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Deceptive Cadence : NPR
Deceptive Cadence un-stuffs the world of classical music, which is both fusty and ferociously alive.
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If At First (Or Fourth) You Don't Succeed, Join The Tanglewood Stage Crew

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Heard on All Things Considered

As an instrumental Fellow, Miles Salerni plays timpani with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

Hilary Scott/Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Miles Salerni, a 25-year-old percussionist, is one of this year's elite instrumental Fellows at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. But it took him a while to get there — five tries, to be exact.

At 75, Tanglewood's Student Program Holds Focus On New Music And People Making It

Deceptive Cadence

At 75, Tanglewood's Student Program Holds Focus On New Music And People Making It

Many audition for this prestigious training program, but few are selected. When Salerni got rejected for the third time, he knew he had to find another way to get to Tanglewood.

So he joined the stage crew — which proved to be more of a challenge than he'd expected.

"When I arrived, I was under the impression that I would just be moving chairs and percussion instruments and stands and maybe setting up some risers for the orchestra," Salerni says. "I had no clue that I was gonna be climbing 45 feet in the air, trying to feed a rope through a pulley."

John Demick, the BSO's stage manager, remembers when Salerni took on that task. "He got up on the catwalk, and about halfway down, he completely froze and said, 'I don't think I can do this,'" Demick says. "But he did. And you know what? I would hire him again today."

BSO percussionist Kyle Brightwell says that during the two seasons Salerni was working on the stage crew, he still found ways to interact with the musicians.

"Miles kinda knew everything that was going on in the percussion section," Brightwell says. "So we took advantage of that a little bit and said, 'Hey, Miles, can you grab us the tambourine? Hey, Miles, can you go grab us that Grover triangle clip that goes on a suspended cymbal stand?' We could say that to him and he would know what to look for."

75 Years Of Tanglewood In Pictures

Deceptive Cadence

Summer Souvenirs: 75 Years Of Tanglewood In Pictures

When Salerni wasn't looking for Grover triangle clips, he listened and learned. He'd go out into the audience during rehearsals and performances and soak it all in.

Now, in the summer of 2016, his persistence has paid off. After five tries, Salerni is finally a Tanglewood Fellow. He got to play snare drum with his peers and the BSO on Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. "It's very exposed and it's nerve-wracking, but very, very fun," he says.

"I do miss the guys back at the stage crew," Salerni adds. "But yeah, there's something special about creating music, especially with a young group of enthusiastic musicians."

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Soprano Anna Netrebko's new album, Verismo, is out Sept. 2.

Harald Hoffmann/Deutsche Grammophon

"They killed my mother in the doorway." How's that for an opening line?

Songs We Love

Songs We Love

We're talking opera — specifically, the aria "La mamma morta" from Umberto Giordano's 1896 French Revolution thriller Andrea Chénier. The soprano is Anna Netrebko.

Opera geeks are always charged with excitement, and a little anxiety, when a favorite singer releases a new album. (Has her voice changed? How will it fit the repertoire?) Netrebko, arguably today's most touted soprano, is about to issue a new album, Verismo — and we've got a sneak peek.

Vevo

As her plush voice has added darker, richer colors over the past few years, Netrebko, now 44, has been exploring lower registers and weightier roles both on record and onstage. The album's title, Verismo, refers to the turn-of-the-20th century style of opera that focuses on surging emotions and physical violence in the lives of common people.

"La mamma morta" finds the heroine, Maddalena, in crisis. She's a member of the aristocracy trying to save her lover, the poet Chénier, who has been arrested as a counterrevolutionary. When Netrebko sings, "I was alone and surrounded by nothingness!" (Così fui sola! E intorno il nulla!), her velvety, aubergine-colored voice smolders in genuine verismo emotion.

The aria got a boost in popularity from the 1993 Jonathan Demme film Philadelphia, in which Tom Hanks (who won an Oscar for his performance) plays the Maria Callas recording for Denzel Washington. Netrebko's new album is dominated by many of the same arias Callas recorded on her own early albums.

