Eastern Music Festival

The Eastern Music Festival has been an institution in Greensboro, North Carolina for almost 50 years now. This year’s Festival takes place June 26 through July 31 under the direction of Music Director Gerard Schwartz. It looks to be a great five weeks. It is one of the premiere music education programs in the country. The Young Artists Orchestra, made up of students from 14 to 22 years of age, will be presenting nine concerts. The Festival’s faculty, leading musicians from all over the world, make up the Festival Orchestra, which is presenting five concerts, with soloists Lynn Harrell (cello), … Continue reading

Rossini on Wagner

Some scholars have theorized that Rossini retired from composing operas after Guillaume Tell because he disliked the direction opera was going and the kinds of things he had to write in order to maintain  his popularity. He became really upset with Wagner’s music. Two of his comments are very well known: Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour. One cannot judge ‘Lohengrin’ from a first hearing, and I certainly do not intend to hear it a second time. Those were his polite comments. Once he was talking with a singer about Wagner’s music when he decided to … Continue reading

Classical music for machines

The attempt to create music mechanically, without human performance, has a long history, dating back to ancient Egyptians and Asians. Leonardo da Vinci and others in the late Renaissance designed sophisticated instruments. Only in the late eighteenth century did composers–including Handel, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven venture to compose music especially for mechanical clocks. Museums hold least some of the original clocks with their music, but to my knowledge no recordings have been made. Most of the time, therefore, the only way we get to hear this music is through a transcription for human performance. Here’s a modern clock … Continue reading

On the many, many songs of Franz Schubert

In 1827 the composer Hummel visited Vienna and brought his sixteen-year-old student Ferdinand Hiller with him. After seeing Hummel deeply moved by hearing Schubert and singer Michael Vogl performing several of the songs, Hiller dropped in on Schubert’s home the next morning. There he saw piles of finished manuscripts laying around, with another in progress on Schubert’s desk. He exclaimed, “You compose a great deal!” Schubert answered simply and seriously, “I compose every morning. When I finish one piece I start on another” He wrote his first song, “Hagars Klage,” in March 1811 and his last, “Der Hirt auf Felsen,” … Continue reading

Keeping the slide slick and slipping

Trombonists are the only instrumentalists who have to push a pair of tubes as much as two feet along a pair of narrower tubes inside. They have a wide variety of choices for lubricating the slide–a variety of oils, creams, silicon. And they discuss slide lubrication so much that sometimes they even bore each other. Oh no! Not another discussion of Slide-o-Mix™ vs Superslick™! (No need to panic now. That’s not where this is going!) A recent discussion on Trombone-L, a popular email list, proved worthy of the attention to a wider audience both for its historical erudition and the … Continue reading

Niccolò Paganini: The devil’s violinist?

Niccolò Paganini became the world’s first international superstar of the violin beginning when he was 22. He could perform technical feats no other violinist could match. If anything, his showmanship was even more marvelous than his technique. The first virtuoso to perform from memory, he could  move around the stage and interact with the audience. People wondered, could his brilliance possibly be natural? Or did he have diabolical help? In part, he could outdo other violinists because he invented new techniques such as left-hand pizzicato and various new kinds of bowing and tuning. Later violinists have learned them all. But … Continue reading

Past the last minute: a Mozart overture barely finished on time

When an opera performance starts, the overture is the first thing the audience hears, but it is the last thing the composer writes. Rossini disliked writing overtures, and the various impresarios he worked for had legendary difficulties keeping him on track. I haven’t found why Mozart waited so long to compose the overture to Don Giovanni, but for whatever reason, it produced a drama equal to anything Rossini did. Don Giovanni received its first performance in Prague, and Mozart had to travel there for the rehearsals. After the dress rehearsal, that is, the night before the opening performance, Mozart decided … Continue reading

The what? of Seville: animated opera

Not so long ago, quite a number of classical tunes were well known in popular culture. It has not entirely vanished. I have heard an aria from Carmen in a pizza commercial (wondering if the producers realized they were using French music as a background for their very Italian visuals) and an aria from Gianni Schicchi in a commercial for I don’t recall offhand just what. All the same, it seems that classical music has become less visible (audible?) lately. It has been a long time since I have paid any attention to Saturday morning cartoons. They’re all new, now. … Continue reading

Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini

Puccini was born into Lucca’s most prominent musical family, a dynasty that began with his great-great-grandfather. Only the Bach dynasty (seven generations) lasted longer than the Puccini dynasty. Although Puccini was only five when his father died, everyone assumed that he would eventually take over the now hereditary position of organist and music director at San Martino Cathedral. Instead, he turned away from church music and devoted his life to opera. He always had trouble finding suitable librettos and even more trouble once he had them. He started and abandoned as many operas as he completed. In 1913, he decided … Continue reading

A pocket-sized trombone with a full-sized sound!

I love the trombone, but it does have its disadvantages. It can be very heavy. I confess I didn’t like the trombone too much when I had to carry it to school. In junior high, I wasn’t on a school-bus route, but it was too far to walk. My dad put some kind of carrier on the front fender of my bike, and that’s how I got the trombone back and forth. Another problem: The slide makes the trombone one of the longest instruments in a band or orchestra even in first position. Granted, bassoons, baritone saxophones, double basses, etc. … Continue reading