All Things Considered
Owner Heidi Rogers Tuesday at her famous Manhattan shop, Frank Music Company, before the store's final closing Friday. Judging silently from on high is composer Igor Stravinsky.
There's a kind of little village of artisans on Manhattan's West 54th Street. In a couple of plain looking office towers, there are a bunch of rehearsal studios, violin makers' workshops and other music businesses. Behind one of those office doors on the 10th floor sits Frank Music Company — Frank's, as everybody calls it.
The store opened in 1937. Heidi Rogers has owned the shop since 1978. And she still writes all of her receipts in pencil. Rogers stands behind the counter, nearly her entire stock sits behind her, stored in thousands of large brown folders stacked on industrial shelving.
"I don't have a computerized inventory, believe it or not," she says. "So, I have hundreds of thousands of things. I have a lot of music. Let's put it this way: I could pretty much say 'yes' to any request from a musician for many, many years. I never was out of things."
Yet today she will make her last sale, as her store is closing for good.
At its height, Frank's was a pilgrimage site for many musicians, from students to the world's most celebrated soloists. There used to be another sheet music store called Patelson's, right behind Carnegie Hall. But Patelson's closed down in 2009, and Frank's was the last dedicated shop left standing. You can still buy scores at The Juilliard Store up at Lincoln Center, but it's just not the same.
Rogers holds forth while people are flooding Frank's for one last shopping trip. About a dozen customers pack the tiny space, listening reverently. Among them is Canadian-born violinist Lara St. John. She performs as a soloist with orchestras around the world. Yet this is where she comes for sheet music.
"Oh, I would say, more than 20 years, probably something like 25 years. Since I was a kid, basically," St. John says. "It was my only stop for sheet music for a quarter of a century. I mean, I always came here."
The violinist is taking today to do one final stocking up. "Well, let's see," she muses. "I think I have a pile over there of 10 violin concertos. I also got a couple of standards, like some of the Mozarts, also some more modern stuff — Arvo Pärt, Szymanowski, this sort of thing, because unless you come here to Frank's, it's really difficult to get that stuff."
Franks's was also a place to talk about music.
"I would always run into people that I knew," remembers Zizi Mueller, "or I'd run into major musical people that I didn't know, but that were there. And the other thing about it, too, is that the staff was always comprised of musicians and really knowledgeable people."
Mueller is the president of Boosey & Hawkes, one of the biggest classical music publishers. Boosey administers the music of Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Bartók, as well as such living composers as John Adams, Steve Reich and Osvaldo Golijov.
Mueller acknowledges that as online sites have popped up, allowing people to download sheet music to their iPads, traditional dots on paper are quickly becoming obsolete.
"The online world offers SO many advantages to the musicians and non-musicians alike, that it's become a kind of irresistible force," Mueller says.
Mueller won't say how that online world has affected her sales, but Rogers will.
"The beginning of the end was photocopying," Rogers says, "and then after that the internet, because it's hard to compete with Amazon. And in the last three years, there's been a tremendous amount of free downloading of public domain music and even non-public domain. I mean, there's all kind of copyright violation going on, and you just can't survive that. Because if you can't sell Mozart and Schubert and Beethoven, you can't pay for Hindemith and Lutoslawski and Stravinsky and all the other 'skis."
All of them, and the rest of her unsold stock, will go to the Colburn School in Los Angeles, thanks to an anonymous donor who is buying all those stacks of brown folders.
And as the store fills up with last-minute well-wishers, St. John pauses at the counter to take a selfie with Rogers — one final farewell to an era.
21-year-old Estonian-American composer Jonas Tarm.
It was supposed to be a celebratory occasion, a high-profile performance of a piece given life by the orchestra that commissioned it — a young composer's music played by other young musicians.
Instead, the performance scheduled for Sunday of Jonas Tarm's music at Carnegie Hall by the highly regarded New York Youth Symphony (NYYS) has been canceled after it came to the attention of the ensemble's administration that the piece contains a quotation from the Nazi "Horst Wessel Lied."
