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

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Heard on Weekend Edition Sunday Classical music fans are familiar with Robert Schumann. But they might not know that his his wife, Clara, was an accomplished composer, too.

Classical music fans are familiar with Robert Schumann. But they might not know that his his wife, Clara, was an accomplished composer, too.

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Sounds and Sweet Airs
Sounds and Sweet Airs

The Forgotten Women of Classical Music

by Anna Beer

Hardcover, 368 pages |

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Classical music fans know the names Mendelssohn and Schumann. Chances are, Felix and Robert leap to mind — but Felix's sister Fanny was also a composer, and so was Robert Schumann's wife Clara. Those are just two composers featured in Anna Beer's new book, Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music.

Beer spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the strategies women composers have used over the centuries to succeed in such a male-dominated field. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.

Rachel Martin: Your book profiles a handful of women composers dating back to the 17th century. What was it about the sexism of the time that made it so hard for them to be recognized for the music they were composing and creating?

Anna Beer: Well, sexism, like everything, changes over time. So I think we've got two broad kinds of sexism working: one in the earlier period, and one which brings us right up to today. In the earlier period, there were beliefs about the appropriate spheres and appropriate behavior for women. But if you were an exceptionally talented composer, and you did produce astonishing, wonderful music, people would make a kind of exception for you. They'd say, "Your music is equal to men."

The only thing you had to be very careful of, as a woman, was to behave. You'd have to watch out for being described as courtesan, and you had to marry who you were told to marry, and be innocent and chaste and all the rest of it. But under certain circumstances, in the right place and the right time — particularly if there's a really powerful female monarch in place who wants somebody to justify their rule and their power, [and] might want a kind of poster girl for female talent — you could succeed.

Let's talk about one female composer that you've written about in this book: a Venetian woman from the Baroque era, a composer by the name of Barbara Strozzi. Who was she?

Barbara Strozzi is a woman of mystery, in many ways, and certainly her parentage is. But she was taken up by the man whose name she took, who was a leading figure in the Venetian, libertine, creative musical world. And she was brought up as a singer and as a performer, amongst men, performing erotic songs for men --

Erotic songs for men?

Erotic songs for men, yes, as a teenage girl. That's how she cut her teeth as a composer. And her father figure used her in various, interesting ways. I mean yes, he created a platform for her, but he also prostituted her to his most important musical patron. So, it was very much a Venetian world where the courtesan — who, as we know, in Venice, was professional in so many ways, but one of her skills was to provide music as well as sex.

What's astonishing about her life is that she published her work under her own name. She has more music in print than any other composer, male or female, in that Baroque era in the 17th century. And I like to think that it was kind of her way to bypass the prince's bedroom, or the nobleman's bedroom or even just the impresario's bedroom — to leave a legacy. Because this is always the challenge for women: They might be stupendously successful in their time, but how do generations after hear their music?

Let's talk about Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel — Felix's older sister.

She grew up very, very close with Felix Mendelssohn, her little brother. And they were both seen as geniuses in many ways. They both had the same education, until a crushing moment; I can only imagine that it haunted her throughout the rest of her life. When she was 14, her father came back from a business trip with gifts for the two children: Fanny was 14 and Felix was 10. Felix got a notebook and pen to write his first opera — as you do when you're 10, if you're Felix Mendelssohn! Fanny, who was already writing the most complex, advanced compositions you could possibly imagine, was given a set of jewels — and told that in her life, music could be an ornament, like the jewels, but it would be an ornament to her life in the home as a wife and mother.

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Perhaps the most painful part of Fanny Hensel's life is that she did marry a wonderful man who supported her enormously — an artist, Wilhelm Hensel. She tried so hard to be that perfect wife and mother. She embraced it; her diaries are full of joyous little domestic details. But she kept composing.

Did you discover anything more about their adult relationship as siblings, Felix and Fanny? Did he recognize her talent?

Yes. He absolutely recognized her talent. They wrote constantly about musical matters. He would run his latest piece by her; she would do the same thing. But he could not bear the thought of her going out into the public world. He opposed every step of the way — as did her father — her publishing her music. She obeyed him until finally, at around 40, I think, there was this moment, this awakening. There's this very touching letter where she remembers the girl she was at 14. She says, "I'm as anxious writing to you today, Felix, as I was when I was 14, standing up to father. But I really, really want to publish my music." And the heartbreaking thing about this is that she died very soon after this very late foray into any kind of public recognition at all.

One last composer: Lili Boulanger, a French woman who also came from a musical family.

