Classical Music Buzz > Interchanging Idioms
Interchanging Idioms
Chip Michael
Discussions about Classical Music, Concerts, Festivals, Operas, Recordings, Films and the people who work in the industry.
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All art, music included, is subjective. So, how can a composer be certain a piece they've composed is any good?

The point of this post is not to elicit compliments, to to examine the question of whether a composer can judge their own work.

We know Bach's music is good because not only is it pleasant to listen to, but analysis of the music shows a series of layers to the composition. This proves Bach did more than just jot some dots on a page. Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Stravinsky all did the same thing. There is the sound we love, but there is also a grace, an elegance to the way the pieces are put together that make the pieces so much more than just random notes that sound good.

In the past six months I've written a variety of different pieces of music, ranging from some solo flute music to a piano concerto, a string quartet to an orchestral dance. To some extent there is a common "sound" to these pieces, so that if you heard them played in the same concert you might recognized they were all by the same composer even if it wasn't listed in the program. But are they any good?

Flute Toys is the flute and piano piece written for a friend in Denver.

The idea was to create something challenging, something to show off her skill as a flutist. It's possible to put lots of notes on the page and creating music that is difficult to play, but that hardly makes it good. Perhaps some of the criteria to determine if the music is good is to determine if the music creates something new. Brian Ferneyhough certainly did this with his Unity Capsule for Solo Flute.

However, if I were to 'mimic' his style of "new complexity" that's all it would be, pastiche --nothing new.

Another "Soloist" work is the start to a Piano Concerto entitled "Intense Relationships."

Again, the point was to create challenging music that was also lyrical. Something else I very much enjoy is intense rhythms, so I incorporated rapid repetitive notes for the pianist --not particularly easy to accomplish and yet, not insurmountable. There were also considerations for how the music lays in the hands of the pianist. It's possible to write music where the hands fly all over the piano, but then I bet again the possibility of getting an accurate performance. Whether I captured some of what Ligeti did with his Etude No.10 "Der Zauberlehrling" is still to be determined. Certainly there is a difference in the sound of the music.

Rinaldi Strings asked me to write a string quartet, which is entitled "Atmospheres" after Ligeti's orchestral piece of the same name, the first movement, "Genus Cumulonimbus."

Another piece influenced by Ligeti, this time from his earlier music --the orchestral piece Atmospheres (my quartet bears the same name), and his consideration of two different styles of music which he described as clocks and clouds. My quartet is an amalgamation of the two together. Fresh on the heels of writing the 1st movement of the Piano Concerto, I was heavily influenced with the sound of repetition. I also very much like irregular rhythm, here incorporated into a 19/16 time signature. But it doesn't quite capture a "new" sound like Horatiu Radulescu does with his String Quartet No. 5.

I woke a few days after finishing the first movement of the string quartet with a series of orchestral dances using irregular rhythms.

This movement, recently finished (pending review), is entitled Dança apaixonado (Passionate Dance) as the music is a reflection of the passionate Latin music. The irregular rhythm of 31/16 feels ostensibly like 4/4, but with a slight anticipation to the music. Could it have been written in 4/4? Probably, but then I've sat through so many performances of Bernstein's "West Side Story Suite" where the musicians failed to get the proper hesitation or anticipation to the music and left the music sounding stiff. It is impossible to dance to Latin music and be stiff.

As I venture back over my recent pieces I realize I still like the music. Even after a few months, I like the way they sound. But that doesn't mean it's "good" music.

In my exploration of "new" music, I listen to a number of fellow living composers' music. There is not a single sound I would call contemporary classical. However, there is an edge in many of their pieces I'm not is present in mind. It may be; I just don't know.

Someone told me one once, write what you like and if it it's good, it'll get played. But it can be years from the finalizing of a piece to the first performance. In that time I will write numerous other pieces. If the piece isn't good, and I continue to write in that vein, all I will do is continue to write bad music (or at least, not good music).

