A Look Back at 2013 . . . and 1913.

May 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Concerts, Concerts, Music Reviews | 1 Comment
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Jay Harvey review the IWS’s season finale, “Trumpetissimo!” at his blog. Check it out here.

While you’re there, take in his post marking the centennial of the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Hollywood and Halloween Treats, October 30, 2011

October 31, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

On the night of October 30, the Indiana Wind Symphony put on its annual Halloween concert, with band member and many audience members in costume. This year, the theme was “Hollywood & Halloween Treats.”

This is always one of my favorite concerts — part pops , part serious music, all fun. On the pops end was music from Toy Story 2, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wicked, and Star Wars. On the more serious side was Donald Gillis’s January February March, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld Overture (transcribed by Clark McAlister), Eric Whitacre’s Ghost Train, and a new piece from Butler University’s Composer-in-Residence Michael Schelle called The End of the World.

Most of those pieces have been played over and over by bands around the world; not so with Schelle’s The End of the World. The idea of this piece was inspired by the apocalyptic writings of Nostradamus and the whole end-of-the-Mayan-calendar thing due in December 2012. But the main inspiration came from something more unexpected: the tsunami that devastated Japan in March of this year.

The piece comprises three movements: The Exhausted Sun, Bullet Train from Hell, and After Afterlife. As you might imagine, the piece is tense and intense. Walls of sound like unstoppable waves crash over the audience. Unexpected eddies swirl and twist like rushing water, like solar flares, like time. It’s so intense that, if you think too much about what it represents, it might be too much to listen to.

But then, in the third movement, the dissonances slowly resolve to something calmer and more stable. The waves recede, and the sun pokes through. All around, the evidence of cataclysm and death is still apparent, but so is the sunlight, and hope. The piece ends with the singing of angels.

The End of the World is one of those pieces that you have to hear live, and if you get the opportunity, you should.

Les Six & the Sixth

March 23, 2011 at 10:04 am | Posted in Composers, Concerts, History | Leave a comment

This Sunday afternoon, the IWS will present a concert titled “Les Six & the Sixth” that features France’s “Les Six” (or Groupe des six) composers. Perhaps you’ve heard of “The Five,” a group of five Russian composers who met in St. Petersburg to try to create a specific form of Russian art music. (Can you name The Five without looking? Answers at the end.) Les Six was so named in 1920 as a comparison to The Five by music critic Henri Collet.

Though these six composers had disparate musical backgrounds, tastes, and expectations, they were joined by a reaction against German Romanticism, at least in the beginning. They were also friends and frequent collaborators. All six officially collaborated on only one project, a collection of solo piano music called L’album des six, published in 1920.

Here, then, is some brief background information for each of Les Six composers, whose music you can hear this Sunday at 3:00 at the Palladium in Carmel, Indiana. You’ll also hear what we believe will be the Indiana premiere of James’ Barnes Sixth Symphony, written in 2008.

Georges Auric 1899–1983

Georges Auric was a child prodigy whose compositions were first being published when he was only 15 years old. By the time he was 20, he had established himself as a composer and arranger of stage music, especially ballets and incidental music for other stage productions. When Jean Cocteau, Auric’s friend and one of the major influences of Les Six, started making movies in the early 1930s, Auric went with him and started writing movie scores. His success in French and British films led him to writing movie scores for Hollywood. Some of his more well-known successes were Beauty and the Beast (1946), Moulin Rouge (1952), Roman Holiday (1953), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956).

In 1962, he became director of the Opéra National de Paris and gave up writing for motion pictures. He continued to produce new chamber works, especially for winds, until his death in 1983.

Louis Durey 1888–1979

Louis Durey was a late bloomer, musically speaking. He didn’t decide to pursue a career in music until he was 19, when he was inspired by a performance of a piece by Claude Debussy. He was mostly self-taught, but his music caught the attention of Maurice Ravel, who introduced him to his publisher. Durey’s extreme left-wing views ultimately held him back from what might otherwise have been a more successful career. After the Nazi occupation of World War II, during which he was an active member of the French Resistance, Durey joined a group of other hard-line communist composers who wrote in accordance with communist doctrines of art, which required their music to be of mass appeal. His uncompromising adherence to these political tenets ultimately hindered his career. Though he composed throughout his life, nothing he wrote after World War II met with either popular or critical success.

