Arts

Arts and culture

Super Bass: Can You Hit This Note?

Feb 8, 2012

Calling all basses: Decca Records is on the hunt for someone who can sing a low E, nearly three octaves below middle C. The note is featured in a new piece called De Profundis (Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord — Psalm) by the Welsh composer Paul Mealor.

"I'm really attracted to the depths of the human spectrum," Mealor tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "We're seeking to find the person that can sing the lowest note ever written in choral music — and not just that note, but the solo in this piece for bass solo and choir. So we're looking for someone very special."

Charles Dickens — one of the most beloved storytellers in the English language — was born 200 years ago Tuesday. He was a comic genius and a social reformer whose novels made him famous in his own time, and continue as classics in ours.

When Johnson and Ellen Sheriff Curtis moved their family from Minnesota to Seattle in 1887, two of their teenage sons developed a burgeoning interest in photography.

One of them, Edward Curtis, would go on to become famous for his photographs of Native Americans. But his brother, Asahel Curtis, who worked to less acclaim as a commercial photographer in Seattle, also left behind a remarkable body of work.

  • Set your DVRs: Hot off a Mahler cycle in LA, Gustavo Dudamel will be on the Sesame Street episode airing this coming Monday. (Different audiences, I suppose.)

Joy In Repetition: Philip Glass Turns 75

Jan 30, 2012

At age 75, composer Philip Glass is as busy as ever.
Stewart Cohen

  • New York's Columbus Avenue isn't exactly the mean streets – but Chinese conductor Long Yu might not think so anymore. On the eve of making his New York Philharmonic debut last Tuesday, Yu was walking after dinner with a friend when a man approached to bum a cigarette. When Yu waved him off, the man lashed out and struck the conductor in the eye.

(Talk Like An Opera Geek attempts to decode the intriguing and intimidating lexicon of the opera house.)

It happens every day. You're at the opera and the know-it-all next to you starts analyzing arias, cataloging cabalettas and generally running on about recitatives. You gulp your champagne with equal measures of disgust and shame.

If you only knew what the oaf was pontificating about, you could call his bluff on buzzwords from da capo arias to ariosos. For such occasions, a little operatic ammunition — in the form of jargon-busting — is necessary.

Here at Deceptive Cadence, we hope the music we share most Tuesdays — what's piqued our interest and pricked up our ears — will urge you towards discovering new sounds in a flash. But today's review has even more of a time-stamp than usual.

Happy New Year — Chinese New Year, that is. Today marks the first day in the Year of the Dragon and, according to the Chinese calendar, the end of the winter season. The Chinese think of it as their spring festival.

The outburst of Western classical music in China over the past decade has been called nothing short of a frenzy by some observers. Estimates vary widely, but it's reported that somewhere between 50 and 100 million Chinese children are studying piano, violin and other Western instruments. One piano manufacturer alone, the Pearl River Company, builds around 100,000 pianos per year.

Over nearly four decades and 40 documentaries, 82-year-old director Frederick Wiseman has taken reluctant ownership of terms like "direct cinema," "cinema verite" and "fly on the wall" — each suggesting a transparent sort of artistry, in which real life unfolds before the camera with minimal guidance from the man behind it.

(Talk Like An Opera Geek attempts to decode the intriguing and intimidating lexicon of the opera house.)

One of the most influential and widely hailed figures in the modern early music movement, conductor, harpsichordist and organist Gustav Leonhardt, has died at 83. Just a month ago, after a concert at Paris' Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Leonhardt abruptly announced that he had just given his last public performance. According to Dutch press reports, he died yesterday in Amsterdam, though the cause of death was not released.

Are you an extremely talented orchestral player? Looking for something to do summer after next? Are you a teenager? If the answer to all three is yes, here's a chance to meet other kids who love Bach and Brahms as much as you do and to learn from some of America's finest musicians. Many of your expenses will be paid, you'll have the honor of being associated with one of the world's foremost presenters, and — oh yeah, one last thing — you'll get to tour the world with Valery Gergiev.

  • As of Monday, New York City Opera had locked out orchestra and chorus members though the company's first production of the 2011-12 season, a weeklong run of La Traviata at the Brooklyn Academy of Music scheduled to begin Feb. 12. Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for the opera, says City Opera is taking things 'one day at a time.' But with a first performance scheduled for Feb. 12 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, time is running out.