Yes, and even more of a musical world. I mean, Gabriel Fauré was a neighbor, a professor of composition, lived in the flat above. It was the 9th arrondissement in Paris, the perfect place for a composer to flourish. And, you know, we are in a world in which as a woman, it was beginning to be possible to be a composer. But Lili is so interesting because her big sister, who is often much more well-known, Nadia Boulanger, succeeded at every possible level, but didn't win the top prize. You couldn't break through that glass ceiling. And Lili watched. And you could almost see the cogs working. She thought, "Nadia has tried to do this like a man." Lili presented herself as a femme fragile, a fragile woman, a girl. She was not a threat to the establishment. She always dressed in virginal white. She won the award that eluded her sister.

When she was interviewed about her prizewinning piece — she was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, the highest musical honor — she was interviewed with her mother, even though she was a grown woman. And she was asked, "How did you come up with the piece?" And she says, "I dreamed it. Didn't I, mother?" Her mother says, "What?" And she says, "Well, that I was a little child and I was teaching my little doll to play the piano." "You see," said her mother, smiling, "she's still only a child."

She knew how to play the game.

She knew how to play the game. The tragedy is that she was seriously ill for much of her short life, and so this femme fragile [image] was very close to home. A question that has haunted me writing about these women is that clearly, each and every one of them had to come up with a strategy to beat the sexism of their time. And to pretend to be a child-woman, when actually you're an assiduous professional, is one strategy. But how well does it serve the women coming after you?

What is the situation for women composers today?

I think it's still very difficult. It breaks my heart every time I read Clara Schumann writing in the 19th century, saying, "I can't be a composer; there haven't been any female composers. Why do I even try?" And you think, "Of course there are! There's 300, 400, 500 years of women writing before you, Clara. You can do it." And if there's one thing I learned from all eight women I wrote about: boy, the professionalism, the determination, the sheer skill. Let's pay homage to that, in the past, and indeed in the present.

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Transgender Choruses Harness The (Changing) Power Of Voices

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Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday

FromKCUR 89.3

Transgender choruses — such as the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, led by Lindsey Deaton (with guitar) — are springing up all over the country. A transgender pride flag is at the center of this image.

Transgender choruses — such as the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, led by Lindsey Deaton (with guitar) — are springing up all over the country. A transgender pride flag is at the center of this image.

James Geiger/The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

The ongoing controversy in North Carolina over access to bathrooms has increased the general public's awareness of issues facing transgender people. One thing you might not think about is voice: How does that essential tool of communication change with gender transition? It's something that has deep emotional and psychological resonance. It's also something that's playing out in a growing number of transgender choruses across the country.

As a young child growing up in South Africa, Gillian Power sang in school and church choirs.

"It was one of the things I remember from that time as something that was just so deeply joyful," Power recalls. Now she is in her early 40s. She came out as transgender a couple of years ago.

"A person's sense of identity and who they are is so inextricably linked to their voice," Power says. "Voice is probably one of the deepest signifiers of who a person is."

Female hormones didn't change Power's voice. So she's taking voice lessons. As she works with her teacher, Power seems to find the confidence to really breathe, to release feelings, to express her true self — things she says felt incompatible with her body for so long.

Power lives in Kansas City with her wife and two young children. Last year on a business trip to Boston, she sat in on a rehearsal of that city's Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus.

"I was so deeply moved," she recalls, "and I said, 'Kansas City needs a chorus too!'"

So Power started the Heartland Trans Chorus. The Boston ensemble that inspired it was founded by Sandi Hammond, a non-trans performer and voice teacher. Hammond thinks of the trans voice as an entirely new instrument, pointing out that during male puberty, vocal cords lengthen and thicken and the voice box grows. For trans men, it's not the same.

"It's going to be a different timbre, a different color, some of the bottom notes that a bass might get are not as likely to appear," Hammond explains. "And for trans women, why are some able to explore what we call falsetto in the male voice to develop a more female sound and some are not? And then collectively what is that timbre of a trans chorus?"

Boston's Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus had its first performance last month. Other choruses have started up in Chicago, Atlanta and New Hampshire. The biggest one is the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles.

When TCLA Artistic Director Lindsey Deaton put out the call for singers last summer, she didn't know what to expect. "I had no idea who was going to show up," she says, "much less what their voice type was, what they could sing, or if they could sing."

Turns out, they could sing. "I was so ecstatic," Deaton says. "People came into the room and their spirits were bright."

