Musical Musings

The Sarasota Orchestra Blog

Wilhelm Stenhammar

Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871 - 1927) has become a bit of an unknown. A Swedish composer and arguably the greatest Swedish pianist of his time, his popularity didn't grow much outside of his home country. Stenhammar was mostly German-educated, which is apparent in his early music. Bruckner and Brahms are easily audible voices in this period too, which includes his first Piano Concerto. He later became enthralled with the music of fellow Nordic composers Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius and subsequently wrote more nationalistic music.

Indeed, almost like Stenhammar himself, the original orchestration of his Piano Concerto No. 1 was thought lost when his publisher’s office was bombed during WWII. However, a copy of the complete original score was found in the Library of Congress in 1983. Go American librarians!

While it is an early work and you can’t help but notice connections between the great piano concerti of Brahms, Grieg, and even Tchaikovsky’s own B-flat concerto, the work, "swerves between the enormity of epic and the intimacy of [Norse] folk song, " as one commenter described it. Written when he was just 22, this majestic work signals the Norse voice to come with its gorgeous third movement and nostalgic final movement.

Bharat Chandra

Several years ago I was elected to help represent the musicians of the orchestra as we searched for a new Music Director. The process brought together members of our board, staff, orchestra, and community leadership. It was a collaborative and organizationally self-affirming effort. But, to say it started the same way it finished would be a stretch. Even with the best intentions, we all undertook a steep learning curve at the beginning. Mostly, we had to learn how to understand each other’s perspectives, so that we could develop the trust needed for success. One of the most interesting (and humorous) parts of that learning-curve was the discussion about what conductors really do up there on the podium. There were some on our committee, who (naturally) were much more familiar with how a conductor appears from the audience than from the stage. And so, a dialogue began.

This is a funny conversation to have with anyone, if you can get them to be honest, because it usually involves a lot of mimicry. Let’s face it, it’s pretty funny to see someone waving their arms around and making faces at a group of people, without themselves making a sound! So, for every over-the-top performance you might get out of someone pretending, I could probably find you some actual footage of a conductor doing something pretty close to that…in front of an orchestra…for real.

To address this idea head-on in our committee, I remember mocking up a short video. It included a few clips from the 1949 Looney Tunes episode, "Long-Haired Hare, " where Bugs Bunny impersonates the famous maestro, Leopold Stokowski. Taken out of its (still very funny) context, Bugs looks like the perfect caricature of a maniacal conductor. He has all the right moves, and he even breaks the conductor’s baton in half before conducting. (Stokowski supposedly never used a baton.) Fantastic!

However, when paired up right against actual footage of the famous Stokowski (which I did for our committee), Bugs appears decidedly more dramatic, more emotional, and even flagrant. Stokowski appears closely controlled and minimalist by comparison. The intensity on his face comes from stillness –from the intensity of his eyes, not from misshaping his face.

Bharat Chandra

I'm showing my age a bit with this, but I remember watching the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears on our family's 19 inch TV (a decent size for the time). The Bears had been expected to "shuffle" their way to victory, and that they did. Popular players from the team, who became emblematic of the 80s in many ways, would end up making countless cameo appearances on television and be found in grocery stores, smiling happily on cereal boxes. They also had a very charismatic coach whose antics and accent would be parodied onward through many years and even decades of comedy fun.

That coach was Mike Ditka, and he taught me one of the best lessons I've ever had on the clarinet. No, not in person of course. It was something he said -something else that came out of our same TV, and it didn't happen until the season after their historic victory. He told his players, "Remember, you're only as good as you play today."

That one simple dictum forever changed my ideas about reputation and about what it meant to perform well as a musician. It meant that no matter what legacy you might create, no matter what reputation you had already earned, today would be what really matters. Then tomorrow's "today" would be what matters. And so on.

Even if an audience has already heard that they should expect a great concert, all that really means is that their expectations are up. They don't really care if the piece you're playing is hard or what status you might have as a musician. They want to be transported. They want to experience the powerful feelings of the music you play in a truly special way. For themselves! Today! And then they might happily re-assign you those lofty words and expectations. But, not before. No matter what, audiences do not want you to take them for granted.

Such is the nature of "reputation" in both athletics and the performing arts. Goodness created over countless hours of work must be proven and shared again and again. What a wonderful and terrifying prospect!