Arthur Honegger 1892–1955

Born in Le Havre to Swiss parents, Arthur Honegger’s first foray into music was with the violin. He eventually studied in Paris, joining Les Six in 1920 and shooting into the limelight with his dramatic choral work Le Roi David. Honegger had some eccentric traits about him. A consummate lover of trains, Honegger’s 1923 Pacific 231 was a musical depiction of a locomotive, and it won him even more fame. In 1926, he married pianist Andrée Vaurabourg on condition that they maintain separate apartments; except for one failed attempt at living together and during the last year of Honegger’s life, when he could no longer live alone, this arrangement remained in effect.

Unlike his fellow Les Six friends’, Honegger’s work — especially his later works — showed the influence of German Romanticism, as well as Bachian counterpoint. Honegger was the first of Les Six to die, in 1955; Darius Milhaud dedicated his Fourth String Quartet and Francis Poulenc dedicated his Clarinet Sonata to the memory of Arthur Honegger. Honegger also always maintained his Swiss nationality, and he was honored at the end of the century by being featured on the Swiss 20-franc note.

Darius Milhaud 1892–1974

When Darius Milhaud joined Les Six in 1920, he was still looking for his musical voice. He found to during a trip to Harlem in 1922, when he heard “authentic” jazz for the first time. From that moment on, his music showed the influence of both jazz and polytonality, the simultaneous use of more than one key.

One of the twentieth century’s most prolific composers (his opus listing ends at 443), Milhaud wrote all genres of music, including ballets, operas, symphonies, vocal and choral music, film scores, and chamber music. He was also a well-known and well-respected teacher. The only Jewish composer of Les Six, Milhaud fled the coming Nazi occupation in 1939; he and his wife emigrated to America in 1940, and he took up a teaching position at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he mentored such musical greats as Dave Brubeck, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Burt Bacharach.

Francis Poulenc 1899–1963

Francis Poulenc’s mastery of music was largely self-taught. Though his earlier works during the 1910s gained the attention of Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Bartok, and others, he didn’t get his first taste of formal musical training until 1921, the year after Les Six was created. Throughout the 20s, his early work was marked by a musical irreverence common among Les Six. During the mid-30s, following the unexpected deaths of some close friends, he rediscovered his Roman Catholic faith, his compositions in turn became more austere, and he began writing more sacred works.

Poulenc had a lifelong fondness for wind instruments. He had intended to write a sonata for each of them but, alas, had finished only four — for flute, oboe, clarinet, and horn — when he died of a heart attack in 1963.

Germaine Tailleferre 1892–1983

The only woman in Les Six, Germaine Tailleferre was born Marcelle Taillefesse but changed her name when she was young to spite her father, who refused to support her musical aspirations. Tailleferre was a prolific composer, though just how prolific we may never know. Many of her works are considered lost, but some — like her dramatic ode “Sous les Rempart d’Athànes” and her ballet “La Nouvelle Cythère” — have been discovered in partial or condensed score and are currently being reorchestrated and revived, mostly through the work of Tailleferre scholar Paul Wehage.

Though her turbulent personal life — which included two failed marriages and taking guardianship of her granddaughter — hampered her success as a composer, she did continue composing right up until her death on November 7, 1983.

Which of Les Six composers do you enjoy playing or listening to most?

Answer: The Russian Five were Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, and Cui.
Posted by Andy Hollandbeck

An Interview with Kelleen Strutz

February 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Concerts, Interviews | Leave a comment

Pianist and vocalist Kelleen Strutz is a rising star in the Indianapolis music scene who will be performing Rhapsody in Blue with the IWS on February 26. (Info and tickets here.) I was lucky enough to get to sit down with her and talk about where she’s been and where she’s going:


Andy Hollandbeck: According to your Web site, you’re from Valders [rhymes with “pal furs,” I had originally mispronounced it], Wisconsin. How would you describe that? Is it a small town or is it a suburb or . . .

Kelleen Strutz: Yes. It did not ever break 1,000 [people]. Lots of farms around the area, and . . . just . . . very small. But there was a city nearby called Manitowoc, which had, like, 30,000 people, so we did a lot of things there.

AH: What kind of musical outlets and opportunities did you have nearby?

KS: Mostly within my family, we did music together. Ever since I was . . . ever since I can remember, music was in my life. Our nickname was the Von Strutz family, instead of the Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music, because if company came over, we’d all perform — with accordions, and guitars, and we would sing a capella harmony. I had four brothers and sisters, and so we had a great time entertaining people. And we were in the church, so we did a lot of music there. We were always part of the church program, and I accompanied the congregation from the age of nine. So that was a good outlet, the church.

We were home schooled, so we didn’t have “school music” so much, you know, but my mom taught me piano up until the age of, like, 10, and then we found a really amazing teacher for me. And I did competitions in the area.

But it was really when I came to the big city, Indianapolis, where I felt like, “Whoa! There’re all these opportunities!”

