here.


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Haiku Wednesday: A Look at the History of Classical Recordings

Edison wax cylinder phonograph

Edison bellowed
“Mary had a little lamb”
Into a small horn.

History was made:
Voices’ vibrations turned to
The tiniest grooves.

People gathered ‘round
To hear the tinny sounds, now
Played upon demand.

In the suave sixties
You could spin disks—hi-fi sound!
Don’t scratch the record!

Fast forward. Today
Music’s turned to ones, zeroes,
Heard around the world.

And we all walk ‘round
And hear hi-fi sound that’s fed
To only our ears.

(In the future, will
All the world’s music be sent
Right into our brains?)

From the very beginning of recorded sound, classical music was a presence, and it was significant in the development of music technology.

The first wave of development included Edison’s recording of sound on wax cylinders.  You can see a demonstration of how Edison’s original wax cylinder recordings were made here.

As soon as he developed mobile recording equipment, Edison sent his engineer, Theo Wangemann, to Europe to collect recordings.  Here is an 1889 recording of Brahms playing an excerpt of Hungarian Dance No. 1Here is Otto Neitzel, a student of Liszt and a teaching colleague of Tchaikovsky, playing a portion of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1890.  This is believed to be the first recording of a work of Chopin.

This 1903 recording was an attempt to record a live opera performance, the opening scene of Act 2 of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  You can find more Edison recordings here.

Shortly thereafter, the opera recordings of tenor Enrico Caruso became wildly popular.  He recorded on cylinder first (here’s one from 1903, E lucevan le stelle from Puccini’s Tosca), and then on disks (Questa o Quella from Verdi’s Rigoletto).

Another treasure of this era is a recording of Rachmaninoff playing his Etude-Tableau in A minor (Op. 39 No. 6) in 1925.

Vinyl came into its own, and conductor Leopold Stokowski made the medium his domain, crafting a “Stokowski sound” that would translate well to vinyl, bringing classical music to countless households.  Here is a Stokowski recording of the first movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 (Op. 95) from 1934.  The sound of vinyl continued to improve:  here is Eugene Ormandy’s recording of the same piece from 1944.

An aside:  Rachmaninoff and Stokowski recorded Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.  Apparently, it nearly turned into a slugfest, as the two men strongly disagreed about the interpretation (ok, wait–with the infamous Bernstein-Gould disagreement over the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, I can see where there could be a difference of opinion…Brahms wasn’t there.  But this was Rachmaninoff’s piece, and he was standing right there.  Ah, Stokowski!).  You can hear it fully restored here.

The fifties brought stereo sound; of course, you might say the idea had been around for a long time, but technology had to catch up:  the Venetian polychoral style that was used at St. Mark’s in Venice, a style that was popular from the 1540s, made use of choirs singing in alternation from separated choir lofts.  Wow, just like headphones!  But then, Thomas Tallis could be said to have invented surround sound with his composition Spem in alium for eight choirs of five voices each, first sung in an octagonal hall, around 1570. You can hear Spem in alium here.

Classical music was also present at the advent of digital sound: Sony’s first CD release was to be Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations; Philips released Bach’s Mass in B Minor on CD.1

Today, CDs and mp3s are making it possible for anyone to hear not only the masterworks of the most famous composers (not to mention various interpretations), but also the works of less well-known composers, others whose works have not been heard for hundreds of years, and others who finished their compositions just this year.

No one knows how music will be delivered in the future; but thanks to recording technology, we now have about 1000 years of classical music at our disposal, to be heard wherever and whenever we want.

Life is good.

References

  1. Elie, Paul, Reinventing Bach, New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, p. 325, 331.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Edison wax cylinder phonograph (1899) by Norman Bruderhofer, http://www.cylinder.de (own work (transferred from de:File:Phonograph.jpg)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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Free Opera Webcast: Verdi’s Otello

On September 24, 2016 at 19:40 CEST (GMT +2; 1:40PM EDT) The Opera Platform will present a live transmission of Verdi’s Otello from the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain.

For a preview video, see the Otello page on The Opera Platform.  Be sure to scroll to the bottom for more highlights and brief commentary from the performers and directors.

If you would like to download a program for the performance in Spanish (only the act summaries are in English), see the Teatro Real Otello webpage.  You will have to provide your name and email.

Have other plans for the 24th?  Don’t worry:  Otello will be available for viewing for free until 23 March 2017.


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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

 Enjoy!

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Image attribution: C. Gallant, 2016.


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Opera in Pajamas

(you, not the performers.  Although that would be interesting)

Can’t make it to Milan to see an opera at La Scala?  I feel your pain.  Maybe this will help.

If you’re curious about opera, but didn’t know where to start, here’s a low-budget way (meaning, in this case, free) to see what it’s all about…in your pajamas if you’d like.

The Opera Platform website is intended for those new to opera as well as seasoned attendees and is intended to promote European opera companies.  A number of operas have been made available as video on demand and include subtitles.  A new opera is added each month, and is available on demand for six months.  See their About Us page for more details.  The site features operas by Wagner, Sibelius, and Verdi (La Traviata) to name a few, and Puccini’s La Boheme will be added soon.

Another venue for full opera performances is the Warner Classics TV channel on YouTube.  And the Metropolitan Opera offers a free 7-day trial to their Met Opera on Demand streaming service.

Need a little background info before you dive into the operas?  There are numerous books dedicated to demystifying opera (headed to the library?  Dewey decimal number 782.1).  Don’t have that much time?  Sinfini Music has put together a number of comic strips outlining the plots of famous operas.  You can find the comic strips here.

While these are great on-ramps to opera, there is no substitute for the thrill of live performance.  If you like what you hear, check the web for local opera companies and performances in your area.  There are a lot of talented folks out there who would love to have you come out and enjoy all the hard work, time, and devotion they put into their craft.   They’d also prefer that you not attend in your pajamas.

No opera in your area?  Head to your local library or favorite online merchant.  Many operas are available not only on CD but DVD as well (including BluRay).  Nothing beats a live performance, but the sound and visual quality of the recordings are typically top-notch.  I saw Les Troyens by Berlioz on BluRay and it was spectacular.

So settle into your chair, wherever it may be, and get ready for a treat.  If you see something you think is great, let us all know so we can see it too!

Postscript:  After writing this, I found two great operas on pristine LPs at my local thrift shop.  Total cost:  $3.90.

  • Wagner’s Tannhäuser, with soprano Birgit Nilsson and tenor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Deutsche Oper Berlin conducted by Otto Gerdes
  • Verdi’s Aida, with soprano Montserrat Caballé and tenor Placido Domingo, New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti.

which led me to find the Riccardo Muti’s recording label website on which one can stream Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under his direction.

Must. stop. finding. links.