La Scena Musicale

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: November 29 (Donizetti)

1797 - Gaetano Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy; composer

Donizetti Foundation website

Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor (Greg Turay, Ruth Ann Swenson, Beth Clayton, Valerian Ruminski, Kim Josephson, Eric Cutler; Julius Rudel conducting.  Richard Tucker Gala, Avery Fisher Hall, N.Y., 2001)

Duet from Don Pasquale Act 3 (Beverley Sills and Gabriel Bacquier, 1979)

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: November 28 (Anton Rubinstein, Lully)

1829 - Anton Rubinstein, Vykhvatinets, Ukraine; pianist, composer and conductor


String Quartet in F, op. 17, no. 3, 1st mvt. (Covington String Quartet, Washington, 2008)

1632 - Jean-Baptiste Lully, Florence, Italy; composer


Passacaille from Armide (danced by Philippa Waite)

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 27 (Cozzolani, H. Hahn)

1602 - Chiara Cozzolani, Milan, Italy; composer


Cappella Clausura performs "Laudate pueri" from Cozzolani's Vespro della Beata Vergine

1979 - Hilary Hahn, Lexington, VA, U.S.A.; violinist

Official website

Hilary Hahn plays Korngold's Violin Concerto, 3rd mvt. (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conducted by Kent Nagano)

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Discussion for a New Montreal Cultural Event

Subject: Ideas for a New Montreal Cultural Event to replace the Grand Prix

Now that Montreal has been bumped from the Grand Prix circuit for 2009, the City of Montreal is looking for a high caliber summer event to draw tourists and put Montreal back on the international map.

La SCENA invites businesses, politicians and the arts community to propose a new summer event with an arts theme. What will our rallying call be?

Sujet : Solutions de remplacement culturelles au Grand Prix de Montréal

Puisqu’elle ne fera pas partie du circuit de la Formule Un en 2009, la Ville de Montréal est à la recherche d’idées d’événements de grande envergure pour la saison d’été afin de conserver à Montréal son rayonnement international et son attrait touristique.

LA SCENA invite gens d’affaires, politiciens et artistes à proposer des projets d’événements centrés sur les arts. Sous quelle bannière nous regrouperons-nous?

Envoyez vos suggestions à ou


International Arts Festival - highlighting classical/opera music, theatre, dance, foreign films, paintings/sculptures, ...
Venue: Old Montreal and PDA area
Duration: 7 full days of spectacular highlights of the various arts disciplines

- Lilian Liganor



Au lieu d'avoir, un casino, pourquoi pas un complexe multi salle de concert pour toutes sortes d'événements : concert de jazz, concert classique, salle pour un opéra, pour le Broadway, un autre pour de la musique contemporaine, un autre pour la musique électro-acoustique, un autre pour les chorales et encore pour des groupes populaires etc.

Le cirque du soleil aimerait probablement investir dans un tel endroit avec d'autres partenaires qui ont une pensée plus éthique et plus verte. Le cirque pourrait avoir un spectacle permanent et au lieu de passer à travers un casino pourquoi pas une salle avec des oeuvres d'art.

Il pourrait même y avoir des salles pour diffuser des films musicaux.

Il pourrait y avoir des concours(national et international) de tout genre et dans tous les styles musicaux.

Bien sûr, il faudra trouver un site pour une telle attraction ou bien en construire un.


Richard Quinn


It seems to me that Montréal is just as capable as Toronto of having an International Art Fair. Why not invite Art Basel to think of a venue in our fair city? Look what Art Basel has done for Miami.

Jacqueline Hébert Stoneberger
Collins, Lefebvre, Stoneberger


Is there anything that could be done with Le Cirque du Soleil? Maybe some kind of circus festival.

Marguerite Corriveau
Vanier College


Problem is we have too many “cultural” festivals right now.

I think everyone agrees on that point. So if we were smart, we would rethink, restructure and reorganize (dates, venues, etc.) what we have now. This should be done in the spirit of what is best for the city and its citizens, without any one festival (even Spectra /FIJM) throwing its weight about. They are all getting public funding and most of them are grabbing a slice of the other’s turf. Think of the confusion between the jazz fest and the different festivals of world music. Last year, the FIJM was more world than jazz. Where does that leave the others, who are getting public funding too.

We should use this unique moment to pause, rethink and reorganize.

The media should not create and feed an artificial sentiment of loss, a void that has to be filled quickly or else. Rushing in at full speed is the worst-case scenario. Think of the mess around Le Festival des films du monde.

My God! What a mess that was. It did hurt the cinema scene of Montreal too.

-- Jean-Pierre Sévigny

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Today's Birthday in Music: November 26 (Istomin)

1925 - Eugene Istomin, New York, U.S.A.; pianist

The Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio play Schubert's Piano Trio Op. 100, D. 929, 2nd mvt.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 25 (V. Thomson, Kempff)

1896 - Virgil Thomson, Kansas City, Mo., U.S.A.; composer

Virgil Thomson Foundation website

Thomson's The River accompanies display of photos of the Pacific Northwest by Darius Kinsey

1895 - Wilhelm Kempff, Jüterbog, Germany; pianist and composer

Majestic Poet

Wilhelm Kempff plays Beethoven's Sonata No. 27, Op. 90, 1st mvt. (filmed in 1970)

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Austin Explores "Hungarian Connection"

Classical Travels with Paul E. Robinson

It was a clever idea for Austin Symphony music director Peter Bay to preface a rare performance of Miklós Rózsa’s Violin Concerto with some of Brahms Hungarian Dances. Rózsa was born in Budapest and makes use of Hungarian folk music in his concerto. The major work on the program was Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, a work that has no apparent Hungarian connection. But who can be sure? Besides twenty-one Hungarian Dances and eleven Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs), not to mention the "Rondo alla Zingarese" from his G minor Quartet, Brahms had Hungarian music in his blood.