I'm not sure there's an answer to the question "is it good," at least not one I can answer. There are qualities of "good" music. I have tried to incorporate those qualities into these pieces, while striving to create something new. Whether I succeeded isn't something I can judge. If I thing something is in the music, it may be there for me because I intended it to be there. An author writing a book, may think part of the plot, which explain everything, is evident, but somehow what was in their head didn't get down on paper. For a composer, our music is very much like that.

I like my music. I thought about all those "things" my instructors taught me about great classical pieces when writing the music. Someone else will have to be the judge as to whether I got them on the page or not.

Tags: Brian Ferneyhough ; György Ligeti ; Chip Michael ; Boulder Chamber Orchestra ; 20th Century ; 21st Century ;
6 years ago |
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"I'm awfully glad to have met Alessio, and I can't wait to hear what he'll bring to the music he plays in the future," wrote Performance Today host Fred Child in "The Poetry and Power of Pianist Alessio Bax," his most recent "Favorite Sessions" blog post for NPR Music (Nov 10).

Child isn't Bax's only admirer. In its review of the pianist's new album, Rachmaninov: Preludes & Melodies, the Gramophone magazine praised "the wondrously gifted Alessio Bax," saying, "You would have to have a heart of stone not to be beguiled by Bax's romantic warmth." American Record Guide proclaimed, "This is an outstanding Rachmaninov program... . Bax conquers all with plenty of technique to spare."

In September, the pianist returned to the Dallas Symphony to play Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 with music director Jaap van Zweden. Styling him "the eloquent pianist Alessio Bax," the Dallas Morning News hailed his performance as "world-class Mendelssohn." Theater Jones confirmed, "Italian pianist Alessio Bax has both the nimble fingers and the easy charm required to give the concerto a marvelous outing."

6 years ago |
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France’s most prestigious recording prizes — the Diapason d’or de l’année — for 2011 were awarded on Thursday in Paris. The Diapason d’or de l’année, honoring the year’s finest CDs and DVDs, are voted by a jury composed of critics from Diapason magazine and broadcasters from France Musique.

Among the victors were Universal recording artists Jonas Kaufmann and Pierre Boulez as well as I Fagiolini’s recording of Alessandro Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts.

This is just the latest in a list of outstanding critical and commercial plaudits for I Fagiolini’s Striggio release on Decca – the world premiere recording of the 40-part mass, which is said to have inspired Tallis’ Spem in alium, after the work was lost for almost 450 years. As well as winning Gramophone’s “Early Music Award” last month, The Observer described it as “a masterpiece”.

Jonas Kaufmann also recently received an award from Gramophone for his recital album, Verismo. For the Diapason d’or de l’année Kaufmann wins for his emotionally intense portrayal of Werther in Massenet’s eponymous opera which was released by Decca on DVD. The performance, recorded live at the Paris Opera, includes the singers Sophie Koch and Ludovic Tézier under the musical direction of Michel Plasson.

Pierre Boulez, whose career has lasted more than 60 years, has received an outstanding 26 Grammy awards to date (beginning in 1967 with a recording of Berg’s Wozzeck and most recently in 2005 with a recording of his own works) and adds this Diapason d’or de l’année for his latest recording of works by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski.

6 years ago |
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Using contemporary composition techniques, the music creates a sense of anticipation found in passionate Latin style dance music.

This first completed work of the set, entitled Dança apaixonado (Passionate Dance), is one part of a set of orchestral dances entitled Danças do Coração (Dances of the Heart).

Each piece is an exploration of dance music and the way some indigenous forms create subtle shifts in the meter with hesitations or anticipations.For these pieces, these "shifts" are written in for the orchestra.

Dança Apaixonado begins in 15/16 with an anticipation of the beat.That anticipation becomes even more slight as the music moves into 31/16, although it feels like the orchestra is playing in 4/4.The point of the music is to create the illusion of dance and yet capture the essence of what dance musicians have known for centuries: good music doesn't fit into a square box.

The music is also heavy in terms of percussion use. While it only requires a timpanist and three other percussionists, the range of instruments they play cover every thing from the Vibraphone and Marimba, to Bongos, Conga, Snare Drum, Triangle, Guiro, Clave, Maracas and more. With the unusual time signature, there is a need to keep a constant plus in the music. Even though the music gives the impression of a hesitation, the highly articulate way it's done means the entire orchestra needs to be precise with each sixteenth note!