Born in Estonia, Tarm is a 21-year-old composer studying at the New England Conservatory in Boston. In 2014, he won the "First Music" prize from the NYYS, which resulted in the commission of a piece to be played by the orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Within the 9-minute piece called, in Ukrainian, Marsh u Nebuttya (March to Oblivion), Tarm says he used two musical quotes, each about 45 seconds long. The first is the anthem of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the second is a Nazi anthem, the "Horst Wessel" song.
Tarm maintains that a piece of music should not necessitate further verbal explication. As such, he did not volunteer to tell the NYYS he was making those musical quotations within his piece, nor did he provide any background or context about his artistic intentions to the orchestra.
Absent those conversations, what resulted was that a group of youthful musicians — many of them well under the age of 18 — were unknowingly performing music they (and their parents and guardians) may have strongly objected to, whether or not they understood Tarm's artistic ideas and the context of his piece, which he now describes on his website as being "devoted to the victims who have suffered from cruelty and hatred of war, totalitarianism, polarizing nationalism — in the past and today."
Tarm turned in the Marsh u Nebuttya score in September. Rehearsals began in December and the piece was premiered in a NYYS performance at Manhattan's United Palace Theater Feb. 22. The composer wasn't able to attend that performance, but he said he was contacted afterward by NYYS conductor Joshua Gersen.
The composer says Gersen told him the performance went "quite well," aside from technical details that needed further rehearsing. In addition, Tarm claims that a friend of his in the audience told him that the piece was "well received by the audience."
The project fell apart after that first concert. According to interviews the NYYS' executive director, Shauna Quill, gave to the New York Times and to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the orchestra was not aware of Tarm's quotations until after the piece's world premiere at the United Palace Theater, when one audience member sent a letter of complaint to the orchestra, signed "A Nazi Survivor."
Tarm says that the first and only conversation he had about his work's content with the orchestra came March 2. And that at that point, NYYS made it clear to him that their decision to cancel his piece on their Carnegie Hall program was final.
"I was never contacted before to explain myself and my artistic views," Tarm says. "That was never an opportunity I was given."
"I strongly believe that the music should speak for itself," he continues. "This is the most disappointing thing about the situation for me. I felt like I had something important to say, musically speaking, and I was not able to say it. Shostakovich, Mahler, Beethoven — you cannot find any official program notes they provided at their concerts, describing what the music means to them."
He says he believes he had already provided enough in what he delivered to the NYYS. Along with its evocative title, the piece carries a dedication "to the victims of hunger and fire." The program note, in its entirety, is composed of five lines of poetry:
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
That poetry is an excerpt from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot — someone infamous for his anti-Semitism. Was that citation meant to add fuel to the fire? Tarm claims not to have been cognizant of Eliot's anti-Jewish writings. "I was not aware of that context of his life," Tarm says. "I had no idea about that."
Our inquiries to the New York Youth Symphony were referred to Kimberly Kriger, a spokeswoman from Kekst and Company, a crisis-management PR firm whose team includes NYYS board member Ruth Pachman. In a lengthy press statement issued today, the organization responded, "The first time the composer revealed the source of his music was on Mar. 2, in response to our inquiry [about musical sources] ... When asked to explain the context and meaning of the piece, which would justify his use of this source, he refused."
The NYYS release continues: "This was his obligation to our orchestra as a commissioned artist and particularly important given the fact he was working with students, ages 12-22. Had the composer revealed the sources of his piece and the context under which they were used upon submission of the final commission in September 2014, the piece and the notes could have served as an important teaching moment for our students. However, without this information, and given the lack of transparency and lack of parental consent to engage with this music, we could not continue to feature his work on the program. Again, if the composer had been forthright with us from the start, this situation would not have transpired."
The NYYS declined requests for further comment from Quill and Gersen.
Latvian bass-baritone Egils Silins portrays The Flying Dutchman, one of opera's most disturbing bachelors, in Orange, France in 2013.
The Bachelor, the reality TV show poised to close out another nail-biting season (which young woman will Chris Soules choose Monday?), has nothing on opera. Over the past 400 years, composers have placed onstage any number of hot-blooded Romeos, sensible gentlemen and conniving psychopaths all looking for the perfect mate.
Your job in this puzzler is to identify some of opera's most eligible bachelors, sorting out which are dateable and which are duds — or worse. Score high and consider yourself a competent judge of character. Score low and beware your next romantic rendezvous.