Vijay Iyer Trio: Live In Concert

Jan 13, 2012

Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer leads a trio that traffics in grooves, crackling and heavy. He has a distinctive way of exploiting dissonance and rhythmic space at the piano; he's joined by a deeply resonant, gut-punching bassist (Stephan Crump) and a drummer with an advanced understanding of time (Marcus Gilmore). The results are beats that feel borrowed from a future age; alternately, they're new lenses on jazz's big-picture history.

Gil Shaham: A Violinist's Day At The Museum

Jan 13, 2012

As Gil Shaham wandered through the back offices of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., he said he felt "like Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum." For this impromptu Bach mini-recital, the violin superstar momentarily became part of the art, bathed in the modish lighting and projections of a multimedia installation during the performance.

Before I touched down in Germany for another Christmas and New Year's with my wife's family, I had never heard of Bernard Victor Christoph Carl von Bülow.

There was nothing ordinary about Czech composer Leos Janáček. He set one opera in a barnyard and another on the moon. He fell for a married woman more than 30 years his junior, proceeding to write more than 700 love letters. And in his mid-60s, he churned out piece after amazing piece in one of classical music's most impressive late surges.

The Bulgarian-born pianist Alexis Weissenberg, whose musical talent as a youngster probably saved his life and that of his mother, died Sunday at age 82.

  • Paypal has confirmed a story that seemed at first to be too wild to be true: They told a customer to destroy a violin after a contentious eBay transaction. The instrument's provenance was disputed (though incorrect labels aren't exactly uncommon in the violin world).

For string quartet lovers, a new release by the Takács Quartet is always reason to celebrate. In recent years, their vividly intense recordings of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, not to mention Bartok and Beethoven, have continued to garner the huge acclaim that has become the nearly default critical response over some three decades.

David Lehman is a poet and an editor for The Best American Poetry series.

Three of my favorite poems of 2011 share a sense of mystery and the uncanny — a spooky but also exhilarating glimpse of a spiritual world beyond our own. All favor plain speech, an unadorned directness, eschewing the glamour of rhyme or traditional form.

  • How exactly does a conductor conduct? New York magazine critic Justin Davidson steps on the podium to find out after an intensive fall of coaching by Alan Gilbert and James Ross who co-lead Juilliard's conducting program. "Lifting the baton feels a little like getting ready to push off from the top of a ski slope, in that I'll move in the right direction whatever I do, and also because fear will cause disaster. Neither fact is comforting."

Maria Volonte: Tiny Desk Concert

Dec 27, 2011

As the story goes, it was early in the 20th century in Buenos Aires when my great-grandmother, a French immigrant, was at a Jewish social club's youth event. Between waltzes, a young lady approached the orchestra and asked its members to play a tango. They obliged, but at the end of the dance, the social-club authorities asked her and her dance partner to leave the premises. Born among the lower classes and filled with references to violence and sexual innuendo, the tango was the original gangsta rap — truly the forbidden dance.

The folk music of Azerbaijan pervades the very rarely heard symphonic works on this album. A winning synthesis of East and West, these pieces — mostly for piano — feature five of the country's most celebrated composers, including Farhad Badalbeyli, who's also the principal piano soloist.

This Christmas season, musicians around the country are continuing a centuries-old holiday tradition: performing George Frideric Handel's Baroque masterpiece, Messiah.

In Washington, D.C., the National Symphony Orchestra has finished its 58th annual performance of the work. This year, guest conductor Matthew Halls led the orchestra, which was accompanied by four soloists and the University of Maryland Concert Choir.

Though the performance marked Halls' debut with the NSO, he is not a newcomer to Messiah.

Tinsel Tales 2: NPR Christmas Stories

Dec 24, 2011

Christmas is a time of traditions, and over the years, NPR has created a few traditions of its own. In this hourlong special, wistfulness, joy, doubt, hope — all the emotions we feel at this time of year — are summoned up in memorable stories from the NPR broadcast archives.

NPR voices, past and present, tell stories of the season. Perhaps you remember these tales fondly. Or maybe you'll fall in love with them for the first time.


Santa Claus, Private Eye
by the Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre of San Francisco

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