Arts

Arts and culture

Michael Charry was the "sorcerer's apprentice" to celebrated 20th-century conductor George Szell. For the last decade of Szell's tenure at the Cleveland Orchestra, Charry was an assistant conductor.

Now, Charry has captured the power of Szell's artistry — as well as his tempestuous personality — in a new biography called George Szell: A Life of Music.

Charry vividly recalls Szell testing him on how many notes he could find in a chord when he first auditioned for the job.

  • American soprano Evelyn Lear — whose roles ranged from title role in Berg's Lulu to Mozart to Sondheim — died at age 86 Monday at a nursing home, though the cause was not announced. (Her late husband of more than fifty years, the bass-baritone Thomas Stewart, died six years ago.)

Behind The Music: Charles Ives

Jul 6, 2012

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Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with sculpture, drawing, photography and performance. You can see more of his work at Artworld Salon and on his own site.

The barn reeked of mildew, wet wood in 90 degrees, an odious perfume with which I was familiar from a childhood in a Long Island canal town peppered with planked houses. I opened my instrument's case to see the hygrometer's needle stuck on the highest humidity level: assurance that my first professional-grade violin would not crack, or, to the great aural pleasure of Katja, my radiant Austrian stand partner with superb pitch, remain in tune.

Aaron Copland is considered one of America's greatest composers. Among his most famous works is a tribute to an iconic figure in American history. In 1942, Copland wrote A Lincoln Portrait, which features a full orchestra playing while a narrator reads excerpts from Lincoln's speeches and other writings.

'Dead Man Walking' Sings Again

Jul 3, 2012

It's so rare for a new opera — let alone a new American opera — to be recorded even once. But few new operas have been so rapturously received as Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, which recounts the true story of a Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean, and the convicted rapist and double murderer Joseph De Rocher before he was executed by the state of Louisiana.

Brooklyn-born Aaron Copland was an American original in more ways than one. It's not just his music, with its openness and simple elegance. It's that he expected ballet dancers to act like cowboys, pianists to play blues and orchestra players to accompany political speechmaking. His Lincoln Portrait, composed during World War II, matches words from our 16th president with symphonic music.

Join us Friday as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Tanglewood, the summer music festival that is both the seasonal home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a legendary destination in its own right.

The odds of making it in the classical music business are long, but for the past two years, 25-year-old viola player Nathan Schram has received a stipend, health insurance, lots of amazing performance opportunities and a real-world education teaching violin students at an inner-city elementary school in Brooklyn. Now, Schram and his colleagues have to say goodbye to The Academy.

  • How many contemporary political figures have a piano prize named after them? Here's one: Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. A gold medal will be awarded in her honor at the Leeds International Piano Competition. Playing the piano was one of her coping mechanisms during 15 years of house arrest.

Every musician practices differently. Some turn their own living rooms into rehearsal spaces. Others, like pianist Jonathan Biss, prefer to step out of the comforts of home and into a studio. "It's a more productive way of working," Biss told us as we barged in with cameras and microphones.

Macaw And More

Jun 29, 2012

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Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with sculpture, drawing, photography and performance. You can see more of his work at Artworld Salon and on his own site.

AC/DC was better with Bon Scott? For many AC/DC fans, those are fightin' words.

Seventy-five years ago, an American institution was born: Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a cultural mecca to arts lovers and the musical refuge for generations of young artists.

For New York Polyphony, it's location, location, location. The four-man vocal ensemble thrives on music from the Renaissance, much of it designed for cavernous, reverberant spaces. Think voices soaring through arched cathedrals. But madrigals by Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso, with their more intimate storytelling vibe, are suited for smaller venues — like, say, the living room of New York Polyphony bass Craig Phillips.

Like the music of his good friend Béla Bartók, Scottish composer Erik Chisholm's two piano concertos rely heavily on folk sources. But in Chisholm's case, the influences come from Scotland and India rather than Bartók's beloved Eastern Europe.

Armed with cameras and microphones, we recently invaded the rehearsal spaces of prominent musicians. The result is "In Practice," a new series of videos you can watch here.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his piece The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major in commemoration of the Russian Army's successful defense of Moscow against Napoleon's advancing troops at the Battle of Borodino. Most Americans, however, know the piece as the bombastic tune that accompanies Fourth of July fireworks shows all over the country.

  • This week, Gustavo Dudamel was in Scotland to visit Raploch, Stirling, the "former haunt of notorious crime-clan ­matriarch Big Mags Haney and once so educationally deprived it was dubbed a 'higher-free zone.'" It now is the home of Big Noise, a classical music project for kids run by Sistema Scotland.

 Molly McNett doesn't write exclusively about the Midwest, but rural Illinois is a big part of her identity and her writing. "I'm not going to write about hipsters in Brooklyn," she says, "because I just don't know a lot about that."

America's Got Palate

Jun 22, 2012

Got an idea for a classical cartoon, or a reaction to this one? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with sculpture, drawing, photography and performance. You can see more of his work at Artworld Salon and on his own site.

'Next!' How Do You Reduce Audition Anxiety?

Jun 22, 2012

All this week, we've been exploring the ways families help kids learn to play music. Along the way, we've gleaned lots of great tips on everything from choosing an instrument to tantrum-free practice from our readers, as well as young musicians who have appeared on From the Top and their parents.

Molly McNett doesn't write exclusively about the Midwest, but rural Illinois is a big part of her identity and her writing. "I'm not going to write about hipsters in Brooklyn," she says, "because I just don't know a lot about that."

All this week, we've been exploring ways to encourage kids' enthusiasm in learning music, from picking an instrument to finding a teacher to practicin

When friends learn that my nearly six-year-old has been playing violin for three years, their voices shift a bit, especially if they also have a child learning an instrument. Two questions come in quick succession: "Does she like it?" and "How do you get her to practice?" There's a nervous energy to their queries, and usually a little laugh, too. Either they've been struggling with kids who have a hard time practicing, or they recall their own childhood boredom.

The four-man vocal ensemble New York Polyphony sings ancient music built for big resonant spaces. Since they can't just pop into St. Patrick's Cathedral any time they need to practice a renaissance mass, the group rehearses sometimes in the Jackson Heights home of bass singer Craig Phillips. There, in a modest-sized living room, they can hear every detail. "It's a very different experience rehearsing in a dry room and a small room," says tenor Geoffrey Silver. "You actually hear what you and your colleagues are singing, there's no watercolor wash over what you are doing."

It's tough to concentrate on the rigors of Beethoven with jackhammers pounding in your ears. So when they started demolishing the building next to Jonathan Biss, he moved his piano out of his apartment into a separate studio, away from the commotion. "I would get up in the morning, the piano wasn't there, and I had to leave my apartment to go practice and I've decided that's a much more productive way of working," he says. Biss needs a good working environment for his massive project.

Jeremy Denk has his own personal "piano boot camp." Actually, it's his cramped Manhattan apartment. Beside his beloved books, a trusty coffee pot and a laptop, there's not much to do except practice. Which Denk does, hours and hours a day on a Steinway wedged into his living room. On a good day, he brews pot of coffee number one at about 11, then plays for about five hours. Perhaps a run to the gym, then pot number two is brewed at about 6, followed by more playing — until the neighbors complain.

Nurturing young talent is a long tradition in the classical music world, and many professional orchestras have their own youth orchestras. But it stands to reason that an organization with the kind of international stature the Cleveland Orchestra enjoys would have a top-notch youth ensemble. It does. And it's called, not surprisingly, the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra — COYO for short. The young musicians have just embarked on a European tour.

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