Monthly Archives: June 2018

All About the Orchestra Challenge

In the first episode of The Great Orchestra Challenge, we meet each of the five competing orchestras as they take on conductor Paul Daniel’s first musical task: the symphony. Daniel has chosen five very different works for each of the orchestras to tackle, by five very different composers. And, to introduce each orchestra to their piece, Daniel goes on a tour around the country to see them all, accompanied by presenter Katie Derham and mentor Chi-Chi Nwanoku.

The Stirling Orchestra are first up, with the finale from Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World’. Daniel conducts the first ten minutes of rehearsal, pelting off at top speed with the orchestra looking slightly bewildered at the pace. ‘You know you’re good, but you don’t do what’s in the parts’, admonishes Daniel genially. ‘You’re not letting the sound come from the bottom, which is where all good sound comes from.’

Meanwhile, around the country, the other orchestras are receiving their symphonies. The London Gay Symphony Orchestra (LGSO) is given Tchaikovsky No. 6, the North Devon Sinfonia gets Beethoven’s Fifth, the Slaithwaite Philharmonic receives Rachmaninov No. 2 and The People’s Orchestra is allocated Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

After Daniel spends time with each of the orchestras, mentor Chi-Chi Nwanoku ‘enters the fray’ for more specialised masterclasses. The most entertaining of these is with The People’s Orchestra in a Birmingham pub, pint of ale in hand.

We get a sense of how important the ensembles are to individuals within the orchestras. Gardener Paula Goodwin was helped to come out as transgender while a member of the LGSO (‘Nobody cares, as long as I don’t play loud, wrong notes!’), and Annie Hill uses her percussion playing as a way of escaping the stress of caring for her husband, who has multiple sclerosis.

All of the orchestras are given quite different advice, from The People’s Orchestra (accuracy and balance) to the Slaithwaite Orchestra (energy and excitement). The North Devon Sinfonia’s conductor Emma Kent has a one-on-one masterclass with Nwanoku, to get her to engage more with the orchestra rather than hiding behind her music.

Before we know it, finals week arrives. All five orchestras descend on the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in London, the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. They’ll give one final performance before judge Paul Daniel decides who will be leaving the competition at this stage.

‘The most important thing is to enjoy it…’ is amateur conductor Stephen Broad’s pep talk to the Stirling Orchestra, ‘and the second most important thing is not to give up, whatever happens’. All of the players seem quite nervous ahead of their performances, but manage to give good performances nonetheless. North Devon’s conductor Emma Kent has decided to conduct without her score, so there is no chance of hiding behind it.

Finally, decision time. Paul Daniel gives positive and negative feedback to all five orchestras, each represented by their conductor and a member of the orchestra.

But who is leaving the competition?

It’s the Slaithwaite Philharmonic. Despite being technically the most proficient of all the orchestras, Daniel says that they weren’t able to communicate their passion in their performance.

Do you agree with his decision? Comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #GreatOrchestraChallenge.

 

Music Festival On Aspen

The Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado is a celebration of classical music like no other. Founded in 1949, it hosts over 600 students from around the world for eight weeks of intense study with top tutors, world-class performance opportunities and a whole load of fun. And generous scholarships ensure many of them don’t pay a penny despite returning three, sometimes four seasons in a row. For the audiences that descend on Aspen for the summer, there are more than 300 events to savour, from masterclasses and talks to orchestral concerts and recitals. It’s an environment that blurs boundaries between student and master, as each feeds off the other for new insights and reminders of the magic of ensemble music-making.

And in a festival of Aspen’s scale and ambition, magic isn’t hard to find, sometimes revealing itself in the most unlikely of places… Here are a few highlights from three days up in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Masterclasses

Aspen invites an impressive roster of resident tutors from around the globe to teach and nurture their students. And masterclasses form the backbone of School, proving as popular with audiences as they are with the students themselves. Two hours listening to Juilliard piano legend Yoheved Kaplinsky impart her wisdom to four young students were an inspiration. One student, who presented Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, Op. 54, spent almost the entire 45 minutes discussing and repeating just a few bars from the opening theme with Kaplinsky – as with so much music, context is the key to understanding the structures and textures in Mendelssohn’s music. Difficulties with memorising parts of the work were solved when the student was advised to spend as much time on the slower, ‘easier’ parts of the piece as the more virtuosic variations. Straightforward, no nonsense advice that one rarely hears these days.