Just like in other cities, people brought years of musical experience. Many of them had given up on the idea they'd ever perform again, either because they lacked confidence in their new voices or they felt unwelcome in traditional church choirs or other community choruses. Deaton reached out to arrangers from gay choruses to help put songs in the right keys and registers.

"We were pretty close to being a TTBB chorus," she says. "That's tenor 1, tenor 2, baritone and bass, with some people singing a little higher. In thinking about it, of course that's where we're going to end up. Most of our adult trans women are going to be singing tenor and baritone and bass. And most of our trans men who've been on testosterone and had a voice change are going to be down in tenor and bass and baritone."

Deaton says anyone who opens their ears will find something in common with trans singers. "You know, the soul has a direct line through song," she says. "And that's what music is all about, is sharing that emotion. And once you do that, then everybody gets it. Unless you're dead from the neck up and you don't hear. But, I haven't seen anybody not get it so far."

The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles has concerts through the summer. In Kansas City, the Heartland Trans Chorus will give its first performance in June — just in time for the LGBT pride events.

Copyright 2016 KCUR-FM. To see more, visit KCUR-FM.
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09Plainland Song

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The Tallinn Chamber Orchestra's new album, Mirror, features music by Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits.

The Tallinn Chamber Orchestra's new album, Mirror, features music by Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits.

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The Estonians are serious about singing. The power of human voices practically propelled the small Baltic country to independence during the Soviet era. In the late 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Estonians routinely gathered to perform forbidden patriotic songs. The events energized the nation, leading to what was called the "Singing Revolution."

Songs We Love.

Songs We Love

A key figure in Estonia's rich singing heritage is the 85-year-old composer Veljo Tormis, whose works range from folk songs and opera to politically potent choral pieces. His influence extends to a new generation of composers — like Tõnu Kõrvits, who is keen on upholding the vocal traditions.

In "Tasase maa laul," translated as "Plainland Song" (or "Song of a Level Land"), Kõrvits reworks a Tormis piece from 1964 into a haunting expression that would not sound out of place on the new Radiohead album.

The original song was scored for men's a cappella chorus. Kõrvits' version is lush and dreamy. Undulating strings caress Kadri Voorand's androgynous vocal and add evocative coloring to lines like "the clouds are low and grey as a mouse." Pulsations from a kannel (an Estonian zither), persist throughout, giving the song its nervous heartbeat.

The Estonian text, by poet and politician Paul-Eerik Rummo, speaks of "peace and stability" on the plains and understanding one's sense of home. Kõrvits, by reaching back to Tormis, seems to be confirming that the long line of Estonian singing traditions will continue unbroken.

Mirror is available now on ECM.

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Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman playing in New York in 2009.

Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman playing in New York in 2009.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

One of the world's best-known and best-loved classical musicians has joined the ranks of artists refusing to perform in North Carolina. Violinist Itzhak Perlman canceled an appearance scheduled for Wednesday with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh to protest HB2, the controversial North Carolina law limiting civil rights protections for LGBT people.

HB2 excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the state's non-discrimination laws and prevents local governments from offering discrimination protections that go beyond the state's. It also requires people to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex indicated on their birth certificates.

Speaking by phone Wednesday, Perlman said he had been contemplating a cancellation and its repercussions for weeks. "The first thought was to cancel," he said. "And then I thought, 'Well, what's going to happen to the orchestra musicians? They're going to suffer. It's not their fault.' So I thought that I was going to go, and that I would donate my fee to Equality North Carolina. And I wanted to put fliers into the program explaining my position. So I thought that was all set."

Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman in 2009, playing his Stradivarius during a rehearsal with musicians from the Simón Bolívar National Youth Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela.

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"And then yesterday morning at 9:30 AM," Perlman continued, "I get a phone call — and the symphony said, no, the state would not allow that statement. After that exchange, I thought, 'I am going into a hostile situation.' And that's when I said, 'As much as I hate to cause problems and stress, I have to have a stand. I'm canceling.'"

"The law is ugly and hostile, as far as I'm concerned," said the violinist, who was born in Israel in 1945 and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015. "I feel that it is discriminatory — and it's not just about bathrooms. It's about dignity, like [U.S. Attorney General] Loretta Lynch said. I've been an advocate of equality for the disabled, and this is just another situation in which this is the subject. We are dealing with the equality and dignity of citizens."

North Carolinian Rhiannon Giddens, who opposes HB2, says she struggled with whether to speak out against the bill from stage:

The Record

In North Carolina, Musicians Face Off Against HB2

Perlman has also published a statement on his Facebook page, in which he links his opposition to the North Carolina bill with his own work and experiences as a person with and activist for those with physical disabilities. (Perlman contracted polio as a young child, and uses crutches and a motorized scooter.)