Verismo will be released Sept. 2 on Deutsche Grammophon.

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Florence Foster Jenkins, known for her lack of skill as a singer, photographed in the 1920s.

Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

A new film starring Meryl Streep, which opens in the U.S. Friday, tells the improbable story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a real-life New York socialite who pronounced herself a coloratura soprano despite a distinct lack of talent. Who could've guessed that Jenkins, who favored elaborate costumes and strangled phrases with abandon, would resurface with such gusto decades after her death in 1944. She's been the subject of a Broadway play starring Judy Kaye, a new biography, a documentary and now two movies released in the U.S. within the span of six months.

The film, Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liasons, The Queen), is an affectionate portrait of the elderly heiress, her aspirations and her illusions — both as singer and lover — as she ramps up to a Carnegie Hall debut.

Meryl Streep's Singer Has Delusions Of Adequacy In 'Florence Foster Jenkins'

Movie Reviews

Meryl Streep's Singer Has Delusions Of Adequacy In 'Florence Foster Jenkins'

'It's A Playground': Meryl Streep On Acting With Abandon

Movie Interviews

'It's A Playground': Meryl Streep On Acting With Abandon

Thanks to Frears, and a bravura performance by Streep, Jenkins' stock is poised to rise again. A new set of fans will be laughing at the pseudo-soprano's hilarious original 1940s recordings, which have never been out of print yet have just been reissued once more.

Jenkins was in her early 70s when she made the records as a vanity project at the Melotone Recording Studio in Manhattan. By this time, she was a visible presence in New York society, having joined dozens of women's clubs, many of which she served as music director.

Musical Dreams

Born into a wealthy Wilkes-Barre, Pa. family in 1868, Jenkins moved to Manhattan after a failed marriage (to Frank Thornton Jenkins, from whom she contracted syphilis) and the death of her father in 1909. As explained in Donald Collop's documentary Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own, her father had suppressed her dreams of becoming a musician, even after her success playing at the White House as a child. Her mother was more sympathetic, joining her in New York and encouraging her pursuits as a socialite and a singer.

Not long after their arrival, Jenkins met St. Clair Bayfield, an unemployed British actor. Bayfield quickly became her perceived lover and the manager of her many social affairs, which included producing musical programs, staging operatic scenes and presenting talented young singers at the many women's clubs. The relationship between Jenkins and Bayfield, complicated by the latter's secret affair and the fact that the two never lived together, gets tender treatment in Frears' film, thanks to a nuanced performance by Hugh Grant.

YouTube

Jenkins took singing lessons and little by little began to perform at her clubs, at invitation-only recitals at Manhattan's Ritz-Carlton and as far afield as Newport, R.I. and Washington, D.C. No serious music critics reviewed these performances. In some trade papers like the Musical Courier, however, notices were surprisingly positive. Some said these might have been penned by the singer's friends or Jenkins herself. That brings to the front some inevitable questions: Did Jenkins understand how badly she sang, and were her friends and patrons genuinely enthusiastic or just humoring her?

How Could She Not Have Known?

Frears' movie portrays her associates as protective and Jenkins as oblivious. But acclaimed voice teacher Bill Schuman, who has a compelling connection to Jenkins, says she was too smart.

"There's no way she could not have known," Schuman said in a telephone interview. "No one is that unaware, especially a person who has developed so much of her time and resources to helping young, really good singers."

One of those young singers Jenkins supported was Louise Frances Bickford, who later became Schuman's teacher and steered him toward his current profession. Bickford "said that Florence was in on the joke," Schuman said. "She loved the audience reaction and she loved singing. But she knew."

A Fearless Soprano's Case For Contemporary Music

Deceptive Cadence

A Fearless Soprano's Case For Contemporary Music

Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne isn't so sure. "I would say that she maybe didn't know," Horne said by phone from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. "First of all, we can't hear ourselves as others hear us. We have to go by a series of sensations. We have to feel where it is." Like hearing an off-key whistler on the street, apparently deaf to errant tones, we can't always tell how good or bad we sound.

