WQXR shows us what a useful classical music app might look like

The vast majority of classical music apps are hot garbage. Every major symphony has one, as do classical radio stations. Most are designed by the same outfit (not going to name them, but I should). It’s a mystery who they’re designed for, or why they bothered in the first place.

That’s not the case with the WQXR app. Continue reading “WQXR shows us what a useful classical music app might look like”

The unparalled production of Jordi Savall, one of history’s great recording artists

pic via

I’ve written in the past about early-music composer, conductor and multi-instrumentalist Jordi Savall. The guy is a prolific artist who has helmed an envious number of ensembles like Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, and Les Concert des Nations. It wasn’t until I had a closer look at Savall’s discography this week that I realized just how big his recorded output is. Continue reading “The unparalled production of Jordi Savall, one of history’s great recording artists”

May as well stop here because this is the most fearless person you’ll read about all week


Negin Khpalwak is a 19-year-old musician and conductor from Afghanistan. She leads the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women musicians at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul. The fact that Zohra orchestra exists would’ve been miraculous 15 years ago. Continue reading “May as well stop here because this is the most fearless person you’ll read about all week”

Is someone going to say something? Or are we just going to pretend nothing’s wrong?

via https://www.flickr.com/photos/zachd1_618/

Regular readers of the CDA mailer remember the infamous “Classical Music Fails” volumes 1 and 2. They are lowlight reels of classical-music nightmares, the worst things that can happen onstage. The standout among those — and this is saying something — was a shitty, broken-down, unattributed performance of Strauss’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (Don’t worry, I’ll link to it later.)

The Zarathustra performance was so bad I figured it was a hoax, but luckily the folks over at Touchpress are able to attest to its authenticity.

The group responsible for the carnage was the Portsmouth Sinfonia. They were founded at the Portsmouth College of Art in 1970 as a conceptual art project. The concept? Nobody in the orchestra knew how to play their instruments. The mistakes were the art, man.

Portsmouth Sinfonia’s founder, Gavin Bryars, demanded an earnest effort from his subjects. They practiced, they improved marginally, and they performed in a way that sounded approximately like what the composer intended. The Portsmouth Sinfonia counted none other than Brian Eno among its members (on clarinet!). Composer Michael Nyman was even more dramatically seduced while attending a Portsmouth Sinfonia performance:

I sat through the first half […] and I was so moved and entertained and excited by the music that I went up to Gavin in the interval and said, ‘Is there a spare instrument? I’d like to join.’ They had a spare cello, so suddenly I was playing ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ in the second half.

When you’ve got that kind of heat it follows that more and more people would start to hear about it. The Portsmouth Sinfonia grew so popular (really?!) they recorded an album which Rolling Stone called 1974’s “Comedy Album of the Year.” They played Royal Albert Hall and other downscale venues while billed as “the world’s worst orchestra.” And then they broke up.


The lesson here is that if you premise your recordings on a certain “authenticity” fans are happy to get behind it (the Wesley Willis / Lil B axiom) even if it sounds… kinda suspect. Some fails are secret successes, we love what we should hate, we’re so random and unpredictable like that. Reach for the stars.

Still awake? Good.

>> Click here to continue the tour <<

Shining white light/ and wanting to show/ how everything still turns to gold

Led Zeppelin found themselves in hot water last week when a lawsuit alleged they ripped off the “Stairway to Heaven” intro from a song by the 1960s hippie band Spirit, with whom they once toured. You might notice some similarities.

I should say at the outset that I’m a ride-or-die Led Zeppelin fan. I owned their posters and t-shirts and a scratchy bootleg of their last show ever. I learned how to play the drums by figuring out the beat to “When the Levee Breaks.” I even like John Paul Jones.

I’m surprised it’s taken so long for Zeppelin to get called out. They’ve covered, ripped off, appropriated and approximated the sounds of many other performers (albeit very well, imo). Like their peers at the time they shamelessly copied from black American blues music. On paper it looks kinda bad.

However, The New Yorker’s Alex Ross thinks the case against “Stairway” is shaky when you consider the influence Baroque & Renaissance music had in pop music at the time, and on bands like Spirit and Zeppelin in particular. Ross further says the “issue” began way before these two bands ever started up (I bolded a few things in here).

Continue reading “Shining white light/ and wanting to show/ how everything still turns to gold”

Make it snappy: the best classical music Snapchat accounts


Snapchat is a domain ruled by celebrity royalty like DJ Khaled and Kylie Jenner, as well as engagement machines like Buzzfeed and MTV. There’s a reason everybody’s getting on board: Snapchat boasts a jaw-dropping 8 billion video views per day and rising. It’s the messaging app whose 100 million daily users spend an average of 30 minutes a day using it.

So…. question: with all that action, where are the classical musicians? Continue reading “Make it snappy: the best classical music Snapchat accounts”

Longform interview with Michael Avitabile, artistic director of Hub New Music

Hub New Music, from left: Mike Avitabile, flute; David Dziardziel, clarinet; Orin Alan Laursen, violin; Allison Drenkow, cello. This and all other pictures by Nile Scott Shots, courtesy HNM.

I first met Michael Avitabile at a house show hosted by his group, Hub New Music. It was a Friday night in Jamaica Plain and I was looking for a musical fix. You never know what you’ll find at these Groupmuse-type things, but Michael and his group played an ambitious program, including music by red-hot composer Mason Bates (The Life of Birds) alongside Bach’s The Art of Fugue.

Hub New Music are a collective specializing in exacting new-music performances and collaborations with living composers. As the orchestra job market tightens and audience numbers dwindle, groups like Hub New Music offer an enticing way forward. In short, Hub New Music is a group you should pay attention to.

You can read much more about Hub New Music here.

Continue reading “Longform interview with Michael Avitabile, artistic director of Hub New Music”