Dança apaixonado by Chip Michael

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6 years ago |
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One of New England’s most beloved holiday traditions, the Holiday Pops season, under the direction of Keith Lockhart, opens on Wednesday, December 7, and runs through Saturday, December 24, at Symphony Hall. On Saturday, December 3, at noon on the Christian Science Plaza, Keith Lockhart will celebrate the opening of Holiday Pops with a pre-season kick-off event, inviting the greater Boston community to a holiday carol sing-off in an attempt to achieve a new Guinness Book world record for the most carolers gathered in one place. Among the celebrities and performing artists visiting Symphony Hall this season, comedian/actor/musician Jim Belushi and pop vocal act Rockapella will join Keith Lockhart and the Pops at “Company Christmas” on Wednesday, December 14. New Kid on the Block’s Joey McIntyre will also appear as a guest vocalist with members of the Pops to raise the holiday spirits of patients at the Boston Pops Annual Children’s Hospital concert on Tuesday, December 20.

Each of the season’s 37 Holiday Pops concerts features a performance of A Visit from St. Nicholas (“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”) with different guest narrators and projections from Jan Brett’s newly-released audio DVD book (featuring musical accompaniment by the Boston Pops and narration by Jim Dale) above the stage of Symphony Hall. Ms. Brett will narrate the work herself during Opening Night at Holiday Pops on Wednesday, December 7, at 8 p.m., a performance that will also feature Peter Fiedler—son of the legendary Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler—as a guest conductor on the ever-popular Sleigh Ride. In addition, Santa Claus will make a special guest appearance on opening night and at each of subsequent the Holiday season performances, which take place at Symphony Hall, festively decorated to evoke the unique charm of a New England holiday season.

Additional highlights of the 2011 Holiday Pops season include White Christmas, the Boston Pops’ signature Sleigh Ride, the inspiring Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” and a popular rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas featuring the majestic voices of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, who will join the orchestra until the last performance on Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24. The Boston Pops will also perform How the Grinch Stole Christmas with local actors Will Lebow and Jeremiah Kissel as guest narrators. Each concert concludes with A Merry Little Sing-Along giving the audience a chance to join in with the Pops to sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Let it Snow!, Winter Wonderland, and Jingle Bells.

6 years ago |
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CD Signing at Met Shop on Dec 9 and Worldwide HD Broadcast of Faust on Dec 10

“You can't get much better as Méphistophélès than René Pape.” — Opera Brittania

Few singers bring Méphistophélès to life like bass René Pape, who reprises his portrayal of the charming devil at the Metropolitan Opera in a November 29-January 19 run of Gounod's Faust, staged by Des McAnuff. Pape launched his season in the highly esteemed all-star David McVicar production of Faust at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The glowing reviews included this from the UK's Daily Telegraph: "René Pape was simply magnificent as Méphistophélès, his vocal power, histrionic authority and sly wit putting him in the Chaliapin league." During the Met run, to celebrate his internationally lauded new Deutsche Grammophon release, Wagner, Pape will meet his New York fans at 3 pm on December 9, when he signs CDs at the Met Opera Shop. The following day, opera lovers worldwide can revel in Pape's devilish portrayal of Méphistophélès when Faust is beamed to cinemas worldwide as part of the ever-popular Met in HD series.

In the Met’s Faust, under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Pape shares the stage with Marina Poplavskaya (Marguerite), Russell Braun (Valentin) and Jonas Kaufmann (Faust). Pape made his Met role debut as Méphistophélès in 2005, which led Anthony Tommasini to declare in the New York Times that the bass "already owns the role. His singing is robust, incisive and chilling." In the Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson wrote: "René Pape – handsome, suave-toned and full of high spirits and dangerous undercurrents – is a Méphistophélès that anyone would follow right to hell.” Proving that he has only added to his sound and portrayal since his initial Met run, top UK critics singled out Pape at Covent Garden for praise earlier this season, with George Hall highlighting "the magnificence of the voice" (The Stage) and Fiona Maddocks pointing to his "imperious charm" (The Observer). Opera Brittania enthused in detail: "When it comes to ideal casting you probably can’t get much better than René Pape as Méphistophélès … Pape’s Wagnerian instrument has a luscious `black' timbre and is perfectly smooth and even throughout the range, possessing the heft and authority required to really make an impact in this vital role… His Act III incantation `O nuit, étends sur eux ton ombre!' was sung with such noble majesty that he could have been Wotan saluting Valhalla."