Schuman said the inability to hear pitches correctly is not uncommon: "One of the greatest instruments I ever had the honor of teaching unfortunately had a faulty ear. It couldn't be corrected and it stopped his career. The voice was unbelievable, but the ear was faulty."

Then there's the issue of Jenkins' illness, which is also addressed in the film. A long-term syphilis patient, she took regular does of mercury and arsenic, two routine remedies of the day, according to Collop.

"It affected her hearing," he told CBS Sunday Morning. "And more than likely she had tinnitus, which is a constant hum in her head. It prevented her from singing in tune."

The Unforgettable Voice

No matter what the cause, the voice itself, and what Jenkins did with it, is startling. Horne, who first heard Jenkins' recordings when she was in her 20s, said that if someone like her would show up at a master class, she'd tell her to "go home."

Florence Foster Jenkins Sings "Der Hölle Rache" from Mozart's The Magic Flute.

YouTube

Diana Damrau sings Mozart's "Der Hölle Rache' as it should be sung.

YouTube

"No," Horne added, chuckling, "I would kindly tell her that I think she ought to look elsewhere for her musical kicks, however she wanted them." Horne believes some people are blessed with good voices, others not so much. "They call it a gift," she said. "To have a great voice, usually — and I would say 99 percent of the time — you have to be born with it."

Was a voice like Jenkins' salvageable at all? Schuman says that in Mozart's Queen of the Night aria, what Jenkins gets wrong comes down to a single word: everything. "There's no way to even pedagogically discuss it," he added. "It's amazing that she's even attempting to sing that music."

For the movie, Streep, a trained singer, attempted an imitation of Jenkins' Mozart aria more often that she might have liked. "I sang it eight times one day," she told an audience at New York's 92nd Street Y. "And then came back and sang it eight times the next day."

For British morning television, Streep described what Jenkins did on her recordings: "She'd go off in the weirdest places and it was the particularity of her getting things wrong that was so funny. You can hear her getting ready to sing something and she spends all of her voice on the beginning of the phrase and there's nothing left at the end and she trails off."

A Comic Cottage Industry

Whether Jenkins was in on the joke or not, she ultimately might have the last laugh. Although there have been musical humorists for centuries (see Mozart's A Musical Joke), Jenkins' fame was followed by a virtual cottage industry of mid-century comedic musicians who performed badly for laughs.

Perhaps the most apropos example is Michael Flanders and Donald Swann's "A Word on My Ear," a song about a tone-deaf diva from around 1950. Among the best was the team of singer Jo Stafford and her husband, the pianist and arranger Paul Weston. Beginning in 1957, as Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, they cut a series of wickedly funny and purposefully terrible recordings. That same year saw the release of Music to Suffer By from Leona Anderson, a wobbly-voiced former silent film actress, while in 1960, Mrs. Miller's ear-warping renditions of songs like "Downtown" and "A Hard Day's Night" began to appear.

An Improbable Legacy

Unlikely as it may seem for someone routinely hailed as the world's worst singer, Jenkins has a legacy that lives on in some of today's finest opera artists. One could argue that had Jenkins not sponsored Bickford all those years ago, Schuman might have taken quite a different path. And if that's so, who knows where some his award-winning students would be. Beginning in 2009 Schuman's protégés won the prestigious Richard Tucker Award four years in a row — tenors Stephen Costello and James Valenti, and sopranos Angela Meade and Ailyn Pérez.

Meet 'Marguerite,' A Tone-Deaf Opera Singer Who's Determined To Perform

Movie Reviews

Meet 'Marguerite,' A Tone-Deaf Opera Singer Who's Determined To Perform

Jenkins finally decided to go big time in 1944 when she rented Carnegie Hall, giving her first truly public recital Oct. 25. By this time her fame in New York was widespread and the hall was filled to capacity, including luminaries like Cole Porter, Gian Carlo Menotti, Lily Pons, Andre Kostelanetz, Tallulah Bankhead and Kitty Carlisle. The following day in the New York Post, gossip and entertainment columnist Earl Wilson wrote that the concert was "one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen."

