1812 Overture and 4th of July fireworks: why?

The U.S. and Great Britain fought the War of 1812. Tchaikovsky composed the 1812 Overture, but it commemorates a different war. The 4th of July celebration has nothing to do with the War of 1812, either. So why does the 1812 Overture so often accompany the 4th of July fireworks display? Not many worthwhile pieces include cannon fire, which it makes such an excellent companion to fireworks. Music history is littered with justly forgotten battle music. Such pieces are difficult to write effectively. Even Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory did not succeed as well as the 1812 Overture. It had to jump through … Continue reading

Perspective on yet another obituary for classical music

Another obituary for classical music appeared recently at marketplace.org.  It points out that classical music sales only amount to 1.4% of music consumption. It says that audiences of classical music are not diverse. It quotes a pianist as being “kind of tired of making music for the same people all the time.” The obituary in Slate by Mark Vanhoenacker that made the rounds last year said, “Classical music has been circling the drain for years.” Such pronouncements usually provoke a flurry of posts about how healthy classical music is. By “for years,” Vanhoenacker means since some time in the mid-20th … Continue reading

Education at the Eastern Music Festival

Now in its 51st season, the Eastern Music Festival features world-renowned classical soloists and chamber musicians from around the world. Very often, musicians of their caliber are in a given city only long enough to rehearse and perform their scheduled concerts. Not so with the Eastern Music Festival. Everything revolves around educating students aged 14-22, and these guests come as much to teach as to perform. A diverse student body This year the student body comprises 177 students, 14 from the US other countries: Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Canada, Germany, and Mexico. In previous years, students have come from Japan, … Continue reading

What becomes of new music for orchestra?

The most recent concert of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra featured the world premiere of Queen Anne’s Revenge by Mark O’Connor. It is named for the notorious pirate Blackbeard’s ship, which ran aground and sank in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1718. Like much of O’Connor’s music, the piece moves seamlessly from the sound of country fiddlin’ to more standard orchestral sounds and back again. I found it absolutely delightful and wonder what will become of it. One big reason why German composers dominated nineteenth-century orchestral music was that so many German towns had orchestras. That meant that a … Continue reading

Eastern Music Festival turns 50

Fifty years ago, Sheldon Morganstern organized a summer music festival for student musicians, and on the night of the first concert, wondered if anyone would come. They did, and in gratifying numbers. What began as the Guilford Music Camp has since been renamed the Eastern Music Festival. Despite a fundraising shortfall that almost destroyed it about ten years ago, the Eastern Music Festival celebrates the half-century mark with more than 100 concert during its five-week run this year. Morganstern’s original aim continues: to allow students a chance to study with top professional musicians for five weeks and demonstrate what they … Continue reading

Jullien in America

Before the Civil War, at a time when the United States boasted only one financially stable concert orchestra and few native composers and solo performers of “classical” music, what taste there was for it had to be supplied by foreign visitors. In 1853 the conductor Jullien brought forty members of his London orchestra to the United States and hired sixty Americans to supplement them. Jullien had come at the invitation of P. T. Barnum, who had talents for promotion and marketing rivaling Jullien’s own. During the year, his orchestra gave 214 concerts. At least some of them were the “monster … Continue reading

A good book gaudily bound: popular conductor Jullien

Nowadays, we are accustomed to entertainers who go by only one name, but in the nineteenth century, there was only Jullien (1812-1860). LIke Madonna and so many others today, he was born with more than one name. In fact, his father conducted a French orchestra and every member became the young son’s godfather: he had 37 Christian  names! With a start in life like that, no wonder he became eccentric. His concert dress included a shirt front with diamond studs. When he conducted  Beethoven, he had a page bring him a special jeweled baton on a silver salver. He kept … Continue reading

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

A historical perspective on orchestra concerts: programing and ritual

Today, American orchestra concerts usually have three or four pieces. In one very typical formula, they have some kind of overture, a concerto, and a symphony. If the program should happen to include music by a living composer–or even by one who died some time after, say, 1945–it typically comes right before intermission, sandwiched between two popular standards. That way the audience will come on time to hear the opening piece and be forced to stay in their seats through the new piece in order to hear whatever delight awaits after the intermission. Certain unwritten laws dictate concert ritual, including … Continue reading

Time for Three: in concert in Greensboro, North Carolina

Last November and December, I heard and enjoyed the group (violinists Zachary De Pue and Nicholas Kendall, and bassist Ranaan Meyer) Time for Three (Tf3) a couple of times on NPR’s Performance Today. They are classically trained musicians with an interest in improvisation and old time country fiddling. Zachary De Pue is son of Wallace De Pue, one of my college theory teachers. Naturally, I was excited to learn that they planned to perform in my current home town with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and attended the January 23, 2010 concert. The program opened with a rarely-played concerto for three … Continue reading