A masterclass in the Wheeler Opera House, just off Aspen’s main shopping/easting drag, saw dozens of students have their performances of Mozart opera scenes taken apart by Edward Berkeley, another Juilliard teacher. Mostly, however, the lessons were practical – not looking at the conductor while looking at the conductor, not hugging someone so hard they can’t sing, concentrating on keeping in tempo while a myriad of other things threaten to plunge your performance into the abyss. A very entertaining few hours indeed.

 

The students

Many budding young musicians go on summer camps to improve technique, meet like-minded peers and take a break from home life. But the dedication of the 630 Aspen students – many of them travel to Aspen immediately after term ends, and return to college almost the day their time in the Rockies ends. Being an Aspen alumnus seems to be a badge of honour which musicians wear throughout their musical careers. They’re a lucky bunch – and I’m sure they realise it.

 

The campus

Costing around $80m and completed just last year, the Aspen campus is the hub of student activity, the place where those 600 brilliant young musicians come to practise, rehearse and hang out. It’s an extraordinary collection of buildings, housing dozens of state-of-the-art practice rooms (each containing a brand new Steinway/Boston grand piano), orchestral studios and a top-class refectory. The setting is breathtaking, the buildings circled around two artificially-made beaver lakes, all at the foot of spruce-covered foothills, gateways to the magnificent Rockies and some of the finest skiing you can find anywhere. A foaming creek tumbles and splashes its way behind the campus as it journeys down the valley.

 

Jeremy Denk

Denk’s reputation as a fine pianist hinges as much on his imaginative programming as it does on his artistry. His recital last Saturday evening, bookended by Bach and Schubert, explored syncopation in seven short works. Revelations included William Bolcom’s softly lilting, beautiful ‘Graceful Ghost Rag’, stride pianist Donald Lambert’s thrilling, irreverent take on the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhauser and Williams Byrd’s ‘The Passinge Mesures’ from My Ladye Nevells Booke, a piece of luminous charm and eye-popping complexity, both harmonically and rhythmically. More pianists should include early English music in their programmes; yes, the piano wasn’t effectively written for until the middle of the 18th century, but if Bach can become a piano recital mainstay, then surely so can Gibbons, Byrd, Tallis, Tomkins and their ilk whose music illuminates when performed on a modern Steinway.

Music is Last but not Least

As another Prom season is planned by the gods that deliver these concerts and their minds ponder what the programmes will contain, worry passes over their decision-making brows as they consider the Last Night. The lower case – last night – will not do to describe it, nor will what it was first described as, ‘the last concert of the series’. Upper case it has to be. And, as everyone one knows, the Last Night does not mean the whole concert but just the second half.

So traditional, so British as eggs and bacon, has the Last Night come to seem that one might imagine it has been the same since Queen Victoria hummed ‘Rule Britannia’ to herself in the bath. But like many traditions it is a much more recent invention. Every one knows, as Henry Wood knew, that you have to end with a party, but what kind of party should it be? Initially the Proms under Henry Wood and Robert Newman had been much more populist than nowadays. Somewhere in their background there had been experience of organising concert series involving promenading audiences (standing, or rather walking around – forbidden now), as well as popular ballad concerts. The latter lay behind the idea of having the audience join in singing, perhaps in preference to coughing or fainting. But the adventurousness and high-mindedness of Wood led to an expanding repertoire of classical music including new works by Richard Strauss, and cycles of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven symphonies. All the more reason to let one’s hair down at the last concert to emphasise that work was now done and it was time for a party.

The first element in the current Last Night sequence was Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs of 1905. Initially this had been written as another piece in a series introducing the orchestra to new listeners: Wood often included an operatic fantasia at the beginning of concerts for this purpose. Each player who played a solo was named in the programme and newcomers to symphony concerts could learn how to appreciate the joys of concert-going. By the 1930s the Fantasia had become entrenched as the first piece in the Last Night. Too entrenched for some, as there was a move in 1953 to remove the Fantasia from the Last Night, a move which was bitterly opposed by some Promenaders. Who won is history.

The second element to appear (of course apart from the National Anthem that ended the concert and the series) was ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. This had been first performed in its instrumental form in 1901, when it was encored twice, and then conducted by Elgar in 1902 with the words as part of the Coronation Ode, for which they were written. It appeared again in 1945 in the Last Night as part of the victory celebrations marking the end of World War II. But it still was not enshrined as a permanent fixture at the final concert.

The last piece to be part of the ‘traditional’ Last Night was Parry’s Jerusalem. A strange inclusion in some ways as it is not ‘patriotic’ in the way ‘Rule Britannia’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ are, and there is an irony in the way half-crazed audiences filled with flag-waving euphoria shout the words ‘nor shall I cease from mental strife’. But, then, not knowing what Blake’s words mean when you sing them has become another British tradition not confined to the Proms.