So, it was with profound interest that I watched Maestro Neeme Järvi take the podium today. This is a person, after all, who truly embodies the ideas of legacy and great reputation. But what would he be with us? Would all the anticipation end up leaving us disappointed? This would be the most famous conductor to ever conduct us. Could he really be so good still –in his older age?

2001 A Space Odessey

If only classical music were as popular as Hollywood blockbusters... Luckily for Richard Strauss, he hit the posthumous fame jackpot! Strauss and his seminal tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, were already known and beloved entities within classical music. By the time Stanley Kubrick used the piece's introduction throughout his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the two pieces are intertwined in the public's mind. It's practically impossible not to visualize a giant black obelisk once you hear that slow emerging chord rise from the depths of the orchestra.

The story of how Kubrick's movie came to be and it's connection to classical music is fascinating. It was among the first "space operas" and is of significant importance in film history. Indeed, Kubrick was thinking epic when he chose the title. He chose to reference Homer's Odyssey, saying,"[i]t occurred to us that for the Greeks the vast stretches of the sea must have had the same sort of mystery and remoteness that space has for our generation."

The film is largely nonverbal. The movie opens and closes with a total of 45 minutes of zero dialogue; the action is largely dependent on the music accompanying each scene. Kubrick had initially commissioned a score from Alex North and had given the composer a selection of preexisting classical pieces to use as inspiration.

He did the same with Frank Cordell when he decided he didn't like North's score. Cordell's score also didn't satisfy Kubrick and in the end he decided he loved the classical pieces so much that he decided to dump the original score. Hence Strauss's tone poem, as well as Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, two pieces by modern composer György Ligeti, and part of Khatchaturian's ballet Gayane. Kubrick forgot one little detail — he failed to receive permission for the use of any of the recordings featured in his film. Yikes! Ligeti was the only living composer at the time and he did enter into litigation against Kubrick, but it was eventually settled.

Mozart

Mozart was an international celebrity and spent almost his entire life on tour. He stormed through some 70 cities and royal courts, and his antics make some rock stars look angelic. He invented the "out-of-control-child-superstar-with-controlling-stage-parents" persona centuries before Lindsay Lohan graced tabloids.

He was unique in his era by going solo without a steady church or court gig. He was also somewhat of a social trickster, and did not hold emperors and royals with the reverent respect expected of that period. It's really no surprise that many of his operas deal with silly nobles who get their comeuppance from the brilliant but poor.

He was born on the 27th of January, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria to Anna Maria Pertl and Leopold Mozart. You may be surprised to know that W.A. Mozart's full name is actually Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Music marketers the world over are relieved that he shortened it to Wolfgang Amadeus.

Mozart began playing the piano at age 4, by age 5 was writing his first compositions, and by age 6 his dad decided to take Mozart and sister Nannerl on tour. Mozart was a youthful prodigy in the truest sense of the words. In just 30 of his 35 years, he wrote more than 630 pieces, including 27 piano concerti, 42 symphonies, and 22 operas.

Bharat Chandra

I'm grudgingly impressed by Richard Strauss. Music was pouring out of him in a way that seems to have pushed everything "practical" aside. Did he even care whether what he was writing was possible for an orchestra?

Who writes "ppp" (meaning as softly as possible) for the clarinet on such a delicate high "E" near the end of this giant piece?!? Everyone's been playing for almost 30 minutes at that point, and the intensity has the orchestra feeling like it just bench pressed its own body weight in sound. You hardly have any strength left to make a sound at all, honestly. Then, Strauss asks you to be gentle, sweet, and soft in the most fragile high register of the instrument? What a monster!

It makes me smile though. It's miraculous music. In fact, I was laughing out loud as I was looking through the score. I remembered how hard this moment is to pull off (along with so many others for my colleagues). But, the audience loves it when you get it right.

So, how will I prepare for this? I've been practicing the piece "backwards" – working on the last pages first. This way I have maximum strength and flexibility available for the most transcendent moments and can experiment with different techniques and musical colors. I can condition myself to playing those phrases with beauty and openness. Hopefully this strategy will leave me with several good options for wherever the conductor wants to take the music. Will it work? It has to. The first rehearsal with legendary Maestro Neemi Jarvi is coming up tomorrow!