How Hungarian are Brahms’ “Hungarian” Dances?
Peter Bay chose to program just three of the Hungarian Dances and only the ones that Brahms orchestrated himself from pieces originally composed for piano duet. To my mind these pieces best reveal their charm when they are played by two people – preferably very good friends – seated at one keyboard. But it is understandable that Brahms wanted to capitalize on the popularity of these pieces by making them available for performance by symphony orchestras. Incidentally, the discussion still rages as to whether the music Brahms used as the basis for his dances were really gypsy rather than Hungarian. The consensus is that the music Bartók and Kodály later uncovered in their travels through rural Hungary was both much more authentic and more complex.

Hungarian-Born Miklós Rózsa Prolific Composer of Movie Music
Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995) may have been born in Hungary but he lived most of his life in Los Angeles writing music for the movies. He was very good at it too and his skills contributed greatly to the success of films such as Ben Hur, Spellbound, Double Indemnity, Quo Vadis, and even the Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. But Rózsa wrote important concert music too. When Leonard Bernstein made his legendary debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1943 there was a Rózsa work on the program: Theme,Variations and Finale Op. 13. And it was Jascha Heifetz who encouraged Rózsa to write his Violin Concerto and gave the first performance in 1956 with the Dallas Symphony.

At the time Rózsa was at the height of his career as a film composer. Not surprisingly, the Violin Concerto does sound a lot like film music of the period. It has soaring romantic melodies and lush orchestration. What’s more, Rózsa borrowed chunks from the Violin Concerto for the film score he composed in 1970 for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The Violin Concerto is a well-made and very attractive piece that deserves a place in the repertoire. And Robert McDuffie is just the man to play it. He recorded it in 1999 for Telarc and lately he has been playing it all over the world, including on a tour with the Jerusalem Symphony.

McDuffie Dazzles with Tone & Technique in Rózsa’s Violin Concerto
There are certainly Hungarian elements in the Violin Concerto but they are not the gypsy elements popularized by Brahms. Rózsa makes use of the pentatonic scale and some rhythmic devices characteristic of some Hungarian folk music. But it would be misleading to say that the concerto is “based” on Hungarian folk music. It has a character all its own. When the music is not lyrical it is often virtuosic in the extreme, especially in the thrilling codas closing the first and third movements. I had never heard McDuffie live before and I was immensely impressed by his superlative playing and commanding presence. I was also amazed by the volume of sound he produced. After just a few concerts in the still-new Long Center it is impossible to say what the hall is contributing to the music. But it seems that the hall is very flattering to the sound of a solo violin. In any case, let’s hope that McDuffie returns soon. He is a wonderful artist. And let’s not forget conductor Peter Bay’s contribution to the success of this performance. He and the ASO were with McDuffie every step of the way.

A Scholarly Reading of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4
The concert concluded with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in a performance that sounded well-prepared and very satisfying on its own terms. Peter Bay gave us a scholarly view of the score, paying careful attention to balances – the low-lying flute solo in the fourth movement came through beautifully - and maintaining forward motion. Over the years orchestras have grown larger and conductors have tended to make Brahms symphonies richer and more powerful than they were in the composer’s lifetime. We know that at the first performances a much smaller string section was used. On the other hand, orchestras play in larger halls today and perhaps they need to produce a bigger sound for the music to make the same effect.

Orchestral Seating Plans & the Search for an Ideal Sound

Bearing all of these issues in mind I personally would still like to hear a more robust sound in the Brahms symphonies. Perhaps the acoustics of the hall were not entirely sympathetic to the conductor’s approach. Peter Bay and the ASO might want to experiment with different seatings. For this concert the double basses were lined up on the extreme right of the stage and from where I sat they hardly projected at all. Perhaps they could be moved to the left side facing out for better effect. The timpani was placed at the right rear of the orchestra and the sound was distant and muffled. Similarly, the trumpets seemed to disappear in the climaxes. In such matters Leopold Stokowski provides a useful role model. He never stopped searching for better seating plans for his orchestras. He realized that every hall is different, and that there is nothing scientific about the traditional orchestral seating. The point is to try to find the ideal sound for every piece in every place. We can’t do much to physically change concert halls after they have been built but we can certainly try to make them sound better. And Stokowski was legendary for making orchestras sound wonderful.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website.

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Today's Birthdays in Music: November 24 (Schnittke)

1934 - Alfred Schnittke, Engels, USSR; composer


Concerto for Piano and Strings (part 2) (Svetlana Ponomareva, piano; Omsk Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yuri Nikolaevsky; Omsk, Russia, 2003)

Suite in the Old Style: Menuett (R. Mints, viola d'amore, A. Karpenko, harpsichord, D. Vlasik, percussion; Homecoming Chamber Music Festival)

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 23 (Penderecki, Falla)

1933 - Krzysztof Penderecki, Dębica, Poland; composer and conductor


Excerpt from Polish Requiem, conducted by the composer

Concerto for Viola, Part 1 (Tabea Zimmerman, viola; conducted by the composer)

1876 - Manuel de Falla, Cádiz, Spain; composer


Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Céderic Tiberghien, piano; Orchestre National de Lille, conducted by Paul Polivnik)

"Ritual Fire Dance" from film of the ballet (El Amor Brujo

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