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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 12, No. 9


by Michael Vincent / June 14, 2007

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Pianist Aaron McMillan Loses Battle with Cancer

Aaron McMillan, the Australian virtuoso pianist who for the past six years has been battling brain cancer, has ultimately succumbed to his fate in a Sydney hospital at the age of 30. After being diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 23, McMillan refused to give up his promising career as a concert pianist. One year after undergoing brain surgery to remove a malignant tumor, the resilient pianist surprised his compatriots with the release of a new CD and two performances at the historic Sydney Opera House. McMillan’s cancer returned and his health continued to decline, forcing the young pianist to abandon his brilliant performance career. Despite his physical state, McMillan remained active in the musical community by producing a concert at the Opera House featuring performances by five colleagues. Stemming from McMillan’s now legendary resolve, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s television magazine, Australian Story, did a story on McMillan’s struggle against cancer, which resulted in his becoming a national symbol of the power of spirit over tragedy. While in the final stages of his illness, the young Australian concert pianist amazed the public by transforming his hospital room into a production office in the hope of securing his performance legacy on a nine-disc CD. The Aaron McMillan Piano Collection was released last month. MV

600 Year-Old Music Found Hidden on Da Vinci Code Chapel Walls

The same infamous church that was embroiled in the mystery of secret codes and heretical knowledge from the famed novel, which was later made into a movie, The Da Vinci Code, was the subject of a real-life musical mystery. An ex-Royal Air Force code-breaker and his son – a pianist and composer, have deciphered a musical score hidden in the elaborate carvings found on the walls of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland for nearly 600 years. The 75-year-old music teacher, Thomas Mitchell, and his son Stuart, 41, have been trying to decipher the series of 213 cubes carved into the Lady Chapel arches for more than 20 years. “I was obsessed by these symbols. I was convinced they meant something.” The father and son team finally realised that the cubes were simply depictions of patterns made by sound waves. “After scratching our brains for years, the whole thing just came together in a eureka moment. We believe this is the Holy Grail of music and, unlike The Da Vinci Code, it is absolutely factual.” The unlikely ethnomusicologists have since set the music to text from a contemporary hymn, and had it performed on period instruments under the title The Rosslyn Motet. MV

Brawl Breaks Out at Boston Pops

During the opening performance of the 2007 season of the Boston Pops, and all-out fight broke out between two men seated in the balcony section of Boston’s Symphony Hall. The raucous clash between the two audience members managed to halt the performance of a musical medley from the film Gigi by the orchestra and its special guest, singer-songwriter Ben Folds. According to eyewitness reports, conductor Keith Lockhart looked up towards the balcony after a loud scream, then paused after the two men began brawling, yelling, and knocking over chairs. Lockhart briefly stopped the performance when ushers and police officers entered the balcony section to break up the fight. Police escorted the two men — including one whose shirt was torn open in the violent struggle — off the property. Several local television stations were present at the season opener and managed to catch the entire incident on film. Lockhart, who has made headlines for matching his orchestra with unconventional musical acts and launching an American Idol-like search for performers via YouTube, then proceeded with the scheduled musical salute to classic film. According to a spokesman, no injuries were reported and no charges have been filed. MV

Newly Discovered Mendelssohn Sold at Sotheby’s

The renowned Sotheby’s auction house has reportedly just sold two newly discovered songs by Felix Mendelssohn in London this month for a reported $31,382 CAD. The autograph manuscript, which contains three pieces, was purchased by the Berlin State Library and signifies a major musical find. The work, believed to have been written by Mendelssohn in 1825, was composed in the same general period as the masterpieces A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Octet. One of the two new pieces, Seltsam Mutter geht es mir is undocumented. There is no mention of it in the literature about Mendelssohn. Dr Simon Maguire, a Specialist in Manuscript Music at Sotheby’s stated: “The young Mendelssohn is the archetype of great precocious musical talent, even more than Mozart. He wrote perfect masterpieces at the age of 16: to have new music by him is like having a new poem by Keats.” MV

Kazakhstan Orchestra Commissions Borat Star’s Brother

For Erran Cohen, the composer and brother of comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, truth really is stranger than fiction. He was dumbfounded to receive a call from Marat Bisengaliev, a Kazakh violin virtuoso and conductor, requesting he compose a new symphony for his orchestra. He had written the music for the film Borat, whose premise featured his brother portraying a Kazakh reporter tricking unsuspecting Americans into believing in a fictional Kazakh culture with egregious customs, The request was surprising and the composer at first assumed it was a joke, as the Kazakhstan government had been so concerned that Western audiences might mistake Borat’s home village in the movie for a real place that it undertook a major advertising and diplomatic campaign to convince the world that Kazakhstan is a relatively normal, forward-looking and functional nation. In an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph, Erran states, “… after I’d got over the initial shock of being rung up by someone from Kazakhstan, I thought it was a great accolade if they liked the music in the film so much that they asked me to write for a symphony orchestra.” His new work, Zere (in honour of sponsorship from Kazakhstan’s Zere Corporation) premièred last month at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London. MV

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