It's not entirely clear whether such words crushed Jenkins or not. In Frears' film, we're to believe the review essentially killed her off the next day. In real life, Jenkins suffered a heart attack five days later while shopping in G. Schirmer's music store. She died a month after her Carnegie performance, on Nov. 26, at age 76.

'Sounds And Sweet Airs' Remembers The Forgotten Women Of Classical Music

Deceptive Cadence

'Sounds And Sweet Airs' Remembers The Forgotten Women Of Classical Music

Somehow, Jenkins' story still resonates. For Horne, a lot of it has to do with humor: "I think it's because she was so outrageous, right? She put herself out there and people like to laugh, and that's what it's all about."

Schuman thinks Jenkins may trigger the amateur and the fantasist in all of us. "I think everyone's an aspiring singer," he said. "You look at American Idol, you look at all those auditions." And then there's Schuman's personal connection.

"I wish we could go back and meet her," Schuman said. "I just know that my teacher loved her as a person and admired her. She changed my teacher's whole life, so I owe her, actually, my teaching career. Because of her, my life's changed and many generations of singers. So, if that's her impact, that's an incredible impact."

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A Parting Gift — With Legs — For Marin Alsop At The Cabrillo Festival

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Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday

Marin Alsop and John Adams at a performance of Adams' Dr. Atomic at the Cabrillo Festival in 2008.

Cabrillo Festival

This summer marks my 25th and final season as music director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, Calif. What an amazing adventure this has been, working with living composers and being at the center of so many new creations.

An Oasis Of New Music At The Cabrillo Festival

Marin Alsop on Music

An Oasis Of New Music At The Cabrillo Festival

During my tenure, beginning in 1992, we have premiered 32 festival commissions, presented 85 non-festival commissioned world premieres, 18 U.S. premieres and 75 West Coast premieres. More than 150 composers-in-residence have attended the festival to participate in the rehearsal, performance, and public discussion of their work.

That's a lot of composers. Collaborating with each one of them has been a unique journey for me.

In this final season I've been working closely with many of the composers I have admired all of my professional years. But this year is extra special. There is a new piece composed for me by my dear friend John Adams. We have been collaborators – or maybe I should say partners in crime – on many occasions over these decades, but this farewell at Cabrillo will be especially sweet.

The festival musicians surprised me by commissioning Adams to compose a short piece for my final season. I am so touched and humbled by this gift — and in awe of all of these amazing creators.

Opening a brand new score is like being a kid again on Christmas morning!

These days, working on a new piece is so much easier than even a decade ago. Along with a PDF of the score, John emailed me an audio "midi" version of the new piece. (When composers input music to generate the parts for the musicians, they can allocate different sounds that simulate the orchestra version.)

I could "hear" the piece right away, which informs my approach. Listening to the simulation was helpful because I found several discrepancies between the audio and the PDF, including a double tempo moment that John forgot to add in the score. A "nasty metric modulation," he called it in our email exchange. He apologized, and I proceeded to figure out how the poor E-flat clarinetist was going to deal with the abrupt shift of gears.

As a conductor, 95% of my work takes place before I ever get to my instrument, the orchestra. Maybe one of the attractions for me is the fact that much of a conductor's time is spent daydreaming: trying to imagine what the piece will sound like, which passages will go well, which will need dissecting, how to fix certain problems and how to share my ideas with the musicians.

Marin Alsop rehearses John Adams' "Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance" at the Cabrillo Festival (excerpt)

A new piece has the added excitement of never having been interpreted before — a real thrill for me as conductor, and for the musicians too. This new Adams piece is even more special because the musicians asked John to write it.

Most of the repertoire I study was composed decades or even centuries ago, so working on pieces where I can actually talk to the composer is a real treat. My job is to be the messenger of the composer, to try to understand the motivation behind every single note. That's a challenging task when the composer has been dead for over 100 years! When they're alive and well, discovering the inspiration and narrative behind the piece is truly exhilarating. Leonard Bernstein, my teacher, spoke to me often about the narrative of pieces and I am committed to finding that story for every piece I conduct.