Music therapy in surgical area

unduhan-30The paper, written by two music therapists and a nurse anesthetist at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, is based on what they learned while conducting a two-year randomized study to learn the effect of live and recorded music on the anxiety of 207 women undergoing a biopsy for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The authors collaborated to introduce music therapy practices into the surgical area. In the study, they randomized patients into a control group (no music), a live music group, or a recorded music group. Due to limited time before surgery, the researchers presented patients in the experimental groups with a live song performed by a music therapist at bedside or a recorded song played on an iPod through earphones.

When self-rating their anxiety using a visual scale ranging from “not at all anxious” to “highly anxious,” participants in both live and recorded-music groups experienced a significant reduction in pre-operative anxiety of 42.5 percent and 41.2 percent, respectively, when compared to the control group.

“During our two-year trial, we gained information on potential benefits, challenges and methods of facilitating a surgical music therapy program,” said lead author Jaclyn Bradley Palmer, a board-certified music therapist at UH Seidman Cancer Center. “In addition, we learned approaches to integrating the program with perioperative nursing staff members.”

Palmer said that a music therapist may be highly beneficial in the surgical setting, and music therapy may be a means of enhancing the quality of patient care in collaboration with perioperative nurses.

“As an interdisciplinary surgical staff member, the music therapist may help nurses achieve patient-related goals of anxiety reduction, pain management, effective education and satisfaction,” said Palmer. “And by having professional music therapists facilitate surgical music therapy programs, nursing workloads also may be reduced.”

She said additional research should continue to study if music therapy programs in the surgical area have a positive effect on patients.

International Youth Choir Festival

In April 2017, eight choirs from around the world will arrive in London for the inaugural International Youth Choir Festival. The choirs will perform a showcase of music from their own countries at the Royal Albert Hall, before uniting for a mammoth performance of Jonathan Dove’sThere Was a Child at the Royal Festival Hall.

The festival is a collaboration between the team at the Royal Albert Hall and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB). Artistic director of the festival Greg Beardsall, who is also deputy artistic director of NYCGB, said: ‘This festival will open people’s ears and eyes to the amazing difference that youth choirs make to people and communities across the world, and offer a unique opportunity to hear eight of the world’s best youth choirs perform together in an incredible public concert.’

As part of the festival, delegates will be able to attend workshops with the visiting choirs on everything from the secrets of Gospel Singing (Boston Children’s Chorus) to an African choral master class (Mzansi Youth Choir). In the weeks leading up to the festival, primary schoolchildren across London will be invited to ‘Songs from Around the World’ workshops. Local youth choirs will also have the chance to participate in the workshops and the performance on 15 April.

The choirs taking part in the inaugural festival are:

Boston Children’s Chorus (US)

BCC is a city youth choir that also believes in its role as a model for civic change, ‘paving the way for a more connected Boston’ through commitment to diversity of membership and repertoire, and a wide-ranging performance, education and outreach programme.

Diocesan Boys’ School Choir (Hong Kong)

The Diocesan Boys’ School in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district has an established culture of academic excellence that places equal emphasis on the importance of students’ cultural and artistic development, exemplified by its outstanding choir.

Mzansi Youth Choir (South Africa)

Famous for its appearance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony, the Mzansi Youth Choir consists of 45 choristers from Johannesburg’s Soweto community, and exists to give these talented but underprivileged teenagers and young adults life-changing opportunities for development and self-expression.

Manado State University Chorus (Indonesia)

Indonesia is home to one of the world’s great choral cultures. The MSUC offer an insight into this remarkably different world, with performances in traditional dress that make extensive use of dance and gesture across repertoire from South Asia as well as Arab, African and European cultures.

National Youth Choir of Great Britain (UK)

Founded in 1983 as a single choir of 100, the National Youth Choir is now the flagship ensemble the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, a family of five choirs which collectively aim to be the most inspiring organisation for young choral singers aged 9-25 in the UK.

Norwegian National Youth Choir (Norway)

Founded in 1987, the NNYC unites 40 young voices from a vast and remote geographical catchment area for performances of a diverse range of music including Renaissance, Baroque and Classical music, national and international folk traditions, and contemporary music.

Riga Cathedral Boys’ Choir (Latvia)

Since Latvian independence in 1990, the RCBC has developed into a national cultural ambassador, mounting up to three international tours a year and performing at numerous state receptions. The boys are pupils at the Riga Cathedral Choir School, which offers specialist training in conducting, choral music and jazz to boys and girls aged 7-18.