Pianist/Vocalist Kelleen Strutz

Kelleen Strutz

AH: Four siblings? Where are you in the hierarchy?

KS: I’m the baby.

AH: How many brothers and how many sisters?

KS: Two of each.

AH: Any of them get the music bug after they grew up?

KS: My oldest sister, she still plays to some extent — piano. And my parents play in church.

AH: So eventually you left Wisconsin; you were offered a full scholarship to Butler University. Had you ever been to Indianapolis before?

KS: No. It’s kind of a funny story because I remember going to the theater to watch Hoosiers, the movie, and we just loved that movie. It was almost like there was some Hoosier in me at that point.

We took a vacation to French Lick . . .

AH: Okay, Larry Bird’s town.

KS: Yeah. We saw Larry Bird, actually! We were all excited and we wanted to go to the actual scenes of Hoosiers. We were just that into it. I never would have thought that I’d end up living in the Hoosier state.

[Later on,] it was very serendipitous that the professor of music at Butler [Panayis Lyras] happened to be performing with the Sheboygan Symphony and did a master class at the local college. I happened to be in that master class. I’d never heard of Butler at all. So I played in the master class and really enjoyed his teaching style, so he was like, “Hey, if you’re interested, I can help you get to Butler.” So I auditioned, and I loved the campus. I loved everything about the city. It was a very easy decision to come here. And I haven’t left, so, obviously, I like Indianapolis.

AH: Tell me about your CD, “Simply Beautiful.”

KS: Throughout my courses at Butler, I was the very heavy, of course, classical pianist, and I slowly was also working on my jazz voice. A couple of professors at Butler [Mark Buselli and Dr. Tim Brimmer] really mentored me in that area of jazz.

When I graduated, I really wanted to do a CD immediately and, you know, do something. I was all excited to get myself out there. And so Bill Myers, who I had met at the Jazz Kitchen, he helped brainstorm with me. (He’s a bass player in town that I collaborate with.) He and I had this great idea to do a seasonal album and to invite many many musicians on board. So we started calling people up. Everybody was very supportive, and we had over 30 musicians on the album. We gave back the money to the Butler Community Art School. So it was a worthy cause, and some musicians donated their time, and it was just a wonderful experience. It was very difficult to put together, and we did it in like two months’ time. We were crazy, but . . . you know.

AH: That was a Christmas album, right?

KS: Yes.

AH: Do you have a favorite song from that album?

KS: Ummmm. That’s a little difficult. I really like “A Child is Born.” I like the soul ballad-type pieces, mostly, to sing.

AH: You’ve been doing both classical and jazz for a while now, do you prefer one over the other?

KS: No, I really like the combination of both because it really makes things exciting, and I get to collaborate with so many diverse people within the two fields.

AH: I heard you participated in a recital at St. Luke’s [United Methodist Church] last Sunday, right?

Kelleen Strutz and her PianoKS: Yeah.

AH: You did a Liszt piece?

KS: Yeah.

AH: Someone described it to me as “ferocious.”

KS: Oh. Yes. It’s one of my favorite pieces — since high school, actually. It’s just very viscerally exciting. Pianistically speaking, I like the really fast exciting things. But for singing, for some reason, I like the more emotional, heart-wrenching things.

But yeah, the Liszt is a real workout. And I enjoy performing it.

AH: Since you do jazz and classical both, do you do any composing as well?

KS: I do. One of the projects that I’m going to be doing this year is my own CD of originals, maybe mixed with some cover tunes. My style happens to be not real super-jazzy, but it’s kind of a hybrid of pop and jazz — and some other elements in there. And I want to use strings. I’m still brainstorming.

AH: It’s still in the early stages then.

KS: Yes.

AH: What other projects do you have?

KS: I have a trio right now called The Three Beats. It’s with cellist Yoonhae Swanson and a violinist, Miri Chung. We do classical trios — like Beethoven — but we also do world music. And some jazz. And pop hits. It’s just exciting to work with and collaborate with other people. It’s sometimes more fun than just, you know, practicing alone. We can bounce ideas off of each other. It’s invigorating having that input with them, and that’s exciting.

I’m going to be traveling with a horn band called Souled Out. It’s an 11-piece horn band, and we do corporate events, and I sing like Aretha Franklin and Gloria Gaynor. I bet you can guess which song I sing of Gloria Gaynor’s — her one super-big hit.

AH: No, I try to stay away from that whole area of music.

KS: [Laughs] But that’s been a real stretch for me, and I absolutely love it. I had no idea. I love all of that music that they played. It’s just really groov-i-licious.

