Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WTJU's Changing --

Big changes are coming to WTJU, and they'll be here in August.

We are at a juncture in the life of 53-year-old WTJU where change is needed in order to build listenership, student involvement and revenue. This is your invitation to help shape the station.

Our current schedule is being revised, and the future of classical music at the station -- and how it fits into this plan -- is up for discussion.

You can be part of that discussion. The University of Virginia has set up a forum where listeners (like yourself) and station volunteers (like me) can have their say. And your voice does matter.

One of the features of the change is to make the schedule more consistent by moving each genre to its own part of the day. That means that at the very least, our evening classical programming will go away.

Already slated to be canceled:

The Early Music Show, our self-produced program of medieval and renaissance music.

Five-Star Edition, which featured outstanding contemporary and archival performances of the basic repertoire.

Eventide, with Andrew Pratt - lush, romantic music for evening listening

A Time for Singing - An Shaffer's long-running show (over 20 years) showcasing the great opera singers.

Portrait of the Artist - Our weekly look at a great composer, performer, or ensemble.

Mitchell with Music - The avuncular John Mitchell's long-running program of classical music and artist interviews.

What happens to our morning classical programming? And our Sunday afternoon opera? And our other programs? That depends, in part, on you and your response to the forum's survey.

Now is the time for all good listeners to come to the aid of their music. Because come August, everything changes. Participate in the forum, and have a say in the direction of that change.

WTJU Forum

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Help Write a Symphony - #twittercomposition

British composer Sam Watts is writing a symphony -- with a lot of help. A savvy user of social media, he's asked people to contribute to the new work by sending in a note through Twitter. As he explains in his blog A Composer's Campfire,
It’s madness, I know, but I’m asking as many Twitter users as possible to tweet me with a musical note (A-G, naturals, sharps and flats) and these notes will, in the order I receive them, be the melody of the composition.  It will be a three or four movement symphony (depending on how many notes I get).
Tweet me (@i_is_sam) with your choice of note (you can even specify note duration if you like) and include the hashtag #twittercomposition! Only one note per tweeter please! Then please tweet about it to all your followers to get them involved.  That’s it.  I’ll do the rest. 
 You can also just to a search for #twittercomposition to find out more.

In his most recent post, Watts talks about the development of the composition. It looks like it's going to be a symphony, probably in three movements. The core melody will be 140 notes (Twitter limits messages to 140 characters).

#twittercomposition is a rare opportunity to see the creative process at work. Because the composition's based on social media interaction, we can watch the work evolve from inception to completion.

Will the #TwitterComposition be the greatest symphony in the world? Perhaps not, but by the nature of its creation, it will very much be a symphony of the world

Monday, June 21, 2010

Kings of the High Cs

Today an operatic tenor who does not have a ringing, full voiced “top” is likely to find his career limited to minor roles in lesser opera houses. The high C sung full voiced from the chest is a phenomenon that dates only from the first third of the 19th Century. Until the time of Donizetti and Bellini, a light, agile voice, was the ideal for tenors. Today, we would call that kind of singer a tenore di grazia, and it is no longer considered ideal, at least in the operas of Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, and their successors.

Before about 1835, the legacy of the castrati was a light, agile, but technically accomplished singing style. One of the finest singers of this type was the French tenor Adolphe Nourrit, a cultured man as well as a fine tenor who created some of the most brilliant tenor roles of Rossini and Meyerbeer. At the Paris Opera, he was the king of tenors, the favorite of Rossini himself. The fine French tenor Giovanni David, the creator of the role of Rodrigo in Rossini’s Otello in 1816, is said to have begun experimenting with pushing the “chest voice” above the tenor’s “break” (where the chest voice begins to yield to the head voice, or falsetto) at high G.

But the real change occurred in 1837, when the tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez, newly returned to Paris from a triumphant stay in Italy, stunned the audience at the Paris Opéra, with a series of chest-voice top Cs in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. The style of agile, light-voiced tenors like Nourrit was eclipsed virtually overnight, seemingly for good. Thereafter the tenor who could not manage an interpolated high C in the aria Di quella pira in Verdi’s Il trovatore (which is not in the score) was liable to find himself hooted off the stage, especially in Italy. Heroic, dramatic tenors such as Caruso and Gigli became the leading stars of the operatic stage throughout much of the 20th Century.

We have seen the rebirth of the Rossini tenor repertoire recently, with the appearance of such fine singers as Juan Diego Florez, Lawrence Brownlee, and others. While they sing full-voiced throughout their range, the head voice plays a role in the astounding agility with which these singers execute Rossini’s extremely difficult music for the tenor voice. As a result we are hearing some of the finest performances of Rossini’s music today since the music was first performed almost 200 years ago.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sipes and the Artful Fugue

Erica Ann Sipes is a talented pianist and cellist living and working in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her blog always provides interesting insights on music performance. Her recent post, "Fugues, Glorious Fugues" manages -- in a few short paragraphs -- to present impressions of this form from the inside as a performer, and on the outside as a casual listener.

Sipes also includes this wonderful video from Lenzorg (and you know how we love fugal videos).

Erica Ann Sipes writes;

I love it when music is magical.
I love it when beauty is combined with order.
I love fugues!

We couldn't agree more.

How to Listen to Classical Music -- w/o baggage

Benjamin F. Carlson continues his excellent series of posts about appreciating classical music. Written in a no-nonsense manner, Carlson's goal is to introduce his fellow twentysomethings to the genre, in part by stripping away all of the perceptions about classical music that just get in the way.