The story behind this new Adams piece comes from the Girls of the Golden West, a new opera he's working on with director and librettist Peter Sellars. Based on historical sources, the opera centers on the women of California's Gold Rush era. The piece Adams wrote for me is called Lola Montez does the Spider Dance. It's based on a real life Irish-born entertainer named Eliza Gilbert who, after kicking around Europe, ended up in the Sierra foothills performing for gold miners. One of her specialties was the "Spider Dance," which in 1853 was described in the San Francisco Whig:

Lola comes in – sails in – flies in – arrayed in a costume to which Joseph's coat could never think of comparing. She stands an instant full of fire, action and abandon ... She commences to dance and cobwebs entangle her ankles.

John will be attending rehearsals and give us comments and input on the spot to create the most compelling interpretation possible. There is no greater gift than this gift of a new piece, and no greater way for me to say farewell to a festival that creates and celebrates new music!

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Lubomyr Melnyk has been clocked playing 19 notes per second.

Aleksandra Kawka

Slowly but surely, Lubomyr Melnyk is getting noticed. This summer, the enigmatic Ukrainian-born pianist, who looks like Rasputin's doppelgänger, released illirion on Sony Classical.

The album, containing five of Melnyk's undulating compositions, is his major-label debut, which might help it attract a few traditional classical listeners. Last year, the 67-year-old released an album on the experimental label Erased Tapes, bringing in younger ears accustomed to a diet of electronic and ambient music. Which camp, if any, will ultimately claim Melnyk is anyone's guess.

Inhabiting a distinct and mesmerizing space somewhere between Chopin and Philip Glass, with whiffs of New Age mysticism, Melnyk's music has an uncanny power to sweep listeners away into a fast-flowing river of notes.

His secret is "continuous music," a dense solo piano style he began developing after hearing Terry Riley's In C, one of the saplings of minimalism, in 1968. When Melnyk unleashes his perpetually rippling arpeggios, he can clock in at more than 19 notes per second, according to his website. That has prompted often-repeated, hyped-up assertions that he's the world's "fastest pianist."

Songs We Love

Songs We Love

Still, "sunset" hardly feels rushed. Beginning with a trickle of notes, it quickly ramps up to a torrent. Eddies appear in the middle and lower voices, while chords bob up for something of a melody midway through. As the deluge finally recedes — clichéd as it may sound — you feel like a significant journey has ended in under four minutes. That is brief for Melnyk, who has been known to ripple on for an hour at a stretch.

When Melnyk performs, dozens of fingers seem to be working the keyboard. He told The Guardian, "When I play I turn into an eagle flying, a dolphin swimming ... I turn into the rain." Whatever you call his music — classical, new age, new music or something else — Melnyk's cascades possess a singular power.

illirion is out now on Sony Classical.

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Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, photographed in Helsinki in October, 2014.

Martti Kainulainen/AFP/Getty Images

Einojuhani Rautavaara, often hailed as Finland's finest composer since Jean Sibelius, has died at age 87. The Associated Press reports that Rautavaara died Wednesday in Helsinki after complications from hip surgery.

Bang On A Concerto: A New Percussion Piece By Rautavaara

Deceptive Cadence

Bang On A Concerto: A New Percussion Piece By Rautavaara

A prolific artist, Rautavaara produced a wide range of works including nine operas, eight symphonies, numerous concertos, choral works and chamber music.

He was also versatile. In the 1950s, he dabbled in a kind of Stravinskian neoclassical sound. The 1960s brought about experiments in 12-tone techniques, while the following decade found elements of jazz and romanticism entering his music. His 1972 orchestral work Cantus arcticus has become a signature piece, featuring birdcalls he recorded himself in northern Finland. A trilogy of so-called "Angel" works, culminating with the Seventh Symphony ("Angel of Light"), introduced a melodically accessible and mystical final phase of Rautavaara's music.