AH: Did you say groov-i-licious?

KS: I said groov-i-licious!

AH: OK. Groov-i-licious. Nice.

KS: And then I’m going to be traveling with Angela Brown some this year as well, doing recitals with her.

AH: I know you perform every Thursday night at Sangiovese. Do you have any other regular gigs that we should know about?

KS: Yes. Starting March fourth, I’m going to be performing at Seasons 52, which is a new restaurant at Keystone at the Crossing. They’re going to have a piano bar seven nights a week, and I’ll be there on Fridays and for the grand opening. Which is March fourth.

AH: You said you like the visceral kind of piano music. So are you really heavy on the romantic music . . .

KS: Yeah.

AH: . . . and not the, uh, the Bach.

KS: Yeah. I know Bach is one of the greatest composers, but he’s very difficult to play in a different sense, whereas romantic [music] is . . . you know, you can . . . you can be sloppy and no one will know. [laughs]

AH: I’m with you there. Bach, and even Mozart — they have their moments, but it’s everything that came after that’s more interesting.

So, professionally, what is your dream gig? Is there some pie-in-the-sky thing that you would just love to get?

KS: I think it would be very awesome to be able to perform with a large orchestra — you know, with a string section — and to be able to do a real merging of my classical and jazz skills. And really present it in a nice, concise way. To have a show that combines both, because right now I do jazz and I do classical, and they’re not always mixed. So I think that would be a great challenge to be able put a show together and to work with the classical idiom of strings, but also adding jazz with it.

AH: That would be nice. If you had to choose — these are the hypothetical questions now. If you had to choose between being known as a great singer who could play the piano or a great pianist who could sing, which would you choose?

KS: I would . . . say . . . that is very difficult . . .

AH: I can ask in a different way. Try this: You get two e-mails on the same day. One is for a well-paying piano-playing gig, and the other is for a well-paying singing gig — but they’re at the same time. Which one do you choose?

KS: [After some thought.] I would say the singing.

AH: Yeah?

KS: I think partially because if you’re playing and singing, the most crucial thing is that you present the lyrics. That’s the most important thing. And that you have an instrument and technique that can do that. So your piano is supporting the “main act,” which is your voice. So in that sense, I think it’s better to be a great singer that maybe can’t play as well. That would be more important. But I enjoy both so much, so it’s very difficult to say.

AH: Well, that’s why it’s only hypothetical.

KS: Yes!

AH: What would you say is the best part of having a life in music?

KS: For me, you know, it’s not work. It’s just what I am. I feel like I’m working 24/7 in a sense. I eat, breathe, and sleep music. There isn’t a line, like, “Now I’m done with work and I’m going to relax.” I feel like I’m always connected with music, but it’s not a chore.

AH: I think it was Louis Armstrong* who said, “A musician is someone who plays when he works and works when he plays.”

KS: Yes!

AH: So what’s the worst part?

KS: Probably the same thing! [laughs] Because you can always be better, you can always hone your craft, and do more research. Even when I’m out [listening] at a concert, I’m still working in the sense that my brain’s working and I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to steal that” or “I really enjoy that.” At times, you can’t turn off your need to be working. To get better. But that’s not necessarily bad. It’s just . . . you can become a workaholic, I guess.

AH: So what do you do that isn’t music?

KS: Well, I enjoy reading.

AH: Any particular genre?

KS: No. I really am across the board. I do everything from Osho — he’s a philosopher — to, like, Ken Follett. And I like to cook. And travel, or read about travel.

AH: I suppose traveling is better than reading about traveling.

KS: Oh yeah. [laughs] But it’s fun to dream, too.

AH: What do you think you’d be doing if you hadn’t gone into music?

KS: Well, sometimes I say I’d be a massage therapist.

AH: Really? It’s all in the hands, huh?

KS: Yeah, it’s partly the hands, but it’s also giving back to people, making people feel good. Just like music. Otherwise, a personal trainer. I’ve thought that, too, just because it’s similar. You’re making people feel better about themselves.

But probably a massage therapist.

AH: You might’ve been great at it, but we’re glad you went into music instead.

All right, so here’s the big question, which I’m sure you’ve thought about: You have a long career ahead of you…

KS: Oh, I know where this is going…

AH: Where would like to see yourself in, say, thirty years.

KS: You said in how many years?

AH: Oh, thirty.

KS: Thirty? Oh Wow! Usually it’s like five years.

AH: Oh no. Those are the short-term goals. What’s the long-term goal?