Linda Charlton, the orchestra's vice president for marketing and audience development, sent NPR an emailed statement that reads in full: "The North Carolina Symphony welcomes all people with our hearts and minds open, and we are honored to share our music-making with everyone. However, as a non-partisan organization our performances are not an appropriate forum for political commentary."

Charlton did not respond to NPR's questions about links between Perlman's proposed statement and the state funding that the orchestra receives, or about discussions with Perlman about putting a flier with his statement in the concert program. According to the symphony's published materials, they received 26 percent of their funding in 2015 from the state of North Carolina, which is split between recurring and non-recurring monies. (The state has provided funding to the orchestra since 1943.)

In response to the orchestra's written statement, Perlman replies: "The orchestra cannot say that they are non-partisan. How can they say that? They're getting help from the state. And the state is very partisan. That's a little bit inaccurate. They're caught in the middle here, but they are very concerned about their support from the state. I don't blame them, and the orchestra is not at fault, but that is the fact."

The 70-year-old violinist says that at other points in his career, he has refused other engagements on ethical and political grounds, pointing to two specific examples: He says he declined to play in South Africa due to the apartheid regime, and turned down opportunities to play and record with the renowned Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, who had been a member of the Nazi Party. "It's about a willingness to live with a decision — how are you going to feel about it in 10 years?" Perlman said. "I just couldn't do it."

Perlman says he wrestled with what his cancellation would mean for the North Carolina Symphony musicians with whom he would have been performing. It is a different and more locally collaborative process than that of a musician such as Bruce Springsteen, who canceled a North Carolina concert in April, and who tours with his own band.

Perlman directed a message to the members of the orchestra. "I'm sorry," he said. "I really think they are caught in the middle of this ugly period. All I can say is that my thoughts were very pure on this matter. I was going to come and play, even though it was a bittersweet decision. But once I was being told by the state that I cannot really express my opinion — which I'm sure some of you share — I unfortunately had to cancel.

"I'm hoping that if the law is repealed, and of course if you still want me, if I'm invited again, we'll be able to play together in the future. But under these circumstances, I just cannot do that. I'd like to tell them that I'm really sorry for any pain that I've caused, but that I felt that I simply have to take a stand, and this is the only way I could do it."

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Jane Little, Atlanta's Dainty Double-Bass Player For 71 Years, Dies Onstage

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Heard on Morning Edition Bassist Jane Little performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for more than 71 years — a world record.

Bassist Jane Little performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for more than 71 years — a world record.

Dustin Chambers/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Jane Little spent her long life making beautiful music, and she died this weekend doing just what she loved, onstage. Little played with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for more than 71 years. She joined the symphony in 1945, when she was just 16.

"My father took me down to the Southeastern Music Company in Atlanta to buy my first bass, and he had no idea what I was going to play," she recalled. "So, I says, 'Daddy, there it is in the window, I'm playing this bass. This is what I want.' He says, 'I can't believe you're playing that big thing.' "

Little taught herself to play that bass, and never stopped. In an interview in February, she told member station WABE in Atlanta that she started playing at the symphony for free. Eventually, they did begin to pay her — $35 every other week. In those days, to make ends meet, Little traveled across the South, performing with other symphony orchestras in Augusta and Savannah, Ga., and in Chattanooga, Tenn. She also invested in real estate just in case her career with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra didn't last. She need not have bothered. She was a well-loved orchestra member, and the feeling was mutual.

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"I was so lucky to be able to come into an orchestra in my own hometown," she said. "I was married to the principal flute player for 41 years. And he was this big, 6-feet-2 guy that played a little flute — and he could carry my bass for me, too." Little herself was surprisingly small-framed — only 4 foot, 11 inches — to play the largest member of the string section.

Back in February, Little was recognized by Guinness World Records when she marked her 71st anniversary with the symphony. "It seems like I've been there a hundred years," Little said, laughing. "It's hard to remember when I didn't play in the symphony. It's a hard life, but if you work hard enough and love it enough, you'll do it."

Little died Sunday. She was 87.

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The Danish String Quartet's Manifold Vision For Classical Music

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Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday The Danish String Quartet's new release features British and Danish composers. Violinist Frederik Øland is second from the left; violist Asbjørn Nørgaard is second from the right.

The Danish String Quartet's new release features British and Danish composers. Violinist Frederik Øland is second from the left; violist Asbjørn Nørgaard is second from the right.