Rautavaara was born Oct. 9, 1928 in Helsinki. He started as a pianist and musicology student at the University of Helsinki, receiving a second degree in composition from the Sibelius Academy. In the 1950s, Sibelius, the father figure of Finnish music, called Rautavaara the most promising young composer in Finland and facilitated studies at Juilliard and Tanglewood with Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions.

"Maybe the most important experience was to live in Manhattan," Rautavaara told NPR in 1998. "It taught much more about life to me than all those teachers about music." In 2004, Rautavaara paid tribute to his New York days with an orchestral work, Manhattan Trilogy.

Rautavaara became a teacher himself — a lecturer, then a professor at the Sibelius Academy. Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä, who knew Rautavaara and conducts his works, says the composer was not a disciplinarian when it came to playing his music.

"He always listened to the opinions of the performers," Vänskä said in a telephone conversation Thursday. "He wanted to give very free hands for you to find your way."

YouTube YouTube

One of Rautavaara's first stylistic changes came in the mid-1960s, after the Fourth Symphony. "He was a tighter-minded composer in the 1950s," Vänskä said. "He felt that he had just done enough with that type of serial music and wanted to open his mind."

Another shift came in the 1980s, when he found his second wife. "It was obvious the second marriage changed his life," Vänskä said. "That was a happy time in his life and you can hear that in his music."

Although Rautavaara's music routinely took on a serious tone, he cultivated a sense of humor.

The "Angel of Light" symphony was about angels, but Vänskä recalled the composer explaining, "We have to remember that there are not only white angels but there are black angels too," and tacking on an evil little cackle. The symphony was commissioned by the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 1995. Four years later Rautavaara fulfilled another American commission, composing his Eighth Symphony for the centenary of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

With an assortment of styles over many decades where does someone new to Rautavaara's music start? Vänskä has some ideas. From the earlier works, Vänskä recommends A Requiem in Our Time, a piece for brass ensemble that won the Thor Johnson Contest in 1954 and brought the composer some international acclaim. "It's a piece I've conducted many times," Vänskä says. "It has this kind of drama, but it's always speaking to the audience."

Vänskä's favorite remains the Cantus arcticus: "It's such a revolutionary idea, to go and record the birds and make them perform with an orchestra in a concert hall."

In 2004, Rautavaara nearly died from a torn aorta, spending months in a hospital. He eventually rebounded, saying his commissions were keeping him alive. Along with many commissions, Rautavaara had strong support from the Finnish government, which named him an arts professor and paid him not to teach but only to compose.

In 2000, sitting in his garden outside Helsinki, Rautavaara told NPR that what really fueled his music was passion. "To be a composer, you have to be a fanatic," he said. "You have to feel that composing is your mode of existence."

Rautavaara was working on a new opera when he died. He is survived by his wife, soprano Sinikka Rautaavara, and three children.

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2 months ago | |
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Classic FM editor Daniel Ross' analysis of an intriguing tune hummed by British prime minister David Cameron has set off a small flood of musical inventions, at least among certain music nerds.

Classic FM

The fallout from the Brexit vote has attracted all kinds of commentary from many corners of the world. But some particularly musically minded observers have been intrigued by the enigmatic coda to parting comments made by Britain's outgoing prime minister.

On Monday, David Cameron addressed the media about the person who was poised to succeed him, Theresa May. Cameron's short speech was capped off by an odd moment: After turning back toward No. 10 Downing St., just before he reached the front door, he was captured on mic singing a quite upbeat, though harmonically ambivalent, little four-note tune that ended with him briskly saying, "Right."

