Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Two Live Concert Webcasts Tonight!

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Decisions, decisions!  There are two live concert webcasts tonight.  Which will you pick?

Tonight, April 7, 2018, at 8PM EDT (GMT-4) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), conducted by Leonard Slatkin, and violinist Yoonshin Song will present Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2.  There will be a pre-concert interview with composer Steven Bryant at 7PM.  You can view the DSO concert here.  Here’s the full program:

Steven Bryant: Zeal (world premiere!)

Béla BartókViolin Concerto No. 2

Richard Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks

At 9PM EDT (GMT-4) The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and violinist Maureen Nelson will present Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark AscendingYou can view the SPCO concert here.  Here’s the full program:

Charles Gounod: Petite symphonie for Wind Instruments

Lembit BeecherThe Conference of the Birds

Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

Antonín Dvořák: Serenade for Strings

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has a free app available for iPhone, iPad, and iTouch so you can enjoy their live concert webcasts and concert library wherever you go.  The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has a free DSO To Go app which is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

What if you can’t make either concert?  The SPCO has a free concert library that you can watch on demand.  The DSO has their Replay performance archive, which is available for a year with a $50 donation to the DSO.

I hope you will enjoy the concerts!

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Want to Binge Watch Opera?  Want to Give Opera a Try for the First Time?

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

Opera fans, this post is for you!  Not an opera fan yet?  This is also for you!  The OperaVision website and the OperaVision YouTube channel have a wide variety of operas for you to enjoy (or just sample, if you’d like).   The operas are available on demand, free of charge, no login necessary.

Here’s some of what’s currently available on demand:

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Handel: Semele

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

Martinu: Juliette

Mascagni and Leoncavallo: Cavalleria rusticana and I Pagliacci

Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro

Offenbach: Blaubart

Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

Puccini: Turandot

Verdi: Aida

Wagner: the entire Ring cycle

Here’s what’s coming up in April:

April 1   Wagner:  Parsifal

April 2   Rossini Gala: Homage to Conductor Alberto Zedda featuring a number of overtures and selections from Rossini’s operas.

April 8   Verdi: Il corsaro

April 14 Verdi: La Traviata

April 26: Donizetti: La Favorite

 

What if you’re not sold on the idea of opera?  Do you think language will be a barrier?  These operas have subtitles in a number of languages.  Don’t know how to get into opera?  Check out OperaVision’s New to Opera? tab.  Not sure if you can devote a couple hours in one sitting?  Then watching from home is perfect!  You can take a break whenever you want and come back whenever you want (just remember to write down the timestamp where you stopped).  It’s a great no-risk opportunity to sample a variety of different opera styles or find a new favorite.

If you watch something that you like, let us all know about it!


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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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Haiku Wednesday: Tubas and More

Bass Tuba

A euphonium
Is not a sousaphone, nor
A tuba, oh no.

Though the sound goes round
And round, and emerges deep
In tone, soft or loud,
Do not believe that
Oom-pah-pah is all that you
Will ever hear—no.
For mellow is one
Of the tones that will surprise,
And, yes, delight you.

Oh, when the saints go
Marching in, the angels play
harps, cherubim, flutes;
But somewhere in the
Line, I know, you are sure to
Find, yes, a tuba.

I thought this post would be easy.

I thought I could simply contrast the tuba, euphonium, sousaphone, add some pictures, some samples, and done!

But no.

It wasn’t long before I found the saxtuba, the helicon and its ancestors the buccina and cornu, and, then Wagner came along, and…

Anyway, let’s get started.  Most folks have heard of a tuba.  It is the lowest-pitched of the brass instruments.  There are contrabass tubas, the lowest of all, and slightly smaller (and slightly higher-pitched) bass tubas.  The fundamental pitch of a contrabass tuba can be 32 Hz or 29 Hz.  The threshold of human hearing is 20 Hz.  Click this link to see how a tuba is madeSee the world’s largest tuba here.

A euphonium is pitched an octave higher than the lowest contrabass tuba.  It is also somewhat smaller.  Here’s a comparison picture, showing the euphonium on the left and tuba on the right.

Euphonium and tuba

The brass instrument you’re likely to see in a marching band, its bright bell shining in the sun, is a sousaphone.  It was popularized by John Philip Sousa, the American march king.  Sousa was unhappy with the predecessor of the sousaphone, the helicon.  He wanted the sound to go up over the band.  And so the sousaphone was created.  But the original bells pointed skyward, which became a problem when marching on a rainy day. So eventually the bell shifted to a forward-pointing position.

Sousaphone

Sousaphone

Helicon

Helicon

The helicon was derived from the saxtuba, which in turn was derived from the cornu and buccina, which signaled the Roman legions in ancient times.