Caroline Bittencourt/Courtesy of the artist

The Danish String Quartet is one of the most widely acclaimed chamber groups at the moment — although, in the interest of full disclosure, we should tell you that one member of the quartet is actually Norwegian. The group has a new record called Adès/Nørgard/Abrahamsen that features a program of Danish and British music.

The composers highlighted on this release — Thomas Adès, Per Nørgard and Hans Abrahamsen — hold a special place in the story of The Danish String Quartet. Recently, two of the group's members — violist Asbjørn Nørgaard and violinist Frederik Øland — spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about how the recording, and the group itself, came together. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.

Scott Simon: The two of you, and violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, have known each other since before you were teenagers. How did that happen?

Frederik Øland: Well, the three of us — Rune, Asbjørn and I — we met at this music camp in Denmark. It's only a week every summer, and you go there with people of all ages to just play music for a week — orchestra stuff, and then chamber music throughout the night. And you don't sleep a lot, that's for sure. So we were just hanging out there, playing our first chamber music together, playing soccer — even having our first beers together, later on! This was a very nice place to grow up, because it's a place that's full of love for the music.

Tiny Desk Concert with the Danish String Quartet on October 14, 2014.

Tiny Desk

Danish String Quartet: Tiny Desk Concert

How did the composers Thomas Adès, Per Nørgard and Hans Abrahamsen wind up sharing space on your album?

Asbjørn Nørgaard: Well, this is a recording that we have been talking about for a long time, but it took a while to realize. The Abrahamsen was almost the first quartet we learned, almost 15 years ago. At this point, we were quite young; we were still teenagers. We had an idea that classical music was mostly Brahms, Mozart, Haydn — kind of nice stuff. And then our chamber music teacher back then, he put in front of us this piece by Abrahamsen. We had never heard about this guy. We started to play and it sounded really crazy. It sounded more like heavy metal than classical music!

We really, really enjoyed playing it, to use our instruments in a completely different way, and to experience that a string quartet can morph from something that's in a way very classical, very in-the-box, and then it can explode and morph into everything you can imagine. We always thought we would like to record that at some point.

A little bit later in our development, almost the same story happened with the Adès — his first string quartet, Arcadiana. This is classical music, but [one] particular movement, called "Tango Mortale," is very rough, very rhythmical, very aggressive kind of music. It also became a part of the story of our quartet. So then we had these two pieces that we really wanted to match on the recording.

What's the classical music audience like these days?

Nørgaard: That's a very complicated question. And actually, I think it's — if I might say so — almost a wrong question to ask, because we just think about ourselves as musicians, not as maybe classical musicians in the old way. I think today, if you train as a classical musician, you need to sustain a great degree of flexibility. You need to be able to be in a bar and perform and not be awkward. And in our experience, we do our own festival in Copenhagen, and we've built an audience here which is quite young, actually. So we don't share this kind of pessimism about the classical music audience that's "dying away," that you sometimes read about in the media.

Do you have a favorite composition on this release that you'd like to point us to?

Nørgaard: If there's one track on this album that will have a popular appeal, it's a specific movement of the Adès quartet [called "O Albion"]. A friend of mine said he thinks this sounds like Coldplay. It's a very beautiful slow movement, and it's just an example that classical music is many things: It can be aggressive, it can be beautiful, it can be simple, it can sound like it was written 500 years ago, and it could sound like it is being improvised in the moment. And that's the joy we have as a string quartet, and I think this album represented well. It can sound like Coldplay, it can sound like heavy metal and it can definitely also sound like classical music as you think it should sound.

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Even Scarier Than The Book Or Movie: 'The Shining' Is Now An Opera

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Heard on All Things Considered

FromMinnesota Public Radio

The Minnesota Opera's adaptation of The Shining brings the horror story to the stage.

The Minnesota Opera's adaptation of The Shining brings the horror story to the stage.

Ken Howard/Courtesy of the Minnesota Opera

The Shining was Stephen King's first hardback bestseller. Stanley Kubrick's film version was listed by no less than Martin Scorcese as one of the scariest horror films ever made. Now, the story is an opera — and its creators want it to be even more terrifying than the book or the movie.

Composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell collaborated on the project, which opened last week at the Minnesota Opera, for three years. Their work shows in the three-foot-tall, several-inch-thick tome that houses The Shining's orchestral score.

"It's big, isn't it?" Moravec chuckles, holding it. "Look at all these notes!"

"Lots of notes!" Mark Campbell offers. "Some of them are pretty good."

Moravec says the idea of an operatic adaptation of The Shining immediately attracted him.

