Death and classical music, round three

The Washington Post’s classical critic Anne Midgette is none too pleased about Mark Voenhacker’s Slate piece declaring classical music dead. The first graph:

A few days ago, Slate ran an article announcing the death of classical music. It was a badly written article. It opened with some sensationalist statements written in a kind of faux-cool journalese that’s calculated to provoke and turn off most classical-music lovers, and it continued with a whole bunch of facts and anecdotes strung together without any attempt to link them or bring them to an actual conclusion.

Like Midgette, I don’t agree with Voenhacker’s death pronouncement. Midgette calls him out on the carpet for being sensationalist, for writing click-baiting headlines, and for generally not being the solution to the problem he’s so eager to identify. Fair enough.

All of the feelings.
All of the feelings.

do think it’s a subject worthy of serious exploration. We’re dealing with people’s livelihoods so it’s good to tread carefully, to use a reasoned and considered approach.

don’t think this is an argument to be won or lost on op-ed pages of newspapers. The battlefield is at street level. It’s at box offices and performance halls. This is about hand-to-hand combat, the winning over of the classical music audience, once again.

We need better marketing, better outreach, and a common touch that’s proven very elusive for the music as a whole.

Now accepting ideas.


It’s impossible to watch Leonard Bernstein talk about Beethoven 1 and then not listen to Beethoven 1

In two easy steps, this:

…quickly leads to this.


Let’s just everybody settle down

William Robin with the reset!


I agree. Mark Vanhoenacker’s piece about the death of classical music was overheated.

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t freak out. Want to guarantee jobs for a whole bunch of musicians, conductors and composers? Start building your audience from scratch. Program in novel ways. Play in new places. Give your recordings away for free. Make your case for why people should listen.

Otherwise, wolf-criers like Vanhoenacker may someday be right. And who the hell wants that?


$6M Strad stolen after owner TASED

Fox 6 Now Milwaukee is reporting that Milwaukee Symphony concertmaster Frank Almond was tased Monday by two hoodlums, who then made off with his Lipinski Stradivarius. Ouch.

It’s amazing more instruments aren’t stolen. Most musicians aren’t built like the Ultimate Warrior, and the upside of a successful theft could be tens of thousands, minus the obvious residual bad karma.

STEAL MY OBOE??????????

Maybe it’s time we start looking at cheaper schemes for getting our classical kicks — like instruments made from uh, bike parts?

Anyway, if you live in Milwaukee be on the lookout for an old-school Dodge or Chrysler minivan, because of course that was the getaway vehicle.


Video game music: classical music’s gateway drug

The Super Mario Bros. theme is arguably -- but seriously, definitely -- the most-recognized video game theme. (Okay, you can make a case for Tetris.)
The Super Mario Bros. theme is arguably — but seriously, definitely — the most-recognized video game theme. (Okay, you can make a case for Tetris.)

The old school video game composers knew how to write a tune.

It just so happens that when you take video game music out of the console, flesh out the harmonies and spread the parts across an entire orchestra, amazing things start happening.

Technology limitations fall away. Bass lines get deeper, textures richer, melodies more soaring and beautiful. Here are a few of the most irresistible.

‘Final Fantasy VII’

Hironobu Sakagachi’s “Final Fantasy VII” put the music front-and-center, offering Nobuo Uematsu’s in-game soundtrack in a simultaneous, four-CD release. It’s MIDI-tastic, but in the hands of an able symphony classical atheists  can have a conversion experience.

‘The Legend of Zelda’

Koji Kondo was the mastermind behind the original theme for “The Legend of Zelda.” The game first appeared in 1986 and went on to sell 6.5 million copies. Safe to say people got pretty damn familiar with the Zelda theme, but they never heard it like this.

Kondo didn’t just pen the big themes for Legenda of Zelda. He also influenced game design by having players play a recorder (warning: very nerdy, detailed tab right there) to access secret levels.

‘Chrono Trigger’

Yasunori Mitsuda presided over this one, although Mitsuda was so driven to finish the orchestration of “Chrono Trigger” that he made himself gravely ill.

Mitsuda’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed. The game’s music has been remixed hundreds of times — it’s as irresistible as a James Brown drum break is for rap producers.

First one’s for free

Composers aren’t the only ones vibing to 8-bit ballads. Berklee College of Music enjoys sell-out shows for its Video Game Orchestra. (That’s their “Chrono Trigger” remix above.) Audiences are twisting up J’s while staid orchestras give over their programming to video game music.

Play it for your friends, bump it in your car and on the subway. Video games will rope unsuspecting listeners into loving classical music. Heaven help our children.


Self high-five: the 2014 classical Grammys

Takeaways from last night:

—You will google Roomful of Teeth in the very immediate future.

—Primetime TV doesn’t care about classical music except when Metallica’s involved. (Shouts Kirk Hammett’s Lou Reed “Destroyer” tshirt.)

—Newly ascendant Minnesota Orchestra got tons of love, and deservedly so. You can dial up their Sibelius records on Spotify, for free ninety-nine. They’re back and better than ever.

—Dawn Upshaw and Maria Schneider walked away with hardware for Winter Morning Walks. The album was crowd-funded, and it’s good to know people are willing to drop coin for classical projects.

—You’re forgiven if you watched the Royal Rumble last night instead of the three-and-a-half-hour Grammys.

—Best non-classical performance last night obviously Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons. Debate over.

Want a full wrap-up? Shwing.


Soprano Renée Fleming, the star-spangled flame-spitter

Super Bowl XLVIII pits Peyton Manning’s thumb-shaped head against Richard Sherman’s postgame interview excellence. At halftime, the millions (and millions) watching at home will be treated to a performance by Bruno Mars, with the corpses of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as special guests/props.

How old are these guys, exactly? And how many more California-inspired songs do we have to hear from them?
How old are these guys, exactly? And how many more California-inspired songs do we have to hear from them?

Before any of that happens, though, the star-spangled flame-spitter, Renée Fleming, will sing the National Anthem.

The stakes are high. Fleming is the first opera singer to ever sing at the Super Bowl, and The Star-Spangled Banner ain’t a breeze to sing.

But have faith — consummate professionals, like Fleming, always come through:

Should be a fun night.


Lang Lang’s Fade to Black

Lang Lang performed for the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics. Now, picture him onstage with four scruffy guys.
Lang Lang performed for the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics. Now, picture him onstage with four scruffy guys.

The 2014 Grammy Awards will feature Lang Lang teaming up with Metallica for a very special, one-off performance of Metallica’s “One.”

What do you think of this?

Actually, let me tell you what to think: it’s awesome.

Metalheads and classical nerds have way more in common than they realize. Both love those deep, edgy, endless hooks (Beethoven 5 anyone? riff city) and both the metal and classical forms tend to be complex and heavy. Both have rabid fans.

Lang Lang and Metallica will be brief, full of histrionics, and maybe forgettable.

It certainly won’t be worse than this.

Update: Performance is up (for now).  Nice when it hits at 5:12.


MN Orchestra is now fully armed and operational

The season beginneth.

D-Bry says what we're all thinking.
D-Bry says what we’re all thinking.

The violin social media beat is brutal and unforgiving

Violinists be warned: it’s hard out there.

So much hostility, and a douchey hashtag to boot.

Hated the movie? Blame the fiddler.

The world's tiniest...
The world’s tiniest…

When all else fails, start dropping dimes & naming names. Friends forever!