Saxtuba

Saxtuba

Cornu players (cornicen) on Trajan's Column

Cornu players (cornicen) on Trajan’s Column

You’ve probably noted the “sax” tacked onto saxtuba.  There’s also a family of instruments called saxhorns.  That’s because Adolphe Sax, father of the saxophone (which is actually a woodwind, not a brass instrument), was prolific in his production of brass instruments.  Here’s a page cataloging various Sax instruments.

Adolphe Sax's instrument catalogue

One day, Richard Wagner entered Adolphe Sax’s shop.  He was looking for a certain sound for his new opera.  He was shown a saxhorn, but it wasn’t quite what he wanted, so he had another instrument builder create a Wagner tuba for use in Das Rheingold, for the Valhalla theme.  You can hear it here.

Double Wagner tuba

Double Wagner tuba

And now to the music!

Here is the Concerto in F Minor for Bass Tuba and Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Here is John Williams’s Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra featuring some flying finger passages for the tuba.

And finally, the soulful Czardas by Vittorio Monti, arranged here for solo tuba and three trombones.

Wishing you a happy Tuba Thursday!

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Image attributions

Euphonium and Tuba by user Elf at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEuphoniumAndTuba_wb.jpg

Sousaphone by Yamaha Corporation (Yamaha Music Europe) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AYamaha_Sousaphone_YSH-411.jpg

Helicon by Matthias Bramboeck (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHelikon-Stowasser-Graz.jpg

Saxtuba by Anonymous (http://www.jstor.org/pss/842482) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASaxtuba.jpg

Cornu players (cornice) carved on Trajan’s column, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornicen_on_Trajan’s_column.JPG

Sax instrument chart by Adolphe Sax [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdolphe_Sax_instrument_catalogue.jpg

Wagner tuba by Zanetta (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADouble_Wagner_tuba_by_Alexander.jpg


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Free Webcast: Wagner’s Entire Ring Cycle

stick figure singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antennaGot plans for the weekend?  I have a suggestion:  binge watch a tale of greed, forbidden love, death, revenge, and apocalypse.  And the soundtrack is incredible!

BBC Arts and The Space are presenting for free online viewing performances of the operas in Wagner’s Ring cycle produced by Opera NorthHere’s the trailer.

It is available worldwide at this link. There are English subtitles.  Each of the four operas is presented separately, in case you don’t have a spare 15 hours straight to watch the entire cycle.  Here’s where you can find out more about each of the four operas in the cycle and the performers.  Here is the trailer for Siegfried.

In the reference section, you can find some fine websites that provide an introduction to the Ring before you embark on this epic journey.   Here is the Southbank Centre’s animated guide to the Ring.  And I particularly like this 2 1/2-minute video in which the Sydney Symphony Orchestra tells the story of the Ring.

I hope you will enjoy the Ring!

 

Postscript–because someone is bound to ask.  For those of you (in particular, Americans of a certain age) who can’t hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries without thinking “Kill the wabbit,” here’s a link to the Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?”  In addition to using Ride of the Valkyries, the cartoon borrows from Wagner’s opera TannhäuserYou can read about it here.

References

Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Ring_des_Nibelungen

“Wagner’s Ring Cycle: Where to Start” http://www.classicfm.com/composers/wagner/guides/wagner-ring-cycle-where-start/

This website from the University of Michigan will help you learn more about the symbolism used in the Ring cycle http://www.umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/Teutonic_Mythology/ringsum.html

Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s guide to the Ring https://youtu.be/AgzZ_nLOJJE

Southbank Centre’s animated guide to the Ring https://youtu.be/ykQ7jc09OAk

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Image attribution: Stick figure singing opera on a television with a viking helmet as an antenna, C. Gallant, 2016.


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Music is Everywhere

Here are some musicians finding music in very unusual places.  Enjoy!

First, the Triple Concerto for Faucet, Water Pipes, and Fiddle

And now, Siegfried’s Horn Call for Horn (and Chair)

And this post would not be complete without P.D.Q. Bach’s “Erotica” Variations for Banned Instruments (safe for work, despite title!).  My favorite is the lasso d’amore (the orange whirly tube).

See if you can find some unexpected music today!


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Haiku Wednesday: The Ring Cycle

The Ring by Wagner
Takes fifteen hours; and by
Sydney–two minutes.

When I was doing research on the availability of opera on the web, I came across this fun little video from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, “Wagner’s 15-hour Ring Cycle…in two in a half minutes” and wanted to share it with you.

 

If two and a half minutes was a too fast, you can read the story of The Ring Cycle here.

You might also enjoy the Sydney Symphony orchestra’s quick video “A Day in the Life of Maestro Darth Vader”.

Enjoy your day!