By that evening, the British music magazine Classic FM had published a transcription of Cameron's song that editor Daniel Ross cheekily titled "Cameron's Lament" — as well as a detailed musical analysis. (Britishism alert: Ross uses the word "crotchet" for "quarter note." Music-nerd alert: As one would dare to hope, Ross' analysis is indeed gloriously music-nerdy, though in retrospect he has observed that he would have been wise to write an E-flat in his transcription rather than a D-sharp.) He begins:

Let's start with the time signature. A brisk 3/4, with a crotchet roughly equaling 108 a minute, suggests activity. Positivity, even. But 3/4 is not the most immediately stable of signatures. It's easy to feel secure in 3/4, but for just a couple of bars it's disconcerting — especially when starting with an anacrusis. ["Anacrusis," by the by, is the fancy-pants way of saying "pickup note."]

By yesterday, new musical arrangements of "Cameron's Lament" began pouring in, and Classic FM has promptly been rounding them up.

Among them are British composer Thomas Hewitt Jones' "Fantasy on David Cameron," which the composer notes was "written and recorded hastily between midnight and 2 AM on 12 July 2016."

Thomas Hewitt Jones YouTube

There is also a Bach-inspired fugal improvisation from Venezuelan-American pianist Gabriela Montero. (Montero is rather politically minded in any case: The pianist, who performed alongside cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and clarinetist Anthony McGill at President Obama's first inauguration, also frequently writes and speaks publicly in stinging rebukes of Venezuela's political situation.)

Gabriela Montero YouTube

Classic FM has made its exploration of Cameron's humming the leitmotif of the week. They've also published a host of theories about what existing music the prime minister might have been trying to sing (maybe Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande?) and a survey of May's reported favorite tunes. At the top of the list: Elgar's Cello Concerto.

But the British magazine certainly wasn't the only entity to take note of Cameron's tune. Stephen Colbert did a segment on it Tuesday night, comparing the prime minister's musical exit to the zippy adieu bid by former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert YouTube Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.
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13Hej, z gory, z gory

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Polish composer Henryk Górecki, in Zakopane, Poland, in 1994 — two years after a recording of his Symphony No. 3 became a surprise hit. Górecki died in 2010.

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From its mesmerizing ebb and flow and the purity of the choristers' blend alone, you'd be forgiven for thinking this might be one of Henryk Górecki's many sacred choral works. There's a palpable air of serenity and reflection. But instead, it's a song about a little pony and a blue-eyed girl.

Additional Information:

Translation of 'Hej, z góry'

Hey, down, downhill! My grey-brown pony, move those little legs of yours.
To my girl, to my only one, to my girl with the sky-blue eyes.
My young, beautiful charming girl, who are you staring at? At you, Jasio, at you my handsome, you with the dark horse. Hey, down, downhill!

That duality is part of Górecki's genius. This rather simple arrangement of a folk song from the rural Kurpie region of northeast Poland holds power beyond its purpose.

In Górecki's modesty comes something profoundly moving for some listeners. Millions of listeners, in fact, considering that this song projects a similar vibe to the composer's popular Symphony No. 3, "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." A recording of that work surprised everyone when it topped the charts in 1992. Its somber, churning waves of grief were dismissed by a few as lacking the depth and complexity of his earlier works — but the album sold over a million copies.

Songs We Love

Songs We Love

Here, a fine regional mixed choir from northeast Poland shines as it pays close attention to Górecki's dynamic markings. The sound comes in waves as the Choir of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic in Bialystok, led by Violetta Bielecka, swells proudly, then delicately recedes to a near whisper. Long notes, held at the ends of phrases, are delivered fresh and clearly focused, making it all sound so elemental.

Sometimes less really is more.

The Very Best of Górecki is out now on the DUX label.

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Supporters of the United States men's national soccer team sing the national anthem before a Copa América match against Paraguay in Philadelphia June 11.

Nicholas Kamm /AFP/Getty Images

For this most American of holidays, how do we define our music? What makes it uniquely American?

In 1929 George Gershwin wrote that it's "something deeply rooted in our soil." Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop said, "It's highly energized, rhythmic music derived from the blurring of lines between popular and serious styles."