KS: That is really difficult. The nice thing about being in the genres that I’m in [is] they really can sustain themselves. If I was a pop singer and I start fading or whatever, I wouldn’t have a career anymore. But the jazz world — Lena Horne and any of the greats — they sang until they were in their late late years. But as I age . . . I think, in 30 years, I might be more in a mentoring role at that point. Not that I wouldn’t perform, but I think it would probably shift to giving back to young artists that are looking for encouragement and help.

AH: Do you do any teaching now?

KS: I do teach. I don’t teach voice, but I have about eight piano students. And I’d really like to teach piano in the future, too, I think. Maybe in a more university setting.

In my 20s, I hated that question because I didn’t ever really have to think about my future. But as you get older, you start to think, “Yeah, I really better think about this.”

AH: I’m about 15 years behind on that question myself!

Is there anything else you’d like to add or to tell your current and future fans?

KS: I do want to say just how excited and fortunate I am that I have this opportunity to perform at the “epic hall” — at the Palladium — with the Wind Symphony. To be a part of their first official concert there.

AH: We’re excited about it, too.

* Apparently, I was wrong. Although I’m fairly certain I’ve seen this attributed to Armstrong, the original quotation is from an anonymous source, and it was about actors, not musicians. So it goes.


I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that after hearing one performance, you’ll become a fan. Catch her at Sangiovese Ristorante every Thursday night; then hear her perform on-stage with the IWS on Saturday, February 26, at 7:30 p.m. at Carmel’s new concert hall, The Palladium.

Find out more about Kelleen, her work, and her CD “Simply Beautiful” at KelleenOnline.com.

Posted by Andy Hollandbeck

A Different Sound to “Rhapsody in Blue”

February 7, 2011 at 12:16 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment
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The Indiana Wind Symphony is playing its first Palladium concert on February 26 at 7pm. The centerpiece of the concert is George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with local pianist/vocalist Kelleen Strutz. There are a number of arrangements of “Rhapsody in Blue.” If memory serves, the song began as a piano solo, and then Gershwin adapted it as a jazz concerto of sorts.

And then there are arrangements like this. Here is Larry Adler, harmonica virtuoso:

What do you think?

(Oh, and buy tickets to the upcoming concert online at www.TheCenterForThePerformingArts.org!)

Posed by Andy Hollandbeck

Now in Theaters: The L.A. Philharmonic

January 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Concerts | 1 Comment

Last night, I got to go my first concert of the L.A. Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Well, I wasn’t actually at the Walt Disney Concert Hall; I was in an AMC theater in Castleton, Indiana. Building on the success of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcasts, the LA Phil has scheduled monthly performances that are broadcast live to movie theaters all over the United States and Canada. Last night was their first one.

The music was, of course, outstanding, so there isn’t really much point in my giving any sort of musical critique. I just want to offer my impressions of the experience. But here’s what they played:

  • First up was “Slonimsky’s Earbox,” a piece written by John Adams in 1995 to memorialize Nicholas Slonimsky. (I wrote about Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Music Invective here.)
  • Second was Leonard Bernstein’s First Symphony, “Jeremiah,” which included vocals by mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor.
  • After an intermission came the concert’s centerpiece: Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Dudamel conducted this without a score.
  • The applause didn’t stop afterward, so they performed Brahms’s “Hungarian Dance No. 1” as an encore.

The price: I had a little sticker shock when I went in to buy my tickets. I was at a movie theater, expecting something in the range of movie theater ticket prices — maybe a little more. The price for a ticket was $22. If the idea behind these broadcasts is to expose a larger number of people to great classical music, this isn’t going to do it. It isn’t horribly difficult for a family of four to spend $80 at a movie theater, but that usually includes popcorn, candy, and drinks. So exposure to this concert is pretty limited to those people who can already afford to occasionally go to the symphony. I thought twice about buying tickets (money’s tight these days), but I did it.

The host: The broadcast was hosted by Vanessa Williams. I appreciate Ms. Williams’ involvement in and support for arts education, but her appearance here did little to enhance the performance. She ought to spend more time with her lines beforehand, too; she had more than a few vocal slip-ups during the course of the broadcast (including moiderizing the name Slonimsky). They might be able to save some money (and perhaps lower ticket prices?) by hiring a relative unknown who can do as good a job or better hosting the show.

Pre-performance discussion. Before each piece, Maestro Dudamel spoke (in his thick Venezuelan accent on a prerecorded video) about the piece — some history, some music theory, and some personal thoughts. He was personable, thoughtful, and at times funny. It was an enjoyable addition that really brought some personality to the performance.