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining strikes its terrifying tone with help from the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music underscores several of its tensest scenes.

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A Sound Of Fear, Forged In The Shadow Of War

"Stephen King's original novel is all about love, death and power," he says. "And those are the three foundational components for an opera."

Published in 1977, The Shining was Stephen King's third novel, and it established him as a major figure in the horror genre. Kubrick's film, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall, came out three years later. Both became hits — and that's good for the pulling in audiences, says Minnesota Opera artistic director Dale Johnson. Several managers from other opera companies are attending the world premiere of The Shining this weekend, to the encouraging news that the entire run has been sold out for weeks. But, Johnson says, it presents a challenge too.

"It's just part of our popular culture," he says. "So we have to make sure that the pace of the opera, and the telling of the opera, doesn't sit too long in one place — because the audience is already ahead of you."

This challenge went first to Mark Campbell, who had to secure Stephen King's approval for the structure and content of his libertto. Campbell got it, but says he had to do a lot of distilling.

"Let's just say: from 600 pages to under two hours," he says.

For those who missed out on the book and the movie, The Shining begins with Jack Torrance driving his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, across the country to his new job: winter caretaker at the empty Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies.

"There it is," Jack sings in the opera as the family approaches the hotel. "Oh, Jack! It's gorgeous!" Wendy replies. "It's perfect! So perfect!"

Those who do know The Shining know Jack Torrance is not a happy man: A drinker who has swung from failure to failure, he's desperate for a new start. Baritone Brian Mulligan, a bear of a man with an impressive beard, sings the part of Jack.

"He's a survivor of extreme domestic abuse," Mulligan says. "He's kind of struggling to end that cycle of abuse with his own family — and failing miserably," he laughs. There is a lot of nervous laughter around this production. It seems to be a way of dealing with the troubling aspects of the story.

Brian Mulligan (second from right) plays Jack Torrance, a survivor of domestic abuse.

Brian Mulligan (second from right) plays Jack Torrance, a survivor of domestic abuse. "He's kind of struggling to end that cycle of abuse with his own family — and failing miserably," Mulligan says.

Ken Howard/Minnesota Opera

As the Torrance family settles in, it becomes clear there are evil spirits in the Overlook. Paul Moravec says the hotel itself becomes a malevolent character.

"I think of the Overlook as sort of this gateway into hell," he says. "And when you finally see the ghosts appearing at the end of Act One, it's as though the gates of hell open up and they come spilling out onto the stage."

Grotesquely costumed actors and carefully choreographed video projections create the haunting. The ghost of his abusive father tells the increasingly unstable Jack that his wife and son must die. Brian Mulligan and soprano Kelly Kaduce, who plays Wendy Torrance, have been training for weeks for what comes next.

"They have some awesome fights," Mulligan, says. "I mean, they are really good."

Kaduce agrees: "Knives, bottles, mallets!"

"Words," Mulligan adds.

"Blood!" Kaduce counters.

Kaduce and Mulligan both say that to sing and fight at the same time is exhausting. They had to ask Moravec to write a little extra music in some spots just so they can catch their breath.

The Shining is the latest in a series of Minnesota Opera premieres based on popular books, plays and movies, including The Grapes of Wrath, Silent Night — which won a Pulitzer for its score — and Doubt. But the goal of the company's New Works Initiative goes beyond filling seats. The aim, Mark Campbell says, is to create new operas that will be performed around the country.

"If we get more people into the opera house because of the familiarity," he says, "and expose them to new and exciting and challenging music, we all win by that."

Copyright 2016 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit Minnesota Public Radio.
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How One Man Made The Eiffel Tower Sing

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Heard on Weekend Edition Sunday Composer Joseph Bertolozzi has created a composition from the sounds of the Eiffel Tower, striking practically every surface he could reach and recording it.

Composer Joseph Bertolozzi has created a composition from the sounds of the Eiffel Tower, striking practically every surface he could reach and recording it.

Franc Palaia/Courtesy of the artist

Composer Joseph Bertolozzi's latest musical project turned the Eiffel Tower into a giant percussion instrument. From the basement to the summit, the Paris monument's girders, railings, and rivets were banged, tapped, strummed and thumped. And then, those 10,000 samples were layered into one composition, called Tower Music.

Bertolozzi spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about the process. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.

Melissa Block: Could you describe the method of all of this? How did you harvest these sounds?

Joseph Bertolozzi: Well, we would determine what surface we wanted to sample, and we'd put a contact microphone, which picks up vibrations from the thing it's attached to, rather than sound in the air. And then I went through all those samples and tried to find the best sounds that would work. It took me four months to catalog.