Pape is one of today’s most distinguished Wagnerians, and his most recent album, Wagner, presents the bass – teamed with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin – in signature roles such as Gurnemanz in Parsifal and Wotan in Die Walküre. Released earlier this year in Europe, the album won Pape his second ECHO Klassik award for Opera Recording of the Year. WQXR, New York's classical music station, declared Wagner to be "a must for any Wagnerite." The album includes a teaser of a role Pape has yet to reveal on stage: his eagerly anticipated Hans Sachs, the noble cobbler of Die Meistersinger. There are also scenes from Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, as well as a special treat in the form of a scene from Parsifal that has Pape singing alongside the great tenor Plácido Domingo. In BBC Music magazine’s review of Wagner, Michael Tanner extolled Pape’s "very beautiful" voice, while extended praise came from the UK’s Guardian, where Tim Ashley wrote: “This is very lyrical Wagner singing – sensual, even sexual in tone, noble in utterance … The ‘Fliedermonolog,’ sounding unusually erotic, is one of the disc’s high points, along with Wotan’s farewell from Die Walküre.” Wagner was featured as an Editor’s Choice in the July issue of Gramophone, where Arnold Whittall’s review summed up the album's appeal: “It's not often we hear this music so gorgeously intoned… When it comes to sheer vocal refinement and the purest Wagnerian gravitas, René Pape is hard to beat."

At the Met CD signing on December 9, Pape will also be autographing copies of his 2008 DG album, Gods, Kings & Demons, on which he sings two Méphistophélès arias from Faust. Michael Tanner writes in International Record Review: “René Pape has the most beautiful bass voice to have emerged in Germany in the last 40 years… Here he is to be found singing the Devil in various guises… to all of whom he gives a gliding, insinuating tone of sinister near-geniality, with no snarls, manic cackles or other familiar satanic devices. … I’d urge those interested in this kind of repertoire and voice to buy it, so that they can listen to this wonderful instrument.”

6 years ago |
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The celebrated Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes gives his first U.S. performance of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Manfred Honeck on November 25 and 27, followed soon after by a performance of the work with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Roger Norrington (Nov 30 and Dec 1). Early in 2012 he plays it again with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Zinman (Jan 12–14, 17), before turning to the Third Concerto, which he performs with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Herbert Blomstedt (Jan 19-21). Beethoven’s music figures prominently throughout Andsnes’s 2011-12 season and beyond, with numerous concerto performances and recitals across Europe, North America, and Japan, along with his debut recording for Sony Classical.

“Preparing myself for my first performance of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto this past summer, when I performed it with La Scala Philharmonic and Maestro Gianandrea Noseda, I came to understand why the legendary pianist Sviatoslav Richter called it his favorite concerto. It’s an astonishing piece – quite long at 36 minutes, and demonstrating all the breadth and vision we associate with Beethoven’s music. The First Concerto is the last of the composer’s five piano concertos that I’ve come to play, and I’m thrilled to be playing it this season with such wonderful conductors and orchestras. - Leif Ove Andsnes

Last month, Andsnes played Beethoven’s Third Concerto with Jirí Belohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London and on tour in Spain, and the First Concerto with Andris Nelsons and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra at the Musikverein. Throughout the season, he performs concertos – conducting from the piano – with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Mahler Chamber Orchestra. His May 2012 tour with the latter ensemble includes performances of the First and Third Concertos on tour in Italy, Dresden, Prague and Bergen. The Prague concerts will be recorded live by Sony Classical; they represent the first part of a multi-year project entitled “Beethoven – A Journey,” which will present Andsnes playing and recording all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos

6 years ago |
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The soprano fulfills a lifelong dream of recording songs from not only Spain but also Cuba, Brazil and France