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Tenor Bryan Hymel sings shining high Cs in the Rossini aria "Asile héréditaire."
Pavarotti, roll over. There's a new king of the high Cs. His name is Bryan Hymel and he pops off no fewer than 10 of them in "Asile héréditaire," the Rossini aria that opens his new album Héroïque, released Tuesday.
To be fair, Hymel's brawny tone has little in common with the sunny Italian sound of Pavarotti. And that's just the point. Hymel's voice is rare these days: a combination of Wagnerian muscle and bel canto refinement, comfortable in the stratospheric register (look out for a couple of C-sharps and one high D on the album), strong enough to soar above a full orchestra and suave enough for sweet-toned love scenes.
Like many a rising opera star before him, Hymel (pronounced EE-mel), a 35-year-old New Orleans native, caught a break filling in at the last minute. In 2012, he replaced leading tenors at London's Royal Opera House and New York's Metropolitan Opera, both times in the punishing role of Énée in Berlioz's Les Troyens. In 2018, he'll open the Met season in Samson et Dalila.
Arnold Melchtal, a character in Rossini's operatic version of the William Tell legend, is another taxing role, infrequently risked by tenors today. But Hymel makes his aria "Asile héréditaire" sound easy. The character returns to his birthplace to whip up vengeance (with a chorus of Swiss confederates) for the murder of his father.
Make sure to listen all the way to the end to hear Hymel cap off the aria with staggeringly long-held high Cs. This is why we listen to opera!
Chinese conductor Long Yu.
By some measures, China is now the world's largest economy. It's also a gigantic market for American brands, from Hollywood blockbusters to KFC and Pizza Hut. But one Chinese conductor, Long Yu, would like these cultures to hear each other a little more clearly. He's launching a new project to do just that, and it's starting tonight with the New York Philharmonic. Yu is a man used to thinking big. He leads three orchestras — the Shanghai Symphony, the Guangzhou Symphony and Beijing's China Philharmonic, which he founded. He also helped create a music academy.
"Everybody knows that today we have a large number of young people who are learning classical music, and who appreciate very much the classical music," Yu says. "We have 40 million kids are learning instruments in China, which is really unbelievable."
Yu also guest conducts top-tier orchestras across North America and Europe — including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, the Orchestre de Paris and the BBC Symphony — and he thinks it's high time for that interest to flow both ways.
So he's come up with Compose 20:20. He's kicking it off tonight with the U.S. premiere of a piece by Chinese composer Zhao Lin. The work features two soloists — cellist Yo-Yo Ma and fellow virtuoso Wu Tong, who plays a Chinese wind instrument called the sheng.
Over the next five years, Yu plans to present 20 new works by prominent Chinese composers here and in Europe, and 20 by well-known Americans and Europeans in China. The list includes Krzysztof Penderecki and John Adams, and Chen Qigang and Ye Xiaogang.
"A lot of people think China is very interesting today," Yu says. "But how much you know about China? How much you know about Chinese music? How much you know about the young generation?"
"China loves to make big announcements. Once you do that, it becomes real in a way, it becomes a lot more tangible," says Ken Smith, who writes about music for the Financial Times of London. He's also a longtime, up-close observer of the Chinese cultural scene. He says the young generation that Yu wants Western audiences to get to know could be called Generation Startup.
"From about 2001, I would say, the Ministry of Culture said, in no uncertain terms, they're no longer funding culture," Smith says. "Now, they didn't stop censoring, but their job was not anymore to put it up and administrate it. They needed an entire middle class of managers to do that. And they were, fortunately, starting to come back from schooling in New York, schooling in Berlin, knowing at least the rudiments of arts administration."
Yu is one of those who studied abroad. "I'm really thankful that I'm living today," he says, "because I was born in the '60s, and I grew up during the '70s, and everyone knows this is during the very difficult time, the Cultural Revolution time, and so we grew up through that. And then I belong to the first generation who went abroad, to study in the West, also in the '80s, and I also belong to the first generation after our graduation, we went back."
And Smith says that multicultural background gives Yu special footing to make sure the work of his own generation is recognized, both abroad and at home.