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When I went looking for sounds, I wasn't looking for anything in particular. I just said, okay, we're going to record every surface we have, and I'll turn it into music later on. Turning it into music was the easy part; all the permissions, and everything else leading up to it, made it a challenge.

How did you go about getting somebody to say, "Okay, yes, you can climb all over the Eiffel Tower and attach microphones and record all those sounds"?

They were very gracious. I, of course, was ready to have to do some actual climbing, but they said, "No, no; you don't climb. You don't have that kind of insurance!" And I sent them this detailed document as to all the surfaces I wanted to play, and almost everything was, "No, no no." I went there to meet the chief engineer, and he said, "You know, we crossed all these out because all the places that you showed would involve you in a harness, climbing out to them." But he took me on a tour of the tower and he said, "See this surface that you marked? It's over here. You're standing next to it if you're standing on the second floor."

Are there any effects that are added to these sounds?

Not at all. You're hearing the raw samples of the tower. That's the real aesthetic of this piece. If I was to put all sorts of processing, echo, and boosting treble and bass and things like that, you wouldn't be hearing the tower, and that's the whole point of this project.

So Percussion, Eli Keszler and the piano wires of Archway.

Field Recordings

Eli Keszler & So Percussion: Making The Manhattan Bridge Roar And Sing

Does the Eiffel Tower have a particular key or a particular pitch?

I'd have to say no, but it doesn't have all the notes of the scale. You know, a piano has — from the lowest to the highest — it has all the half-tones, all the white and black keys. The tower doesn't have that; it just has this random series of notes. And my job, as a composer, was to take something that was incomplete as an instrument and make it sound as if nothing was missing.

Let's talk about a track that has a really beautiful, sort of floaty, bubbly melodic sound; it's called "The Elephant on the Tower." There are parts of this that sound like a gamelan orchestra from Java or Bali — and it does turn out that there is a connection between the Eiffel Tower and the gamelan. What is that?

When the Eiffel Tower was first built, it was built for a world exposition. It was the first time that a contingent from Indonesia came with their gamelan instruments, and it was the first time, really, that the West was really exposed to it. Claude Debussy was very much influenced by these sounds. There's actually a piece in Tower Music called "Continuum," where I have a modern, minimalist vibe going on, and then I insert Indonesian Gamelan-type melodic and rhythmic materials. They really meld together nicely.

What about the most elusive sound you tried to record, the toughest one?

On the neck of the tower, there's nothing around you. It's just catwalk stairs going up and down. And while it might be 60 degrees down on the ground level with a nice gentle breeze, a thousand feet up in the air it's 20 or 30 degrees colder, and the wind is blowing at 20 or 30 miles an hour. So we had to lean in to the wind just to stand upright. I had a stick that I was holding onto blow out of my hands! I caught it, and luckily I had it tethered to my belt, so it wouldn't have fallen.

I'm thinking, when you're up there recording on the Eiffel Tower, at some point you must have looked around you over the city of Paris and thought: This has got to be the best recording studio ever!

You are absolutely right. I just couldn't believe it. For years, the Eiffel Tower was just this little flat screen in my office. And then I finally get there and there's this huge structure, and it was just exhilarating. Exhilarating.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.
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01Revolution 9
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The New York-based orchestra Alarm Will Sound puts a fresh twist on The Beatles' most maligned song.

The New York-based orchestra Alarm Will Sound puts a fresh twist on The Beatles' most maligned song.

Carl Sander Socolow/Courtesy of the artists

Late in 1968, it was astounding to me how one of the best-loved bands could create one of the least-liked songs. It was "Revolution 9," near the end of The Beatles' sprawling White Album.

But then, I was only 7 years old and, frankly, those eight minutes of chaotic sounds and mumbled words were positively frightening. And who was that guy who kept intoning "number nine?"

Songs We Love.

Songs We Love

It would be years before I realized that The Beatles were actually emulating an established musical genre pioneered by composers like Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Schaeffer created a style of electronic music known as musique concrète in the 1940s, and Stockhausen (who is pictured on the Sgt. Pepper's album cover) pushed it further in pieces like Gesang der Jünglinge and Hymnen.

It's in the spirit of those mid-century modernist experiments that conductor Alan Pierson and his New York-based ensemble Alarm Will Sound present their own rendition of the misunderstood Beatles track. The arrangement is by Matt Marks, the group's horn player, and it opens the new album Modernists.