After two recitals on Deutsche Grammophon featuring works by Mozart, Haydn, Handel and their contemporaries, French soprano Patricia Petibon turns her attention to Spain and then other countries for songs and arias. This unique and personal collection of works all revolve around the idea of melancholy. According to Petibon, “at the center [of the idea] is the character of Salud in Falla’s La vida breve. She embodies the melancholy of the title, the loss of hope. Melancholy is a balance in life, a sadness that binds us to death. Salud represents the darkest side of melancholy that tends toward tragedy. But this sort of melancholy can also depict the radiance of childhood, of joy and laughter. What I wanted to explore through this disc was the journey between these two poles.”

Throughout her life Petibon has been attracted to Spain and its music. Early on she added Spanish songs to her recitals and later traveled to Madrid to perform. It was during performances in Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda in Vienna with Plácido Domingo that she found herself surrounded by many performers from all types of Spanish-language backgrounds. Working with them gave Petibon new insight: “Spanish artists have a physical sense of the music: for them, it draws its strength from the body, and there I can’t resist making a connection with Baroque music, with dance, of course, and extreme characters – think of Médée or Armide. It also shares the same kind of quality of roughness, of rawness, and voices are used to express emotions, not just to make a lovely sound.”

“But there are endless subtleties in Ms. Petibon’s thrilling voice, a vehicle for myriad shades of rage, pain and yearning … her voice rich in both its powerful top range and its mellower lower notes. She takes abundant liberties without sacrificing good taste.” – The New York Times review of Rosso

For repertoire choices Petibon has included a variety of works. The famous Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Villa-Lobos is joined by works of Granados, Montsalvatge, Turina and others. In addition, Petibon includes the world-premiere of a new song cycle written especially for her by French composer Nicolas Bacri: Melodías de la melancholia. With a text by the Paris-based Colombian writer Álvaro Escobar Molina, the cycle allows Petibon to “complete a melancholy journey with a contemporary work, an opening to the future, and a blend of our two cultures.” This cross-cultural conversation and sense of a journey permeates the selections and the overall structure of the recital.

6 years ago |
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Join Colorado Symphony December 16-17 for Marin Alsop conducting the ever popular Too Hot to Handel

This R&B, jazz, and gospel reworking of Handel’s “Messiah” has audiences rocking in the aisles. Join Marin Alsop, the Colorado Symphony, the Colorado Symphony Chorus and special guest vocalists for the 14th annual jazzy retelling of Handel’s great classic.

Too Hot To Handel
FRI 12/16 - 7:30 p.m.
SAT 12/17 - 7:30 p.m.
Boettcher Concert Hall

Marin Alsop, conductor laureate
Colorado Symphony Chorus
Mary Louise Burke, associate director

Cynthia Renee Saffron, soprano
Vaneese Thomas,
Lawrence Clayton, tenor
Clifford Carter, piano
Dana Landry, organ
Clint de Ganon, drums

6 years ago |
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Opera Colorado will be holding auditions for chorus members on Sunday, December 11 from 12 pm to 3 pm at the Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education in the Historic Tramway Building. The Opera Colorado chorus is currently seeking tenors, baritones & basses for the 2012 Season productions of The Marriage of Figaro (Italian), Florencia en el Amazonas (Spanish), and Il Trovatore (Italian). In addition, we have limited audition slots available for sopranos and mezzo-sopranos. Singers who have auditioned for the chorus in the past two years do not need to re-audition at this time. Applicants who are being considered will be contacted and given an audition time.

The Opera Colorado Chorus is a largely volunteer group. Participants are paid a stipend for each production to cover parking and transportation costs. To request an audition slot, interested singers should send - VIA E-MAIL - their résumé, or a simple list of previous experience to Brad Trexell at Please include your name, e-mail address and telephone number. Singers will be asked to sing one operatic aria or classical art song of their choice. An accompanist will be provided.

DATE: Sunday, December 11
TIME: 12 pm - 3 pm
WHERE: Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education in the Historic Tramway Building at 1101 13th Street, Denver
(Purple Studio on 2nd Floor)

6 years ago |
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