The passion of the musicians: In college, my clarinet professor occasionally attempted to get me to be more still while I played solos — something about wasted energy. I was reminded of this especially during the last movement of Beethoven’s Seventh: During loud and fast moments, what I took to be the principal violist attacked her instrument like she was stabbing a badger that had latched onto her neck. It was a little distracting watching this one player’s sometimes violent contortions, but on the other hand, she made other of the more reserved players look cold and mechanical by comparison.

Regardless of how you feel about a musician’s body movements when they play, this points to one important idea: The sounds of the music that one creates are infinitely more important than how one looks when one creates it.

End-of-concert questions: During the course of the concert, movie-theater patrons were encouraged to text questions to Maestro Dudamel. After the encore, when Dudamel had retreated offstage, Vanessa Williams asked him a few of them. (What kind of music do you listen to other than classical? Why are the celli in the middle of the orchestra? Have you ever come close to crying onstage while conducting?) This was a nice little interactive bit of the show, but it was just a short thing tagged on at the end.

I’m not saying that we should have been given more of the Maestro’s time after the show. That would just be mean. But they certainly got more questions than just those three. Perhaps Dudamel, between now and the next on-screen concert, could sit down in front of a camera and answer more of them , and those answers could be incorporated into future broadcasts? It would make the hosts’ job less important and bring more music education into the mix.

The video work: What’s so interesting about the ceiling of the Walt Disney Concert Hall? From the amount of camera time devoted to showing the ceiling, I would have expected something interesting or important to be there. (Not even a chandelier!)

A number of different camera positions were used during the concert, focusing on individuals and sections of the orchestra, the conductor, and the entire orchestra at once. This last camera would often start at the orchestra and then slowly pan up, all the way to the ceiling. I grant that the architecture behind the orchestra is interesting, but the camera really doesn’t need to go higher than that. If they’re at a loss for “new” camera angles, shots of audience reaction (especially if you can catch someone dozing off!) would be more interesting than shots of the ceiling.

Audience reaction: I don’t know yet that there is really a standard etiquette for attending a musical concert in a movie theater. A few of the patrons applauded. My first instinct was to wonder, “What’s the point? The orchestra can’t hear you!” Perhaps this music-lover was so filled with musical joy, though, they they just needed some way to express that, get it out of their system, and clapping seemed like an obvious way to do that. No matter how good the music was (and it was amazing), I didn’t see a point to clapping.

Speaking of the audience, is there a virus going around the LA area, or is coughing in a concert hall really that contagious? Maybe it was just because I was experiencing it in a new environment, but the amount of coughing in the audience seemed excessive. During the break between the second and third movement of the Beethoven, there were no fewer than two dozen coughs from the audience, as everyone tried to get their throat cleared before the orchestra started up again. I was laughing, it was so ridiculous.

Would I do it again? Going to a movie theater to see a performance of an opera makes sense: an opera is as much a visual art as it is an aural one. Although seeing the symphony in action while they play does add a little something that I wouldn’t otherwise get from a CD, it just doesn’t have the oomph that an opera has. And experiencing a live symphony broadcast in a movie theater still isn’t the same as hearing them live in the concert hall. These broadcasts will certainly increase their name recognition, and maybe even enlarge the LA Phil’s fan base for future CD sales, but I don’t think symphonic broadcasts will have the same effect as the opera broadcasts.

For my money, there just isn’t enough value added in these broadcasts to justify spending more than the price of a CD that I can listen to whenever I want. I likely won’t be returning. I will, however, take a second look at the Met’s opera broadcasts. <i>Nixon in China</i> is scheduled for mid-February, and hearing “Slonimsky’s Earbox” has piqued my interest once again in this great American composer.

Posted by Andy Hollandbeck

Anti-Christmas Carols

December 13, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment
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Jessica Gentile at Nerve.com has posted The Ten Most Depressing Christmas Songs Ever Recorded. Go over there to get a closer look and to take a listen, but here are the ten she highlights:

  1. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, “Fairytale New York”
  2. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, “Cold White Christmas”
  3. Okkervil River, “Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas”
  4. Sufjan Stevens, “Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)”
  5. Aimee Mann, “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas”
  6. Tom Waits, “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”
  7. The Boy Least Likely To, “Blue Spruce Needles”
  8. John Denver, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)”
  9. Prince, “Another Lonely Christmas”
  10. King Diamond, “No Presents for Christmas” (I don’t know if this is classified as hard rock, heavy metal, thrash metal, acid rock, or what, but any juxtaposition of cacophonous, angry music and Christmas is worth a listen in my book.)

I had only ever heard the Tom Waits song before. I am most impressed by The Boy Least Likely To, and most distressed by The Pogues. I guess that was another time.