Instead of employing found sounds, a principal tenet of musique concrète which the Beatles followed faithfully, AWS takes an all-acoustic approach (except for brief noises from a low-tech Crackle Box near the end). This softens contours but doesn't dampen the frenetic chaos.

Gone is the exaggerated, left-right stereo panning of the original, which was arguably more annoying than clever. Gone, too, are the backward-running tape loops, but the ensemble mimics them brilliantly with slithery woodwinds highlighted by a groaning bass clarinet. Three percussionists help stage any number of jarring juxtapositions while band members effectively babble the nonsensical text. By establishing a performance practice, AWS elevates the piece from maligned recording-studio experiment to legitimate chamber orchestra work.

"Revolution 9" has been denigrated by critics and fans, but it's also surprisingly resilient. Phish and the Neil Cowley Trio, among others, have covered it and The Simpsons even took a swipe at it. These days, it also has an uncomfortable resonance, as its topsy-turvy nature reflects our unpredictable world more than ever before.

Modernists is out now on Cantaloupe Music.

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In Fort Worth Opera's 'JFK,' A Tension Between Joy And Tragedy Listen· 5:49
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Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday Daniela Mack and Matthew Worth star as First Lady and President Kennedy in a new show at the Fort Worth Opera, JFK.

Daniela Mack and Matthew Worth star as First Lady and President Kennedy in a new show at the Fort Worth Opera, JFK.

Nine Photography/Forth Worth Opera

Fort Worth Opera director Darren K. Woods was looking for a Fort Worth story to mark the company's 70th anniversary. Someone mentioned that they thought President Kennedy spent his last night in the city.

"And I went, 'Everybody would know that if that happened,'" he says. "So we Googled it and boy: There it was."

The opera that resulted is named JFK, and its world premiere is tonight in Fort Worth, Texas. It tells the story of President John F. Kennedy's last night with his wife, Jacqueline, before he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. But the opera is not what you might expect: It mixes intimate views of the couple's optimistic trip to Texas with dark hints of what we know will happen.

Woods asked librettist Royce Vavrek if he'd be interested in working on the project. Vavrek remembers his excitement at the idea.

"I remember running home and telling David that this was something I thought we could do are really, really well," Vavrek says.

"David" is composer David T. Little. He and Vavrek are based in New York. Both are in their 30s, and are rising stars in the opera scene. Their post-apocalyptic opera Dog Days landed on a number of critics' top 10 lists in 2012.

For inspiration for their latest collaboration, Vavrek and Little retraced Kennedy's steps in Fort Worth.

"I remember coming to this room, looking out these magnificent tall windows," Vavrek says, describing the presidential suite of what was the Hotel Texas, now the Fort Worth Hilton.

When the audience first sees Jackie in JFK, she's staring out that window, while the president soaks his notoriously bad back in the tub. Jackie injects him with morphine to numb the pain; he sleeps, and a series of drug-induced dreams and hallucinations follow. He meets his future wife for the first time.

Baritone Matthew Worth sings President Kennedy. He says he was enamored of the opera from the beginning. "The first day we sang it in workshop, we looked over at Royce and at David and said, 'Guys, this is just stunning,'" Worth says. "It still stays that way all this time later."

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The original hotel suite where the Kennedys stayed that night was decorated with valuable artworks loaned by Fort Worth collectors. The painting Swimming, by Thomas Eakins, now hangs in the city's Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Little says it gave him some ideas.

"There was a kind of free association for us that started with these paintings, as the things that were surrounding the Kennedys in their suite," Little says. "You know: Would this remind Jack of Hyannisport? And sort of extrapolating from that — the Sea of Serenity on the moon, which is such a part of his presidency. In a way, they were part of a brainstorming process that helped us to construct us the broader frame for the story we were going to tell." Hyannisport and the moon both end up in this opera.

Throughout the show, there is a chorus: three Greek fates, Vavrek explains. They determine birth, life and death. The librettist says ancient myths have long been elements of grand opera, but here, he flips the convention.

"We took the myth of JFK and we really attempted to make him mortal," Vavrek says. "What were those conversations that he had with Jackie in the privacy of this suite? What are those, just, intimate things that we all deal with, that we could make him not a legend — we could make him a real personable figure."

They can only guess at what those conversations were. But Little says the team that produced JFK wants the audience to feel that tension between joy and impending tragedy.

"It's really about this affirmation of life," Little says, "because we know of the death that is imminent."

That's why President Kennedy sings of the sun shining the morning in Fort Worth before he and his wife leave. Sunny enough, he sings, to the leave the car top down.

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