"Unless something is really well-documented and well-cemented, you don't know, at the end of the day, what legacy you will have," Smith says. "In China, it's even worse, because — I can't think of a country that has done more to eliminate the work of a previous generation sequentially, over time. The past 100 years, you've seen entire ways of thought eliminated and criminalized, basically. In this kind of situation, the more people who are involved in this internationally and the more people who are looking at it, the harder it is for them to say 'no.' To have something like this go out at this level of profile, it will be noticed."
And if anyone is in a position to make that happen, it's Long Yu.
Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori as hotel concierge M. Gustave and his lobby-boy confidante, Zero, in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Composer Alexandre Desplat is competing against himself in this year's Oscars: He's up for two awards in the category of Best Original Score. One is for the music he wrote for The Imitation Game, the World War II drama about the man credited with breaking the Nazis' "Enigma" code. The other is for his work on Wes Anderson's playful caper The Grand Budapest Hotel — a cultural mishmash that demanded equally fanciful music to set the scene.
Depending on your point of view, Wes Anderson movies are fantastic, artful creations or precious indulgences. Either way, the director is very particular about the music in his movies. The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in the fictional Zubrowka, somewhere in Central Europe, at a fancy hotel that once sparkled with activity. To give the movie its central European feel, composer Alexandre Desplat used Gregorian chant, balalaikas, and the cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer heard in folk music in Hungary and Austria and elsewhere throughout the region.
Grand Budapest is almost cartoon-like: Each oddball character has a musical theme. The concierge M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes, is very serious about his job — and a big flirt with the wealthy dowagers who stay at the hotel. Desplat chose mandolins to represent those qualities.
"It's all the mandolins that are doing this tremolo, and this creates a trembling, so it's a bit solemn — because M. Gustave has solemnity and elegance," Desplat says.
This is the third Wes Anderson movie Desplat has scored: He also did Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom. He says there's a kind of melancholy to the humor in Anderson's films.
"You see some very dark sides of humanity, but the way he wants to play with it and show it to us is with some distant humor," he says. "So I had to play with that and not take myself too seriously. Otherwise I would have killed the whole humor of the picture."
For film music critic Jon Broxton, Desplat's music adds to the humor. Take the musical theme that follows Willem Dafoe's character: He's a henchman in leather with brass knuckles, and his arrival is signaled first by organ and then by vocals.
"He has a choir," Broxton says, "but it's not singing. It's kind of going rum-te-tum-te-tum-te-tum, and that just brought to mind, to me, the old images of Monty Python characters."
Grand Budapest also includes some pre-existing compositions. The movie's opening scene features zauerli, a kind of yodeling from Switzerland that Anderson had heard and loved. He and music supervisor Randall Poster even found a real zauerli group in a small Swiss village, and a German-speaking friend tried to set up a recording. But Poster says it never happened; their German friend told them the group's very real lives got in the way.
"He goes, 'Well, the guy, the leader of the group, he's the baker in town. And the other guy, he's the postman in town. And it's not like the movie calls very often, so I think we would need like four or five months to get their schedules together,'" Poster recounts. He and Anderson settled instead on a recording by the Swiss group Öse Schuppel.
With these authentic international folk recordings and Alexandre Desplat's Central European-inspired score, the "Republic of Zubrowka" in The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like a real place, not just one from Anderson's vivid imagination.
As for Desplat's Oscar chances, he's been nominated six times before, but never won. This year, he's doubled his odds.
The new album by piano duo Anderson and Roe is devoted to J.S. Bach.
Music lexicographer Theodore Baker, in his biographical dictionary of musicians, labeled J.S. Bach as the "supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music." And while Bach may have blanched had he read such a description, there is absolute power to much of his music.
From the exuberance of a Brandenburg Concerto, the rigor of a prelude and fugue or the heart-wrenching pathos of his Passion settings, there's an architectural sturdiness to Bach that can accommodate almost any interpretation.
That is something the piano duo Anderson & Roe understand intuitively in their new album The Art of Bach, which includes their own arrangements for two pianos of selections from the St. Matthew Passion.
In Bach's original, the aria "Erbarme Dich" (Have Mercy) is for alto and a mellifluous violin that rises from the orchestra to assuage bitter tears. It's suffering swaddled in voluptuous melody. There's no way it should translate to just a pair of pianos. Yet it does. A heartbeat throbs in the low register and tears drop in high arpeggios while the drama intensifies.