What Makes Music American? Searching For The Great American Symphony

I think you can hear all of that, and much more, in this five-hour playlist of American tunes selected from a wide swath of mainly classical sources. We celebrate Scott Joplin's ragtime opera Treemonisha and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, but also contemporary works like David Lang's The National Anthems, Joan Tower's Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman and music from the new album by ETHEL with Native American composer Robert Mirabal. There's also room for Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Elaine Stritch — and a non-American piece that's become an Independence Day staple, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

In other words, a little something for everyone. Happy Fourth!

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A New Opera Illuminates The 'Lavender Scare,' A Little-Explored Era In Gay History

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Timothy Laughlin (Aaron Blake, left) meets Hawkins Fuller (Joseph Lattanzi) in Cincinnati Opera's world premiere production of Fellow Travelers, based on the novel by Thomas Mallon.

Philip Groshong/Cincinnati Opera

In the 1950s, as members of Congress were rooting out suspected communists in government and Hollywood, they broadened their search to include homosexuals and lesbians, under the theory that closeted gays could be more easily blackmailed into revealing government secrets. That crusade, dubbed the "lavender scare," is at the center of Fellow Travelers, a new stage production that received its world premiere last night at Cincinnati Opera.

The show is based on a historical novel of the same name, written by Thomas Mallon. Mallon defies stererotyping: He's devoutly Catholic, fiercely conservative, and gay. And he shares those traits with Timothy Laughlin, one of the two main characters in his book.

"The anticommunism that he has, which is fervent and real, and the Catholicism that he has, which is fervent and real, I never saw as being hopelessly incompatible with his sexual desires and orientation," Mallon says.

Mallon, who lives in Washington, D.C., draws on the city's history for his books — from Lincoln's assassination to Watergate.

During the McCarthy era, anything connected with homosexuality could lead to scandal. Mallon points to the example of Lester Hunt, a real-life senator from Wyoming who committed suicide in his office after the arrest of his son for allegedly soliciting gay sex in Lafayette Square. (Author Alan Drury took pieces of the Lester Hunt story and used them in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Advise and Consent.)

The main characters in Fellow Travelers — both the novel and the opera — work for the government at a time when even the suspicion that they might be gay called for a lie detector test.

The opera was developed as part of a new works program at Cincinnati Opera. The creative team includes three gay men in their 30s: director Kevin Newbury, librettist Greg Pierce and composer Gregory Spears, who says he and his colleagues were drawn to the personalities in Mallon's novel.

"It was hard for me to understand what it would have been like to be fighting Communism and to be Catholic and to also be gay in 1950s D.C., and so I was intrigued by the characters," Spears says.

The story's two protagonists are gay men who have to hide their love. One of them winds up marrying a woman to advance his career. To convey the emotions of a time when gay love was "forbidden" love, Spears went back even further for inspiration: to troubadour music from the Middle Ages, which, he says, is "music that really is about unrequited love, courtly love, impossible love."

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The consequences of being found out were real. Thousands of people lost their jobs, and restrictions on hiring gays in government remained in place into the 1990s. Jamie Shoemaker, a linguist with the National Security Administration, says his record was spotless when, one day, he was called to a meeting.

"The first thing they said is, 'We understand you're leading a gay lifestyle,'
he says. "And I said, well, I didn't think I was leading it, but I did admit that I was gay."

Shoemaker's security badge was taken away, and he was assigned make-work. But he fought back.

"I talked to them a lot about how dangerous this is, to have this secret community among them — probably 10 percent of the workforce — hiding. And I heard from them that about 50 percent of the hierarchy agreed with me, that this was a big battle behind the scenes," Shoemaker says.

After enlisting the help of Frank Kameny, the astronomer who turned activist after being fired from his government job for being gay, Shoemaker was reinstated. His story made the front page of the Washington Post in 1980. Others weren't as fortunate, and composer Gregory Spears says Fellow Travelers serves to remind the world of their stories.

"So much of gay history — it's not even that it's forgotten, it's that it was never recorded, in a certain way, and it was forgotten before it was remembered," Spears says. "I think that it's really everyone's responsibility, but particularly my generation's responsibility, to make sure that we make art and books that continue to bring that history to the surface."

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