Increases cooperation, teamwork

Cornell University researchers explored this question in a pair of lab experiments and found that music can have important effects on the cooperative spirits of those exposed to music.

In the paper newly published by the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Cornell researchers Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink and William Schulze describe two studies they conducted to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played — researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves — team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played — in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands — participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves. The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music.

When researchers conducted a second experiment testing how people react when no music is played, the results were the same. The researchers conclude that happy music provokes people to more often make decisions that contribute to the good of the team.

“Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not,” said Kniffin, a behavioral scientist at Cornell and lead author on the paper. “Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it’s very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions. Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it.”

Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, added: “What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall.”

The researchers suggest managers consider not only the customer experience but also workers’ when picking the day’s music. Starting the day with this simple consideration in mind could result in happier employees and more teamwork.

“Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site teambuilding exercises to build cooperation among employees. Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been underappreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers,” said Kniffin.

The Greatest of Violinists

It’s the instrument that inspired solo masterpieces from Bach to Bartók, that leads the way in chamber groups and symphony orchestras, that is equally at home in gypsy, klezmer and jazz groups alike. Just where would music be without the wonderful violin?

And in the right hands, few instruments can match the violin for displays of thrilling virtuosity, for expressing the full gamut of human emotions and for sheer beauty of sound. As a result, few instrumentalists have had quite the same legendary status as enjoyed by the greatest violinists. In fact, stories concerning the violin and those who play it have sometimes gone beyond the realms of reality – for instance, at his prime in the 1820s, Niccolò Paganini was believed by some to made a pact with the devil himself.

We asked 100 of today’s best players to tell us the violinists who have inspired them most. Each had three choices, with the stipulation that they must have heard them either on disc or live. We totted up the results to produce the following Top 20 of the greatest violinists of the recorded era…

George Enescu

(1881-1955) Romanian

George Enescu was a prodigiously gifted musician whose celebrity was limited by his own modesty and dislike of showmanship for its own sake. Not only a violinist, he was Romania’s leading composer, a distinguished conductor and a teacher whose pupils included Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Ivry Gitlis, Christian Ferras and Ida Haendel. From the age of four he studied violin with the gypsy player Lae Chioru and made his first public appearance, aged eight, as a violinist in 1889. Enescu then studied composition and violin at the Paris Conservatoire, supplementing his official violin lessons with the Paris-based Cuban violinist José White. He toured widely as a violinist (both as a solo and chamber musician) and conductor, but regarded his chief vocation as a composer. His unshowily pristine and song-like violin playing is preserved in the few recordings he made in the US during the 1920s, and his 1940s recordings of Bach’s Solo Sonatas
and Partitas.

The menaing of continuo on music

At some time during that historically sprawling period we call The Renaissance, something happened to our notions of harmony. As far as we can tell today, harmony during the late medieval period was something that in popular music was added to support or heighten a melody, or in polyphonic church music resulted from the interaction of the intertwining voices. But with the rise of opera and the madrigal, with their emphasis on the ebb and flow of earthly human passion, thinking about harmony became more sophisticated. The role of dissonance –the jab or frisson of pain, without which the pleasure of relaxation or resolution was impossible – began to acquire new terms and conditions. Now any chord should also be understood in terms of where it was headed – context was everything. Most radically of all, instead of the harmony simply following or emerging from the melody line or lines, music began to think from the bass up.

The result was the ‘continuo’, or in its original fullness, ‘basso continuo’. One instrument, or more commonly one group of instruments, now commanded the musical texture. It all centred on the bass line. Above the principal notes of the bass part, numbers and other musical symbols (‘figures’) started to appear like sharps or flats. These were to tell the keyboardist, or any other instrument capable of playing polyphonically like the lute or theorbo, what harmonies to build up from that bass (chord symbols in modern guitar music or in jazz work on much the same principle). As well as filling out the sometimes skeletal textures of Baroque music with warm, supple harmonic flesh, the continuo could also provide the rhythmic glue that kept a large ensemble together – the harpsichord, with its sharp clear attack, was particularly useful in this respect.

In this, the continuo-player was a bit like the modern conductor, except that as a hands-on musician he was presumably less prone to barbed or mutinous comments from his colleagues. 

When did it die out? We don’t tend to use continuo instruments in the symphonies and concertos of Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven today, but the composers themselves evidently did, and the practice lasted rather longer in church music. Perhaps the increasing size of orchestras simply made direction from within the ranks impractical – the beat now has to be seen. In which case, vanity and the will to power had only to seize the opportunity.