You probably notice that most of the bands and singers on this list aren’t the widely commercially successful musicians that radio stations stock their playlists with. (I suppose if you’re that successful, you have little to whine about at Christmastime.) There are a few big names out there, though (besides Prince and John Denver), who have some fairly depressing Christmas or winter songs. The comments following the linked article can lead you to some more.

My favorite winter song , which is both depressing and hopeful, is Counting Crows’ “Long December”: “There’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”

Perhaps a better list is this one from Creative Loafing, which includes Joni Mitchell’s “River,” “Brick” by the Ben Folds Five, Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It through December,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.

Which just goes to show you, no matter how your holiday season plays out, there’s a soundtrack out there for you.

So who do you think has the most depressing Christmas song out there?

Posted by Andrew Hollandbeck

Do you get the chills?

December 11, 2010 at 2:07 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

Do you find yourself getting chills when you listen to certain pieces of music? Earlier today, I read and posted an interesting article on my facebook that deserves a read!

Here is the link for the article, called “Messiah give you chills? That’s a clue to your personality.”

Essentially, it covers an interesting phenomenon whereby a specific piece of music or song induces the sensation of chills in a pleasurable sort of way. These chills, sometimes called aesthetic chills can happen all over the body in response to music.

The article goes on to discuss the how/why of this occurrence. Basically, the music that gives you a reaction is stimulating your hypothalamus which is basically the pleasure center of the brain. (But also controls involuntary responses like blushing and goosebumps) When something connects with you emotionally for whatever reason, it’s stimulating the hypothalamus and hence  inducing the goosebump reaction.

For me, what I found very interesting about the study done is two-fold:

1) The genre of music doesn’t matter, only the emotional connection does. If you have an emotional connection to something, whether it’s David Hasslehoff, Stravinsky, or Sting it generates the same reaction of the skin/body.

2) Some people have never experienced this reaction, and their personality may be to blame! Yes,  in fact among all the factors taken into account, being someone who is open to enjoying art, music, theater, etc, seemed to make these chills more common.

I know as someone who is clearly a musician and music lover, I have experienced these aesthetic chills lots in my life. Usually they coincide with large, impactful moments in music or sometimes a simple dissonance with a stress and release. Just recently, I’ve experienced this with Whitacre’s October as I had the chance to conduct the Butler University Wind Ensemble. For me the big climax point just connects with me emotionally, along with many other spots.

So, my question is: Have you ever experienced aesthetic chills? If so, are you a musician/not, and what song or genre do you notice it most with?

Posted by Angelo

IWS Christmas Concert: Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010

December 11, 2010 at 1:05 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment
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The last Indiana Wind Symphony concert before we make the move to the Palladium is this Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010 at 3pm at Arsenal Tech High School.

Now, I’ve gone off before about EAM (Eardrum Assault Month) and how I don’t like Christmas music, but this is one of the reasons why the IWS is such a great group to play in. When you hear the phrase Christmas music, musicians like Norman Dello Joio, Alfred Reed, and Gustav Holst probably don’t pop straight into your mind. But with the IWS, that’s just what Christmas music means.

Sure, we’ll do our share of Christmas standards; it’s what our audience expects to hear. But a major part of the IWS’s mission statement is “the performance of serious music for band,” and our Christmas concert is no different. Serious music doesn’t mean heady or inaccessible; it means well-written. It means good.

The concert opens with the relatively new “A Christmas Fanfare” by James Beckel, Jr. The IWS has been developing a relationship with Mr. Beckel, who has been the principal trombonist for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for four decades. His reputation as a composer has been rising over the last decade or two, as well. “A Christmas Fanfare” would be the perfect processional for a December graduation ceremony, and it’s a great way to start a Christmas concert.

Then comes Pola & Wyle’s “The Most Wonderful time of the Year,” which is one of my top-ten most-hated Christmas songs. I’m certain you’ll enjoy it more than I will.

Third is Norman Dello Joio’s “Variants on a Mediaeval Tune.” (The mediaeval tune in question is “In dulci jubilo.”) This starts with a tune everybody knows, but it’s anything but your standard Christmas music. Dello Joio is one of the few band composers who consistently includes a part for the alto clarinet — the clarinet that clarinetists love to hate. Listen for it.

Then we do two Christmas music medleys: Jerry Nowak’s “A Christmas Portrait” followed by Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.” Both arrangements are pretty good, and “A Christmas Portrait” will include a vocal quartet from Arsenal Tech. This is the Christmas reminiscences part of the concert.

After an intermission, we come back with Kenneth Soper’s “Jingle Bell March” (the two things I hate most: Christmas music and marches), and then we get to best parts of the concert — for me, anyway.