How to Listen to Classical Music, and Enjoy It makes a number of good points, but there's one that really gets to the heart of what classical music on WTJU is all about (and something we think about all the time).

Carlson writes:
One of the first challenges is muzak. Stores play treacly strings as background music for shoppers. Many people have been led to associate the soft bowing of Mozart symphonies with soporific browsing. This is the antithesis of the intended effect. Audience members famously burst into violence at the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, as they did, in a more deadly way, at Altamont. Indeed, Stravinsky and Mozart are no more background noise than the Rolling Stones—or Django Reinhardt, Lauryn Hill, Animal Collective, or Kanye West. To enjoy any of them, you have to be engaged. 
That's why here at WTJU we often break the unwritten rules of classical programming for the radio. We'll play solo vocal works, complete multi-movement works, contemporary compositions, choral works, medieval and renaissance music, complete operas, and more -- because this is what classical music's all about.

No, some if it won't be appropriate for the dentist's waiting room, but that's not the point. There's more to ice cream than vanilla (or even chocolate). And there's more to classical music than Easy Listening.

Rock on, Mr. Carlson!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What does it take to enjoy classical music? Just ears.

It's funny how consistent the comments are when folks discover I host a classical music program on WTJU. "Wow, you must be smart to listen to classical music." "I guess you have to know a lot about classical music to appreciate it." "I don't have a degree in music, so I just listen to [insert any other musical genre here]."

Well, none of that needs to be true. I've always said you just have to listen with open ears and an open mind. Embrace the works that move you, and pass on the ones that don't. Never mind about what you think you "should" like, or what the experts think are the non plus ultra. It's just between you and the music.

But you do have to listen, or you'll completely miss out on what could be a life-changing experience.

And that's part of the point Benjamin F. Carlson made in his Atlantic post aptly titled "The Secret to Classical Music: It's Just Music." He writes:

My thesis is that people aren't listening [to classical music] because they haven't had the right introduction, and because of the image. In today's world, the lovely words "opera" and "symphony" are redolent with snobbery. As I know too well, liking the music is seen as a bit eccentric, if not geriatric, pretentious, and politically reactionary: a bit like wearing furs or an ascot as a twentysomething.

I hope we can get past that. Classical music is old, but it isn't for old men. The music survived because it is some of the best work humans have done in four centuries. For the thrill of a late-Beethoven trill, it's worth getting past the admittedly stuffy, stagey conventions. Besides: the post-modern mind has a genius for stripping things—whether mutton-chops or sitars or kheffiyehs—from their context. It's time Bach, author of the most face-melting harpsichord riffs known to man, came in for his turn.

Carlson's post kicks off a series he's writing to introduce his fellow twentysomethings to the joys of classical music -- without the baggage. I'm looking forward to it, and so should you. Whether your a full-blown classical music nerd like myself or just a casual listener, there's a lot to gain by looking afresh at the assumptions underlying your listening habits.

And he's right -- classical music isn't just for old men. Heck, it's not even just for men.

Friday, June 4, 2010

War and Peace 4 June 2010

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the evacuation of the Allied Forces from Dunkirk in World War II, after the Allies were defeated by Germany. Winston Churchill called the evacuation operation the "miracle of deliverance."

And Sunday, the 6th June, is the 66th anniversary of D-Day, the return and landing four years later of some 160,000 Allied troops in Normandy to liberate war-occupied Europe.

WWII anniversaries are always particularly poignant for me, perhaps because my father fought in the War in the South Pacific. And so to commemorate these anniversaries and Memorial Day this past week, I will be playing Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, op. 66, on Classical Sunrise on Sunday the 6th (from 6 am to 9 am).

I'll be playing a digital release of the original 1963 recording featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, with the composer conducting, and three soloists whom Britten specifically had in mind when he composed the piece: Peter Pears, Galina Vishievskaya, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, representing threee of the nations deeply affected by the War (Great Britain, the then-Soviet Union, and Germany).

The recording remains unsurpassed.

Please join me on Sunday.
- Deborah Murray

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Schumann Bicentennial

June 8 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert Schumann, one of the more colorful (and perhaps tortured) of the major composers. It's an excellent opportunity to reexamine his music, and perhaps rediscover some of it as well.

Schumann's life was not easy. Although something of a piano virtuoso, he ruined his concert career early on by trying to stretch his hands with a mechanical apparatus (it damaged them instead). Schumann was in love with Clara Wieck, the daughter of his piano teacher. Overcoming the father's objections (who thought Clara could do much better), they were married. Clara was an accomplished pianist (and composer) and championed her husband's music at every turn.

Schumann obtained a promising post in Dusseldorf leading their orchestra, but proved to be an ineffectual conductor. Shortly after that, his mental state (never very robust), began to deteriorate. He heard voices, he suffered from tinnitus, hallucinated, and became suicidal. He spent his last two years in an insane asylum, dying at the age of 46.

But he also wrote great music. His intimate understanding of the instrument make his piano works a mainstay of the solo repertoire. His poetic sensibilities and melodic gift make his lieder mainstays of the solo vocal repertoire. Although his chamber music and symphonic works weren't well-received at the time, they too have found a place in the repertoire.

Here's a suggestion: if you only know Schumann's piano works, listen to one of his symphonies. If you only know his symphonies, sample some lieder. If you're really into lieder, give his solo piano works a try. In other words, move beyond what you know. It will be worth the effort, and a great way to mark Schumann's bicentennial.

(And if you're a Twitter user, you can share your Schumann exploration by using the hashtag #SchumannADay in your tweets)