Chalk it up to Bach's built-to-last construction and two pianists — Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe — who are keenly attuned to its greatness.
(This track was also included in a recent discussion of new classical recordings on All Things Considered.)
The Dallas Street Choir performed in T-shirts, then changed into formalwear for the Street Requiem. Baritone Russell Rodriguez is in front, far right, in an orange T-shirt.
The Dallas City Performance Hall is packed, sold out. As the late arrivers scramble down the aisles looking for their seats, two dozen homeless singers quietly walk out of the wings and line up across the stage single file. It's a thin band stretched across a large expanse of stage and they look fairly terrified. The orchestra plays the opening bars of "Somewhere" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. The house goes completely quiet, a sense of anxiety in the air. The Dallas Street Choir has been practicing for months, but as they begin, it's shaky.
If they're still a bit wobbly, it's nothing compared to before. The road to the performing stage began last year at the city's largest homeless shelter, The Stewpot. Veteran Dallas choral director Jonathan Palant stands at the front of the room with two long rows of homeless people facing him. Palant has about five regulars. The other 20 singers are constantly changing.
Palant used to do this once a year, at Christmas — a couple of hours of rehearsal and then they'd put on a nice little singing concert at the huge Christmas meal for the homeless. But now he's trying for something much more ambitious. And risky. Palant says he's practiced with 57 different homeless singers over the last 12 weeks.
"Every week is a new challenge," Palant says. "Every week it's a new chorus. It's difficult, it's difficult to be consistent in our musical preparation. My goal however is that we just continue to get better."
Russell Rodriguez is one of the regulars. A 53-year-old day laborer from Sweetwater, Texas, he lost his apartment six months ago. So, for the time being, he sleeps in the shelter and cuts lawns and works construction to accumulate a security deposit and a few months' rent. Rodriguez joined the Dallas Street Choir because he sang in high school and wants to perform in front of an audience one more time. He's taking it very seriously.
"Yeah, I'm nervous every day," Rodriguez says. "I get nervous 'cause the date's getting closer and I don't want to make a fool out of myself in front of everybody."
Composer Jonathon Welch (left), mezzo Frederica von Stade and conductor Jonathan Palant after the U.S. premiere of Street Requiem.
Hotel rooms have been donated and the women will sing in custom-made evening gowns, the men in tuxes. Rodriguez's eyes light up at the prospect — a night on the town, the star of the show.
"I mean, I haven't been in a tux since I got married," Rodriguez says. "That was a long, long time ago."
A month later, Rodriguez is wearing his tux, squinting against the klieg lights while anchoring the baritones. Suddenly a world-famous opera singer appears on the stage seemingly out of nowhere. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade walks into the in the middle of the Dallas Street Choir and puts her arms around two of the singers.
Under the spell of von Stade's voice, the hall is transformed. There's suddenly a lot of surreptitious wiping of eyes. Must be a little dusty in here. Backed by the power of the great mezzo, the Dallas Street Choir finds its stride. It was a turning point. The crowd loved it and everyone, performers and audience, relaxed.
In the second act, the Dallas Street Choir was joined by the Richland College Chamber Singers and the local ecumenical choir CREDO; surrounded by a hundred trained voices, they happily performed the American premiere of Street Requiem, which was written just last year by Australian composers Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne and Jonathon Welch. The 10-movement piece honors the world's homeless who've died disregarded on the pavement and in the dirt. When it was over, the audience offered a long standing ovation.
Backstage the members of the Dallas Street Choir celebrated, laughing and taking group pictures of themselves in their tuxedos and long dresses. The transformation was frankly astonishing. Rodriguez looked so proud his bow tie threatened to pop off.
Members of the Dallas Street Choir in formalwear.
"I thought it was awesome, man. I think we pulled it off and tonight I'm going to enjoy a room in the motel and sleep late in the morning," Rodriguez said, laughing.
It was an evening, they said, they'd remember the rest of their lives. For a night, two dozen of Dallas' homeless people were lifted from the city's cold streets and sidewalks to bask in the warm glow of spotlights. For the usual hostility and indifference to their fate, they were traded love, respect and goodwill. One performance only.
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