For the final four pieces of the concert, we start with “Ode to Greensleeves” by local boy Richard Saucedo. It’s extremely easy to make Greensleeves a very, very boring piece of music. Or to put it another way, it is not easy to make “Greensleeves” fun to listen to for longer than ten seconds. This arrangement, though, will keep your attention from the first note to the last. The orchestration is really warm and rich.

Then, to cleanse our musical palates, we play another Leroy Anderson piece, “Sleigh Ride,” as in “lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.” I admit that this one can be fun to play, especially when it slips into a swinging jazz feel. (Most Christmas music is improved by jazzing it up, including The Nutcracker.) The horse whinny written into the trumpet part is always a crowd-pleaser, too.

Next is a Robert W. Smith arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I don’t know this piece as well as I probably should, but as far as Christmas music goes, I like the title. “In the Bleak Midwinter” just sounds like it was written by a Grinch. (The music isn’t actually all that bleak. The title is from a very Christian Christmas poem written by Christina Rossetti in the mid-19th century.)

Finally, we save the best for last: Alfred Reed’s “Russian Christmas Music.” Reed was commissioned to write this piece in 1944 for a concert in Denver that was meant to improve Soviet-American relations; it was to include the world premiere of both American and Soviet works. Although you probably won’t recognize any favorite Christmas tunes in this one, it apparently is based on actual Russian Christmas carols. Wikipedia says that it’s modeled on Eastern Orthodox liturgical music, but the last half of it is downright Mahler-esque.  This piece is worth sitting through “Jingle Bell March” to hear.

And that’s it. Part toe-tapping, part thought-provoking, part memory-teasing; all Christmas.

When: Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3:00

Where: Arsenal Technical High School
1500 E. Michigan
Indianapolis, IN 46201

How much:
$15 Adults
$10 Seniors and students
Children 10 and under free

Half-season tickets will be available!

Posted by Andrew Hollandbeck

Facebook Campaign Counters EAM with 4’33”

December 6, 2010 at 8:00 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

A Facebook campaign in the UK is attempting to make John Cage’s 4’33” the number-one song this Christmas season. Tom Breihan at Pitchfork covers the basics well:

In the UK, the race to become the number one song in the country at Christmas is a big deal. Last year, a Facebook campaign succeeded in making Rage Against the Machine’s years-old track “Killing in the Name” the Christmas number one, upsetting X Factor winner Joe McElderry. This year, an indie-leaning all-star group of artists is attempting the same thing, with a “cover” of John Cage’s experimental piece “4’33″”, which famously consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

The group is calling themselves “Cage Against the Machine” — a well-placed pun if ever there was one. Check out their Facebook page. Proceeds from the campaign will be split among five charities, one of which is the British Tinnitus Association. (Tinnitus is a ringing in your ears that has no external source.)

I think this is a great campaign to counter EAM, Eardrum Assault Month. But it opens up a few cans of worms.

First of all, the idea behind that campaign itself: I love the idea of gaming the system — at least when it’s such a nonessential system. I also love the idea of a group of people working together and focusing on a single issue to produce something surprising. That is, after all, what a wind ensemble does. Flash mobs, random acts of kindness, and senseless campaigns like this are like individual sparkling stars in the vast black void of geopolitical history. They remind us that the course of humankind is governed solely by the rich and the royal. So, my hats off to the people who conceived this idea, and especially to those who are seeing it through.

Second, John Cage’s 4’33”: This piece is often brought up in the broad philosophical discussion of “What Is Music?” Is John Cage’s 4’33” a piece of music, even though it consists entirely of silence?

Here’s my take: 4’33” isn’t music. Music is a controlled collection of sounds and silences, so this piece falls short by half. 4’33” is, though, an artwork; it’s a performance piece. Like any good piece of controversial art, it makes you think about what you’re experiencing. It makes you question what you believe and why you believe it. It makes you part of the art.

The question of whether or not 4’33” is music stems from the facts that a) it was written by someone known as a composer, and b) it is entirely concerned with the sonic. Artwork that deals solely in sound is normally in the purview of “music.” And so a performance of 4’33” makes you wonder not only “Is this music?” but “What is music?” And you must decide the latter before you can decide the former.

So, given the alternative of those insipid, repetitive, happy-go-barfy Christmas carols, 4’33” gets my vote. The next time you hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” just think how much better your life would be if you could just turn the noise off for four and a half minutes.

So what do you think of 4’33”? Would you, like me, prefer silence to Christmas music?

Posted by Andy Hollandbeck
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