Jupiter

The Jupiter Symphony is Mozart's last, and with its humor, exuberant energy, and unusually grand scale, earned the symphony its nickname—for the chief god of ancient Roman pantheon.

1788 was a time of great financial and physical difficulty for Mozart. Despite all of that, the music of this final period amazes. His last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40, and 41) were written in quick succession all in one summer in 1788. Mozart would die only three years later.

There's a lot we don't know about Jupiter and the other two accompanying symphonies. Did Mozart actually hear his final symphonies performed? Who was it written for, and why?

It's uncertain whether or not the symphonies were performed in Mozart's lifetime. Also, Mozart rarely composed on a whim. He typically wrote on commission or created new pieces for friends. Such transactions were cataloged in the composer's letters and writings... but the historical record for the summer of 1788 is completely silent.

Neeme Järvi

Neeme Järvi! All of us are beyond excited over the opportunity to hear the Sarasota Orchestra under the baton of the great Maestro Neeme Järvi.

He is truly one of the greatest conductors of all time, and he is alive and working today. He's so awesome that he regularly conducts orchestras like the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic, as well as the major Orchestras in the US too.

Born in Estonia (just like our Music Director Anu Tali), Maestro Järvi moved to the US in 1980 and became an American citizen in 1987. He rose to international stature after his tenure as music directors of both the Gothenburg Symphony and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He has inspired countless musicians and composers, both Estonian and American. Indeed, he has even created his own biological musical dynasty. All three of his children are famous musicians: two are conductors (Paavo Järvi and Kristjan Järvi), and the third is the renowned flutist, Maarika Järvi.

Sometimes, renowned Maestros and orchestral musicians have a love/hate relationship. However Maestro Järvi is that rare combination of great conductor who also has a reputation for being loved by players. This has the musicians of the Sarasota Orchestra especially excited to make music with this living legend. Join us for a historic weekend in the Sarasota music scene.

Amadeus

Many know Mozart through his music: serene, organized, ingenious, beautiful. But did his real life persona personality match the character in Amadeus?

1. Mozart was a prankster. TRUE.

A famous example occurred during a performance of The Magic Flute. A character is required to pretend to play a glockenspiel. At one performance, Mozart sneaked backstage to actually play a glockenspiel, later writing: "As a joke, I played music when he was speaking. … He was forced to hit the glockenspiel, mumbling 'Stop it!' Everybody laughed."

2. Mozart conducted his pieces from the podium. FALSE.

The movie shows Mozart conducting several of his pieces from the podium in front of his orchestra. The concept of a conductor leading an orchestra didn’t really take off until the nineteenth century. In Mozart’s day, tempo and volume decisions were primarily decided by the concertmaster and keyboardist.

3. Salieri killed Mozart. FALSE

Mozart’s death is still mysterious. His death record listed "severe military fever," but dozens of theories have been proposed, including influenza, mercury poisoning, a kidney ailment, and acute rheumatic fever. The movie inferred that another composer, Salieri, did him in. Salieri did “confess” to killing Mozart while out of his mind later in life, but musicologists consider this unlikely.

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Reviews

Written byHerald Tribune

 Literally gripping the arms of my seat, I was not the only one propelled on this rollercoaster of delightful music.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 Every section and soloist within the orchestra played their role with strength and beauty; every tree proud and tall. Tali served as an excellent guide leading the forces with assured confidence. The overall sound was lush and, yes, intense just where it needed to be.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 The Sarasota Orchestra was brimming with bubbling energy...  

Written byHerald Tribune

 A lifetime of musical moments, cinematic in scope, gave every section of the orchestra a leading role at one time or another. Chief among them was the virtuosic solo of concertmaster Daniel Jordan.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 It was a thrill ride resulting in an explosion of audience enthusiasm.  

Written byThe Observer

 Andrew Lane, the Orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, knows how to program a winning event and this concert had something for everyone. It also brought in a whole new audience that seemed dazzled by the performances.  

Written byThe Observer

 The Sarasota Orchestra played a program this past weekend filled with so much color, it was like visiting the Louvre.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 The performance... was exceptional, bringing new and stunning sonorities from a larger than usual Sarasota Orchestra under the dynamic leadership of Anu Tali.  

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CY Hong

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